Monthly Archives: May 2013

Where Am I From?

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“Where are you from?” is a question that I am asked often by people, inanimate objects like forms and even websites. It is a question that continues to baffle me. If the other party is a human being then I do possess the option of explaining myself, though the sincere yet seemingly complicated explanation that follows invariably fills the questioner with regret (for asking me), boredom or even a slight suspicion of my sanity, or so it seems. And my explanation remains incomplete most of the times like that of the eternally wandering soul that hasn’t been able to accomplish its sole purpose, namely obtaining the permanent abode. Of course, when it is a website or an inanimate form, I don’t get the privilege of explaining and so I have to settle for any answer that puts the case at rest for the time being, and so the saga of the eternally wandering soul continues.

But you see, a blog seems to be a great combo of a human listener and an inanimate website; you can speak your mind there, and then wait for the right kind of audience to come along and respond. And since I haven’t yet reaped that benefit yet, this post should more than make up for it. So, I am going to ramble on anyway and finally complete my story of ‘Where am I from’ and attempt to explain why it is a question that is so difficult for me to answer.

You see, the story begins in Kolkata where I was born. It is a city that resides in the eastern part of India. That is where my parents were born too, and their parents too. That is where most of my family roots were/are based. Just like the British, we too regarded that city as our family Capital for reasons more than one. For one, our ancestral house stood in that corner of the country. In fact, the simplest explanation would be that we were Bengalis, by default rather than by design, and so my association with Kolkata was imperative even beyond the requirements of knowing the place and people there. After a couple of years in Kolkata after I was born my father moved to Pune, a city neatly tucked in the west of India.

In Pune I spent almost ten years of my childhood. A major chunk of my schooling happened there too at a Convent (whose stories would well qualify as a separate post). Many fond memories (perhaps the best of them) are associated with that city for many reasons. This was the city that made my childhood fun. My friends and I played every evening until our parents had to literally drag us back to our houses for dinner. Our houses were modest then but our lives couldn’t have been richer (at least my life and childhood was)!

During summer vacations my friends and I would go cycling at dawn and enjoy an adventure of our own. Then we would play at each other’s house all day! We celebrated festivals together and even fought with each other with equal zest. My parents, following my father’s recent retirement, have moved back to Pune which spells home to us even today. Yes, there were times in my childhood when I felt that I was compelled to learn the local language in order to be accepted by friends, but it was only a matter of time when our friendship tore down those walls.

But way back then, that was still not our last stop even when we wished it would be. We moved to Faridabad, in the northern part of India, where we stayed for a couple of years. This was perhaps the shortest stint among all the other stays, and yet we did manage to make a couple of life-long associations that even today seem closer than family to us. In Faridabad, I discovered the orator in me as a student at the Delhi Public School there. I suffered a life-threatening dengue attack (again, another big story full of drama). I discovered the pleasures of working with a good group to present dance musicals during festivals. This place taught me to be fearful of the unsafe world and also how to deal with it. I won several good friends in school, many of who share the same love for naughtiness and pranks with me even today as we did way back then.

In fact, one of them even accompanied us to our next halt – Baroda, a city slightly further away from the western coast of India. In Baroda, in the following seven to eight years, I concluded my schooling and took to writing for the papers even while I was in college. This city gave me my two closest friends for life and my companion too. I have roamed about in every corner of this city in gay abandon, alone and with my friends, on foot and on my bike and sometimes in the friendly neighbourhood auto rickshaw, and have also discovered hideouts to spend the evenings with my closest companion only to be discovered by some alert family friend.

My companion was born in Amritsar, in north India. As it turned out, his ancestors just like mine had faced the brunt of partition almost during the same time, along geographically opposite corners of the country. While my folks had to move out of the now-called Bangladesh and relocate in West Bengal, in the city known as Kolkata today, his forefathers had to move into Amritsar from Sindh across the western border before Pakistan was made an independent country just like Bangladesh. For his and my forefathers, their homelands had overnight turned into another country and they had to relocate in order to be a part of the Indian subcontinent. It is interesting how history can bind us together.

Anyway, my travel across India hadn’t concluded with Baroda. Our next stop was Bangalore, another lively city in the southern part of India. Here again I spent three years of my youth. I completed my journalism studies, secured my first job with The Times of India and saw myself practically learn and unlearn several beliefs. This city witnessed the most transformative years of my life as I started to build my own opinions. Again, this city gifted me not just my independence but also some very wonderful friends, teachers and professional association that I cherish even today. This city gave me my mentor for life, my teacher – Professor.

It was during my stay in Bangalore that I decided to officiate my bond with my beloved. The wedding for some apparently practical reasons took place in the Capital of India, Delhi. The reception dinner, however, was hosted in Bangalore itself. So, once again, life had ensured that the primary condition of a geographical mishmash was maintained. A couple of years after that my sister decided to get married to the man of her choice, a south Indian who had remained her arch rival in school. The three of us had studied in the same school in Baroda.

Today I live in Singapore and it has been around six years that this country has played home to me. My sister lives in Mumbai while my parents continue to live in Pune along with my uncle and aunt. Most of our family stay in Delhi or Kolkata, their choices primarily governed by their livelihoods just like my constant relocation was.

I find it relevant to mention at this junction that my maternal grandfather served as the Station Director of All India Radio and so during his tenure too, my mother had stayed in the most picturesque yet commercially obscure places like the Andaman Islands and the Himalayan city of Darjeeling, where she even did a part of her schooling.

Zooming back to my immediate present, Singapore has assured me the best level of security, standard of living and opportunities, both professional and personal. This city has seen the writer in me struggle to evolve. In this regard, I owe no less to this country too. Should I choose to change my Indian citizenship, for which I should be adequately qualified for, would that alter anything in me at all? Or will the other cities that I have truly believed to be a part of me cease to be mine?

Every time someone poses that golden question about where I am from, I am rendered speechless. The most annoying experience was when I tried to fill in the details in one of the most popular social network sites. There was no single option called ‘India’. I had to pick any one city as an answer to ‘where am I from.” I finally decided to leave that question unanswered.

Really, where am I from? I have asked myself and to those around me that question me several times. As an eight-year-old I would have perhaps answered, ‘from my mother’. I have even seemed very uncool to many people for scratching my head over such a seemingly irrelevant question. But my heart just doesn’t allow me to mention any one city since it belongs to every city it has lived in, and to every person it has loved, and it even belongs to those cities where it longs to visit. So, what must be the answer here?

It reminds me of the time when you are required to mention your religion too. Something as personal as that need not be mentioned since it should be no one else’s business but mine. Such forms should have an option of ‘None of Your Business’. As for the perennially unanswered question – where am I from – my answer would have to be, Eternally Everywhere.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Romance II

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Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

(another poem from Madhurima’s book ‘Goddess & Whore‘)

the satin sponge
that smells of talc
sets the stage
for the act to start
for day after day
it waits on me
to mask my flaws
with its magic touch…
the contour brush
with its gentle strokes
runs its fingers
o’er my neck and cheek
it teases me
like an ol’ lover i know
it can sculpt me
fierce or meek…
the dark chic stance
of the liner’s tip
kisses mine eyes
with its soothing moist lip
like a childhood pal
it reaches within
and quietly discovers
the dreamer in me…
my oldest romance
the charcoal stick
loyally guards
the defenceless in me
as it traces my eyes
with its own dark song
seeking to cloak the tale
that remains untold in me…
the lovely lipstick
tries to stay
within the space
in me she fills
yet time and again
its mind does stray
and once again
the colour spills…

(another poem from Madhurima’s book ‘Goddess & Whore‘)

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Poetry Vs Cigarettes

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(another poem from Madhurima’s book ‘Goddess & Whore‘)

click click
click click…
the keys of my laptop
no less of a poet
echo their only rhyme
only to celebrate
my words
that have just been born
as i suck the bitter air
from my lit tobacco stick…
its tiny red ambers
like rubies breathe
alive and ablaze
each time i filter
a lung full of fresh air through it
but they reduce to soft ashes
soon after
and collapse
disillusioned discoloured
as i set the smoke free
from my lips
that provokes once again
my senses…
fifty thousand words
‘n a million cigarette puffs
it has cost and earned me
yet i argue on
with questionable irritation—
why these damned cigarettes
sell more than my poetry!
deep within though
i have a nagging doubt
if it’s my vanity
that seeks solace
and similarity
with the bitter taste
of the burning tobacco
that reduces quietly to ashes…

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

God…Be Human!

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Herbert Bayer's - Lonely Metropolitan (1932), Source: Google Images

Herbert Bayer’s – Lonely Metropolitan (1932), Source: Google Images

Life has always found wise ways to keep me perpetually perplexed and bemused, and yet it has also supplied me the strength to retain my ability to interpret the former, if not even derive inspiration from its undying mysticism and even loss and pathos, in complete humility and submission. Clearly something has made me capable of deriving this strength from loss and pain, where even as I see myself crumble into bits, I eventually discover a much more resilient me, capable of compassion and forgiveness. But how much of it has got to do with the dire straits we find ourselves in vis-à-vis our inherent nature that presents us with a choice to rise to the occasion by interpreting it in a more humane way? Does life really have a mind of its own or are we as a race far superior and capable of mutating our mind in accordance with nature and life and yet submit to the former instead to restore humility and greatness? And with that logic, who then becomes a greater being? Which, then, among these is God?

A single facet of life whose style of governance I have perpetually opposed and found difficult to accept is – Death, brutally incompatible with the whole idea of forgiveness. Why isn’t life forgiving? Is forgiveness only a virtue of mortals, and death is just a penalty for their own actions? Then who are we praying to? What are we praying for if we are apparently the only ones capable of forgiving life, when clearly there is a lack of an element of humanity within the ruthless discipline of life? What a lacuna!

Just a couple of days ago I met a dear friend for lunch before she and her husband headed off for their vacation in Europe. It was a Sunday evening and it was heartening to see her so relaxed and excited after concluding a ruthless working schedule. It was a matter of a few hours before I received a message from her after they had landed in Europe. I was left horrified. They had to leave immediately for India due to the sudden death of someone extremely close within the family; it was a car accident. My friend had broken down by then. It had taken only a few seconds for the entire mood to come crumbling down as she struggled to fathom what had just happened after an ordinary night and day. It was all over, just like that.

Perhaps, I must take a moment and establish an intended caveat that my entire string of thoughts that follows may or may not be supported by an apparently convenient choice of established beliefs and assumptions more dated than what reasoning can qualify or uphold. I can only assure you of my sincere attempts at making any conflicting contrast seem least obvious.

Death, the highhanded, no-nonsense facet of life, that I have dreamt of questioning a million times in my head, had once again appeared before us like the stereotypical malefactor who gains immortality. Of course, here is where religion comes in like the zealous parent of a spoilt child, to explain to us how and why we should accept death and how it is only a phase of life. Pardon me, only?! Since when does losing someone who has parented you become ‘only’?  And once again, being human, only I am expected to accept that with complete faith.

If at all one should argue about Karma or the consequence of human actions, which I wouldn’t completely dispute, should life not deserve at least a respectable end? If not a fair shot and fight for life? Why such a deplorable ending to a man so undeserving and life-and-law-abiding? Does life not contain an element of humanity, mercy or at least a sense of justice? Why death? I have seen mothers outlive their daughters, with neither customs nor poverty to blame. Never has this element of loss and tragedy ever seemed justified. It never will be, and I am only filled with remorse and helplessness at its suddenness and unfairness.

This only reaffirms my faith in the fact that we are like ants in an anthill, in the entire gamut of things, reading too much into everything around us where in reality it is but an accident with almost equal probability, where our prayers and beliefs are just selfish requirements intricately designed by our intelligent minds to protect our sense of being and sense of insecurity. We dread the unknown and so find it far more convenient to leave it all in an unknown someone else’s hand, whom we choose to call God, Life…or whatever.

My intended inconsequential observations would revolve perennially around a multiple questions weaving into each other or even encroaching into each other’s territory.  Essentially, I ask then, what matters? Is it possible that Marcus Antonius Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, a valiant warrior and a stoic philosopher, could have been so wrong when he wrote: ‘In the end, everything comes to nothing. And nothing matters’. Nothing? So then, what does? Or when? Why bother?…Where is God? Hmmm, ’tis always the questions we might ask that might matter more than the answers we might get.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Lust For ‘Likes’

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I have finally compiled and documented a secret list of completely immaterial things that irritate me to my core, the sort that you most definitely know could or should never destroy you or even remotely alter or affect your existence; and yet they contain a lethal power to capture every bit of your attention and blur your simplest capabilities of acting sensibly.

This list contains an amusing assortment of ‘things’, utterly unassuming and mundane, that have irked me and continue to do so from time to time. Trust me, we all have such lists neatly tucked away in some corner of our otherwise sensible mind. For some, it could be a booming and boisterous boss, for some a meddlesome mom-in-law, or a colleague whose hair gel reminds one of a brothel house, while for the likes of me, it is our own ill-timed sneezes, or an itch in some awkward corner where the hand refuses to reach, or even a persistent drilling sound on a Sunday afternoon on the floor just above ours! It’s when you are compelled to look so incredibly ‘above-all-this’ and then further ornate that sentiment with refined civility that you know it is one of those things that constitute the hush-hush list.

These are things that have the calibre of ruining a perfect state of equanimity in a painfully defining moment, yet they masquerade as objects that are beyond our control. When we are happy this list seems petty and when we aren’t as chirpy as we’d like to be, the characters from this list stealthily drag themselves out and become the first to push us off the tipping point.

After reaching a complete saturation point with all my daily duties I noticed something very interesting, a few days ago. I am not certain if it was my declining concentration level or utter joblessness that led me towards compiling a list of things that often seemed to irk me so I could officially execute them, one by one, once and for all. I realised that I had a to-do list, a wish list, a bucket list, a groceries list, a phone numbers list… so, most logically there had to be a what-sucks list. Why shouldn’t I write down things that make me drive up the wall, so I could look them in the eye for once before trashing them away for good; the way some stores take photographs of their shoplifters before barring them from entering their shop again.

My list disappointed me with its deceivingly not-so-long stretch, quite contrary to what I had been keenly looking forward to, though something very striking came out during this liberating process. I had found a new entrant to this list that was uniquely versatile yet insentient. It had an innate ability to entertain, amuse and provoke me and leave me bewildered, annoyed, distressed, disappointed, and even concerned. It was the ‘Like’ button on most social media sites, a one-stop-shop that assured and testified a person’s popularity vis-à-vis the quality of her craft; as if the traditional ways of ego massage to gratify the suffocating levels of need for social-acceptance weren’t enough!

This single button could stir even the most nonchalant person like me (or so, I’d like to imagine), who even for an instant would be tempted to check out a post that had been liked by so many and sometimes even wonder how it had been liked by this many! Makes me feel like a wolf in a pack, where I howl and the others follow suit irrespective… and that remains my sole comfort, the reassurance that I am not alone, that my existence is acknowledged and approved, and that somehow counts… I need to be told that I am liked, that I make sense to others, that I conform to the norms of the herd – what a deplorable state of affairs!

Today, what doesn’t seem to matter is the credibility of the zillions who hoot or chant your name, just as long as the numbers go up and up so we are able to selfishly get our word and agenda successfully across to as many; and who cares how eligible others are to judge me. Everyone is apparently qualified to pass a judgment on my craft and that is bearable. But the fact that everyone’s judgment counts is what then begins to get unbearable.

Hence, I propose there be two buttons instead of a single ‘Like’ button. One that reads ‘I Beg to Differ’ and the second one that reads ‘Fair Point’. In this way, we don’t get into rights and wrongs, likes and dislikes; instead we stir a debate, we welcome an opposition that spells something a little more worthy of our time; we reconfirm our belief in ‘perceptions’ and not in a single defined unidimensional set of good or bad. After all, a platform as powerful as this one should be more than just a mere whiling away of our time!

As for those who treat this space as a dumpster to dispose of their perpetual state of disillusionment with almost everything – starting from appropriate dressing tips to how to poop in a fashionable stance – should definitely have the ‘Like’ button replaced with a ‘Good for You’ button (though, I’d actually prefer a ‘Mind Your Business’ button there). These people disapprove of almost anything that comes under every individual’s basic freedom of choice.

I remember coming across this hilarious character, who had a perennial bitterness towards anyone who posted a beautiful profile picture of herself; only old haggard faces seemed genuine to this person. But again, this is the most innocuous group of them all.

I have had the chance to meet all sorts of Like-lusters. Some mail or message me by the minute asking me to like their page, others consciously refrain from liking a page thinking that a petty act on their part can actually contribute towards stunting a person’s good work. Well guess what, to the Like-luster such an attitude reveals the stunted mind of the Like-avoider and then this stance only further stunts the already diminutive mind with every avoiding act.

Then, there are ‘conditional Likers’ whose motto is fairly simple, ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’. A small break in your regime of liking their post and you have lost them for almost ever. And finally, there are ‘seasonal Likers’ who appear like a comet once in several months and flood the online area with generous ‘Likes’.

My favourite among all these are those who silently read and enjoy a post and very cunningly refrain from conveying the fact that they liked (or disliked) reading it. There are apparently many explanations behind this entertainingly insecure attitude. I don’t have the inclination nor the time to indulge in a painstaking analysis of these insecure weasels. The most painful revelation was, however, a completely different thing.

I realised that among all these people who seem least affected and feel supremely über cool to be keeping up with the times, I appear to be the most thick-headed fool for considering this outlandish trend as a threat and a fuel for fanning our sense of insecurity and the perpetual need for acceptance and popularity as an individual; where such behaviour, however absurd and invalid, seems to confirm our sense of being only through the verdict passed by the collective bunch of we-don’t-care-who-s. It is like being sedated by drugs. It is after all an era of echo addicts. And I can almost hear the cyber gods chant in unison:

I matter if I matter to you

I exist if you can see me

I deserve to be if you say so

If not….

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013