Of finding masumiyat in Istanbul


I began reading The Museum of Innocence in 2011. That is the year it was gifted to me by my faculty in my j-school to go with my Certificate of Distinction for “Excellence in Magazine Writing”. I was amused. Mostly because I did not expect such a category of award existed while I was studying and learning journalism (although magazine writing was one of my chosen electives in the second semester). And the other reason for my amusement was to realise that I was probably the only student who got a fictional book as a gift. Every other awardee was given a non fiction book that narrated stories from a significant historical period or even the do’s and don’ts of journalism and such like.

As I stood proud of my achievement and holding the heavy book (the edition I own is over 750 pages long), I read the name aloud for the first time. Orhan Pamuk. I had never heard of him before. The cover of the book depicted a fun family/friend outing in a vintage car. The size of the book did not worry me as much as the thought that this just might be yet another historical narrative of a lost empire, civilization or culture. I was wrong. Or maybe not? I am yet to figure out. I have been reading this novel since the day I got it. Since 2001.

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My copy of the book which has been with me since 2001. The novel was published in 2008.

When I say I have been reading it since then, I don’t mean I read a paragraph or a chapter every day. But I have been cautious of taking my own sweet time to read, learn, absorb and live the words weaved by Mr. Pamuk. Frankly, I have never read anything else by him (I bought My Name is Red a couple of years ago only to recommend it to my cousin even before beginning to read it; she was in need of exploring a new author at that time and I figured I, at least, had the comfort of The Museum).

So in the year 2011, Pamuk officially entered my life. My dear friend Raghuram later told me several stories about Turkey, Istanbul and the personal and literary life of the author. Raghu had already devoured some of Pamuk’s writings, Snow being one of them, and was constantly pushing me to finish The Museum. He often expressed jealousy for not owning the book himself and wanted to hear my thoughts about the book before he purchased a copy of his own. He also, often, scolded me for taking so long to read a novel critiquing my reading abilities and taunting my so-called desire for literature and arts.

I still don’t know why I have taken so long to read this book. It has surely nothing to do with the fact that it is uninteresting in any way. It also has nothing to do with the fact that Pamuk’s literary reputation has been affected, albeit slightly, with accusations of plagiarism. Every word. Every scene. Every plot of this text is so rich that when I reach an interesting point in the novel, I shut it and move it aside. When I shared this with Raghu, he simply used to guffaw.

The dedication of this book reads To Rüya. Raghu later told me that Rüya, in fact, was Pamuk’s daughter’s name and the word means “dream” in Turkish. He also taught me how important it is to read the dedication page of every book that one reads as it is a valuable insight into the persona of the writer. Again, it was Raghu who educated me about Pamuk’s well-publicised relationship with Indian authoress Kiran Desai. Raghu was full of such fascinating literary gossips and mesmerising tales (quite resembling Pamuk’s writing, now when I think about it). Shortly after narrating these stories, Raghu passed away in 2012. And thus began my long hiatus from The Museum and Pamuk.

In the last 4 years, I have made some progress with the book, although I have been even slower than before as reading it cause a surge of emotions in me. Nevertheless, I continue to enjoy the story and how Kemal and Füzun’s relationship develop in the course of the narrative. Since hearing about Istanbul from Raghu and now having read about the social transformations in the city in The Museum, I have always had a fascination to visit the city some day. I have had countless dreams about a city I have never visited, which is surreal even for a dreamy person like me! And I have had cravings to go back to Istanbul: a place I have never visited even once, in the first place.

Today, this dream (or reality) has come true. The universe conspired in a crafty way, I must say. My work, my activism and my passion for what I do in my personal and professional life has landed me in Istanbul to attend a 7-day long forum. While I am excited about what is to begin soon, I am elated to land in a city I have had a supernatural connection with. And this connection began exactly a few hours into landing in Istanbul: I finally visited the Museum Of Innocence or Masumiyet Müzesi. Yes, an actual museum of innocence that Pamuk created in conjunction with his eponymous novel.

The museum and the novel were created in tandem, centered on the stories of two Istanbul families. On 17 May 2014, the museum was announced as the Winner of the 2014 European Museum of the Year Award.

The narrative and the museum offer a glimpse into upper-class Istanbul life from the 1970s to the early 2000s. The novel details the story of Kemal, a wealthy Istanbulite who falls in love with his poorer cousin, and the museum displays the artifacts of their love story. According to the website, the museum presents what the novel’s characters “used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets.”

The collection, which includes more than a thousand objects, is housed in a 19th-century house on the corner of Çukurcuma Sk and Dalgiç Sk.

(source here)

You get a free entry into the museum upon showing a page from the novel where they stamp your entry in the shape of one of Füzun's earrings

Showing this page from the novel gets a free invite into the museum. The stamp resembles the shape of one of Füzun’s earrings.

Since I have still not read the novel entirely, as mentioned earlier, I was careful not to ruin the experience by checking objects in display from chapters I hadn’t reached reading yet. Almost each of the 83 chapters from the novel are displayed in a box with an audio guide narrating sections from the novel in Pamuk’s voice as well as telling the story of how a particular chapter or plot was conceived. You miss the line between fact and fiction as you view the countless hairpins that Kemal has carefully preserved of Füzun’s. The surrealism of it all comes alive as you hear the sound of a boat paving its way on The Bosphorus as a voice narrates excerpts from the novel about Kemal’s anguish.

I clicked several images while I was there but unfortunately they all got deleted owing to some error on my mobile phone. But I am not upset about it at all. The images are imprinted in my mind and I know this is an unforgettable experience. As I write this blog, an array of emotions and feelings are rushing through my veins. The words. The objects. The characters. The ambience. The floor. The voice. The recreation of my imagination as I devoured this novel diligently since 2001. And the magic of a love story that I am now too afraid to finish reading, lest the joy be over. I end with a quote from the last chapter of the novel (which, now, I have partly read out of curiosity): The Museum of Innocence will be forever open to lovers who can’t find another place to kiss in Istanbul. 

Of fearless feminism


I have been struggling to ooze out words. Words that best describe some dominant as well as dormant thoughts that have settled on my mind over the past couple of months. Thoughts that link my personal, political and professional experiences. As a feminist, I have always found it difficult to separate my personal from my political, which I believe, gives me the greatest satisfaction: the ability to link what seems personal to the larger politics of life and society. And to link what seems a political issue with deepest and most intense personal experiences.

My feminism and the way it has grown in me (and it continues to spread its wings) has impacted the way I look at life and its (in)sanity. But the brunt I have borne and continue to bear on account of the fact that I am a feminist (and have no qualms about it) is incomparable to any of my other political or non political identities. People have unfriended and blocked me on social media (I have reciprocated in similar way on some occasions), some have created my image to be that of the “rebel without a cause”, some have questioned this particular ism and its irrelevance in, what they see as, a post-feminist world, some more have avoided eye contact and being in touch with me out of fear of yet another “rant” by me on women and their rights. On the other side of the spectrum are those who have engaged in constructive criticism, made me rethink my feminist politics, challenged my assumptions about rights and privileges that individuals are entitled to (regardless of their gender), some have friended and followed me owing to my political leanings and inclinations, while few have simply nodded along and built solidarity on common grounds.

My own desire to study and specialize in subjects had some link or the other to feminism and feminist politics. It’s hard to put a pin point on when exactly did my body and soul opened up to the liberating idea of feminism. But from whatever I do recall, I think it began with my first period. An unforgettable event in my life that confirmed my worst fear: that men and women, indeed, are different. That this monthly bleeding is something that only bodies with vaginas get to experience. Why so? How so? Is that really so? These are some of the questions I mulled over later which helped articulate my experiences better. The desire to question status quo. The curiosity of never stopping to wonder why. The itch to unpack the equality presented and the inequalities hidden. The eye to recognize the marginalized. The knack of identifying what privileges exist and what rights we still need to fight for to rightfully claim as ours.

I continue to engage in feminist activism. Though my work. Through my observations. Through my writings. Through my readings. Through my very existence. But I often pause and reflect on how exhausting it sometimes gets to defend my feminist politics to an ignorant and skeptical audience. An unaware audience wanting to know more is different from an ignorant audience wanting to belittle every little ounce of your efforts. I have fatigued myself trying to explain to folks what feminism is not. Debunking the myths. Eliminating the stereotypes. Making a sincere effort to clean its unnecessarily tarred image in popular media, belief and opinion.

Things are certainly changing on all fronts and one mustn’t give up hope. For all the right and/or wrong reasons, being a feminist and being a supporter of “women’s empowerment” has become ‘cool’. While it saddens me to see the overuse and misuse of such critical words without first making an attempt to understand and place them in their contextual realities, it does give me hope to see that people find it easier to adopt and accept the F-word. I do simultaneously hope that they also read a little and make an attempt to dig deeper into the history of the feminist movement that varies across the globe.

My feminism and its continued understanding has been the cushion to rest on particularly difficult and tiring days. When I lose hope or feel demotivated, I seek comfort in its arms. I write. About myself. My experiences. My friends and family and the kind of discrimination we all practice knowingly and unknowingly in our everyday lives. I read. About feminist struggles and battles that were fought and continue to exist to weed out the oldest forms of oppression our society has ever known: patriarchy. I observe. Things, people, objects and individuals that remind me to never let go of my consciousness. As a woman. As a citizen. And as an individual worthy of equal rights, dignity and respect.

Of hunting and devouring erotica


When I was working on finalizing my dissertation topic during my Masters, I was quite apprehensive about what I would choose. I knew that the topic I was about to choose would eventually be something that I would be voluntarily giving two years of my life to. It had to be exciting, interesting, and maybe even controversial to keep me glued and engaged. Sex was an obvious answer that fulfilled all these criteria. And since I had graduated specializing in literature in English, erotic literature emerged as an option I was more than happy to pursue.

While I knew that it is contemporary erotica that I wanted to focus on, the reason for stressing on writing that was recent was to test how much I could relate to the contextual realities. It is only after I finalized my area of research that I began hunting for writings around sex, preferably fictional writings, in English language emerging from South Asian countries. Of course, it was much more difficult than I had imagined. This wasn’t romance or tragedy or even tragicomedy. This was erotica coming from a land that looked at sex as a tabooed, sinful and hushed subject. Of course, this is also the land that gave us the ‘Kama Sutra’ and the Khajuraho temples. It is this hypocrisy in allowing some and dismissing other manifestations of the erotic that I sought to address through my research. And my first hurdle began in looking for the texts.

A visit to the bookstore resulted in judgmental looks, sniffed remarks and, eventually, ‘Fifty Shades…’. Some bookstores proudly offered me newer translations and versions of ‘Kama Sutra’ again, while some others simply refused to entertain my preposterous demand. A simple Google search came to my rescue. I discovered Tranquebar Press whose four volumes of erotica had emerged in recent years*. Each of these anthologies consisted of fictional pieces penned by writers from South Asia. I was relieved as well as surprised at its easy presence and access on the web but complete ignorance among bookstores (I am talking about two years ago, maybe things have changed now). I ordered all four volumes online and I was more than happy to devour them for the (ostensible) purpose of conducting research. While the genre of erotica is burdened by several challenges — not being seen as ‘literary’ enough, charged of being cheap, trashy and pornographic (the thin line between what gets constructed as erotic and acceptable, and, pornographic and dismissive remains a crucial question to explore), accused of objectifying its characters, especially women—the books that I read as part of my thesis writing were both brave exceptions and happy clichés.

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While conducting my research, I divided these stories on the basis of themes. But the one theme and aspect that I had a keen eye for was that of sexual fantasies and the kinds of sexual fantasies that these fictional worlds not only allowed but also gratified in a justified manner. Interestingly enough, ‘Blue’, The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka, which doesn’t claim to be heterosexual (and neither is), has scope for sexual experimentation and fantasies only in those stories that move out of hetero normativity. Marti’s ‘Room 1716’ is the story that describes lesbian fantasies of the protagonist, while also incorporating the use of a vibrator (a sex toy) to enhance the sexual experience—a privilege otherwise not given to other heterosexual couples in this anthology. Again, it is in ‘Me and Ms J’, a story about lesbian desire, where the protagonist fantasies a sexual relationship with her teacher. Sexual fidelity takes a hike in Shehan Karunatilaka’s Veysee which is a story about a married man who seeks sexual pleasure with a sex worker. There isn’t much light thrown as to why he seeks sex outside marriage but the story does present a view of Sri Lankan society and its perception around sex. The country is represented as one where sex is available ‘freely’ only if you possess good looks, good money and power. Of course, sexual fantasies are not limited to the realm of the man. In ‘Undercover’, Ameena Hussein narrates the story of a married woman trapped in a physically and mentally unsatisfying marriage. This story brings in the element of sex as an avenue of escape when coupled with exploring sexual desire outside marriage.

In ‘Blue’, sexual fantasy is linked to either homosexuality or tasting the forbidden (in the case of ‘Undercover’ and ‘Veysee’). ‘Close, Too Close’ (The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica), on the other hand, gives immense space to fantasies. Perhaps in keeping with the stereotypes associated with the queer world being bold, daring and experimental (the flip-side being unnatural, shameful and confused), ‘Close, Too Close’ has employed and given space for several sexual fantasies, including using a vibrator, dreaming of intercourse with a minor boy (inter-generational sex), queer games, conference sex and threesomes. Perhaps, unconventionality and varied fantasies go well with the definition of what it means to be ‘queer’ – weird. People play queer games (‘All in the game’), a middle-aged gay man –fantasises about having sex with an underage Kashmiri boy (‘Dreams and Desires in Srinagar’), two women engage in conference sex (‘Conference Sex’), a gay man and a straight feminist (as she calls herself) engage in a threesome with a seemingly heterosexual guy (‘Screwing with Excess’).

In ‘Alchemy’, The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II, ‘Mouth’ by M. Svairini explores the many sexual fantasies, including those that may be categorized as queer, set in the context of sexual role play and orgy. Stylistically, the story stands out in its use of several literary tools like analogy and personification. Participants involved in the orgy are all named after specific erogenous zones like the mouth, the cunt, the cock and the ass. The choice of the body part is extremely interesting and perhaps even deliberate in being both accurate and ambiguous at the same time.

In ‘Electric Feather’, The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories, Sheba Karim’s ‘Heavenly Ornaments’ explores the shame and dangers associated with being public or open about one’s sexuality or sexual desires. This shame gets doubled if it is that of a woman and more so if that of a single, deserted or divorced woman. Concepts of purity and impurity are highlighted. Another story that was striking was ‘The First Time’ by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s that traces the coming of age of its protagonist, Aditya, a twenty-seven-year-old advertising executive, who goes through a journey of sexual discovery. It narrates the journey of its protagonist from his dorm days, when he accidentally enters a room of two boys helping each other masturbate. Disturbing as it may have been to him, Aditya longed to replicate what he just saw as the pleasure that he observed in the two boys seemed genuine and true. However, later, he understands, through watching porn, that masturbation was not the only way of attaining sexual ecstasy. The story is not only significant in foregrounding sex education and sexual education; it also highlights the importance of one’s peers in shaping (almost permanently) one’s attitude towards sex.

It is interesting to note, here, how something deemed as private and intimate is actually shaped in one of the most public and open fashions – in peer group discussions, by hearing about it from friends and acquaintances and by observation in popular culture and social media. This is exactly why this genre gains importance. Erotic literature serves a culturally and socially significant role not necessarily in opening up sexual possibilities for its readers but by giving that required space for the reader to embrace and be comfortable with his/her sexual desires – something that is otherwise openly denied in accordance with social dictums. Erotica may or may not question normative ideas about sex and sexual experimentation. However, in its very act of talking about sex in the most direct and detailed manner in a deeply prudish and hypocritical world, it plays a transgressive role.

*The anthologies I studied were as follows:

  • Joshi, Ruchir ed. Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press, 2009.
  • Hussain, Ameena ed. Blue: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press 2011.
  • Karim, Sheba ed. Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press 2012.
  • Meenu and Shruti ed. Close, Too Close: The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press 2012.

All these texts have published erotic stories in the form of prose, poetry and graphic art. The contributors are from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

This post was originally published on TARSHI‘s E-magazine ‘In PlainSpeak’ here.

Love, Liebe, Liebster


I begin this blogpost with a sincere apology for not being regular. Travelling. Working. Discovering. Breathing. Existing. And living. I have been doing it all and rather handsomely. In short, I have gathered plenty of colours that are dying to be spilled into stories that can be shared and read. But I have been rather lazy and unorganized in doing so. Hence the apology.

Thankfully, I got a very good reason to update. My friend and fellow blogger, Nupur (whose blog has the most awesome-st name, btw: ‘Tugging My Luggage‘) nominated me for something called the ”Liebster Award”. To be frank, I have no idea what this is about. But she nominated me. So my guess is it’s pretty huge. Many many thanks for the honour! The word liebster comes from liebe which is German for love. So I am already touched and humbled by the gesture. Danke! 🙂

award

I have never looked at Colours on my palette (Have you liked it yet?) as a travel blog. I look it as a blog, yes. A medium of expression. Of thoughts. Words. Experiences. Discoveries. Inventions. Conversations. And stories. They all form the different colours of this palette. However, travel is an extremely crucial part of it. Most of my stories and experiences come from my travels. Fictional, imaginary, real and/or otherwise. I read a quote somewhere that aptly explains it all: “Travelling: It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” 🙂

Continuing the tradition of all this ‘liebe’, I answer Nupur’s lovely questions in this post:

What got you hooked to travel?

I don’t really know the answer to that. I have travelled since a kid. Mostly with family members, as a child. More with friends, as I grow up. And occasionally, alone. As a girl from a small town, a large part of my childhood was spent in touring “bigger”, metropolitan cities, visiting my grandparents and planning family holidays. Today, I am hooked to travel for many reasons. One, it helps you switch off- a real art. Two, it helps you give time to yourself-something we often forget or ignore. Travel is an addiction because it helps us understand ourselves and the people around us much better. And it never ends. Both the travels and the learnings.

What is your favourite thing about travel?

That I get to meet and embrace multiple cultures, cuisines and colours. That I get to collect souvenirs(not necessarily material). That I get to switch off. That I get to discover and pen so many stories waiting to be told. In different narratives. From different perspectives. In different colours.

One place which you would love to return over and over again?

Nice Ville, South France

Puducherry, South India

Cherrapunjee, North East India

One place you would never return?

Vatican City on Christmas eve. Maddening crowd!

If you had to settle down in one place, which would it be?

I ask myself this question every single day! At the moment, I am thinking South Goa. A year ago, I would have said Kerala.

Which is your favourite travel photo?

So many! And so many more that are printed in my memory. But for the sake of answering this question, here’s one:

The break of dawn. Clicked in a small village in South Germany that goes by the name 'Unterjesingen Sandäcker'

The break of dawn. Clicked in a small village in South Germany that goes by the name ‘Unterjesingen Sandäcker’

What do you prefer to carry, hard copy books or e-books?

Hard copy. Always. It isn’t really reading if you can’t smell the pages.

What do you prefer, short term or long term travel?

Both, I guess. Depends on the company I travel with.

Which are your must have packing items?

Water bottle, diary, ink pen, a book to read, earphones, battery charger

How has blogging helped you?

It has helped me narrate stories in a way that doesn’t put the reader to sleep (hopefully). It has helped me connect to other fellow bloggers and travellers. It has helped in expressing myself better. Hopefully, the learning continues.

_______________

Now that I have done my bit, I would like to nominate the following blogs:

Mindblogging @ My Will

Communique | Talking Loud

Rum Lola Rum

Bom Sight & Thought House

Heaven on Earth

Media. Social Issues. Agriculture. Feminism

A Reluctant Ombudsman

And here are my questions:

1) What has travel taught you?

2) One travel story that you never get tired of narrating?

3) What has been your cheapest and most extravagant travel experience?

4) What has been your worst travel experience?

5) One place that you haven’t been able to visit yet and would like to travel to? Why?

6) One place that you have visited and would like to travel again to? Why?

7) One unforgettable souvenir from your travels?

8) If you had all the money you need, what is the one place in this world that you would like to spend it on? 

9) A travel tip that you would like to share?

10) Why do you blog? 

Looking forward to some really interesting answers. Till then, keep travelling! 🙂

Liebster rules:

-Share your gratitude and link back the blogger who has nominated you

-Answer their 10 questions

-Nominate more blogs (10, if you can)

-Draft 10 questions of your own

Learning about feminism: through the eyes of young girls’


I enter the Tech Center with a lot of inhibitions. About twenty girls who have never seen me before eyeing me from top to bottom. I adjust my dupatta. Maybe they are judging if it matches with the rest of my attire. My colleague, Shivani, who is about to take a session on “Feminism” with these young girls has repeatedly assured me how beautiful and wonderful these girls are. But I have my set of inhibitions. This is my first entry into a world of young girls coming from urban poor slums wanting to know about feminism and curious enough to come together and listen about it. I take out my notepad to make notes, if any.

Shivani introduces me to the class explaining my entry into the FAT team. All thirty pair of eyes on me. I am about to break into some more sweat when they all yell “Hi!” with the biggest smile on their faces. It’s amazing how a smile can break any ice. I smile back at them and get the confidence to reciprocate their friendliness. Things are not as half as bad as I thought. I sit with them to listen to the class keenly.

The session begins with a simple question—what do you think is the difference between a boy and a girl? Girls enthusiastically raise their hands to answer. Some say there is really no difference except their reproductive organs. Some point out the difference in their respective behaviours. Some vaguely mention the word ‘power’ and how its distribution varies among boys and girls. I am amazed at this response and wonder if I even knew what ‘power’ meant at that age except if used in the context of electricity.

Shivani explains the difference between sex and gender to the girls and there is a sneaky giggle at the s-word. I can’t hold back my smile and join them in their curious snickering. The word आज़ादी (freedom) comes up for discussion. Girls react differently. Some look at each other as if it sounds like something one should have but for some reason, one hasn’t got it yet. Some claim they have complete azaadi to do anything they want. When asked if they can go late at night alone on a street, they are shocked at such a demand. But why would we want to do that?, they ask. But what if you want to? You don’t want to today because you do not even have the option to consider it. There’s silence and a lot of musings.

Picture courtesy FAT

Picture courtesy FAT

Shivani throws in another situation. What if your brother comes late at night? That’s okay. He is a boy. That’s allowed, girls agree in unison. Why do you think that is? Girls realize that it’s a question always at the back of their head but they have never explored it further. Where does such a thought process come from? How does the presence or absence of a vagina and/or a penis decide things for people that affect their everyday lives? Girls whisper around and wait patiently for one magical word to answer this inequality. पितृसत्ता. Patriarchy. There’s silence. Girls are still absorbing the enormity of the answer and the weight of this heavy word.

So, how do we deal with this?, asks one curious girl. By fighting patriarchy. Girls voice their everyday patriarchal experiences in the session and these are linked to the idea and concept of feminism—not merely as a term to be understood but as an everyday need and a daily lived experience. Raising our voices against discrimination. Being stubborn about wanting to claim our rights. Constantly asking why and questioning authority. Changing people’s mindset. By dialogues, discussions and comparisons. By perseverance, persistence and patience. By understanding differences, respecting it and negotiating with it. And isn’t that what feminism is all about?

Girls gasp at the F-word. Some have vaguely heard of it before. Some are neutral to it. Some know it because it is the first word in the abbreviation FAT. As the term is unfolded in front of them, the girls notice how their association with the F-word is almost an everyday affair, without them realizing it. Some of them have fought or are still fighting for their right to study further. Some have raised their voices against parental pressure to get married the moment they turned 18. Some have supported their mothers and become their shields when their fathers have raised hands on them. Some have garnered the confidence to travel on their own in Delhi and wear what they want to and what they feel comfortable in. I have been told that girls from the Tech Center in the past have even screened movies on menstruation using community screening as a tool to keep the feminist struggle alive.

Shivani explains how the Tech Center, today, is a feminist space that provides young girls from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, with the much-needed freedom to come, learn not just about technology and new age communication tools but also foster a spirit of awareness and activism about women’s rights and girls’ issues. It’s a space where girls share stories about lived experiences and do some loud thinking on it, while they simultaneously learn how to lose inhibitions (if any) on using and working with technology. This is what we call a ‘Feminist Approach to Technology’. We are FAT and we love it! The girls laugh and spread cheer. At the end of the session, two of them give me goodbye hugs. My day feels worthwhile.

This post was originally published here.

Of France, Italy, Spain and “the end”


I have had my share of France when I visited Pondicherry (now, Puducherry) two years back. I remember being fascinated by anything French: from cuisine to the architecture to the literature, probably fascinated more by its European roots as, to me, European, was French. What foreign language do you know? French. What was eight grade history all about? The French Revolution. Where is Simone de Beauvoir from? France. French feminism. French kiss. French fries. France was the quintessential representative of anything European. I thought I had experienced all the French-ness that I could when I visited Pondi, completely convinced that this was my best bet of experiencing Europe in India. I think I spoke too soon.

I began my affair with France by landing in its capital city, Paris. The city that I had heard so many rumours about that it became almost necessary to go there to verify them. I was told that it is one of the most unsafe cities in the world. I haven’t been everywhere but I can vouch that it is as safe and/or unsafe as Mumbai or Delhi. There is nothing in Paris that stands out as peculiarly threatening  to life. I may be wrong. But I am alive to tell the story without having been robbed, mugged or groped. And I have been on the streets of Paris during all times of the day. Well, mostly. I was also told that France is the most romantic country in the world with Paris being oh-so-mushy. Again, nothing in Paris stood out as particularly romantic. The couples I saw making love at the underground railway station were no different from the elderly couple giving each other a good night kiss at an Italian coffee shop.

Eiffel versus Human

Eiffel versus Human

But, Paris felt loud. Its glamour, its fashion and its people. They seemed to scream their existence. Not in an irritating fashion but in a hey-you-can’t-help-but-give-us-a-second-look way. And you would. You would look at the Eiffel Tower twice. Thrice maybe if you go in the night and feel awed at its glitter and extra-ordinariness. The farther you look at it, the more it mesmerizes you. The closer you go, the tinier you feel. You would look at Da Vinci’s painting twice when you visit the Louvre Museum. You would wonder at Mona Lisa’s painting and wonder what the heck is her expression all about and why is the world so obsessed with it. You would stare at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and muse over its architecture and sculpture even if you don’t understand it. Paris is all about wondering why is it so famous. And by the time you leave the city, you wouldn’t know why but you would agree with those who campaign about the Parisian way of life and nod at what Hemingway had to say about the city: “But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.” 

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Louvre Museum, Paris

From Paris, I ventured into French Riveria, wanting to experience more about the country than just its capital. I explored Cannes and Nice (pronounced as niece, mind you), while also visiting Monte Carlo, Monaco, ending up having the best time in these wonderful coastal cities. With the Mediterranean Sea following you along the way as you travel from one city to another, the sea literally never leaves you. Its magnanimity follows you like a shadow presenting itself in different ways in different cities. Cannes, with its red carpets, fashion brands and private yachts. Nice with its feel of French countryside, the postcard picture perfect sunrise and sunset at the beach and Monte Carlo with its richness of people and culture. Each of these was an experience of its own.

A quiet beach in Nice Ville

A quiet beach in Nice Ville

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The city of Monte Carlo

With so much France in my system, I had pretty high expectations with my next destination: Italy. I was greedy for more as I neared my next stop and Italy did nothing to disappoint me. One of the most visually appealing cities, Rome, was my first stop. On first look, it looks like an abandoned city where civilization once flourished and is now just a crucial chapter in history textbooks. Rocks. Ruins. And rust. That’s Rome, in a nutshell. Unforgettable, though. With its wonderous Colosseum and the popular Trevi Fountain. Rome stays with you. Even after you have forgotten all your memory, Rome remains. And never dies.

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

From Rome, I left for Pisa to admire yet another wonder of the world: The Leaning Tower. I have been fortunate enough to have seen at least three other wonders (the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower). But the tower that leans wins my vote hands down. Its simplicity, its perfection in it imperfection and its serenity is enough to knock your socks away. There is pretty much nothing else in Pisa city except the leaning tower. But that is enough a reason to lure you there. I ended my innings at Italy with yet another oft-spoken of romantic destination: Venice. It’s easier to understand why Venice is touted as romantic (as compared to Paris and the mystery surrounding it). There is water everywhere; the city thrives on it. Paintings. Fresco. Gondola. Touring the city on water. Well, there is a noticeable charm about it all. You can smell and feel love everywhere. In the air. In the waters. In the paintings. In the painter’s brush. In the painter eyeing his muse. In the gondolier’s oar’s strokes. Venice is for the lover. And for everyone who aspires to be one. Also, I had one of the best pastas I have ever had in my life there (in case, you aren’t convinced just as yet).

The city of Venice

The city of Venice

My last European stop was Spain. I could only go to Barcelona as Spain was my last destination and by the end of it all, I was physically, mentally and monetarily spent. Yet, I couldn’t erase Spain out of my To-go list even if it meant only one city. I choose Barcelona as I could fly there for cheap.  Also, I wanted to visit a city other than the capital. Barcelona fit my bill and gave me all the Spain and Spanish-ness I could have possibly wanted. And more than just that. Apart from discovering Gaudi‘s spectacular architecture in the city and hitting the local beach, I also walked along the lanes of Catalonia, a historical lesson I had completely missed and ignored during my school days. A trip to Barcelona was easily one of the most informative ones I ever took in Europe and I came back filled with enough information to last a lifetime.

A street in Barcelona

A street in Barcelona

The beginning of Spain meant the end of my mammoth European tour. And I was already apprehensive of that happening. I began my trip to Barcelona with the constant feeling that this is possibly my last destination and I ought to soak up as much of sun as I can. Literally. And figuratively. And that’s what I did. I probably enjoyed Barcelona a tad more than the others. Just as I enjoyed Prague a little more than the last, both being memorable owing to the fact that they were my first and last stops. If the story is good, you always remember the beginning and the end, no matter how it turns out. And for me, it was all good. Nay, ¡Magnífico! 🙂

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Of watching plays and observing the audience


Despite my likeness and affinity towards watching plays, in general, and the fact that I’m currently based in a city that boasts of a strong and rich theater culture, I have rarely had the chance to watch a play. Partly because of my hectic schedule and nonchalance but more so because I’m usually unable to find company to watch it with. But this time I did and probably because of the star cast of the play that I went to see. Between the Lines is a 105 minute-long play starring Nandita Das, who has also co-written and directed the play. Interestingly, the play has only two actors-Das and her real-life husband Subodh Maskara-who shoulder the entire play playing the role of an affluent lawyer couple, Maya and Shekhar, also briefly playing the role of the clients they represent in a case that affects their personal and professional lives deeply.

A little on the plot first: The lives of lawyer couple Maya (Das) and Shekhar (Subodh Maskara, Das’s husband) are thrown out of gear when both end up on opposite sides of a case. After years of not practicing, Maya decides to defend a woman who may or may not have accidentally shot her husband. Shekhar, a celebrated lawyer who never loses in court, is the prosecution. In the course of the case, Maya perceives parallels between her life and that of her client, a woman from a conservative family who is physically abused by her husband. Maya realizes that patriarchy exists not just in the home of people of the lower classes but even in the homes of well-educated folk. Shekhar might not beat his wife but he is embedded with regressive ideas of womanhood and wifely duties. (Source here)

Picture courtesy Chhoti Productions

Picture courtesy Chhoti Productions

The story is simple, the plot has some amount of creativity and innovation. A story that deals with the idea of womanhood (if at all it is something that can be categorized) and gender disparity can never grow old. What particularly impressed me was the finesse with which the two actors played their roles and didn’t make the audience feel that the 100 minute play had no more than two actors. It didn’t need any more actors; they filled up the void (if any). Das, as always is brilliant and exceptional acting is anyway expected out of her. My takeaway was Mr. Subodh who floored me with his strong stage presence, dialogue delivery and acting. As a debut performance, this was one par excellence.

But the story-telling lacked tight editing. The second-half seemed stretched and prolonged. A lot of scenes could have been done away it and the only reason they were tolerable was because of the two actors’ fine acting. A lot of the play’s flaws were covered up and easy to ignore owing to the use of props on stage and the interesting choice of background music, especially when Maya muses on her life as a married, employed woman. While some of the dialogues are clichéd and lack an element of surprise  the play works well with its dependence on dry humour. However, it was surprising to see an audience of about 500 people in that huge auditorium (Tata Theatre, NCPA). Not just because of the sheer turn out, which was very heartening, but because of their response during the play’s performance. In scenes that spoke of Kavitha’s (Maya’s client) domestic violence and her resignation to it as something that she deserves, the audience welcomed her ignorance with peals of laughter. If not anything else, it was disturbing to witness a set of elite and middle class people (presumably well-informed on issues of gender violence and gender discrimination) laughing at misogyny and sexism, when the play, actually, set out to achieve the opposite.

Nevertheless, it is a recommended watch. My rating: ***

Read other reviews here and here.
Nandita talks about her acting, co-writing, directing, producing and acting along with her husband.