Category Archives: Food and Fashion

The Corset Strings

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Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

The corset I wear
torments my frame
forcing me inwards
as I crumble
drained
into a heap
day after day
‘n’ withdraw deep
into my rib cage
where quietly rests
my aching heart.
Those unforgiving fingers
to which
in complete faith
I’ve surrendered
the strings
of my baroque corset
that mother wove
so they could fix my robe
firm and taut,
they quietly continue
to tighten their grip
o’er my chest, my waist
and even my neck.
I gaze in pain
into my mirror like before
just this time
I can see me in it no more.
I resolve never again to stare
at the old reflection
within that betrayer—
nor do I want
to fight those hands
and their diabolical plot,
instead I wait
long suffering
through every twisting force
on my soft pale skin
so I’m rid of the corset
and the oppressed frame.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

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Press Release: Goddess & Whore, Now Available Worldwide

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Goddess & Whore: Now available on BOOKadda, Flipkart, Amazon, Kindle, and in selected bookstores across India!

Goddess & Whore: Now available on BOOKadda, Flipkart, Amazon, Kindle and in selected bookstores across India!

October 2013, Singapore.

Goddess & Whore – a collection of modern poems – reaches bookstores worldwide this festive season.

Goddess & Whore – a collection of modern poems – weaves into a vivid narrative of a woman’s journey as she steps out of her various social identities and abuses to discover the true meaning to her existence. What begins as a nagging sense of disquiet and discontent evolves into a quest for inner peace. She draws inspiration from nature and begins to disentangle herself from all those relationships and resentments that she once carried, and only then does she discover her real indestructible self and makes the crossover that signifies the transformation of a being.

The poems celebrate the joys of womanhood and the beauty of nature even as they address certain social issues like the position of women, the rejection of the girl child, the violence against women, the traditions of fasting, and dated customs and rituals; and all these concerns culminate into a single question – ultimately what matters?

“The book aspires to convey the simple desire of a woman to be accepted for who she is, along with her dreams and aspirations, follies and foibles. She doesn’t wish to be glorified as a goddess nor be despised as a whore. At a broader level, this sentiment holds true for all human beings, whether man or woman,” explains Madhurima. “The book is available on Flipkart, BOOKadda, Amazon, Kindle and also in selected bookstores across India.”

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

My Goodness…My Goddess!

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Source: Madhurima (2010); getting a tattoo made of the Goddess Durga

Source: Madhurima (2010); getting a tattoo made of Goddess Durga

Source: Madhurima (2010); That's me with my goddess!

Source: Madhurima (2010); That’s me with my goddess!

The most potent concoction of fragrances that contains a zillion memories of my treasured past is the scent that fills the air in India during the start of the autumn season announcing the festival of Goddess Durga (better known as Durga Puja). The air, just rightly nippy, smells of fresh earth and paddy fields, flowers, incense sticks and camphor almost as though nature has performed its own celestial ritual of cleansing the space inside and outside all of us. Petite white flowers called the Shiuli with their sleek and slender crimson stalks and delicate lingering fragrance bloom in several parts of the country setting the stage for Goddess Durga to return home to visit her parents and family. We are her family. Like most children hers too latch on to their mother, and her four children – Lakshmi (Goddess of true wealth), Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge and arts), Ganesh (God of fortune) and her youngest son Kartik (God of valor and bravery) accompany her on her annual sojourn to her parents’ abode. Like a dutiful and beautiful wife and mother she embarks on her vacation home with her gorgeous children in tow where we welcome her with open arms.

For people of Bengal, who hail from the eastern part of India, this time of the year marks a special significance as they prepare for this festival, irrespective of which part of the country or world they live in. However, I must confess to being perennially struck down by nostalgia and thus highly unsuccessful in finding or replicating that spirit and space around me since I have moved out of India. I haven’t the slightest doubt that this is solely a matter of my own deficiencies and inabilities, but I am still to find those soul-quenching beats of the drum (dhaak) that I had heard in my childhood with my grandparents beside me. It was an explosion of energy that created a vibrato within my ribcage as every molecule and heartbeat in me resonated with that breathtaking rhythm. It was an overwhelming feeling, I recall distinctly. Since my grandfather always insisted on reaching the venue early during the evening prayers so he could hear the dhaak, I had the luxury of tagging along with him. The rest of the family joined the two of us much later after getting appropriately decked-up for the evening’s function that followed. During the prayers that my grandfather and I attended every Saptami (the seventh day of the festival) and Ashtami (the eight day) evenings the air smelt of incense sticks and fruits and flowers. The space smelled sacred.

In those days too, there used to be the ceremonial ‘dhunuchi’ dance on the eighth day of the festival (quite a stunt really!) where men and women carrying an earthenware filled with a layer of smouldering coconut husk sprinkled with incense and camphor, danced to the frenzying beats of the dhaak as they offered their prayers before the majestic idol through their dance. I have always wanted to perform that dance but my courage has always failed me at the eleventh hour. Perhaps one day I will. It was after this prayer that the crowd would begin to thicken and the air would start to smell of perfume and flowers, as the pandal (marquee) would fill up with gorgeously dressed men and women and their jubilant laughter and music. Where there are Bengalis, there must be music, arts, good non-vegetarian delicacies and of course sweets! And so these pandals were outlined by several food stalls that sold mouth-watering cuisine prepared by some of the most talented culinary-craftsmen!

Every stall was engulfed by a distinct aroma that would entice passers-by seducing and pulling them closer and closer till they succumbed completely to its hypnotic effect. Right from egg-roles, mutton roles, the inimitable moglai parotas, kebabs and cutlets, biriyani, luchi-aloor dum, delectable Bengali desserts, to tea, coffee, ice cream, mineral water and Coca-Cola…they had it all! The rankings of these stalls would soon spread through word-of-mouth by their boisterous clientele. Some stalls even ran out of food if we reached late! And there I’d be, in my gorgeous new clothes, running around with my friends far away from the jurisdiction of my parents who were only approached for money. Grandma had her own food stall that would be robbed of every morsel of grub even before we got there for a second or third helping. Grandpa played the quintessential consumer with utmost passion and humour.

On some afternoons there would be fun competitions like quiz contests, singing contests, drawing contests, among others. The most interesting among these was the ‘shankha-dhwani pratiyogita’ that tested the longest one could blow the conch shell without pausing for a breath. It was a test of one’s lung-power. The year I participated in that contest, I must have been in my eighth grade in school. Grandma would train me every afternoon and teach me the tricks and the science of the trade; she always taught me to be sincere and to honour every challenge that was tossed at me. I remember how I was introduced to the lady who had won year after year in that contest. I defeated her that year. I played the conch for over a minute, breaking even the record set in the past years!

Another specialty of these afternoons was the ‘bhog’ (a special menu of food that is cooked fresh by dedicated volunteers and cooks for offering to the Goddess) that was served to all of us on plates made of dried palm-leaves. Somehow the concept of catered food and packaged plates containing a formula-44 menu that I could easily purchase at just any restaurant seems like a disturbing and a much altered variant of the ‘bhog’. The concept of self-service rather than having volunteers running around to serve the hungry devotees seems like an unfortunate inference of ‘convenience’. In my younger days some of us eagerly volunteered to serve the piping hot khichudi or pulao that had been offered to the deity on that day. We learnt to put our own hunger aside to first feed the elderly and the children.

By the time I moved to college, we were in Baroda (a beautiful city in the western part of India) where these nine days of the Navratri festival were celebrated in a completely different style though it carried the same spirit as that of the Durga Puja! People danced in thousands, in concentric circles, to the beats of Gujarati folk music that mainly sang praises to the Lord Krishna or Goddess Durga. As though in a trance this huge wave of men and women dressed in colourful ghagra cholis and other traditional Guajarati dresses undulated in rhythmic grace for most part of the night. I would join my friends at the Garba grounds after marking my attendance at the Durga Puja pandal.

But beneath all the celebrations what few noticed was my growing faith in Goddess Durga. Every time I stood before the beautiful idol of the Goddess I felt humbled and overwhelmed as I would be consumed by a deep sense of calmness and assurance. Even today, from time to time, I have found strength and courage in those eyes. I have always known how much grit and determination lay within a woman’s heart – as a mother, as a daughter or even as a wife – and I have turned to that strength from time to time to fuel my own mind with that powerfulness and energy. However, I have never prescribed to the idea of glorifying a living woman as a goddess since I believe that the goodness and goddess resides within every human being, be it a girl or a boy. I have often found the crowds overlooking the finer (and more real) facets and honest desires of the human heart every time they have focussed their energies on putting one on a pedestal where one can be tagged as ‘selfless hence divine’.

The concept of God is personal and can be practised in a million ways but to derive a shallow corollary from that seems utterly convenience-based and therefore totally unacceptable. Goddess Durga always reminds me of the power of good over evil. I have seen a glimpse of Durga in several people beyond their basic identities and differences. During this festive season, I pray sincerely that we all imbibe the capability to notice the divinity in every human being and also respect the free human spirit, instead of being overwhelmed by the external façade.

Jai Mata Di! Joi Maa Durga!

Source: 8tracks.com

Source: 8tracks.com

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Life, With A Pinch Of Sugar Instead

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I have always felt that my keen passion for food has turned me into an intemperate glutton as also a complete epicure with an almost accurate power of detecting the individual condiments and spices concealed within a dish, that product of smooth and selfless blending of varying flavours only to create a greater magic, like all other things in life. It is as though the well-seasoned and prudently cooked fare speaks to me as I bite into that succulent piece bursting with juices; the luscious gravy beckons at me even as I cautiously savour a spoonful of the delectable fluid dodging that threatening little circle of smoke over it only to experience the explosion of flavours and textures of intelligently pounded and roasted spices; and I close my eyes so nothing around me can distract me from this gratifying experience. As those textures and flavours melt into my mouth I am able to track every one of those otherwise untraceable ingredients for its subtle aroma or for a tell-tale tang for people like me to notice. You see, it prefers to reveal itself only to those who care to seek it and value it. And I am only reminded of the flawless resemblance that all this bears to life and our own varying abilities to understand it.

While most people obsess over the obvious use of salt in moderating the taste in a cooked meal, which isn’t entirely fallacious, I feel that it is actually the slight drizzle of sugar into the simmering gravy that lends that extra zing and even astuteness to the taste and character of the dish that can no longer now be simply tagged as ‘salty’ or ‘sweet’. Be it the mild bitterness in taste or the burnt golden tinge of the caramelized sugar or its discreet presence only to soften the harsher lines of salt, sugar has always been a more assuring accomplice in this game of blending the obvious.

As an agent of delicious deception that leaves those who gobble and guzzle in pure delight incapable of simplistically describing the final dish as entirely salty or sweet, sugar has taught me great qualities of subtlety and discretion besides the power of sweetness. After all, too much of it will risk having it exposed! It has revealed to me the element of obscurity where neither life nor any person can be defined by a single façade. It has also trained me to observe the beauty within the intricacies that I slowly unravel with every bite and every sip…

Even at a young age I was able to tell whether it was the cinnamon that lent that tangy taste or if it was the coriander powder or the bay leaf or even the extra pinch of turmeric powder that lent character to a dish. And it would not be fully inaccurate either to attribute that uncanny ability to my love for eating. You might even think it is the presence of the ‘Bengali’ in my DNA that plays this trick and results in a loyalty for sugar, and there is a slight chance you may be correct too, but I would still like to believe that it is my sincere love for the undiscovered that attracts me towards these subtle complexities in flavours that make a dish more desirable and appealing.

In fact I have always believed that just like a gentleman is judged by his shoes, a character is judged by the food it consumes. Believe it or not, the kind of food we enjoy says a lot about the person we are. Conversely, it is our temperament, moods and beliefs that quietly govern the kind of spices or food we eat. As for me, I have always enjoyed that beauty within the mystery of life that reveals itself only to those who fearlessly delve into it, ready to surrender themselves to the infinite possibilities, only to discover more.

These condiments are no different from the paints on a canvas that mingle and merge with each other blurring the sharp lines and edges. It’s the way a good make-up blends along the right contours. Hence, for me that touch of sugar that lends softness to the overwhelming presence of certain spices and flavours has always been the supreme deciding factor about the ultimate appeal of a fare to our palate, and it is this soulful experience that allows me a glimpse of the condiments used. Every time I roll a portion of a culinary delight on my tongue, I am able to get a whiff of each distinct aroma of every spice. It is like a gift that comes with a few kilos of extra weight, of course…but I seldom regret that since my Bengali roots seem to bail me out on that front as well with a crafty and specious justification!

It was this love for food that drew me towards cooking, though I solely operate within the closed walls of my kitchen. I took to cooking not by choice but by necessity since the taste of my mother’s and grandmother’s cooking had zealously clung on to my mind and my tongue, and so to try and replicate it in order to sustain myself was the most obvious way to go about it. Though even today I find my cooking miles away from what the other two ladies in my life prepare, thankfully my gift to track that taste and tell the difference between their artistry and that of the likes of me still remains untouched.

It was my mother who taught me the use of sugar in the most unimaginable options like lentils, pulses, vegetables and of course curry! But you would never be able to tell, except for grandma, ma and me who can often trace the absence of this selfless sweetener by the sharp solitary taste of salt. The only time when sugar is not used is while seasoning or marinating poultry perhaps! I imagine this is because sugar refuses to stay in places where its presence is too obviously revealed. Instead, used in the right place and in the right quantity it melts, just like magic dust, irrevocably into the background only to exist as a lingering possibility that soothes the senses. And only one person could validate its existence with complete certainty – the one who cooked it. As for me, I choose to appear conveniently forgetful when a grumpy conventional foodie confronts me with the usual absurd loyalty to salt and a disdain for sugar in every-day meals.

© 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