BiC 2014 November 19: The Peacock’s Tale with Rituparna Ghosh

Going to The Shriram Millennium School in Noida was a morning full of surprises. We were told that the numbers had swelled! We were expecting 77 children and when the kids setted down, in I saw 200 pairs of twinkling eyes looking at me full with expectation!

The sore throat kept scratching my voice, but the performance was wonderful!

Here is what lovely Wendy, the Bookaroo volunteer had to say about the session.

Bookaroo

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What a delight to see so many children having such fun! The storyteller Rituparna Ghosh captured the attention of teachers and students alike with a rapid fire quiz on bird facts. The young ones were eager to show their knowledge and it turned out that they were pretty good at bird impressions too. Rituparna screeched like a crow and cooed like a pigeon, hooted like an owl and cock-a-doodled us all awake. The children were very keen to join in and when divided into sections to all make different bird noises at the same time, the cacophony was just like a real jungle.

After this excitement all settled down to listen to the tale of who was to become leader of the birds in the jungle. All of the birds boasted of their talents and vied for position but only the peacock quietly showed what he could do. By dancing…

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A Reason To Pray

My oldest recollection of praying goes back to the dark days of my childhood; or rather the dark nights. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just that Jamshedpur in those days would often bear the brunt of constant load shedding. It obviously meant that books could be wrapped up and we kids could go out on the street and play. Mothers would catch up on gossip, life and recipes and fathers (if they came out at all) would pretend to talk sports, politics and business with neighbours. It was the time when heat, sweat and deadly diseases like dengue were unheard of. Come to think of it, we kids actually liked it! It was only when the hours of darkness would wind up endlessly it got troublesome. Dinner times were pushed, bed times would be delayed and parents worried about our school the next day. A times likes these my parents coaxed me to pray. You see, I went to a Convent school and right from the junior class prayer was made to be an integral part of our routine. Excited as I was about “Our Father in Heaven” and “Angels of God” I had just begun to enjoy prayer. I was told it was like a private conversation with God. So on some days when my parents asked me to pray for the lights to come back, I prayed from the bottom of my heart. On some nights I refused. My parents say that I acted ‘pricey’ and was being plain and simple naughty. But maybe I was trying to not sound frivolous to God. I mean, who prays for electricity all the time? Well, let me tell you, the lights always came back. 🙂

I still see prayer as a private conversation with God. I don’t understand why does one have to do grand rituals for it? Why does one have to fear God? Why can’t I look at God as a friend, one who knows me the best? One who throws challenges at me and the one who also helps me deal with them? I look at God as one who punishes me when I am wrong, like the way I know he rewards me. So much so for my relationship with God…so don’t be alarmed when I say that this is how I converse with God:

“Okay, so today all I ask of you is to keep everyone happy. A has an important day coming up, make sure he isn’t disappointed. And V has been getting a cold all too often. It’s tough to give him those antibiotics every time. So, please boost his immunity. I trust you to keep all the elders healthy. See to it that life isn’t a pain to them. ”

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Prayer for me is usually a list of instructions to God. Interestingly it’s the same for my mother. She keeps her Thakur Ramkrishna on a shelf inside her cupboard next to my father’s home clothes. My wedding card, my son’s annaprashan card are still before him. Maa says he is still blessing us. I believe her. My grandmother has prayed all her life. Her praying sessions, twice a day run into hours. She has been a fairly religious person and as a child I enjoyed her charade of keeping all things connected to God untouched. But that didn’t last long. So when she began asking me if I was having my periods, I retaliated. “It’s your God who has given me the periods, what do I care about being unclean before him?” I still believe in that.

I got married into a family that has a strong connection with God. My mother-in-law prays, my father-in-law prays everyday before stepping out of the house. But they have never forced me to tow their line when it comes to God. And I live them for that. Maybe they look at me as a non-believer. But I really am not. I have trouble displaying my connection with God. I too had a small nook for God at home, but it was duly put away when the baby arrived. God is still packed at home. I don’t need a God to be there physically before me. For me, he stays in my heart. I don’t need a shelf for my God. But maybe I would like my son to choose it for himself. Every time my land lady blows a conch, he joins his palms and closes his eyes. He of course doesn’t know what it is to pray but he has come to recognize Ganeshji and Maa Durga. So unless these Gods remain to mean festivals of the calendar, I think it is a good idea to see what praying is. He deserves to make a choice for himself and see how he wants to converse with God.

So this Diwali, I hope to pray to Goddess Lakshmi with this ultimate DIY pack . I don’t know if my prayers are as pure as they were when I was a little child. But it’s time my son tests the power of prayer for himself.

This post is written for a contest run by 
Cycle Pure Agarbathies in association with Ripple Links.

Book Review: Revenge of the Naked Princess

I loved Oswald Pereira’s debut novel, “The Newsroom Mafia”. So when the writer asked me review his next book, I jumped to the occasion! Revenge of the Naked Princess caught my attention by its power in the title and knowing little about the plot of the book I expected the unexpected.

The book blurb says:

“On a hot, humid morning in May 1545, a joint conversion brigade of the Portuguese King and the Pope set out to spread Christ’s message of love and compassion, but they leave behind a deathly trail of murder and mayhem. Armed with a monstrous cannon and scores of firearms, the brigade raids Princess Darshana Kamya Kathodi’s palace in Tana, carrying for her and her people the King’s inviolable conversion order … sealed by the Pope’s promise of a new heaven. The beautiful, 18-year-old tribal princess fights back with her ace archers’ poison arrows.

Revenge of the Naked Princess shows how brutal, forced conversions can blur the line between religion and carnage. This historical page-turner by veteran journalist-turned-novelist Oswald Pereira comes after the success of his widely-acclaimed, best-selling thriller The Newsroom Mafia.”

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History lessons in India have largely been about imperial dynasties, British rule and freedom struggle. The Portugese lineage in India today stands as a much venerated holiday destination, but seldom has its history come out from the folds of antiquity to haunt us! Yes, I use the word ‘haunt’ for a good purpose because Mr Pereira’s book warrants that.

The title of the book is,well, revealing. It is the story of Princess Darshana Kamya Kathodi who dies a brutal death at the hands of Portugese soldiers led by the nefarious Brigadier Braganca. Raped, humiliated and forced to submission, the brave young princess puts up a brave fight for her people. Her’s is a death that is mourned by the lions in the jungle. Her’s is a death that enrages her people. Her’s a death that the Portugese wear as a badge on their shoulder and her’s is a death that they would not forget forever.

Revenge of the Naked Princess for the first time ever, tells the sordid tales of forced conversions by the Portugese. To me the sordid descriptions of bestiality, cruelty and torture was repetitive. But then, perhaps, such was the pattern. The descriptions are brutal, graphic and enough to give you goosebumps. If not anything else, Pereira makes one have a natural hatred for all those crimes that people indulge in in the name of God! At least to me, this is the effect that the book had.

The use of supernatural elements give and unusual twist to the story. But the twist is not unexpected, because the heroine of the book, Princess Darshana Kamya Kathodi dies in the first line of the first chapter! The appearance of a ghost is pretty obvious. What is unusual is the way the spirit of the ‘naked princess’ takes her revenge. The Gods send the princess down from ‘cloud 1777333999’ to avenge her death. They lay her conditions, set her deadlines and watch her from above. The spirit of the princess joins hands with her siblings (who have grown since she died) and unleashes a joint effort.

The characters are surreal. And because I have no reference point for the actions in the book I take Pereira’s word for it. I empathise with the princess and feel the pricks that her people are subjected to. Brigadier Brangaca comes across the shrewd, bestial character that he is and I only feel hatred for him. Bishop Fransisco seems like the man caught in the wrong job, who loses his own heart in the quest for forced conversions. The one character who adds colour is Govind Laxman Prabhu converted to Joseph Lawrence Pereira. The high caste Brahmin turned Catholic is both funny, in the way the Portugese, especially Braganca treat him, and tragic with his own shortfalls as a character.

Pereira in his acknowledgment a tells us that the book is derived from a fable that his grandmother used to tell him as a child. And there lies the crux of the story. Pereira tells us that his grandmother spoke a ‘beautiful, naked princess who would come riding by on a golden, wheel-less chariot steered by a lion and lioness, at the stroke of midnight each day, in our village in Thane.’ Pereira, all of 6 lapped up the story with rapt attention. He tells us that his grandmother told him that the naked princess would come down to take revenge for the bad things that bad people did to her and her people. At this juncture, the story stops being just another fable. It makes me wonder if the story then is part of oral tradition. While the forced conversions may have been as brutal and barbaric a described in Pereira’s book…I wonder if the spirit of the naked princess did return to avenge her death and dishonour.

Did I enjoy it? To be honest, not as much as I enjoyed the author’s first book. Go for Revenge of The Naked Princessif you like a supernatural thriller. The bloodbath is repetitive and predictable. And after a point I wanted to skip it and head towards the revenge. Pereira has however, broken the mould. As a reader I expected and hoped for more stories to be dug out of his career as a journalist, but a slice of history and supernaturalism will not disappoint you all together.

Thank you Oswald, for asking me to review your book. A special thanks to Leadstart Publishing for sending me a review copy.

Film Review: Kahaani

What would you do if the entire world told you that your husband didn’t exist? How far would  you go to find him?

One of the promos for Kahaani read, “Does Arnab Bagchi exist?” And just as the movie started I had a nagging feeling that maybe this was about a schizophrenic looking for her imaginary husband. Remember Konkona Sen in 15 Park Avenue? I mean doesn’t the promo say it in as many words? How do you find a man who doesn’t exist? In just that one phrase, Sujoy Ghosh holds the key to the film.

I loved Kahaani, period! Not because it comes across as the perfect thriller. Not because it carries another superb performance by Vidya. Not because it has a super screenplay, great editing and crisp direction. But because it picks up an unsuspecting trait of all our personalities and plays it against us.

A heavily pregnant woman lands in a bustling, festive Kolkata. Alone. Looking for her husband. Only to be told that he was never there!   Just the ingredients that would make the unsuspecting audience cluck ones tongue and say, ‘poor girl’. I mean really, I felt Vidya Bagch’s weight and desperation as she floated around Kolkata looking for clues that would help her find her husband. I believed Vidya Bagchi and her creator, in this case the director Sujoy Ghosh to treat her ‘kahaani’ with utter sensitivity. And what does he do? He takes that very belief that I bestow upon him and shoves it out of the widow!

Playing on stereotypes and popular perceptions, Vidya Bagchi (the character that Vidya plays) comes across as a little hapless fish in the big, murky dirty waters of  male chauvinism. From being pulled and shoved by taxi drivers in Kolkata, to a bemused, bulky police officer who takes her seriously only when she says that she’s just landed from London, to the receptionist at the nondescript guest house, the irreverent and rather obnoxious Khan, to the easily swayed police informer Paresh da and the easily gullible and typically Bangali-shona-chele (the good natured Bengali boy) Rana – everyone is swayed by Vidya and her situation. Some melt at her teary-eyed look, some at her resolute, some others who manipulate her to their advantage, taking advantage of her situation, but above them all rises the so called vulnerable, bechari naari as she turns to be the one who manipulates all others. In ways more one, Vidya Bagchi vindicates every woman who has been manipulated in a man’s world by playing the rules like a man. And just for that you must watch Kahaani

So what else?

The characters and actors chosen to play them fit their roles to perfection. Sujoy uses his Bengali roots to his advantage. For a Mumbaiwallah to set up a camera in Kolkata, depict it in its colourful best during the festival of Durga Pujo and paint it like a character in itself is a tremendous task. And Sujoy Ghosh does this beautifully. If Vidya is the principle protagonist of the film, the city is the second lead. And most of the interaction is from the point of view. So Vidya looks out of the window as she zips past Victoria Memorial and Maidan. She uses the Kolkata tram and taxi as her vehicle of search. She looks out of the window as Maa Durga comes home for five days of festivity and that becomes the one point of inspiration. Kolkata-isms too are an intrinsic part. The great Indian ‘juggad’ finds a special place in Bengali homes, so running water literally means a young boy running around with a kettle of water. The famed ‘daak naam’ that more often than not haunts every Bengali, finds a special mention and holds a significance. Kahaani has a motley group of actors  picked from Kolkata television and cinema. Dhritiman Chatterjee is a waste and Saswata Chatterjee is a revelation! I walked out of the theatre wanting to take Bob Biswas home with me! Where else would you find an assassin who would smile and greet you with a ‘nomoskar’ and then pull the trigger at your smiling face? I didn’t approve of Nawazuddin Sidiqqui. He tried to some effect, but somehow I wanted to see a more accomplished actor in his place.

Indian cinema till date has very few entries in the thriller genre. One of the most compelling formats of story telling, Indian directors fall short of a few ingredients here and there. Kahaani in that comes very close to the success formula. A closer watch at the film and you will notice its ‘jigsaw puzzle’ like quality. Weave the different scenes and follow Vidya’s footsteps and dialogues with precision and you will see where and how the film is going. And like every good thriller, the mystery knits itself together towards its short and swift climax! And you the viewer will be left recollecting the moments in the film when the clue was out there for you, but you missed catching the plot.

Sujoy’s winning combination is his screenplay, precise editing and razor sharp direction and Vidya’s effortless performance.Dressed in about 5-6 Sabyasachi collected outfits, Vidya’s maternity wear will give a lot of preggers in town hope and style tips.  I haven’t seen The Dirty Picture yet, but all those who have seen that and this say Kahaani is her ticket to next year’s Filmfare and National Award perhaps! I am not sure if it really. But what I do take back is the resurgence of the female lead. The 70’s ‘art house’ cinema had it, Tabu did it briefly in the 90’s and early 2000’s and now Vidya is reviving it.

But then every film has its problems too. Kahaani despite the veneer of being the perfect thriller has a few problems. The opening scene gives away something that it shouldn’t – why show a scene if you won’t go back to it until the climax? And why not leave a story on a cliffhanger? Why are we so obsessed with a resolution? Why do we always want answers to where a character comes from and why he / she does what it does? If Vidya’s motivations weren’t revealed, Kahaani would then have the perfect thriller!  And the under-utilisation of talented actors is a let down. The poor Bengalis thronged the theatre hoping to see some ‘phata-phati’ acting from their known actors, but what they got was some props!

But then, you can ignore a few short comings, can’t you? Watch Kahaani for its representation of a woman – how the world sees her and how she manipulates the world’s perception of her. I am glad Sujoy Ghosh has found his bearings. May there be more ‘kahaanis’ in the future. But believe the story and not the story teller!

A Pumpkin, a Camera and a Blog…

Afternoons are special, really, really special. Ask someone who has been on a six month leave from work and is about to return to her desk in a month’s time! As a new mother I followed the kind advice experienced mommies gave me, “Sleep when the baby is sleeping!” So there I was, napping in the afternoons with my baby. Just when I discovered that my afternoon siesta was becoming an addiction, I gave it up! From then on, after nursing V I’d be up and about reading a book. Sometime back I picked up crochet too…and there was a new addiction…but that’s another story.

Today however, my afternoon was been taken over by a sudden urge to try my hand at some serious food blogging! I am intrigued by the patience, skill and perseverance of food bloggers…it’s quite a task to cook, it’s quite another to capture the process in yummy pictures and then a totally a wholesome experience of blogging diligently! A little note about my culinary skills…I am not gifted, but I am enthusiastic! Those seasoned with the ladle tell me that it is the desire to cook that makes all the difference. So yes, after staying out of the kitchen for 6 months, my return to the stove is an experience that I look forward to. My cook is on leave and with a new nanny and a 5 month toddler asking for attention all day long, spending time in the kitchen gives me the taste of what superwomen must feel like! All my friends and the counted few loyal readers of my two blogs complain that I don’t write often…well, yeah, I have my excuses! Anyways, time to make some amends and try something new! Son’s napping; Nanny’s ironing son’s nappies, and so out came the pumpkin, the camera and my blog!

Cook & Click

Sunday evening’s are usually are about a trip to the local haat. From fresh vegetables, fruits, utensils, plastic items, clothes, bedspreads, knife sharpeners, to instant chowmein…the Sunday haat is a HUGE hit! Someday when I have not too much to buy I’ll go with my camera. So yesterday I bought a large portion of pumpkin. One of my most favourite vegetables, available all round the year and perhaps the cheapest in times of inflation…pumpkin however finds a place only on my plate. Husband is too much of potato devotee to look anywhere else!

Kumro - Pumpkin - Kaddu - Sitaphal

This is a recipe that my Mum loves and cooks in an absolute lip smacking way. My first time at cooking ‘Kumro’r Chokka’, I called up Maa for her recipe. The first thing she said was, you need ‘Kaala Chana’ or Black Chick Peas…and voila…I had them ready already. Now I didn’t soak them for this particular recipe, instead was planning to have sprouts for breakfast…but the Pumpkin at the haat had my mouth watering for this!

Pumpkin & Black Chick Peas

It’s fairly simple! You need chillies, I wanted it a little spicy, so took both green and dried red chillies.

Hot & Spicy

Paanch – Phoron is a popular mix of 5 different seeds used for tempering / tadka in Bengali cuisine. It has fennel, mustard seeds (yellow & black), cumin, methi and kaala jeera in equal quantities.

The power of 5!

And a generous dose of ginger.

'Adaa'r Jhaanj'

I generally use mustard oil in all my Indian dishes. I love the smell and the taste that the thick ghani lends to Indian spices. Tempered with paanch phoron and the chillies, I fried the kaala chana.

Crackle!

More Crackle!

Added grated ginger and then poured in the cubed pumpkin.

Cover up and simmer...

Pumpkin is quick to cook and pretty soon, it would look like this…

Soft and semi-cooked...

I added, Jeera, Dhania and Garam Masala powders, Salt and Sugar to taste. Covered it for a bit more and let the spice seep in.

Let the spices seep in

Before taking it off the flame I added tamarind juice and lots of chopped coriander.

Tamarind Pulp and Chopped Coriander

It took me approximately 20 minutes to prepare, cook and click and another four of hours to sort the pictures and write this post. Somewhere in the middle, V woke up, demanded his feed…played naughty boy, heard nursery rhymes on Youtube, played on his rocker, cooed with me, had his feed again, fretted a bit and then went to sleep!! *Phew* Who says being a mother is easy??

Serve with Roti or Paratha

Anyways, I am pretty satisfied with my first attempt at writing a proper food post. A few takeaways though. Food photography is an art! So for someone like me who hasn’t got a picture perfect kitchen, it is imperative you know how to cover up those soot covered areas that don’t make for pretty pictures! And no, my kitchen isn’t covered in soot…that’s just an observation! Lighting is key. In a kitchen that is artificially lit all day long, taking pictures is a little tricky. I had to tinker with my camera a wee bit. Taking my DSLR before crackling seeds was scary too…I had to stay both close and away to get the right pictures.

As for the star of the show, Kumro’r Chokka turned out pretty good too. If the pictures and recipe are inspiring enough, do try it and write into me! And yes, if there are any tips on how to write a ‘food’ post or click the right pictures do share them with me…

8th February & Pink Toenails!!

‘Madam, kafi dino ke baad kara rahe ho!’, so says my ‘pedicurist’ (just made up the word)! He’s talking about my cracked, hardened feet that have been ignored in the last 6 months. I really don’t have the patience (and never had the time) for salon visits, but this time its really, really bad! As I begin to write this post, my feet are being kneaded, scrubbed and massaged…reminding me that its okay to pamper myself sometimes. It’s quite another thing that Vihaan is wailing in his Nanny’s lap next to me!

Vihaan is now a sprawling baby at 4.5 months. He has taken to our home in Noida (minus his doting grandparents) happily. He loves his Dad, squeels in delight everytime he sees him, loves his games and prefers his lap as he goes to sleep every night. I, on the other hand am dealing with domestic woes after 6 months. Cook going on leave, maid asking for a raise and the entry of the Nanny! It’s a tremendous journey for me. From 2011 to 2012, this day marks a journey that has turned my life around.

8th February 2011 was the day when I discovered Vihaan is on his way. The day I was bombarded with emotions and thoughts that never visited me before. The day I was happy, scared, jubiliant, cranky, confident, worried…all at the same time. Today, a year later I have a 4.5 month old who has taken over my life in a way that I never expected.

So what has changed in me? Except the fact that I have a toddler? A lot really. People say ‘priorities’ change after a baby. Well, yes they do…you no longer are selfish, you think beyond your own self. You look at a life that you have brought into this world and hold yourself accountable for everything that your child undergoes. Sometimes careers bear the brunt too. I can’t help but bring it up because a month from now when Vihaan will dig his gums into semi solids I will be on my way to work. Back to office. To a desk. To the newsroom that I was addicted to. To a job that hovered over my mind all day long and drew out every bit of my time and energy. A life outside office was unthinkable! A life with a baby was unthinkable! A year back, on this day I decided I had to look at my life differently. I had to find some ‘me’ time. I had to learn to slow down. I had to learn to enjoy each day. I had to learn to thank God for the little gifts he had given me. I was reflective, yes, but not sentimental. For the first time in my life I realised I wasn’t being me. I had forgotten to look forward to life’s little joys…the little things that matter. I was emotional about my workplace. My job was my life and I didn’t regret missing out on a life outside work. Friends were forgotten. My love life and later marriage was taken for granted. And parents were expected to come and see me! All that changed, as I realised that life was not worth living without friends and family. I forgot that I was earning (and mind you I don’t have a fancy package either) to live…and not vice versa! But despite this awakening, when I took off from work 6 months back I was nervous of letting go. The fear of letting go of a familiar life was scary…what if I regretted life after Googly arrived? What if my ‘career’ suffered after the baby? What if I was considered ‘unprofessional’ after my renewed commitments to life? What if I wasn’t deemed fit to handle the pressures of television? And most importantly…what if I failed to be the unapologetic, enthusiastic, eager beaver television producer that I’ve always been? What if I fail to handle the work and baby? What if my baby and work suffer due to my divided attention??

In the last 6 months I’ve enjoyed utmost attention, love and affection from many, many people. I didn’t expect it, but I connected with a lot many forgotten friends…you know the ones you add on Facebook and forget about? This journal has reaped a loyal readership…so far I have encouraged one to start a blog, though I’m waiting for it to debute! I’ve thanked God for the wonderful parents I’ve got and prayed that Aniruddha and I become better parents to Vihaan. Our lives get tougher from here. I don’t want Vihaan to suffer from the ‘Double Income Single Kids’ syndrome. I want us to have enough time for him. At the same time I want to have a life outside home. No, the fatigue hasn’t set in…I love being a mother. I love pottering around Vihaan all day long and I’m not itching to get back to the workaholic mode that I was! But I want to have a life outside home too…to still have a career that I’m proud of…to go for a few holidays every year…to read a few good books…complete my own…to be at peace with myself…I want to enjoy being a mother, I also want to fulfill the little joys of life. I still wanna discover ‘me’. I had decided that I will never hold Vihaan responsible for unfinished dreams…I still think like that…but its time I renew those little promises to myself.

Priorities change, but what really changes is your view of life. Your own life…and yes, its a good thing. I will celebrate it…like I am now with a shocking pink nail polish on my toe nails!! The last time I remember I had a raging color on my nails…I was 16!!

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