Monday, December 19, 2011


If it's a joint serving fish dishes at middle-class-pocket-friendly rates, what are the chances that there will be a lot of Bengalis in the clientele?

Yesterday, we went to Pratap Lunch Home for, not lunch, but Sunday evening dinner. Now, Pratap, near the Fountain, is an old favourite of the spouse and his press-wallah friends, as they serve really delicious seafood and booze. Also, unlike the more-famous Mahesh Lunch Home, the crab claws and lobster claws not really pinch the pocket. Even I have come here, travelling by train all the way from the suburbs lured by their Crab Mongolian and Seafood Fried Rice and Squid Butter Garlic. The only grouse was that they made you sweat for your food, as they eschewed air-conditioning even as you chewed on the tasty secrets of the sea and kitchen.
Now, in the new AC-avataar, that grouse is gone. So we went en family, kids and maid included. And we were surrounded by AC-chill, the wafting-inviting aromas from the kitchen, and by Bengali noises and Bengali voices!

Our waiter was a Bengali. The table behind us had a few Bengalis in their cosmopolitan mix. And the table next to us had three young Bongs chatting away in Bengali, on whom we shamelessly and smilingly eavesdropped. Till the Lil Kitten gave the game away by stridently demanding for something in loud, unmistakable BENGALI!

In the ensuing inter-table conversation, we found out that two of the Bright Young Bongs at the next table were Presidency College Physics Department alumni currently working at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and the other young man was also certifiably brilliant, having passed out of the incredibly tough-to-get-in Indian Statistical Institute. And we bonded a bit over fried Machh-Bhaja (Fish Fry) and frightful Mumbai and, of course, "Do you know X/Y/Z who passed out in so-and-so-year?", although we were separated by more than a decade.

The spouse loves his alma mater, and, by extension, is willing and ready to love all the alumni of this hoary and honourable instutution.And so we went home, replete with good food, and the good news that Presidency is still churning out bright brains that can make a mark (and eat a fish) anywhere in the world.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Back in Mumbai...the annual Kolkata visit on Diwali holidays was the usual blur of eat, meet, laze, daze, know the drill.

If last year's indulgence was Sarbhajas (a sweet where the 'sar' or cream atop the milk is deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup...gruesome gluttony, eh?), this year it was the humbler, but no less horrific, Gujiya (the Bengali version is a ring-shaped sweet made of dried milk and sugar) and Danadar (which is unredeemingly made of only and only sugar drenched in even more sugar syrup).

Now I am back after eating enough of the above to last me till next year. In fact, am back in stride as well, with school and work and home and all such other busy-making stuff that life is made up of.

But time-outs are there, and they pull at the heart-strings, and also pull the facial muscles into a smile...sometimes.

There was this bottle of Dalimer Hajmi ( anardana churan...a sweet-sour digestive) that I had bought and ate in Kolkata, and had then stuffed a lot of other things in as well, from cookies to jeera golis to Narkel Naaru (coconut and jaggery laddus) made by my Mom (who was coincidentally in Kolkata during this time as well). I had taken out this bottle after unpacking to wash and reuse it as a spice jar. Before washing it, I was putting my finger inside and licking the remnants.

And my taste-buds got a surprise when after a lot of hajmi/churan/salty-sourness I suddenly bit into a small chunk of sweet jaggery-infused-coconut. A tiny bit of Ma-made naaru, travelling all the way from Kolkata. To make me all teary-eyed and wry-smiling in Mumbai.

Calories and memories...funny how closely they weave together.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


This past week, I have been home alone.

The spouse and the kittens have all gone to Kolkata, and I'll be joining them in a few days, when my College will deign to give us our Diwali Holidays.

The first few days were miserable.

I was buried under an avalanche of semester-end exam papers to be corrected. Correcting bad exam papers, paper-after-paper, for nearly 500 papers always give me a feeling similar to a bad bout of influenza. I feel feverish, my neck and back ache, my eyes feel dry and blinky, and in my sleep I toss and turn in nightmares.

Then I really had a flu onset and a stomach upset.

Then I had a cleaning frenzy, fighting against every particle of dust that dared to enter the flat.

Gradually, I settled down. Watched back-to-back-back movies all evening-night, slept way past afternoon, curled up on the sofa eating lemon tarts and drinking jaljira-spiked (Diet) Cokes, dipped my feet in warm water-with-lavender-bath-salts.

And, of course, I went out.
To work, boringly.
To other places, excitingly.
Shopped at my favourite stores like Fabindia and Crossword.
Strolled at Carter Road and window-shopped at Linking Road.
Discovered a tiny shop called Shimmer at Atria Mall that sells tops and tunics in the most lovely understated shades.
Picked up vintage maps and posters from Philips Images in SoBo.
Grabbed, at Satguru's, a vintage Sholay poster and a tiny brass table fan that actually works.
Chatted with an old, smiley-bearded painter outside Jehangir Art Gallery and bought some tiny sea-scape watercolours.
Browsed through the Museum and Museum Shop and marvelled at our handicrafts.

Just as I was warming up to the experience, it is nearing its end. And really, I am so looking forward to being with them all again. And being back in Kolkata for my annual nostalgia pilgrimage.

Ah well, time flies...

Friday, September 30, 2011


When I'm out of my home, I'm usually very un-observant. Too engrossed in my mental cobwebs.

Sometimes, though, I look around with eyes open. And see some person at some particular moment which gives me a glimpse of a back-story. A history. A lifestory.

Let me explain.

The other day I was at the neighbouring Sahakari Bhandar, a local departmental store where you can get groceries and other stuff at reasonable rates. I always go with a list (rice, wheat, oil, sugar...) but I always overshoot the list (adding 'Buy 1 Get 1 Free' and '30% Off' and 'Offer of the Day' stuff to my cart).

As I was standing in the queue at the cash counter an elderly gentleman, rather doddery and dressed in a manner that novelists usually describe as 'shabby gentility', came up to stand behind me. He had a shopping basket, not a trolley, to hold his meagre purchases - a bunch of 'palak', some brinjals, a broom and a (very economical) tooth-paste.

I saw him looking wistfully at the nearby rack stacked with chocolates. Hesitating, as the queue inched forward, looking away, and then yearningly looking again. Finally, he made up his mind. And reached out with a slightly shaking hand to put TWO SMALL DAIRY MILK WOWIE BARS in his basket. With a happy smile that made my day.

Immediately, sentimentally, I imagined his story. He was a loving grandfather buying treats for his grandchildren on their weekly/monthly visit to his home.

Or maybe it was a treat to be shared at with his fluffy white-haired plump-cheeked wife.

Or maybe he was a diabetic...and this was a pure self-loving indulgence in a forbidden pleasure.


Image Courtesy: (Google Images)

Monday, August 29, 2011


It's been raining pretty much continuously over the week end. Overcast skies have been shedding their watery burdens on us.

Trains are either running late or not at all.

Auto-rickshaws are either refusing to ply or over-charging diabolically.

Buses are either stuck full of people or stuck in potholes-disguised-as-puddles.

Clothes are not drying.

Courier services are not delivering on time. When I had a spat with Pafex couriers (a branch of the famed Fedex) about a parcel that was supposed to reach me a week back, the rain was blamed. But when I saw the poor drenched delivery person, clutching my bubble-wrapped parcel in his wet, wet hands, I hadn't the heart to rant at him.

If this was Kolkata drowning under non-stop rains, people would have woken up on Monday, peeped through the window pane, yawned, dived under the bedsheet, and curled up for another snooze till mid-morning and a cup of tea beckoned.

But this is Mumbai.
So we wake up.
See the rain (in fact, can't see too far out of the window because of the rain).
Gobble down breakfast, wrap up in raincoats, unfurl our umbrellas (all the better to poke other people in crowded buses and trains).
And step out into the friendly neighbourhood ankle/knee/waist-deep puddle.

That's Mumbai for you!!! The city that never sleeps. Also, the city that never stays dry.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Blame it on the Bandstand.

Blame it on the breezy sea.

Blame it on the bylanes.

Blame it on the bazaars.

Blame it on Bandra.

I am so bewitched by Bandra that I have neglected a lot of things. Blog-writing. Weight-watching. Researching...

The intricate, intersecting lanes that get clogged up with traffic at rush-hours.

The intriguing mix of fashion-savvy folks, laid-back lads, and crotchety crones.

The melting pot of religions and cultures that serve up a great variety of food fit for all pockets and palates.

The streets wide enough for REAL FOOTPATHS WIDE ENOUGH AND CLEAN ENOUGH AND FLAT ENOUGH TO WALK ON (which deserves a Hallelujah in suburban Mumbai), and which also houses stalls eager to sell everything from clothes, bags and shoes to trinkets, kitchenware and books.

Ah Bandra of the old-world charm and the nouveau riche fashion and the ...


I'm bewitched. I've succumbed to its charms.

It's hard not to.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I know that I have been off blogging for nearly two months this summer.

And I know the reason for it.

Shifting from one rented flat in Mumbai to another.

First, it was the decision to shift.

Then, it was a round of seeking admission to new schools in the chosen area. As a school Principal said, "If you had one child, it wouldn't have been a problem. But...". Since no one had informed us of such future problems when pushing the 'two-children-happy-family-theory', we had to make double the effort now. Finally, though, we got both daughters enrolled in Arya Vidya Mandir, which, from all accounts, is a good school to grow up in.

Then, it was a search for the right flat. Oh, there are flats and flats, but a suitable match between a likeable residence and an affordable budget is really tough to find. You see, you shortlist, you negotiate, you wait...the negotiations fail...and then you go through this over and over again.

Then, it was a matter of waiting for the right approvals from the right authorities, for legalities, and contracts and verifications. I AM NOT TALKING OF BUYING, BUT SIMPLY OF RENTING PROPERTY ON A COMPANY LEASE.

Then, it was getting in touch with Movers and Packers, and watching all your beloved stuff being ruthlessly stuffed into bubble-wraps, cartons and cardboards, dragged into wet trucks (it was raining heavily that day), and dumped carelessly in new, strange rooms.



And also rather exciting, actually ;)

Suffice to say, we have shifted to a new flat with kids, clothes, books and utensils in tow. This flat is still being done up by the owner, so we will be living a very public life amidst carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians for a few more weeks. The house in a mess, there is a huge amount of unpacking still to be done, the kitchen is a work-in-progress, one bathroom looks as if it has been bombed...

Still, we can see the sea in the distance from some of the windows, and there are a lot of quaint churches and little lanes with sloping-roof houses to be explored. When the sundry people banging away around the flat finally leave...

Thank God for Maa, but that's another post!

All in all, a summer spent in fretting and fuming and sweating and waiting, and a monsoon beginning in a shifting.

What a waste of a lovely summer vacation!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


It is an unassuming black net bag, the kind we call 'tholee' in Bengali. That's the bag you carry to the local vegetable (and/or fish) market.

It's weightless, although it can carry enormous amounts of weight. Kilos of apples, bhindis, cauliflower, beets, gourds, pumpkins, cabbages, dozens of bananas, bunches of palak, methi and kothmir, quantities of fish and fowl, have all nestled in happy weekly harmony in the confines of the bag, with a not-so-happy effect on my shoulder and wrist.

It's rather tatty and holey - precisely because of the above-mentioned weekly habit for working with heavy-weights.

It's got a heavy drinking habit, too - my husband often uses it for bringing home dozens of cans of Budweiser or bottles of Tuborg get the drift?

It's recycled - in fact, it has been recycled ad infinitum, in all kinds of environments. It is as comfortable in grubby street-side markets as it is in air-conditioned restaurants where you have to pay through your nose. Because we always take it out of my much-more-expensive shoulder-bag if we have take any leftovers home.

It owes it's arrival in our household to an environmental crisis - after the humongous and horrendous rains of July, 2005, when drains blocked with plastic bags contributed greatly to the tragedy that ensued and prompted the Government to declare a ban on use of paper-thin plastic bags (isn't that contradictory?). I went to Big Bazaar and bought this net bag for Rs. 65/-

The ban was soon flouted, but the bag has stayed with us, loyal for nearly six years.

Until two weeks back. It had been carelessly pushed into my shoulder-bag (which is its usual resting place until it is called out for action). And it fell out while the spouse and I were on the way to, where else, the vegetable market. Its disappearance caused us a lot of grief and regret.

And then, like a miracle, it came back. My maid called me at work to say that another maid had found it hanging on a hook above the security-guard's desk in another wing of the building. It had apparently been lying there, unclaimed and unloved for a fortnight. I returned home with a happy spring in my step, the cheerfulness bubbling over in my voice when I called up the spuse with the good news.

And the very next day, my faithful bag-that-came-back was back in action.

For some reason, a tatty old 65-rupee bag has taught me a lesson in values beyond money.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Here's the essay I wrote that won the First Prize at the Essay Competition for Lecturers by Hinduja College. It's rather long (they had a word limit of 1500) and rather dry and pontificating at places (academics are notorious for their incomprehensibility and verbosity), so feel free to skip as much or all of it if you want.


Miles to Go

The race must be saved, and it can only be saved through the emancipation of women.”

(Emmeline Pankhurst, British suffragette, in her Freedom or Death speech at Connecticut, USA, 1913. Source: Wikipedia)

‘Empowerment’ means ‘to vest with authority, to authorize’. As men have been the ‘authors’ of most texts since time immemorial, it’s not surprising that women have always got a bad deal in the division of power.

Look at The Holy Bible. Naomi Wolf explains in The Beauty Myth (1991, Vintage, London, pp.93), “Though God made Adam from clay, in his own image, Eve is an expendable rib.”

Look at the etymology of the word ‘woman’. This Old English word is a compound of wif + man. A part of man, and not much apart from man – that was the woman’s lot. Till the first glimmers of change in the 18th century, notwithstanding a few Cleopatras and Catherine the Greats and Joans of Arc dotting the intervening centuries.

And then there came the three waves of the Women’s Liberation Movement, from the 18th century to the present day. The movement varied in its aims and achievements in different nations and distinct cultures, from opposing female genital mutilation in Sudan to breaking the glass-ceiling in Western countries to abolishing the practice of Satidaha (burning of widows) in pre-Independence India.

And, no, female empowerment is not a mythical struggle like the symbolically-laden fight between Judith and Holofernes (where Judith cut off her assailant’s head). The achievements are very much real and hard-won – one of the most noteworthy being women’s suffrage. From New Zealand in 1893, Great Britain in 1918, the USA in 1920, and India since its tryst with destiny in 1947, women today have the right to vote. Such a long journey from the ideal state of Aristotle’s Politics, where women, infants and lunatics were denied citizenship rights.

Beyond politics, other struggles have been played out across the globe, on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, equal pay, sexual violence and gendered language. The manifestations of male power are so insidious and entrenched, that we have a long way to go before women’s empowerment becomes as much of a ‘given’ as men’s empowerment has always been.

Protest through Silence

“Silence can be a plan

rigorously executed

the blueprint to a life

It is a presence

it has a history a form

do not confuse it

with any kind of absence”

(from Adrienne Rich, Cartographies of Silence, 1975)

To know the real status of women’s empowerment in India, we can do a number of things.

We can look at the figures. India has always performed poorly in gender-related indices. informs us that The Human development report of the UNDP ranks India 98 in its Gender related Development Index. While 85% of the total girl children attend primary school, less than 12% still carry on to the tertiary level. These women who drop out, as well as those who go on to have a job, do not sit idle at home. Indian women typically spend 35 hours per week on household tasks and caring for family-members, as against 4 hours per week for men.

We can look at the faces. Women in India have had their poster-girls and role models. From Indira Gandhi (“the only man in her Cabinet”) to today’s Mayawati-Mamata-Jayalalitha in politics, from Indra Nooyi abroad to Naina Lal Kidwai and Chandra Kochhar here in the corporate jungle, from Arundhati Roy and Medha Patkar in the jungles of injustice, from Sonia Gandhi, the de facto leader of the nation, to Pratibha Patil, the de jure head of the state, famous Indian women achievers make a long list.

Or we can look at the total picture. In a country of 496.4 million women (2001 census figures, source:, pulling out a few hundred names from the conjuror’s hat is mere tokenism. Remember, India is also the land of Roop Kanwar, the 18-year old who committed sati on 4 September 1987 at Deorala in Rajasthan. We shall never know her real story, forever silenced on her husband’s pyre.

We can listen to the many silences around us – the silences of the women away from the limelight, away from our own educated, privileged world. Let me share with you my maid’s ‘herstory’. She is seventh-standard pass, abandoned by her husband even though she has two children, and she works from dawn to dusk washing-cleaning-sweeping-mopping to bring up her two children and to look after her mother and sister, who share her destiny of abandonment and subsequent self-sustenance through hard labour. She does not know about any charter of women’s rights, but her gut-instinct makes her refuse to take back her husband when he comes inebriated and wheedling to her door.

This is the power of silence, the real story of those who cannot voice their protest.

Power and Violence

“Girls never mean it when they say stop…

Was it rape, then?”

(from Rape, Joan Larkin, 1986)

Many a times, though, silence is at a disadvantage. Especially since violence is an inescapable ingredient in any struggle for power.

One of the most disturbing obstacles to women’s empowerment is the growing trend of violence against women. This violence takes many forms – dowry harassment, bride-burning, eve-teasing, sexual harassment at the workplace, honour-killing, marital violence and rape.

The Times of India, 27 November, 2010, reports that statistics on rapes in the country shows how more than two women are raped every hour….The number of rapes across the country has increased manifold from only 2,487 in 1971 to 21,176 in 2008. To each of these victims, women’s empowerment may just be an empty, broken promise.

Violence can take other forms, too. It can be self-inflicted, brought upon oneself by peer pressure and social expectations. The notion of ‘beauty’ can be fiercely competitive and mercilessly cruel. Isabelle Caro, the French actress and model who died on 1st January, 2011, aged 28 and weighing under 30 kilograms, exemplifies the violence of beauty.

Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth (1990) analyses the ‘Walking Wounded’ – women who undergo cosmetic surgery, who become victims of anorexia and bulimia, to attain or maintain the ideal of ‘beauty’- beauty which always lies in the eyes of the observer, usually male.

The Bondage to Stereotypes

“The real trouble about women is that they must always go on trying to adapt themselves to men’s theories of women.”

(D H Lawrence, quoted in Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, 1973)

Down centuries and across cultures, one of the most debilitating bondage that women have had to face is the bondage to stereotypes.

As Eve the eternal temptress, or as Mary, the selfless nurturer, as Durga, the ten-armed super-force, or as Savitri, the unquestioningly devoted wife, men have created the image of their perfect woman. In religion and literature, from the epics to the romantics, women have always been the ‘object’ – of possession (Draupadi and the game of dice in The Mahabharata), of adoration (read any romantic poem by Shelley), of suspicion (Sita in The Ramayana). Women have always been expected to conform to this straitjacketed stereotype constructed by men.

And they still do. Look at the popular television serials, with their docile/domineering saas-bahu (daughters and mothers in law) in aspirational finery and patriarchal set-ups. Most advertisements sell cars and deodorants through Eve-like femme fatales, or peddle noodles and spice powders with the help of supermoms and yummy mummies. Feminine cosmetic products glorify the most fantastic stereotype of them all – the ‘fair and lovely’ lady, impossibly beautiful, unattainably fair-skinned, dangerously slender centre of male attention.

As long as popular culture continues to endorse these stereotypes, women will continue to be enslaved by them. And women will liberate themselves financially and politically, only to be disempowered by subtler socio-psychological forces.

Break Free, Fly, Choose

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.”

(from Hope, Emily Dickinson, 1861)However, there are encouraging signs. According to the Registrar General of India, the proportion of women in the workforce rose from 19.7% in 1981 to 25.7 % in 2001. Currently, in the Indian IT industry, women form 45% of the toal workforce. (source: More women are stepping out and speaking up, demanding and getting education and employment and some semblance of equality. Women earn outside and also slog inside their homes. But it is a choice many of us willingly make.

So, women’s empowerment is neither a myth, nor a fully-achieved reality, but a work in progress. A process that started long ago and far away, but carried forward each time any woman asserts her rights. My mother had to quit her job to bring up her children. I am managing to balance work and home. Maybe my daughters will have an easier choice, a smoother flight, a safer freedom, and a more equal empowerment. For the betterment of the entire human race – man, woman, transgender – we can all hope.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I take it every morning, six days a week. Dropping whatever I was doing at the moment. Standing to attention. No talking or fidgeting allowed.

I may fudge my taxable income figures, or curse the government, buy goods from sellers avoiding customs duty, or apply for a Green Card at the first opportunity. But I must never fail to stand up whenever the national anthem plays. Because in our topsy-turvy, show-and-yell society, I must always flaunt my patriotism.

In our college, "Jana Gana Mana" plays every morning, Mon-Sat, before lectures start. We stop in our tracks and stand immobile, while the Nightingale of India melodiously - and rather lengthily - sings the well-known words.

Words written by a favourite poet sitting down at his favourite desk in his long gown, a faraway look in his eyes, white hair and long beard and serene smile creating an almost-divine image of creation. Words springing from a creative mind, overflowing in doodles and squiggles on the pages where he scribbled. The creative mind that penned, not one but two national anthems for two bordering nations - India and Bangladesh.

You see, posture has got nothing to do with patriotism at all.

It is the thrill you feel in your veins when the tempo in the song increases at "Jana gana MANGALADAYAK jai he" and the trumpets and drums unite in harmony to accelerate the blood in your veins. It is the little goosbumps on your skin and the prickle of sudden tears in your eyes at a nameless pride that swells up during the song.

Patriotism can be felt sitting down also.

If we can pray sitting down, why cannot we love our country sitting down?

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Now that the euphoria has died down (and well-buried under the debris of deadlines and approaching exams, inspections), let me make a few resolutions that I make every year anyway:


(how? how? is a hope and a prayer enough?)


(Not just Sale notices in the papers that make me rush out frenetically to the shops)

(Not just detective fiction and chick lit. Get down to the classics!)


(Not even HighHeelConfidential and GoFugYourself?)


(Do I have to eat them, too? Can't I just stash them in my bag, feel virtuous and then throw them after the expiry date passes?)


For this last one, I need your help.

Do send me your e-mail IDs and I will forward you a questionnaire about your blog that I desperately need for data collection.

My e-mail ID is