Goddess & Whore: Cover Launch!

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Goddess & Whore, to be available in bookstores soon!

Goddess & Whore, to be available in bookstores soon!

5 October, 2013. As we enter an auspicious time of the year, when we celebrate the goodness and godliness in every human being, I use this opportunity to share with all of you the title and cover of my upcoming book, ‘GODDESS & WHORE’. The book is scheduled to reach bookstores, in and outside India, very soon. I sincerely (and selfishly) seek all your good wishes and blessings that should help me retain my insanity and utmost sincerity towards life and my craft. The cover/artwork of the book has been consciously kept bold, festive and unapologetic – characteristics that resonate with the very essence of the book’s content and intent too. This book marks the beginning of a journey that should most definitely contain several lessons through which I shall get to know myself better, as a person and as a writer. Do bear with me, be with me and guide me through this journey…

© 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

Ma, Me And My Report-Card

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Come result day and we find most students and their parents hyperventilating over that detail that seems to miraculously assure them of the approaching boom or doom in the child’s career and life. Seeing the Gen Z parents’ mounting involvement and obsession with their child’s academic life and their relentless struggle to control the same gives me the creeps and makes me feel rather lucky for having a set of carefree parents who unwittingly gave me space to discover myself. I also suffer occasional pangs of guilt for criticising and irritating such wonderful parents with my unending needs as a child and as an adolescent, though I must also add here that very few of those demands have been entertained or even considered. And I am grateful for that! I may safely confess today that due to the easy-going approach of my parents the commonly dreaded report card days that unfailingly appeared at regular intervals were among the best days of my school life!

A report card day meant a half-day from school. And what could be more fun than that for someone who harboured deep disdain for uninspiring regulations, and who was already averse and allergic to the overuse of the ‘competition’ drug. Well, in my case, there was actually another factor that made the awe-inspiring day more fun: my mother. And in a short while I shall tell you just how so. Well you see, my fondest recollection of the result day begins in Pune where I studied in a typical ICSE convent school known for its austere staff, snooty students and unbending discipline.

In spite of the look of consternation and alarm on my teacher’s otherwise cheerful countenance while doling out my not-so-unacceptable result on those fateful days, I would wait with feverish excitement every time the day approached. Memories of my teacher’s angst and the precious contents of the important document she handed over to me in the presence of my parents would fade from my memory soon after, but what time and tide have not been able to erode till date is my happiness surrounding this momentous event. In fact this feeling of unfettered happiness has strengthened with every passing year and I look back on this day with still greater fondness and longing than ever before.

Each report card day, it was delightfully entertaining to see my classmates sitting in pin-drop silence in the classroom nervously waiting for the peon, who looked like one of Dickens’ slimy characters, to come and announce their name and escort them to the hall downstairs where our class teacher would be waiting with the respective parent/parents to discuss the child’s results. As our names were called out, we had to pack our bags and leave for the day. I would easily be among the very few chirpy ones who could barely sit still, as I kept shuffling restlessly in excited anticipation and shamelessly cheering up even the top rankers. I remember how high-spirited I would be on a report card day since it meant an undisturbed date to a rarely visited place with my beautiful mother.

In those days a visit to the M.G. Road, an area known for its style quotient due to a cosmopolitan population and a substantial Parsi presence (which meant better bakeries, cafes, etc.), was much coveted due to the young crowd and the shopping arcades (though the concept of malls was alien to us then). And that part of the town being quite far away from where we lived then wasn’t somehow frequented by us. My school happened to be along the parameters of that area and so it was only logical that my mother and I made a quick trip to the Camp area on every report card day!

As soon as my name was announced, I would trot down those thick wooden stairs sliding my hand along the smooth wooden banister. Trotting and sliding were strictly prohibited in school but no one cared to check on a half-day. In fact, had it not been for that silly rule that the grim-faced prefect kept chanting every morning – ‘no hands on the banister!’ – I would never have learnt that wonderful word ‘banister’ that added an extra shine and weightiness to that old wooden staircase. As I entered the hall, there she’d be sitting in her signature chiffon sari, with a big bindi on her forehead, her long dark hair neatly tied and her sunglasses resting on her head. As soon as she’d notice me she would smile and give me her characteristic wide-eyed trying-to-be-strict look that meant to convey, “Sweetheart, you seem to have been up to some mischief in school again.” I could barely contain my excitement after seeing her, and neither could she.

My teachers seemed to like her for her poise and grace. I have somehow always suspected that it was her charming personality that guarded me from teachers pounding at me. Well, in the ICSE school that I studied in, most teachers were well groomed and smartly dressed but rather conventional in their outlook. Almost all of them showed a clear bias for the more obedient and studious among us and had little patience with the naughtier ones whom they categorised into ‘no good’ students and often chastised and compared them, with a hopeless grimace on their well made-up faces, to their ‘brilliant and more disciplined’ counterparts. How well this attitude helped in shaping and developing the young minds is anybody’s guess. Of course there were a few wonderful teachers whom we adored and who were instrumental in creating a great liking for the subjects they taught besides commanding deep respect for themselves.

My report card would be duly handed over to my mother with the same remark on every R-Day as I showed no sign of transforming into a model student from the little brat that I was, and consistently failed to exhibit even a remote sense of remorse, turning a deaf ear to all their reprimands and threats.

“She is naughty and restless, makes silly mistakes, and needs to concentrate on her work.”

After receiving that customary warning, I’d set off with my lovely mother on our date with my head held high and a wide grin on my happy face while she held my hand and my schoolbag for me. Neither my father nor my sister could wrestle for mother’s attention on that day.

On certain days she would smile and tell me that grandma too had come along. And my excitement would double! Grandma’s presence meant lunch at the famous Chinese Room. We would walk along the sidewalks under the crisp morning sun down the bustling streets lined with shops selling their colourful wares. Some small outlets sold hair clips and hair bands and other knick-knacks. These were the ones that interested us more than the larger stores and we would invariably end up spending hours here sifting through their stuff and picking up those that caught our fancy. And at each shop I too would get to pick up a little something for myself.

Then we would stop at a well-known Parsi bakery for some sandwiches and milkshake. This was the time when ma would gently tell me, “You could do so much better with your grades if you would concentrate a little more on your studies. It is only because you are so capable of doing better that I feel sad listening to your teachers complain.”

There was no scolding, no warning of dire consequences. I don’t think I even realised then that those grades had anything to do with my life ahead. I just knew that some subjects were boring, and I was entitled to my opinion though not always in a good way. Yet, it was that gentle advice from my mother that I remember more than the scolding and reproaches from others. Ma never yelled at me. She would only explain to me or tear up herself. The latter part of her emotional expression I understood much later in life.

In the evenings daddy would pick us up in his car and we would go home, happy and contented. Of course, I also got to hear the usual ‘you are ruining your life!’ from my father. But what I see of parents today, even that small reproach seems to me so much more acceptable. He would scold me a bit and then life would move on as though nothing had happened. Discussions at the dinner table would once again revolve around how we had spent the day or who had parked his scooter in our car park. On certain report card days we would all meet at grandma’s house for a special hand-cooked dinner by her. Father would never be able to scold me in front of my protective grandparents (grandpa especially) though few knew of the little words of advice at opportune moments I would get from grandma who always wanted me to be a little more disciplined and sincere about my studies.

Thankfully the pleasures of a half-day did not disappear even in high school. By then I had moved from an ICSE all-girls’ school to a co-ed environment. There too I had found like-minded crazy friends who knew how to appreciate and enjoy a half-day phenomenon, perhaps more. On certain report card days we had to be literally kicked out of the school premises since we would sit there with the group and enjoy the quiet link-ups and attention and tease each other over an unimaginable variety of topics. Some of us would walk down home together, and our memories about our results would have faded by then after our animated jabbering.

Of course we knew of the impending grumbles and admonishments that awaited us after our daddies returned home from work, but strangely those weren’t an earth-shattering thing for us. We had each other and our perpetually distracted minds that had lots of gossip-and-giggle topics, all ready to overshadow other details that made us unhappy. And that was a massive assurance for a youngster of that age. I remember how we planned a party on every result day. In fact parents today would probably faint on being informed that we partied the most on our pre-board-exam days. And trust me, we partied hard!

To be fair to my folks, I have been notorious among friends and family (who would willingly vouch for me) for being unruffled by these grades. My definition of studying was a little different from what the system demanded though I declare with utmost certainty that there will be quite a few students who would not mind my style of learning. According to me, subjects had to seem interesting for me to be curious enough to delve into them. Only curiosity could fuel learning. I loved History, English and Economics/ Social Studies as these subjects were taught by some of the most amazing teachers and they enlightened me on various interesting aspects of human behavior.

History taught me about mutinies and conquests, Economics taught me the rational mindset of a typical consumer, while Literature taught me the irrational and unedited sides of that same rational and rebellious human being. On most of the days I enjoyed learning in the classroom about things I didn’t know. And just when my concentration would begin to fade there would be those naughty students in class who would make funny noises to distract all of us. And so after a few hearty chuckles, there I’d be back again to absorb more information!

At home, I discussed History, Geography and Politics with my grandfather who was a radio journalist of his times. He made me write letters to the Editor each time I felt strongly for a social cause. I discussed spirituality and human values with my grandmother. Ma read out wonderful stories and poetry to my sister and me and introduced us to Tagore’s work. Father taught us the tougher qualities like discipline and hard work that came very slowly to me. I even loved the way some of my teachers explained their subjects to me. But the ticking clock and the threatening marks of red-ink hovering around my consciousness, like a hungry eagle that circles over its prey, made me forget everything I loved to learn, though I must mention that in spite of my bohemian grades I had stronger views and opinions on various issues than most students around me.

Unfortunately, even in those days, we lived in a world that relied on and valued over-simplistic judgments. That single number derived by some seemingly-irritated-with-life sleep-starved underpaid teacher at the end of the year would bear stupendous significance that threatened to ruin us forever if we didn’t bow down to it. Teachers formed biases over students based on these numbers, and so did our friends and relatives. I have seen several feisty and spirited children suffer ignominy for failing to adapt to that kind of a system. I have heard of cousins and friends badgered by ‘self attested well-wishers’ and driven to exasperation by their severely affected parents.

Also, there were those terrifying exams that surfaced as a party-pooper from time to time that drained me of every intent to prove how much I had learnt vis-à-vis how much the system or teacher was actually qualified to evaluate that unquantifiable detail. I realised that my ability to cram up dates or even shoot words by the minute, as the clock ticked away uncaringly, was zilch. Every atom of my body cringed from the prospect of mugging up chemical equations and historical timelines that made little sense to me. By the time I reached high school I had only managed to hold on to my love for English.

On the eve of my final high school exam I was advised not to use any ‘big word’ or ‘complicated sentence’ since the unknown face correcting my paper might not comprehend its meaning and award me a neat zero. I ask now, whose grade would that be? But the more disturbing question that stirs me is – who suffers ultimately? And the answer is always – the student.

During my childhood it was primarily a question of controlling a handful of children who simply refused to fit into the substandard settings of the examination and grading systems. Sure, our parents did grumble occasionally and our teachers complained and punished us. We would gaze at them with a rehearsed guilty look as our peers sniggered from their corners, and then we would return to fighting over who was at the bat and who was bowling. That was it; no more no less. The problem that students suffer today is much more complex and tragic since clearly it no longer seems like their life alone but also that of their parents that seems to crumble and collapse at the slightest disruption.

Children today seem to be sandwiched between an uncertain education system that is somewhat dangling in midair and their obsessing parents who seek refuge behind their alleged ‘good intention’. Terms like ‘fierce competition’, ‘family pressure’, ‘extra classes’, ‘quota system’ and so on are used generously by parents to explain the despicable levels of their selfish involvement in their children’s lives. Parents these days seem to be just a few yards short of attending classes and taking exams on behalf of their wards. Results have become a matter of pride and honour rather than just a number that may or may not reflect the child’s caliber and, sadly, life no longer resumes normalcy after this flawed and hyped verdict is announced.

Looking back, I feel humbled and blessed for having such wonderfully unworried parents who unconsciously knew the things that mattered. They didn’t have the time or the means to obsess over my sister or me. There were no special talent classes that we were sent to at the cost of the simple luxury and pleasure of playing with our friends until we had to be physically removed from the playground. We did not have nannies pretending to fuss over us. We had to be on our own. We knew we had to wait at a friend’s place till our parents got back from the market.

For us life and its inherent element of normalcy mattered more than some result that was churned out of nowhere. We needed to be happy and we also needed to be kind to others, and these had always been of paramount importance to my parents. Mess with these parts and you would be firmly pulled up. I was allowed to enjoy my mischief, my childhood and even my youth as I bunked a few classes, drove around the city in my two-wheeler on rainy afternoons, or dated young men. I knew I could always talk to my parents about these things without feeling guilty or embarrassed. I was allowed to be myself and so I was gradually able to discover myself since I had never been pinned down by grades. I was taught to celebrate my triumphs and defeats in the right spirit and without guilt.

I loved public speaking and won most of the competitions in my school life. With time I realised that I enjoyed studying subjects like English Literature, Sociology, Psychology. Chemical equations or monetary policies did not seem to appeal to me as much, and so I decided to take my next step based simply on that honest inclination that I felt at that point in my life. Every decision I have taken has always been based purely on my interest in that area or person rather than a fruitful motive backed by an unrealistic faith in an over-simplistic assessment or my ability to predict the future. Looking back today, it seems as though every decision that was candidly taken by me stemmed from an unconscious inherent knowledge of who I was or aspired to be. It even led me to those amazing teachers and colleagues who deeply influenced and empowered me at different stages of my life.

My heart goes out to those millions of perfectly capable adults who are stuck in a profession they do not enjoy. They never found the time to ask themselves what they really wanted, they often lament. I have succumbed to that invisible pressure at times and appeared for entrance exams on subjects that did not remotely interest me only so I could have a ‘secure’ (whatever that meant) and lucrative career. But life has been kind to me, and every time I have taken a decision with dishonest intentions I have faced a rejection. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had managed to make it to an MBA or Economics school.

What is a secure life anyway? I am tempted to end this post with what my professor at the journalism school says each time I enquire if his life is ‘all settled’. He only replies –“For god’s sake, Maddy! You should know me better by now! The day life does settle for me, I shall die of boredom.”

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

You and I, Seasoned With Poetry ‘n’ Fairytale

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I have come to believe that this magic potion called life that we unmindfully gorge on day after day and even occasionally gag on, is actually seasoned thoroughly with two unobtrusive ingredients that lend that untraceable yet captivating flavour to the main component, as they slowly sink into it layer by layer. These are a drizzle of fantasy and a dash of poetry that define and dictate the true essence of what we consume unmindfully that, in turn, decides who we become ultimately. And yet most of us, being who we are, seldom notice or even realize their presence and the power that this seasoning duo possesses. Instead, we attribute every other quality to only those condiments that meet the eye.

What we are able to conjecture are perhaps the more widely approved colours and textures that are tossed into the simmering cauldron to replicate that familiar taste that reassures us of our deceptive yet intoxicating sense of power instead of challenging our opinions of what we defend as the well-defined. Of course, those ingredients too are necessary to shield us from the unapologetic harsh reality that we bite into, as often we seem to have lost the capacity for accepting what stands unaltered. These condiments know the art of appeasing us so we may never know what lies beyond them.

How many of us are truly aware of who we are, or what we consume. And yet what we gobble up day after day, unwillingly or willingly, unwittingly or intentionally, decides what we shape up to even as we continue to define what we are tucking into. Not that I give credence only to what meets the eye- the stark reality- nor do I have a blind faith in the unreal imaginary world of fantasy, simply because I have little faith left in my ability to tell the difference. For me everything is real just as long as I care to believe in it. And yet, there must be events or circumstances that remind us of the existence of a world of reality that may not yet be within the realms of our familiar beliefs or conventional understanding. But such a world exists and so it must be real. Else, nothing is… nothing ever was. Though at times the latter seems like a probable option too, perhaps a harsher ‘reality’.

Flavours of poetry and fairytales, on the other hand, while defying the contradicting notions of ‘reality’ and defending fluid designs of possibility, add richness, zest, and a delectable array of magnificent hues and splendid aromas to the fare. They connect the impossible with the possible within the human mind, defining best the seasons within the human heart and often leaving it altered for life with a sense of wonderment towards life. They create a connect between us and life by blurring out the differences with their soothing touch so we are able to rise above what we cannot change and obtain the gift of being reverential as we notice life through all its shades.

It is that potion of poetry and fairytale in us that connects us to nature and life, lends us a pair of eyes that can see beauty and celebrate joy, and a heart that can weep in melancholy, pathos, love and happiness. It reminds us of our wanderer soul that can let go of all its possessions and rise above them to feel true liberation.

Our physical form too thrives on rhythm. The heart throbs in poetic beat while the mind drifts into the unfamiliar obscure realm beyond the familiar. We survive on hope and love that seem not unlike words taken from a fairytale. Notice an infant and you would have a chance of knowing what this means. You can mesmerize a young child with a wonderful story that happened behind those gigantic fluffy clouds, or even sing her to sleep with a soothing rhyme. It is in these acts alone that an infant feels reassured and at peace. And that is our first proof!

We have all, unknowingly or knowingly, fed on these two elements and thus they remain, even today, an integral part of our being. So even as people argue relentlessly about how poetry and fairytales are only for some people and not for the masses, I steadfastly hold on to the opinion that these two elements are actually an intrinsic part of the human consciousness. Literature and Science have, in fact, derived these flavours from the human mind and so they continue to stimulate and inspire the human intellect and have the power to resonate in every corner of our being even today. Poetry and fairytales are for everybody everywhere and for all times. If there is hope there is a fairytale too; if there is joy in beauty then there has to be poetry there as well!

There is much poetry and fairytale in our hearts and dreams even today. We might have only forgotten the art of noticing and exulting in their quiet presence due to the overwhelming presence of other much weightier matters. But we seem to have forgotten so many things that we would do well to recollect and rejuvenate… and remind ourselves that poetry and fairytale continue to remain an inseparable part of life and nature and the very essence of our existence. But as they say, good seasoning works its way through best when it is kept in the warmth!

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Patriotism Version 20.13

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Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

Like an uncanny construal of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland the world seems like an absurd farcical place to me. Everything and everyone seems to be neatly sorted out as ‘mine’ and ‘yours’, and as we cling on to what we believe we own we turn more distrustful of others’ intent as our mind refuses to accept anything beyond what is tagged as ‘ours’. We have begun to shrink as human beings to an unbelievably petty size.

I suddenly find myself in a situation where most people look so pitifully small that I can barely pass through their tiny doors that have been fashioned to shut out their self-absorbed niggling minds. A few walls I manage to break as I attempt to squirm into the shrinking space, while for others I am unable to manoeuver my way through their rigid partitions that refuse to bend or budge. Every brick on every wall has the name of its owner inscribed on it, and that is all that seems to matter.

I walk through the walled world troubled by these attenuating minds and wondering if some words have turned obsolete or even lethal in the modern context. It is, perhaps, time for certain words to redeem their worth and re-establish themselves in a new light. One such word is ‘patriotism’ that means ‘cultural attachment or devotion to one’s motherland’. There used to be an era when this word seemed less lame and unconvincing when it was used less in a divisive context and more for the purpose of liberating a nation from her oppressors. But soon enough this word joined others of its ilk with extremist sentiments that seemed to overwhelm our senses and tickle our emotions generously, making us perfect pawns for a conniving political ploy to serve the self-interests of a handful of power hungry people. Thus started the steep decline of the word…

Even today, in the name of ‘patriotism’ and other nationalistic sentiments people are violated, unending stretches of land and nature are torn asunder with barbed wires, and we hold on to and viciously guard the tiny patch of land that has been thrown to us. Countries and even states are falling apart due to linguistic differences and other parochial considerations of a small community. At any point, on any piece of land, we are either ‘locals’ or ‘outsiders’, and despicable acts resulting from this intolerant narrow mindset are shamelessly justified in the name of religion or nationalistic sentiments. We seem to have lost out to the power hungry. Perhaps, to truly free a country from hatred and violence we need to free the concept of patriotism from political agendas. Or maybe, what we need to do is to rid ourselves of these misleading concepts that only create animosity and draw a divide between people and communities. The more the walls, the more the wars!

Besides, in today’s global world where most of us stay away from our birthplace to pursue our occupations, and a nation thrives on the tax and services of several non-residents and foreign nationals, such words seem redundant. In fact this senseless obsession with one’s state and country has become a reason for looking at other natives or even fellow residents with suspicion and aggression. What we need now is a handful of new words (since clearly, we can’t do without that dope) that teach us ‘acceptance’ and ‘mutual respect’ regardless of differences! We need to take the concept of ‘unity in diversity’ to an entirely new level as we must also count ourselves first as citizens of a global village. Just like a Mac software we should now discard or at least update such time-specific jargons to their latest versions.

I remember the pride my grandfather felt every time he narrated bits about India’s struggle for freedom that he had witnessed as a child. His words dripped with a deep sense of patriotism. It always made me wonder at how nationalistic sentiments accentuated a discrepant part of our personality. There would be excitement, pride, even anger and bigotry in his tone and words. He told me about Tagore’s efforts to stop the partition of Bengal and promote universal brotherhood, and also about his renunciation of his Knighthood after the barbaric killing of his countrymen at Jallianwala Bagh. But as Tagore pleaded against the idea of splitting his nation and his people, in another part of India, Nehru and Gandhi discussed the proposition of forming a separate nation for Muslims. How could such great leaders take a distressing decision of such historical magnitude whose repercussions the world suffers even today?

I am yet to understand how a day like August 15 is celebrated without a twitch of remorse for those millions of innocent lives that were rendered homeless and who lost their families even as India and the newly formed Pakistan proudly rejoiced in their political independence. Many Muslim families, who had called India their home for several generations and had, perhaps, even fought for the freedom struggle, had suddenly been robbed of their motherland, while several Hindu families had found themselves overnight in a newborn Pakistan! They either had to change their religion to show their loyalty to this new nation or move to the other side of the border. Under such insubstantial requirements, how does one install faith in concepts like ‘motherland’ and ‘patriotism’ that may change overnight? Hence my suspicions for such nationalistic sentiments, as an unfortunate descendant of this political heritage and as a witness of the Gujarat riots, are perhaps justified.

Yes, I might have had the privilege to be born into free India and to enjoy the fruits of this hard won freedom, but like many others of my generation I long for a world that is free from war and violence. History bears witness to our insatiable need for conquest and plunder that have wiped off races and civilisations from the face of the earth! Therefore I question every sentiment or alleged devotion to a principle or ideal that goes against humanitarian values, and wonder how such ‘lofty’ sentiments and ideals can possibly justify resentment and violence against other living beings and nations. How can a concept that places sacrileges before sacrifice ever bring peace? Are we not liable for humanity first?

Thankfully, history has also shown us great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, to name a few, who have endured great agonies only to win freedom and dignity for their country and their people. Yet, they stand as people who are known essentially for their sense of compassion; they would inevitably stand up for the oppressed irrespective of their colour or creed.

These are men and women of great power who never felt the need for using brutal force. Their unbending strength lay in their deep sense of humanity and justice and their level of tolerance and compassion that rose above the narrow walls of patriotism and even lent the word a greater benchmark for their successors to follow. They stood up against oppressors for the allegiance they felt towards every human being who deserved dignity and respect. Yet, sadly, it is the diminution of the word ‘patriotism’ that lives on instead of the strength of the human heart that brought it to life and then rose far above it. It was the respect for life and not the love for their land to the exclusion of all else that made these men and women attain great stature as world leaders.

And yet, we foolishly assume conquest just as a child plays with sticks and imagines himself to be a warrior. Just that, unlike children, we are eluded by the farce. We refuse to acknowledge the absolute insignificance of our mortal existence before the unyielding magnitude of Nature, and even the human mind, that we keep battling to conquer with guns and swords. Perhaps we should give every person in the world a tiny space to dig a well and call it his own little country where no light or person can reach. Should we continue at this rate, such a day shouldn’t be very far off.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

That Bizarre Thing Called ‘Reason’

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Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

I bet every penny in my pocket that most of us, at some point in our lives, have been impulsively drawn towards things and moments that might have seemed of little value to the ‘reason-able’ mind or even on the ‘normality’ index that is drawn up by the most mediocre of all laws – the law of averages. It simply means that one needs to be at an average level to be ‘normal’. We have often quietly watched our minds wander about in the obscure wilderness of the lesser-acknowledged world that doesn’t promise anything in return but only an honest experience, even if it may be as short-lived as a moment.

We are sometimes irresistibly drawn towards the unaccepted and the unacknowledged terrain, in our unguarded candid moments, perhaps for the unadulterated rectitude these experiences make possible. Yet, most of us have mastered the art of kicking such unattributed inclinations under the carpet even if their secret scent may linger on our fingers for the rest of our lives. The weight of reason impudently tramples over the delicate and exquisite pleasures of an unadulterated moment, and the matter rests there most of the time for most of us.

We seem to have forgotten who we most instinctively are, who we were born to be, or who we so ardently want to be. What matters to us instead is who others want us to be, and what would be the most reasonable thing to do. We know exactly when we are caught in this slippery scheme of things when we explain ourselves with a ‘because’. At such times, the meek rationale-addict within me prods me with the questions, ‘Where will this take you?’ or ‘What will you get out of this, anyway?’ Questions that have haunted and disturbed me, and whose answers have eluded me on several occasions before being kicked in their butts and tossed back into oblivion once again. These questions have slowly spread their venomous tentacles inside the human mind only to surface as the powerful dictators of the human will.

Seriously, why must everything have a reason? Reason breeds comparison and judgment, and I have never seen much good come out of these two vices.

Well, in my case, this inclination towards having my heart wander has perhaps seemed a trifle illogical to others, but thankfully the tendency continues to thrive, much to the chagrin of well-wishers. I have grown attached to and even attracted to people and moments that have, in fact, held better reasons for me to do just the reverse! Perhaps it is my maverick heart that would never kneel before this bizarre thing called ‘reason’. Ask my heart why it loves the colour blue and it will almost always reply – ‘simply!’ My heart keeps tormenting me, even today, with its outrageously wilful ways that I cannot explain or suppress; you see, once again, for no reason at all. And without a single plausible explanation in its favour, my heart (or wherever that logic-less world within me resides) still seems to be getting its way with me effortlessly and shamelessly without a hint of remorse.

Ever since I learnt that I could make my own choices (though I fail to recall where or how I got that impression) I have been plagued with the perpetually unrequited need for sounding and acting sensible where practically everything is governed by an obvious and almost unassuming rationale. There always has to be a reason for doing or not doing something. I eat because I need nourishment. I sleep because I need rest. I went to college because otherwise I would die penniless. And many other things that I simply have to do because that is what everyone does. This indefatigable list manifests consternation and contempt for my life and me, managing to mock me in my face each time I decide to humour the logic-obsessed world around me. Being myself and owing no explanation to anyone, I know, comes most naturally to me. But that comes at a cost, though much smaller than what I would have to pay otherwise, I realised with age.

I have sensed soft murmurs from behind closed doors, tagging me as a girl ‘getting-out-of-hand’ in college, and a disrespectful youth for weighing respect against actions irrespective of one’s age or assigned/assumed status. Some have revelled in the thought that I lack a mature mind simply because I decided to remain my playful and candid self even as I quietly noticed every person’s vulnerabilities and strengths. And thus I have realised that ‘reason’ often leads us to misleading conclusions and deceptive proofs for inferences. But it has mattered little to me. It has mattered little to those I hold very close to me. That is why perhaps I dare to talk about it without a pang of guilt or embarrassment (wow, reason again!).

It is reason that tempts us to judge a person. It is reason that fogs our deepest desires and steers us away from who we were born to be, though thankfully for a little while, as life steadfastly and invariably shows up as the strongest antidote to this human invention of reason. Reason restricts and restrains a creative mind. Ever seen a child imagining his pencil to be a rocket? That child contains the potential to invent one too! But before she does it, we slap ‘reason’ right into her face and she relentlessly strives to be good in every subject that is thrown at her.

But there are occasions where the reason for a ‘reason’ seems quite unconvincing. Like: she is my closest friend BECAUSE she understands me; I married him BECAUSE our thinking matched. We even pray or meditate BECAUSE we have a need for peace within. It is not a question of right and wrong. It is simply an observation that every little detail in life runs on a REASON. We seem to need a reason for everything. So much so that, I am told, we are all here for a reason! Why would life be chasing an element that is purely defined by our addiction to assurance? Every choice seeks a reason for comfort and solace when solace merely awaits the mind that can act beyond reason or a motive.

But there are times when it does seem as if nature too revolves around reason. Why else should a flower attract bees with its sweet nectar if it weren’t for scattering its pollen? Hmm…now that makes me suspicious of my own understanding and practice. Perhaps among the few things that don’t seem to have any reason is this post of mine since surely it is no surprise to anyone that I haven’t the faintest clue as to why I wish to bring out and validate this absurd notion that has stalked me all my life.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Beauty In The Beast Called ‘Life’

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Source: wonderfulbuddha.wordpress.com

Source: wonderfulbuddha.wordpress.com

As it turns out, the concept of working-from-home comes with its own set of privileges and downsides. The lesser known truth remains that most of these basic privileges that seem to convince naïve minds of their potentially pleasing nature are in fact seldom exploited, highly assumed and vastly overrated rather than being frequently enjoyed. On the contrary, it is these privileges that most often become the greatest challenges and distractions for a person, the minute the others step out. As for the most conventional downsides, however long or unpleasant the list may be, they remain strangely unnoticed and even unacknowledged by others and by us too.

One such downside is the visit to the supermarket to buy household supplies. And trust me, these include the most uninspiring things like the toilet brush, dental floss, mothballs or bread and eggs! But sometimes, even the most mundane places can surprise you with a brilliant story idea. In my case it was a topic for my blog post.

As I waited in the taxi queue after concluding my purchases, I noticed a young Chinese couple waiting for their turn before me. The young gentleman was in charge of a pram, which carried an adorable toothless infant. I wouldn’t be wrong here to assume that it was their daughter. If there was one thing this tiny tot had learnt in these few months it was to stare at her father with the eyes of a devoted fan, as if the rest of us remained invisible to her.

Craning my neck over her daddy’s shoulder with unpractised artfulness I tried my best to grab the little one’s attention. But nothing seemed to distract her from looking at her daddy in complete awe. Occasionally she even wobbled her toes and arms as she chuckled to win some attention from the young man in return. It was so endearing that it distracted me from all the weight that I was carrying.

Her father seemed to know exactly when he should look at her and smile back, which he did quite frequently. He just knew when he should gently move the pram to and fro, or airlift the little frame into his arms and kiss her and sway her in his arms as they all waited for a cab. The mother like the proud concubine of that happy household watched quietly the two most important people in her life interact. At regular intervals she stroked her little one’s soft head, and her eyes remained focused on her companion as she spoke with him.

It was an effortless exchange of love, compassion, faith and complete surrender between a parent and an infant. What made those two grownups so capable of loving and nurturing a complete dependent? Where had the young infant learnt to trust another person so blindly and surrender to them so completely? There surely had to be a force within life and nature that inspired us to show such greatness with such humility. It had to be more than mere ‘attachment’ and petty ‘bondage’.

There are a zillion moments like these that one lives through during a lifetime. It is in fact these seemingly unassuming instants that fill me with gratitude for having got the chance to see life so closely as there was no way I could have fathomed the meaning of life or love in any other language. It is through the myriad emotions and diverse experiences that life puts me through that I learn to discover myself, even as I retain my ability to question it too, from time to time. And so I fail to understand the reason why many of us aspire to free ourselves from the circle of life and death.

My glance returned to the infant now, who seemed taken care of, loved and made comfortable.

“What a lucky baby you are to have got such caring parents. How else would you have learnt the meaning of love?” I thought to myself.

I was reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s words on children –

‘Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.’

It was difficult to imagine that the little infant could have a ‘background’ and history so profound, detailed and independent of his parents or even his present life. Perhaps if I could look more closely, beyond the deceptive young age of his exterior, I’d perhaps meet the soul of a wise philosopher or a stoic warrior or even a caring parent or lover. And yet, it had returned as an innocent and dependent child to be nurtured with love and care once again.

And thus as I continued to reflect on the circle of life and death, I once again struggled to fathom why we feel the need to be in a state of suspension where we don’t matter and where nothing matters to us anymore, where we are unable to appreciate the morning mist or enjoy the intoxicating rains or the comforting embrace of a five-year-old. Only in our human form do we learn to love and laugh, to lose and submit, and also to forgive and forget. Are these not great learning and experiences worth defending or returning to?

It is as a member of the human race that I am able to create another life. It is as a human being that I am able to nurture it selflessly only to let go of it eventually. It is only in my imperfect mortal state that I appreciate the strengths and vulnerabilities of others and myself and get the closest glimpse of life and its mystifying inexplicable ways! And in my material self alone do I retain the ability to visualize a much greater governing force and bow down to it. I become a philosopher, a poet, a parent, an ascetic, but only until I am within the circle of life and death. Then why must I treat this circle with fear and disdain, and mindlessly reduce its meaning to a handful of fancy words like ‘attachment’ and ‘bondage’. Our journey surely means more than that!

Judge me, if you must, but I deny and disown my right to obtain spiritual liberation by escaping the world. Instead I choose to be a part of it each time so I may return once again to feel the bond of love and kindness through every string of attachment and every reminding wound caused by loss. It is after all not so much about the beauty and the beast as it is often about the beauty within the beast called life that is of any consequence.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Psychedelic Desires: Ad For A Suitable Companion

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Source: angrylambie.buzznet.com

Source: angrylambie.buzznet.com

An educated, emancipated and feisty woman seeks a suitable companion who possesses qualities that rarely meet the naked eye and who values the same subtleties in others and in life. She eagerly looks for a friend who values the simplest things in life like the scent of wet mud, the quiet night sky, or the touch of cold breeze just before a heavy downpour. She seeks a comrade who can count on her on the gloomiest days and celebrate with her during moments of inspiring madness.

She seeks a friend who, just like his companion, is able to follow the simple expedient of preserving his dignity and propriety before he ventures to vindicate himself; one who has the strength to speak his mind, the patience to hold back his judgement, and the intelligence to tell the difference. She is in search of someone who has the compassion to understand, and the humility to feel gratitude; a person who shares a delightful sense of humour and a selective bad memory, qualities that neatly qualify as indispensable for a beautiful friendship.

Above all, she looks for a companion who has the eyes to look beyond the whiteness of the skin or the curves of the hips and thighs, whose smile does not rely on the size of his wallet, whose mind can soar above the clouds even on the cloudiest day, and who can laugh and love sans a single petty condition. She seeks a friend who can accept and rejoice in a companionship along with its differences; a person who can forgive and yet retain the ability to suffer remorse after hurting another. She seeks a person who notices the unbearable weight of a single teardrop or the unsettled glance of a pair of eyes that refuses to sleep.

She desires a knowledgeable mind that thrives on the perpetual hunger for greater wisdom and a thirst for the finer arts; one whose existence relies heavily on the power of spiritual wisdom and the exploration and appreciation of the unfathomable beauty of nature. She seeks a person who has an independent mind yet possesses the strength to confess his complete dependence on his companion out of love. She seeks a person who lends more air to her wings as she makes her flight, while he too possesses wings of his own and has a flight to make. But most importantly, she desires a companion who, just like her, is determined to work on a relationship with patience, compassion and hope, and give it everything it needs just like raising a young child.

Our girl promises the same commitments to her companion-to-be even as she also assures that a constant disregard for the other’s sense-of-pride could be a single unfortunate reason to dissolve everything that could have mattered, only for a handful of things that should not have mattered at all. This alliance will only survive until it is carefully carried with care and not unmindfully dragged by its hair.

Last but not the least, she is open to both men and women from any cultural background to contact her for this possibly lifelong alliance. Additional attributes and qualities like practical self-reliance and knowledge of music and poetry, love for food and travel, though not absolutely essential, will be preferred…rest all remains immaterial.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

The God I Saw

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an infant i saw

under the staggering light

of the earthen lamp

on that still callous night…

when meaning had crept

out of every human heart

when hopelessness ‘n’ remorse

had ripped open every vulnerable part…
she had arrived
to save us all

and lead us
to a fresh new start

no weapon she bore

not a crown she wore

only a pure innocent heart…

patient ears to hear our woes

dark eyes that exuberated joy

her four little hands held aloft

a book

a flower

a flute

a toy…

yet familiar to me she seemed

while in blinding radiance she beamed

i recalled alas
that frail ‘n’ hungry cry

of a newborn girl

discarded and left to die…

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

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Credentials Of A Critic

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Source: geneanderson.blogspot.com

Source: geneanderson.blogspot.com

I am gravely sceptical about the touted significance of the role of a critic in literature or the arts. However I wouldn’t dare to completely tag the outsourced inference or even the paid-for favour of a critic as entirely obsolete since I do believe that a qualified feedback could fuel meaningful literature, protect unique writing styles and storylines from commercial slaughterhouses, and also engage minds in a meaningful comparison between the varying styles and formats. While one should remain open to criticism, unwarranted vociferous opinions and disapproval of so-called flaws and faults are distasteful and downright offensive. Is this policing necessary? Well that’s a completely different point altogether. My contention here rests on the unsettling premise that the role of a critic will not be reaching its extinction anytime soon.

These days everybody seems to have donned the expert’s hat and it is the rising score of self-invited advice and opinions that are frivolously thrown at the writer, with complete disregard for the latter’s craft, which has led to the steady decline of my regard for this venerated role. Perhaps it is the dearth of deserving critics that makes the presence of these unqualified opinion-dumpers increasingly unacceptable to writers and other professionals. In fact, I suspect it is the overuse or even abuse of this role and the very nomenclature ‘critic’ that has prompted me to believe that there exists a perpetual negative connotation to the word which was rightfully introduced to accomplish a more productive role however arguably redundant most of it still remains most of the times.

It is interesting how certain words, originally intended to mean something entirely different, begin to represent a separate meaning depending on the examples its users, or in this case its abusers, have set. For instance, criticism or the role of a critic was initially designed as an act of evaluating and studying the merits and drawbacks in an articulate manner which on an ordinary day would seem far more scrupulous had it not turned into a severe judgement or even an unqualified advice from a complete stranger, like it is the case now. The last one, of course, would barely qualify as ‘criticism’ in the proper sense. It is like the word ‘romantic’ that most invariably reminds us of a fizzy-eyed dreamer when the word also represents one of the most glorious eras of the literary landscape, with far broader connotations than the conventional definitions of the word. Another word that has come to be closely associated with the negative is ‘politics’ when primarily it implies the art or science of governance.

Besides the spilling out of the intended definitions and scope of the ‘critic’, it is also the overwhelming reach that another’s opinion bears on one’s work that concerns me. I have noticed, both as a reader and a writer, the sudden progression in the number of critics aka advisers as also in the amount of lethal power they possess over a piece of literature that a writer may have taken years to compile. The literary wheel seems to be spinning more often around the critic’s verdict that then somehow dictates the details and choices for a writer and a reader. We seem to be in a shadow-worshipping world where the actual work is liberally despised or judged.

I have come across a fair number of television and print ‘journalists’ (another word very loosely used these days), who drool over their own fanciful and snippy argots as they go about on their verbal rampage that is more entertaining than intelligent or insightful. They assume the right to denigrate a writer and, sadly, that sells more. I wish we knew that among the few things besides Rome that could not be built in a day it would be a manuscript and most definitely a published book! I wish we knew of the long hours of disciplined writing, the rigorous and brain-numbing rounds of editing and proof reading, and the frustrating wait for the cosmic forces to return the favour before we dismantled all the blocks of a lifelong dream with a single judgment. For me, a writer must always be respected for his attempt. Surely, a person who makes herself or himself that vulnerable deserves to be regarded in a more reputable light.

A few weeks ago, I happened to share one of my poems ‘Poetry vs. Cigarettes’ on a social forum for poetry readers, which turned out to be one of my greatest misjudgments. I was appalled at the level of highhandedness people assumed. One ridiculously concerned and presumptuous gentleman pounded me with his disgust for cigarettes and me, since he had managed to somehow perceive my poetry very literally and derive the most unimaginative implication from it, overlooking the entire metaphor that I thought I had so intelligently crafted. Wonder what would happen if I posted Mark Twain’s Art of Masturbation without the acclaimed author’s byline!

Among the violations that the struggling writer in me has suffered, the most entertaining one was a feedback I received from a blank-faced e-stranger who conveniently rewrote my entire poem for me, robbing it of its rhythm (not rhyme). He retained only the title as a kind gesture so I would understand how I had to do justice to the title. In the end, he messaged: ‘Remember, it is Poetry vs. Cigarettes’ not ‘Cigarettes vs. Poetry’. I am still to figure out the depth of that sentence. Their confidence baffles me even as I battle to survive their unfinished sentences and obstreperous conduct. Though to tell you the truth I’d be far more worried or even devastated had he left a poem that seemed better fit than my own work. It was a scary stunt to have pulled over a writer, and surely a foolish one too, in this case. As the diva Madonna puts it (for Lady Gaga) under a similar circumstance, ‘It seemed reductive’. Touché to that!

As most of my literary wonderments invariably trail back to Virginia Woolf, in this case too she has, for me, remained the best example of a truly qualified critic. Firstly, her own views as a writer have been discussed, criticized or even left unnoticed just like the highly complex and bold painting patterns of the great Vincent Van Gogh, which were much ahead of his times, had been dealt with. This meant that she had faced the vices of criticism herself. Secondly, no criticism seemed to have dissuaded her from expressing herself (once again, like Van Gogh), which meant she knew the difference between a good critique and a bad one. Her ideas and writing style, even today, stand firmly as a hallmark of excellence in literature surpassing the lifespan of several critics and their opinions.

Virginia Woolf took the opinions of only a few writer friends like Eliot and chose to overlook the views of journalists, critics and fans too, since she feared that too much flattery, just like too many critiques, would influence her intent as a writer. She clearly did understand the roles of a critic and a critique. In her diary (Diary of a Writer) Virginia Woolf has neatly defaced many big names in the world of poetry and professionals whose works have overlooked the nuances of human emotions while they have solely glorified physical strength and valour as attributes of human strength; elements like emotional complexities and relationship subtleties have largely been ignored. For her, those intricacies of the human mind are in fact the true protagonists. She has discussed the writing styles of her contemporaries even as she has candidly dissected her own moods and works effortlessly. She has, in several cases, reassessed her own work and expressed her excitement or disappointment over it. To me that is a ‘qualified’ critic.

It is solely for the likes of Virginia Woolf that I remain hopeful of this probably-redundant-yet-not-completely-pointless effort and so I voluntarily continue to prevent myself from fully despising this role as an entirely wasteful occupation. After all, for the writer in me, none is more dangerous than the critic that quietly watches me from within even as I continue to write.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

What Grandma Knew Better

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In spite of my perpetual inclination towards the unbridled egalitarian human spirit, that invariably stereotypes me as a radical or even a painful rebel within an otherwise-perfectly-normal-and-peaceful-family, there rests a hidden world within me that brings out the apparent antithesis and a conflicting need within me. The latter world emerges out of the deep waters once the tides are low, at an innocuous hour when the sun is yet to rise and the entire cosmic space rests in unstirred silence and darkness. When I step into this world, individuality seems slightly overrated and even self-centered and lonely whereas the concept of conformism suddenly seems comforting even if it may be a little out of my comfort-zone as a giver every now and then.

This facet of my mind reminds me of my yearning for a family, it confesses to me the significance of those attributes of warmth and affection and bonhomie whose gravity soared above the realms of petty conveniences and practicality and whose impact could leave a heart altered and touched for life. Even today, when my mind is agitated by the silence within my self-drawn boundary that defines my own space, my mind wanders off into a remote yet apparently undesired possibility of a space filled with people and voices. That space around me that I so zealously guard from time to time from intruders seems no more than a barren land, unfriendly and forbidding. And I wait or even crave at times for someone to barge in with a booming voice and destroy my obsession for my sense of individuality and redeem my spirit of being an unguarded wanderer of the unknown.

In a world where most lives are gradually moving towards a more disciplined socialising pattern adorned by well-manicured protocols that I on a normal day would most naturally defend, the memory that comforts me most is of how I was always welcome at my grandparents’ house where I didn’t have to think of the convenient hours. I just knew I could go there anytime I liked and they would love me and be so happy to greet me! Grandma would pretend that her backache was gone so she could cook me my favourite bake! On the contrary, if I were to pick up the phone and call someone of my own generation I would have to think a zillion times about the hour and its appropriateness. To be fair to them I am, myself, duly guilty of the same practice most often when I prefer a prior heads up on how my following weekend would look like so I could plan my work around it. You see, it’s flawlessly convenient!

Any last minute variation to the revised almost accurate chronology that might involve more than five people on the surprise guest list would most invariably leave the likes of me hyperventilating inside, even more if it were on a weekday where the chances of winging it would be even lower for some unexplainable reason. Thankfully these freakishly scary mental images of being roped into impromptu action rarely spills onto the face, which by then carries the ‘what-a-pleasant-surprise!’ or ‘of-course-I’d-love-to-help!’ look in rehearsed reflex when inside it would feel like I had run out of oxygen or someone was plunging a knife into my hand.

Sometimes I wonder how the Smartphone generation got this way. On the contrary I grew up in a house thronging with guests and filled with laughter and parties. There were fewer bedrooms yet we never seemed to run out of space. Sometimes we even slept on the floor after we all had chatted for half the night over innumerable snacks and cups of coffee that mother quietly supplied from the kitchen. I don’t recall a single episode when my parents looked unhappy with visitors or uneasy for having to help people at an unearthly hour. Instead, our exams came and passed by like seasons, but that didn’t alter the pattern of guests at home – they were always welcome even if that meant that we had to quietly cancel our own plans. Declining a guest unless for an emergency was not an option. In those days, even the help at home wasn’t adequate nor were there enough machines to smoothen out the cleaning and laundry work. Yet, I am still to see my parents hit the panic button when the house is brimming with guests. It seems like such a pleasure to be visiting people like these.

Well, whom are we kidding here! Of course there were times when my parents and their parents too wished that they didn’t have to entertain those many guests at an uncomfortable time of the year! But they handled it differently. And guess what, they had their guests over anyway (most of the times)! How is that a smart choice? Well their loyalties and concern for one another wove them so close to each other that even during times of utter discontent my mother had a long list of people she knew she could trust with her eyes shut. Also, during times of celebration my parents knew they had so many loved ones who would be happy for us, who would bless us too. That is what that generation had earned! Loads of love, loyalty, companionship, good wishes and blessings! After all, this was what a family was meant to do, to flock together just like the birds, ants and elephants!

Instead it had started to seem too primitive or even obsolete a concept to many of us, by now, whose aspirations were driven primarily by convenience or a self-designed sense of individual space and justice. The head prevailed while the heart waited for a trial. Families slowly disintegrated into fragments where our only string of communication rested on the frail shoulders of the previous generation. Even today, the little that I know about my cousins and their lives is mostly through my mother. Sadly enough, even Facebook hasn’t played a vital role in establishing my loyal intent towards my family yet. We seem to have conveniently discarded things that haven’t suited us and tagged those as among the felonies of some manmade society while we have embraced ideologies that promote individuality to seem undeniably superior!

Most of us from this current generation tend to go incognito socially or explicitly announce our super busy schedules in advance so no social link starts to grow on us and weigh us down. We schedule dinners and lunches proudly as we conform to the practice where everyone is at the right place at the right time and there is also enough room and grub for everybody. Under such conditionality clause how easy is it to remain unpretentious? I have often felt a blatant disconnect between relatives and friends in such gatherings where only the unfaltering rapport among the previous generation has seemed assuring and comforting to me.

Today, even when my mind can relate to those of my generation and beyond, my heart yearns for that unconditional affection that I once received from the generations before mine. Sure, there were pitfalls then but it isn’t fully correct either to believe that we have got ourselves a fair deal – and that is the point here. I find myself a complete misfit as I crave for those family reunions that I grew up watching. I have decided to dismantle my panic button for good and step up for some traditional-style family time!

While I am no patron of social sanctions, I still wish we retained our abilities to distinguish between the attributes within a society that resonate with our human spirit of bonding and belonging as against those that we deceivingly device and construct only for the sake of it. I doubt if this is any less of an apocalypse for humankind and I won’t be surprised if our future generations called us primitive too for selfishly deconstructing a society that our forefathers once built. Perhaps this is where we stop and ponder…

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Are You Sanctioned Yet?

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled ‘Lust for Likes’ that spoke of our perpetual need for gratification through the verdict of the Collective, irrespective of the level of competence of the latter to pronounce a judgement. I am not sure how qualified I am to testify to the latter’s capabilities in this matter; however, I do believe that any independent opinion such as mine must count and so I must speak. In the earlier post I had mentioned how it was the number of votes in our favour, as evident, that mattered to us. The rest was amicably yet confidently damned.

Be it a piece of writing or an unadulterated opinion, both await response, if not recognition, from those around. Heavens forbid, if either should receive a not-so-positive acknowledgment (or no acknowledgement at all), then we are almost always convinced of our own incapability, instantly despising our sensibilities and expressions as we grapple helplessly in the dark for any scrap of consolation that would assure us that the ‘me’ wasn’t yet entirely worthless. We contain an inherent quality to doubt ourselves and an innate ability to trust the negative with regard to that self.

Just when I thought I had conveyed my remorse over our addiction to social attestations to our independent works and ideas, I noticed that the primary fault lay far deeper within a need with a pedigree that had been realised years and years ago when man had created the concept of social norms and behaviour for his immediate benefits then.

Here’s an oversimplified (almost stupid) outline of how I interpret the evolution of and the need for a society. When man decided to settle down and not wander about, he needed an assurance that things would be available and safe while he was stationed in his area of choice. But he eventually realised that nothing would come for free, and that he needed to be socially accepted first. He also figured that there was a possibility of conflicts if everybody had their way. So there needed to be a definite hierarchy and set of rules that favoured him and made his life unencumbered by stress and impediments. That is when the problem started.

In an attempt to straighten things out in his favor, he then created norms that reaffirmed and validated a defined set of right and wrong. In a jiffy, the inspiring intricacies of the otherwise free human mind and will were combed out following an oversimplified rationale and an even stunted intent. Since that moment we have only devised more and more ways to detain our minds and seize its spirit, threatening it from time to time in name of society.

With time these norms slowly became customs and traditions, and these customs that were initially designed to match our “requirements” slowly started dictating our mindsets. Over the years they established their unfaltering supremacy in our lives as a culture, and this we eventually came to regard as our cultural heritage. Before we knew, we had already fallen prey to the giant obsession for social acceptance.

We had to define and justify every relationship and every intention in a way that was expected of us by the society. Relationships needed validation; they often needed a sizeable justification too. Among these, a fair chunk of social sanctions were smartly weighed against a rational need and a thick smog of right and wrongs masked skillfully by a feel-good (and dangerously misleading) phrase – good intentions. This phrase has always made little sense to me.

Relationships too, just like schools and banks, were institutionalised, and that was all it took to get socially sanctioned. And just like the various kinds of bank accounts, there were different kinds of relationships too! And so they were legitimate (whatever that meant)! It was all good to keep us organised and safe within the parameters of law and order requirements, but I believe we took it way more seriously than that. Eventually, the legitimate became synonymous to the accepted that then became ‘right’. The others, that included moments of unadulterated yearnings and thoughts, roamed about like refugees and absconding convicts in the darkness of the night, since then. They refused to be tamed anyway.

Though even the sanctioned world too, just like the unsanctioned side, did bear the brunt of this obsession. I know a friend who had trouble finding a companion for himself after enduring two divorces in a row. The greatly glorified divorces had done an outstanding task in tagging him as the unworthy, or unreliable, or unlucky. His very own brother, on the other hand, who eventually decided to marry someone of his parents’ choice didn’t seem to bear that tag. Instead he became the ideal son. It didn’t matter if he had had an affair or a series of affairs before that choice. We only continued to see what was sanctioned.

Profound emotions like love and compassion too now waited in the same queue to be resized, sanctioned and stamped by innumerable rules like loyalty, duty, responsibility that waited to tickle our abused conscience and reaffirm our un-emancipated commitment towards making ourselves more mean-minded and shallow. Like a butcher we chopped and trimmed the very scope of those words into a handful of petty sanctioned relationships just the way we sliced the land into senseless bits. We took care of only what was ours, or so we thought it was.

In due time we seemed to forget those uninhibited emotions and the innumerable relations that slipped by into dark wilderness for having been unsanctioned or for having lived for a time span less worthy. Our minds had been manicured by then, and we all looked and felt and acted in the same way. We proudly called ourselves a society when instead we should have called ourselves a toy factory.

A levy and a sanction, which, I knew, were nomenclatures to defend the economic world, govern our social lives too, or at least, they still do in many parts of the world. These social sanctions only reduce us to mere commodities that are scanned at every station and then stamped in approval or disapproval. And most of us keep ourselves securely locked up so none of our insides spill out as we totter our way through each conveyor belt, keeping our anxious fingers crossed so that we are socially sanctioned just like the dirty luggage on the dusty conveyor belts at the airport or railway station. Any unrecognised luggage is treated like an explosive, a probable instrument for acts of terror …and will simply earn itself suspicious glances from those who have their head held high after being socially sanctioned.

This amalgamation of requirements that included a few lop-sided rules, among others, today seems sacrosanct and unbending in many parts of the world even now. As a result, we need social sanctions at every stage today in spite of being in a world of social networks! But must we always have everything defined within oversimplified closed quarters and parameters? Must we tag everything as right and wrong, good or bad? After all, how much right is right? Who decides? Why follow?

Must everything be weighed against self-appropriated consequences? Why can’t a thought, a moment, a relationship, an impulse count just as much, in its entirety, without having to scream out its meaning or significance? Why shouldn’t an indefinable relationship aspire to exist without any motive or definitive ending? Have we completely killed the wanderer in us? Are we willing to sacrifice our inherent free will of the wanderer? Or is it not the worst form of   sacrilege of the human soul?

A new life is now tagged as legitimate or illegitimate just like other contractual relationships that have been drafted and resized to fit the petty mindsets in the name of social security. And yet, how many of us feel socially secure today? I remember reading a book recently that said that earlier there used to be far greater humanitarian values where households would accept and take care of an orphan child who was unfed or homeless. It was only after certain religions disapproved of unsanctioned relationships and lives that people turned away from and refused to be associated with the allegedly ‘illegitimate’. ‘This is mine’, ‘that is yours’, ‘she has wronged’… these judgments have only torn us apart and given us a fake sense of power to criticise or condone one another. On the receiving end, those judgments have started to matter to us far more than they should have.

I shall refrain from commenting on the role of religion and let you make your own inferences and belief for now. I just know that religion has cost us several lives and the world’s history is a solid testimony to that. Be it the holiest city, Jerusalem or the Babri-Masjid area, these landmark sites in history have only tried to tell us about our futile attempts to own what belonged to all of us. It only tells us of our twisted and petty self-designed sanctions, be it religious or social or political. It only spells our incapability and stubborn efforts to conquer, capture and sanction a fragment of the free land or the free human spirit. Yet we refuse to learn.

The day we learn to set our minds and hearts free of all sanctions shall we redeem that lost wanderer’s soul within us that is capable of looking at itself as a part of a much larger creation. What a futile conquest it has been so far! I wish we had spent half that time to conquer our minds instead so we could defend that free world within and around us.

I don’t intend to overlook or deny the amount of progress individuals and developed societies have made where they are free to express themselves, define their sexual preferences, and occupy themselves with the work of their choice. It is only that I am unable to overlook that vast majority that refuses to evolve with the changing times, thus making the concept of a society seem so immaterial and inconsequential suddenly. They are the sorts who judge you for what you speak, what you wear, and who you talk to (with regard to your socially-assigned status, mind you). I have despised such people ever since I can remember and shall continue to do so.

Of course, I don’t count myself as the solitary reaper though I dare confess that the solitary confines of my workspace do lend me far more seriousness and gravity most of the times. I am also aware that any statement as this would only culminate into a longer list of people who despise me or de-recognize me (secretly or otherwise), as they have from time to time. But being perfectly aware of the unfortunate plight of our majority today, a fear like this seems no different than a self-inflicted wound, a self-assumed threat or even a form of blackmail to me.  According to me, sizing down an individual’s independence and choices is the worst form of abuse of the human spirit.

I have noticed the names and faces that appear and disappear each time I announce my perspective, and as much as I would secretly want to please each of them, I am constantly reminded of my loyalty to my own mind and its opinions first. My choice therefore is unanimous. And, I welcome everyone’s perspective with equal respect just as long as you can convince me that it is your independent mind that is talking to me.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Nine To Five

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

the tiny cloud
o’er my coffee mug
slowly fills
the air-con space
the rhyming clicks
on my black keyboard
begin to pick
their daily pace…
i take a sip
and retrieve my lip
the stain of red
still on the mug
i answer my phone
in rehearsed reflex
and feel a frown
upon my brow…
i haven’t much time
to fill my mind
with thoughts
of disappointment and fear
my coloured nails
in harmony click on
without a sign
of remorse or cheer…
i pull back my chair
that yields to my will
and stride down
the quiet corridor
my four-inch heels
confirm my being
announcing themselves
on the lacquered floor…
this is my world
from nine to five
when i decide
my destiny
no judging eye
can reach me here
no ladle nor knife
can make pieces of me…
I’ve seen
the raised eyebrow
the look you give
from time to time
but i choose this time
my book instead
and leave you to fuss
o’er my alleged crime…

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Ramblings Of A Married Man

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My parents have been married for over thirty years now, and their parents celebrated their golden anniversary five years ago. My great-grandfather too, I am told, looked much relieved and eager in a strange sort of way by the mere possibility of joining his companion after his death which also happened of heart-break soon after great grandma passed away. And here I am, Tito, barely into five years of my marriage (and four affairs that did not work out before marriage), already toying with the idea of running away to some place really far, where this alliance could not find me.

The reason I have started questioning this allegedly ‘holy union’ (of man, woman, the man’s mother, the woman’s mother, et all) is because this seems like the only thing that can possibly yield to my power without killing me of apparent guilt, since the rest of my relationships remain seemingly sacrosanct and sympathy-prone and protected. There comes a point where a man’s sense of guilt seems taller than his own sorrows. I’d selfishly allow Paro, my feisty and vocal half, to disown me than suffer the cruel verdict of being pronounced a bad son, a role that I have had to prove quite frequently of late. Paro would perhaps testify to this thought since she knows me reasonably well or perhaps since she is exhausted of dating my whole family to prove her love for me every day without the luxury of getting on with it gradually. Though I must add here that my Paro is no soft missy, which actually fuels my misery in the most conventional ways.

Apart from fearing the two women in my life – ma and Paro – I am also a god-fearing person though the logical side of me has been researching a reasonable bit on Hindu mythology these days. As it turns out, a mother and son relationship has been duly depicted and glorified by Krishna and his mother Yashoda. Looking for a mother and daughter relationship within these mythological parameters would be pointless; besides that’s a separate story for my wife Paro to rant about. Then there is the famous husband-wife duo, Shiv and Parvati, among others. This revered pair is complete on its own. And in spite of there being innumerable tales of a zillion gods and goddesses, I wonder why there is not a single mythological trace that leaves any social evidence on the concept of Shiv, Parvati and their parents living under the same roof!

What I gather from all this is that the concept of a nuclear family prevailed much earlier than we knew –an impressive and highly scientific practice, I must add. So, basically, there are two neat categories of family structures: the perfectly joint ones, like the ones our grandparents grew up in, and the perfectly nuclear ones that our Hindu gods and goddesses like Shiv and Parvati enjoyed. I am still wondering which category I should place Paro and me in, since the concept of individuality of a nuclear family, in our case, is only restricted to the mere physicality of the word. Rest all is driven by an innate sense of compulsive-duty-disorder and guilt that ties us with a building full of people, sans our consent.

I consider myself a reasonably rational and patient man most of the times. Paro says that is what leads one to most of the wrong answers in a marriage. However, with habitual poised rationality I revise the series of events in my life so I can place my finger finally on the correct vein, feel the pulse, and declare the exact problem. I am obsessed with working things out ‘amicably’, where that last word before the comma is my greatest weakness sometimes. Unpleasantness or being upfront is Paro’s forte and I secretly admire and hate her for that.

So, here’s a rough chronology of how my life has unfolded until now:

  • Left Delhi (home) after high school for my Masters in Bombay –all good.
  • Spoke to ma and pa over the phone every Tuesday from Bombay – all good.
  • Visited home once a year as a student but ma and pa understand – all good.
  • Met Paro at a college literary fest in Pune – all good.
  • Dated Paro for three years while in college (Bombay-Pune) – all good.
  • Secured a job in Chennai – Paro in Pune – parents in Delhi – all good.
  • Connected to Paro via chats, whatsapp and unplanned visits – all good.
  • Called ma and pa every Tuesday like earlier – all good.
  • Introduced Paro to ma and pa – all good.
  • Got married and settled in Chennai with Paro and a hectic work life – all good.
  • Called ma and pa every Tuesday like before – suddenly, not enough.
  • Visited home more frequently than before –suddenly, not enough.
  • Now get Paro to call ma and pa every Tuesday at least – seems impossible!
  • Also, call Paro’s parents to prove my point above to Paro – highly irregular myself.
  • Also, visit Paro’s parents – barely accomplishable with mounting work and ma’s remorse.

So, Paro unhappy with my attempts to train her, ma disappointed to see untrained Paro, ma suddenly disappointed with the same old me too! And I, frantically waiting for Paro to play along a little more discretely. Well, perhaps I am frantically waiting for one of the women to take the burden off me, since I wasn’t trained to handle one. Would it seem kind if I asked ma to let go of me (Paro would gladly do the honours here) or is it fair or sustainable to ask Paro to play along with the mounting motherly love and attachment? Whatever I say or do invariably wins me a tag from both the women of my being ‘typically insensitive’ and it’s time I worked this out in my head before I began to believe the same.

I am told how mothers always advise their daughters before their wedding day, and how their sisters and friends patiently hear their doubts in the middle of the night. In certain parts of India and the world, even today, girls are trained since childhood by parents or finishing schools so they make better wives; utterly offensive from the female perspective but from where I look at it, such guidance would only mean unrealistically helpful for a man like me to understand the depth of the waters that he is about to blissfully swim into.

Instead, in our childhood, we men learn that food will be served to us, the house will be taken care of even in our absence, and that our timely studies and sleep constitute the centre of the universe. In return we just need to know that our single-most nerve-wracking aim in life is to secure a job that can help us pay for our house, our meals and our family.

Only sometimes will we have to run a few errands or play the ‘safety amulet’ for my mother and sisters as we unknowingly protect them against invisible scavengers. And then, we are suddenly pushed into a marriage-arrangement that seems quite the opposite, even worse, if the girl isn’t trained since childhood how to take care of her husband. Could it be possible that the rising numbers of broken homes are the real reasons why developed countries demand that a man be sent for National Service where they are taught to cook and clean too?

Paro often jokes that this expectation-disparity is intentional, so we men would always crave for our mothers even as we enjoy the new set of liberties with a younger woman, and our wives wouldn’t stand a chance in giving us the life we used to have in our childhoods. Now who would have thought of that! And how naively people believe it to be chauvinism where all there is to it is a pawn in a ploy for power. Doesn’t this qualify me instead for feeling like a piece of property that any one woman must own? These thoughts in my mind most often culminate into a feeling of deceit and anger for my dad, grand dad and his dad for not revealing the real story or teaching us the tricks of the trade since the only blessed guy who swims across these torrid waters among all of us is pa! The ever-quiet pa.

I don’t quite recollect noticing my father’s opinions, as he perpetually remained planted in his study, still reliving his world of crime and punishment as a retired judge of the Delhi High Court. He never rolled his eyes nor sighed in disappointment. He never complained about my selfless mother nor did he seem overwhelmed with gratitude. He never mentioned to me how his life had taken a complete turn after marriage.

Today, the possibility of his seeming as satisfied and untroubled doesn’t quite seem as feasible in the real world. Yes, he did get extremely angry when I would not show any interest in studies, or when mother always forgot to take her blood-pressure medicines on time, or when she forced him to stay up post his bed- time to entertain guests at home (even worse if he was asked to drive them home after that). But that was it. With father, it was always a war of logic, discipline and rationality, whose wounds recover well within twenty-four hours. For the remaining matters, I am assuming, he battled them in his head as he remained in his typical quiet demeanour. But unfortunately I hadn’t got much time with him as a kid.

I grew up predominantly in my mother’s company where there existed a completely separate universe of emotions, intentions and opinions. What I inferred from that interaction was that:

‘Men are happy, women aren’t.’

‘Men are happy because they seek their own needs and comforts first. They do what they like’

‘Women are unhappy because they seek the needs and comforts of the men in their lives at the cost of their own space and needs. They cannot do everything they like’.

These paradigms almost like a magic river flowed into a string of beliefs:

‘Securing one’s own needs and comfort means being selfish’.

So, ‘men are selfish but happy, women are selfless and unhappy (well most of them)’.

And then to complicate that twisted analogy further there are apparently self-explanatory words that are often announced with a sigh and a frown – customs, traditions, male-dominated practices, and patriarchal societies, among others. And there I’d be, as a young boy, swallowing all of those pre-digested fodder for growing my own opinions.

Who asked these women to be selfless? Do the women want to be happy? Who are the guardians and patrons of these ideologies within every family? Are they the older women, the mothers, the widows? Or the husbands, the old widowers, or the fathers? I’m not referring to male-dominated panchayats or societies, I am referring to the tiniest fragment of it, which in its collective, lends character to every panchayat and society – a family; what a parent teaches a child before the latter builds a society. That, just that.

Men have, since time immemorial, been consistently accused of two things that, when placed beside each other, seem like a major paradox to me. Men, on one hand, are constantly reminded of how utterly incapable they are as emotional and social beings, leave aside their simple culinary or other similar soft skills, and on the other hand they are constantly accused of conniving and constructing the most robust chauvinistic society! Well, if we made this man’s world, then who made these beasts like men? Who made us chauvinistic? The answer is pretty obvious, but my ‘upbringing’ doesn’t give me the liberty to announce it or spell it out. Just that it always takes two to tango!

I am yet to fathom the most abused remarks made by women, most frivolously – “Men are not emotional. Men don’t feel, understand, or express feelings.” Well, guess what, if you step out of those dramatic outpourings that define an emotional exchange, there are simple subtle ways in which men like to communicate. Besides, by the time I was meant to leave home, I knew well that I was not meant to cry like a girl. It is almost as obvious and assumed as is the most stereotypical mindset in one’s sexual preference.

I knew, I was meant to fend for a living – that’s a man’s job! Where did I learn that? When did I learn all that? Clearly, my school didn’t teach me so. My wife believes in the exact opposite, which makes my struggle with my own self, my beliefs, and my upbringing even more unbearable! Then who taught me all that? By the time I took up my job as the primary bread earner, the women in my life had a different problem with me – why wasn’t I emotional? A million bucks for guessing that answer.

These days, I see a number of optimists and feminists and others ‘-ists’ who tell me that times are changing. Then why am I brooding over feeling torn between the unyielding powers of two of the most stubborn women? A few days ago, I did sit with my father for a couple of beers to trick him into spilling some tricks. After sitting keenly before pa for almost twenty minutes while he continued reading his newspaper like always, I started a general conversation that I would later have to maneuver.

We spoke of politics; we spoke of my stressful job environment, profitable investment opportunities, post-retirement career plans for father. And we finally concluded with a customary chat on health, spirituality, unending wants, overambitious attitudes, food habits, dog poop near father’s car, lack of sleep, football, and spirituality again, before being summoned inside for lunch.

With father, conversations were as real as this. I wonder if either of us even imagined the probability of talking anything else. Or was this one of the ancient techniques of staying sane and seeming stable? Since childhood, it had been the same route we’d take; though ‘spirituality’ had been a new addition. But that man-to-man time did kind of feel like a relief, a breath of fresh air!

I remembered suddenly how I always teased Paro with my whimsical aspirations of wanting to be a househusband and seeing her as a working-wife!

© Madhurima Duttagupta 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