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The Untold Stories

The Untold Stories

Manipur’s Mighty Weaves

May 14, 2019

As I tie my Manipuri sarong over my waist, I was transported to the calm Loktak Lake where the ripples on the calm water is a camouflage of the constant anger of the common Manipuri. The History of Manipur has seen blood and a barbarous past like so many North Eastern States of India. Cut off from mainstream India, their protests were mostly unheard by the Government Of India. From 1980 to 2004, the impotent Indian Government referred to Manipur as a “disturbed state”-  a term given by the Ministry Of Home Affairs. The Army was given special powers to act. The laws allowed the Army to use public and private space in any manner they deemed fit. I can’t help but recall how my home in Shillong was finally the Army resting spot. With guns in their hands and lust in their eyes, they took over homes, streets and lives of the simple hill people.

Legal immunity was given to the armed forces. The rape of Thangjam Manorama Devi still sends shivers down my spine. A young mother raped by the army. What followed was the nude protest by the Meira Paibis Women Association, which later went on to be known as the Meira Paibis movement. And the hunger strike by Irom Sharmila Devi, that which Indian history won’t ever forget.

Northeast Indian fashion

Northeast Indian fashion

My dearest college friend from Jamia Millia Islamia was another young girl sent to Delhi to study. The terror-ridden state was a hindrance to Binaya Yumlumbum. We called her Dolly and at times to irritate her, we called her Yumbum. And Dolly came to Delhi from little Manipur. We struck a friendship on being critical of others, that we thought were plebeians and foolishly believed that we were different. The bond we formed lasts even today.

We text every morning, write unhindered on that group. I can feel her love from across the blue mountains of Manipur, where death, curfews, atrocities are in continuity. I remember her wearing her traditional Phenak in college and looking every bit the Manipuri princess that she is. I told her my heart weeps for my friend Kishen, another classmate who was shot down by insurgents. I bleed from inside, recalling his eyes glinting into the Delhi sun, discussing his future plans with us.



As I wear my Phenak, so many are unaware of the traditional attire of the North East. I want to protest, against this proud lack of awareness about this part of our own country.  They are called Chinkys everywhere.

As I write, I hope I can shed some light on the dark stories of the gentle Meiteis of Manipur and their art and craft, lost to the blue mountains.

I returned home to find a courier with Dolly’s address on it. I held that against my heart and gently opened the packet. She had sent me a Phenak from the looms of Imphal. I was tearing up from within. I travelled back to those days of Delhi and how she swore she would never marry and never leave Delhi ever. We were three friends. Kamini Sanan, Dolly and me. Each of us had a dream. None of us could achieve what we had planned that summer noon at the college cafeteria, where credit was the way forward to the extra samosa and extra cup of tea. A break up meant that the world was crushing under its weight and we sat hours discussing the boy in question and also worry about the Romanticism paper we had to pass.

Today, I wear the Phenak with love and a big thank you to friendships that have stood the test of time. I am humbled.

I am a dreamer.  I hope readers would include the wonderful North Eastern weaves and clothing into mainstream Indian fashion. Also, adapting to the Northeast Indian fashion sensibility is an incredible way to learn and understand more about the art and craft of the people from this almost forgotten land. I get ready to meet my drinking buddies in a bar in Bangalore. I enter the space with people dressed in western attire and me in my Phenak. As I walk towards the bar to ask for a double shot of Vodka, I have two young girls walk up to me and ask if I could tell them where I got my sarong from. I tell them from Imphal. They look disappointed and confused wondering where Imphal is. I quietly worked on my kindness reserve and not get angry, because to not know your own country is a shame. But I refuse to give them a lecture about the geography of India and suggested that they could buy this online. Buying one Phenak will continue the dying looms of Manipur.

I again bow my head to the resilience of the Meitei people who smile through their tears, sorrow as they heal from the atrocious political history of Manipur. A bloody past that we hope would be calm like the Loktak Lake that flows gently towards its destination.

I see myself lying on that boat with the Phenak and the dupatta breezing over my face. May those oars of uncertainty take me forward, dear lord, I pray.

Meira Paibi movement, the nude march of the women of Manipur should make each of us angry forever. I cover my ankle with my Phenak hoping no one can see the nudity of my failings and fallings from there to the now.

The Untold Stories

The Voice Of The Workforce

May 1, 2019
May Day

Today is World Workers Day. The Labour Force Union Movement was recognised. The 5 day work was given to them after much protests and resistance.
I watch silently everyday the building being built. The jarring iron rods and the mud, mortar and the churn of the cement mixer. I look from my window. My room is cool and the curtains are drawn to keep the harsh sunlight away.

But I flinch as I see the scorching rays on the naked child’s back running helter skelter around the mud and grime. The mother while carrying the bricks on her head gives a sidelong glance to her baby. He too copies her and tries carrying bricks on his little head. I hold on to the railing tight. I feel the lump in my throat and the moist tear on the corner of my eye. He reminded me of my baby.

I walk across to give some bananas and water but I can’t stand long. They seem oblivious to their right to education, right to a shaded spot in the heat, right to a break. I have seen the contractor shout at them & they scurry like animals. Almost ant like in their march to the discipline.
Are we really free as human beings? Do we really have dignity of labour? Do their hands hurt from splinters that cut into their skin, while they build our palaces.

May Day 2019

May Day 2019

Are their children aware? That this is not childhood. This is slavery to a system. A system that needs change.
We don’t greet our security guards when they open the gates many a nights, we don’t bat an eyelid to give left over rotten food to the street cleaners outside.

Is this civilisation I ask myself?

Today is the day the unskilled labour force world over were recognised and were given the 5 day week. The Union was formed for rights.
But there are many workers who still need activists and crusaders to give their voice a language that would be heard above the din of power and inhumanity.

The Untold Stories

उमस भरी दोपहरी में सुंदर, सादे, सूती बगरु की ठंडक !

April 24, 2019
Ram Kishore Derewala

राजस्थान की भूमि मुपानी ग़ल वास्तुकला और हिंदू राजपूत संवेदनाओं का एक संयोजन है।वहाँ की शुष्क एवम् बंजर ज़मीन में भले ही की कमी हो लेकिन वहाँ के लोगों में रेगिस्तानी मज़बूती की कोई कमी नहीं है। धार्मिक विविधता और कठोर मौसम के इस संगम में, सपने देखने वाले भी हैं। ऐसे ही एक व्यक्ति हैं जयपुर के राम किशोर डेरवाला। एक राष्ट्रीय पुरस्कार विजेता और पद्मश्री से नवाजे जाने वाले, वह राजस्थान के ब्लाक प्रिंटिंग आर्ट के पारम्परिक शिल्प में अपने अटूट प्रेम और विश्वास के साथ अग्रसर हैं।

जब मैंने उनसे बात की , तब मैं एक कलाकार की सादगी से काफ़ी प्रभावित हुई जो अप्राकृतिक कपड़ों और मशीन मुद्रित कारखाने के कपड़ों की तेज़ी से बढ़ती व्यावसायिक दुनिया से अनजान था। उन्होंने मुझे अपनी विश्वास और प्रेम की कहानी बतायी और साथ ही शिल्पकार के रूप में अपनी यात्रा के बारे में बताया। उन्हें पूरा यक़ीन था की उनकी अगली पीढ़ियाँ भी ब्लाक प्रिंटिंग की इस परम्परा का पालन करेंगी। उनका ये विश्वास देखकर मैं चकित थी। ब्लाक प्रिंटिंग के साथ उनका विश्वास और एक दिव्य सम्बंध था जो कि उनके अनुसार शाश्वत रहेगा। जीवन के चक्र की तरह ही यह हमेशा की तरह जारी रहेगा। उन्होंने मुझे आत्मविश्वास और ज़बरदस्त धैर्य के साथ बताया की यह समय के साथ और बेहतर होगा।

Moody Mo

Moody Mo

प्रसाद बिदापा भी एक स्वप्न देखने वाले हैं और साथ ही आस्तिक भी। उनके साथ हर बातचीत में कला और शिल्प के प्रति उनके जुनून को महसूस कर सकते हैं। उन्होंने बैंगलोर में अपने संस्थान में डेरवाला के संग्रह का प्रदर्शन किया। मेरा सौभाग्य था की मुझे उन मॉडल्ज़ पर रंगों, कपड़ों और प्रिंटों की सारणी देखने को मिली, जिन्होंने महान भारतीय कला और शिल्प के सार के साथ मंच को धार दी। प्रसाद एक उत्साही शिल्प योद्धा हैं, जो चीज़ उन्हें बाक़ियों से अलग करती है, अपने सरल व्यक्तित्व से दिल चुरा लेते हैं और साथ ही साथ हमारे देश के कई अनसुने शिल्पकार को एक मंच प्रदान करते हैं। मैं विसमय और प्रशंसा में बैठकर तमाशा देख रही थी और महसूस कर रही थी की भारतीय कला और शिल्प के बिना मेरे कपड़ों के संग्रह की कल्पना करना भी नामुमकिन है। यह मेरी जड़ें हैं।

जैसा कि मैंने सफ़ेद बगरू प्रिंटेड चन्देरी पर सफ़ेद कपड़े पहने हैं , मेरी साड़ी के बॉर्डर पर सोने की धार है। मैं जानती हूँ कि इसने भारत के धार्मिक विभाजन की संकीर्ण सीमाओं को पार कर लिया है। ब्लाक बनाने की यह कला राजस्थान के चिपास द्वारा बनायी गयी है। वे मुस्लिम समुदाय हैं जो ब्लाक बनाने में मास्टर कारीगर हैं। हिंदू प्राकृतिक रंगो को सरस्वती नदी के पानी के साथ मिलाकर बनाते हैं। और अंत में जो बनता है वो ऐसा कपड़ा है जो दो समुदायों की दिव्यता और लचीलेपन को दर्शाता है, जो बहादुरी से प्रेरित होता है।

राजस्थान की यात्रा हर सर्दियों में एक वार्षिक अनुशठान की तरह की जाती है। और प्रत्येक यात्रा मुझे अलग अलग तरीक़ों से हर बार छूती है। जैसे ही क़िलों पर सूर्य अस्त होता है, मैं आराम से बैठकर अज्ञात रूप से सुकून के साथ आँहें भरती हूँ। लुप्त होती किरणों की सुनहरी रोशनी अपने रहस्य को उन दीवारों पर उकेरती हैं जिन्मे कई कहानियाँ अनकही हैं। मुझे पता है कि हम कला और संस्कृति के एक ज्वालामुखी पर बैठे हैं, जिसने अभी तक इसका शिखर नहीं देखा है। जैसे ही उस गुलाबी शहर के हर घर में रोशनी बंद होती है, एक कलाकार अपने कपड़े के कैन्वस पर जादू पैदा करने के साथ पैदा होता है, जिसे उम्मीद है कि दुनिया उसके काम को स्वीकार करेगी और साथ ही उससे होने वाली आमदनी उसे अपना जुनून पूरा करने के लिए बहादुरी देगी। 

Ram Kishore Derewala

Ram Kishore Derewala

शिल्पों का समर्थन करने के मेरे लघु तरीक़े में, बहुत ही सजगता से, मैंने कभी किसी कलाकार के साथ भाव तोल ( ख़रीद फ़रोख़्त) नहीं किया। मेरी आत्मा रोती है क्यूँकि मैं जानती हूँ कि मैं उस ऊर्जा को कभी उतनी गहरायी से नहीं समझ सकती जो मास्टरपीस बनाने में चली गयी। 

जब मैं अपनी राम किशोर डेरेवाला साड़ी पहनकर निकली, मुझे सफ़ेद पोशाक में सुहावनी हवा का एहसास हुआ , जिसने मुझे अपनी प्राचीन रोशनी से ढाँक दिया। मैं जानती हूँ की कपड़े की बारीकी और उसे पहनने के प्रति मेरी प्रतिबद्धता काफ़ी लोगों को आकर्षित करती है। यह क्षण मायने रखता है क्यूँकि यह अब मेरी अनंत काल है।कल की अवधारणा अज्ञात है और शिल्प के लिए मेरा यह युद्ध हमेशा के लिए जारी रहेगा।

गरमियों में चलने वाली शुष्क हवाएँ इस निरंतर परिवर्तन नामक बदलाव की याद दिलाती हैं। मौसम की तरह ही फ़ैशन भी बदलता है लेकिन शिल्प स्थिर रहता है। 

The Untold Stories

The Bountiful Bagru Prints On A Summer Noon

April 24, 2019
Ram Kishore Derewala

Mughal architecture with a fusion of the Hindu Rajput sensibilities is what the land of Rajasthan is all about. In that arid, dry landscape where water is a scarcity, we have the sturdy resilience of the desert people. And in this confluence of religious diversity and harsh weather, there are the dreamers. One such dreamer is Ram Kishore Derewala from Jaipur. A national award winner and proud recipient of the Padmashri, he marches on with his undying love and belief in the traditional craft of the block printing art of Rajasthan.

As I spoke to him, I was engulfed with the simplicity of an artist who was blissfully unaware of the fast growing commercial world of unnatural fabrics and machine printed factory clothing. He told me his story of faith and love and his journey as a craftsman. What moved me was his faith, he was very sure that his next generations would also follow this tradition of block printing. He had trust and a divine connection with block printing, that he believes would remain eternal. Just like the cycle of life itself, this would continue forever. He told me with confidence and tremendous grit that this would only get better over time.

Moody Mo

Moody Mo

Prasad Bidapa also is a dreamer and a believer. One can sense the passion towards arts and crafts in every interaction with him. He showcased Derewala’s collection at his Institute in Bangalore. I was fortunate to witness the array of colours, fabrics and prints on models who torched the stage with the very essence of the great Indian art and craft. Prasad being an ardent crafts crusader which sets him apart from the rest, steals my heart with his easy personality and also giving a platform to the many unsung craftsman of our country.  I sat in awe and admiration watching the show and realising I can never have enough of Indian art and craft in my collection of clothing. This is my root.

As I wear the white on white Bagru printed Chanderi, with the minimalist gold edge on the borders of my sari. I know this has crossed the narrow borders of the religious divide of India. This art of block making is created by the Chippas of Rajasthan. They are the Muslim community who are master craftsmen in creating the blocks. The Hindus create the natural dyes mixing it with the Saraswati river water. And finally, what comes together are yards of fabric that has the labour of divinity and resilience of the two communities that continue bravely inspite of the odds.

A trip to Rajasthan is done like an annual ritual every winter. And each trip touches me in different ways every time. As the sun sets on the forts, I sit back and sigh with a comforting sense of the unknown. The golden light of the fading rays casts its mystery on those walls that have so many stories untold. I know we are sitting on a volcano of art and culture that hasn’t seen its pinnacle yet. As the lights go out in every home of that pink city, there is an artist born with the dream of creating magic on the canvas of his or her fabric that they hope the world would acknowledge and the commercial returns would give them the bravery to continue this passion.

Ram Kishore Derewala

Ram Kishore Derewala

In my miniscule way to support the crafts, very consciously, I never negotiate with an artist ever. My soul bleeds because I know I can never fathom the energy that has gone into creating the masterpiece.

As I walk out in my Ram Kishore Derewala sari, I feel breezy in the summer white, enveloping me in its pristine light. I know I am able to make heads turn with the finesse of the fabric and my commitment to the cause. This moment matters because this now is my eternity. The concept of tomorrow is unknown and my crusade for the crafts will continue forever.

The summer dry winds are a reminder of this constant called change. Like seasons fashion too changes. But craft remains constant.

The Untold Stories

A Woman’s Voice In India

April 18, 2019

The campaigning and the constant whatsapp forwards for the upcoming 2019 Indian general elections, to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha is on full swing. We are anticipating the results for counting on 23rd of May. Most conversations are rife with debates on the current situation in India. Many leave family groups because of differences in opinion.The only hope we have is a change in the system. Everytime I read an article or watch a gory news of injustice, I am distraught and break down with the hope of change.

Also as a woman I can’t help but notice the history of women politicians, activists and social reformers who fought hard and strong for something as basic as voting rights for women in India.

It’s amusing and appalling that in 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, where women were allowed to be part of the voting procedures. Indian women began their suffragette movement when Lord Edwin Montague, Secretary Of State for Foreign Policy India, came to survey the political scene with a view to change constitutional reforms.

Annie Besant, Margaret Cousins and Dorothy Jinarajadasa, the three Irish women theosophists, who had also been suffragettes in their own country started the Women’s Indian Association. 23 women from different parts of India signed the memorandum, demanding equal rights in the voting procedures and an equal say in the political system of India.

The Indian National Congress at its session in Calcutta in 1917, presided by Annie Beasant and also supported by the Muslim League gave their petition for equal voting rights. Finally in 1920 Cochin was the first to give voting rights to women. Eventually the Government Of India Act Of 1935 increased the number of enfranchised women and removed the previous conditions of being a wife to be allowed into the voting procedures.  All women over 21 were eligible to vote.

Women like Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Muthulakshmi Reddy, Annie Beasant, Sarojini Naidu and so many more were the foundation of a movement that treated us as equal human beings.

As we gear up to a better India with less cases of female infanticide, rape, dowry, acid victims, sexual harassment; I know it’s been a long journey of women who thought and acted fearlessly. They were not worried to be singled out in the system. I salute all the women warriors without whom freedom even today would’ve been a distant dream. We are because of you.


The Untold Stories

The Solitude And Shunning Of Slut Shaming

March 8, 2019

She could feel the first blood trickle down her legs. She was 11 years old and not even coherent enough to acknowledge that the fertility Goddess had bestowed her with the gift of procreation. The early evening at the sleepy little hill station when the lights would go down by 4.30 pm. The place had an unspoken tension of the once peace-loving tribals beginning to look harshly at the Bengali neighbourhood. They were called the Dokkhar, which meant the outsider. Her 11-year-old mind was fearless yet restrained because she knew someone may just touch her inappropriately. Because her mother told her to be careful of touch. She was a sight to my sore eyes. Hair was shiny as silk thread and straight falling just above her little rounded hips. Eyes that had coquettish confidence of being in charge and the effect it had on the little boys in her neighbourhood.

Every day there were letters thrown at her from boys who swore love and affection. Her 11-year-old mind was purer than the crystal dews settled on the shivering leaves of the winter of Shillong. I knew her like no other. Girls were at their first step of realising womanhood in its pristine best at that age. She loved reading and imagining those stories. Her father banned Nabakov’s Lolita for her touch or read. He said it’s for the later years. But her rebellious mind always peeked into that book with the enticing cover of a pair of red lips licking a lollipop. She didn’t understand why the forbidden enticed her so much. But quickly she kept that book away before Ma & Baba could catch her. Baba introduced her to Nissim Ezekiel’s poetry called Beauty. She remembered the poet’s introduction of the lizard. It was the protagonist of this poem. Most misunderstood and considered ugly, the lizard kept your home clean of insects by licking and eating the unwanted bugs inside the home. Few lines of the poem that never left her. “I turned a page silently and came upon a fine bird. In my bones, the marrow stirred. It held the lizard by the head, which was beautiful and dead”. Many evenings she sat pondered and thought of the lizard. It looked beautiful even when dead.

Slut Shaming

Slut Shaming

Her breasts were growing and so was her urge of being near the opposite gender. One evening she saw the 15-year-old Ashok. A young boy who seemed to have a massive crush on her. She wanted to know what a kiss would feel like. She showed him a photo from a magazine of a boy and a girl kissing. He hurriedly kissed her lips and ran. Next morning she got ready with a twinkle in her eyes for school. It was a sunny morning with her grey blazer protecting her from the harsh winter winds of the lull of the little town. On the ever busy hill road on her way to school, was a wall that screamed out loud with charcoal written “Manu Randy”. Her Hindi was weak and her virgin head was reeling but she knew it was wrong whatever that word was. Seniors in school scoffed and cousins who passed on the same street to school behaved as nothing had happened. Manu Randy was the virgin-whore in town because some people were jealous of her free spirit and her pretty rebellious eyes. In a few days, there was a pity in the eyes of some and disgust in others. But no one holding The Virgin Whore’s hand. That evening her aunt suggested her hair be chopped into an army cut and no lustrous hair ever for her. She hid from that fierce force. Her eyes were tired of crying and then she was forcibly grabbed by her little wrists, taken to the barber shop. She saw the long strands of silk fall lifelessly on the dirty floor at the barber’s shop.


Slut Shaming

Slut Shaming

She knew it was a crime to be free sexually or acknowledge your growing desire. She wore her scarf over her head waiting for her hair to grow again. It grew again. The natural long silky tresses grew, like her blood between the barrier of her growing uterus and her stunted femininity. Years have passed and just like the film Malena where Monica Belucci is shaved, kicked, stoned in public for being a beautiful single woman. The Virgin Whore remains untouched when someone calls her beautiful. That slut shaming won’t leave her ever till she reaches her grave.

That’s the thing with memory. Even today as she sits alone the sight of the black charcoal writing on the hill wall stays. For years she wished she was the lizard in that poem but alas she grew into a beautiful, melancholic woman. With desire, love and sense in good measure, but the charcoal stain stays forever.

The Untold Stories

Desire Has No Gender

March 5, 2019

She heard the car pull up. She heard his footsteps as he approached her room.  She hurriedly put on her bra and a worn out kurta. A dependable wife. A doting mother. That was her refuge from desire. She caught a glimpse of her delicate curves. Curves that once turned Murad to jelly. That was a different life. More so, very different people. She looked away from the mirror. No point in dwelling over the past.  After all, none of it mattered anymore.  It didn’t matter that she was a fading shadow of herself. That she had become a self-deprecating image of the Madonna, overlooked too often for she had given up her voice and her desire. She looked around her room. Yes this is enough. A home. A family!

She greeted him with a placid smile. “Hey beautiful! It’s been a long day at work. Would you pour me a  drink? Did you see the email from school?”  He spoke in a tone that matched her smile.

Ranjana often felt alienated from her thoughts of playing the role of a wife, mother and all the glorified images that society has conjured for women over the years.

To be the wife cum mother which a woman is supposed to be, is an religious, media image of perfection. A perfect body, no hair on body and always with a smile. It is the image of the Madonna who is giving and never asking, the image of the householder who holds on to the façade of a home of equal opportunity. Ranjana thought, I must! I must not encourage these thoughts of wanting to see myself and admire my breasts or the side of my waist that once turned Murad to jelly.

Karan enters the home tired and everyone is on their feet. It is an unspoken rule since years. When the man comes home, you got to be all ears to his needs. I recall the day I came back after many tests from the hospital. No one even noticed that I needed a glass of water. But who am I to complain. At least I don’t have restrictions like many more women I know. I am allowed freedom. Maybe not thoughts but it’s all right to have the rest.

He says “hey beautiful, Did you  see the email from school? “ I am lost because I only saw myself in the mirror and saw an older woman stare back at me.

I smiled and said “The net connectivity you know is terrible and the damn crap keeps buffering”. I learnt that word from the millennial child. In reality, I am buffering between spaces of reality and desire. I used to read a lot as a young girl and I especially remember the theory of Freud where he says for most men they desire the whore and worship the Madonna. They marry Madonna but fuck the whore.

So as an intelligent woman I knew to act coy and scared was the best way for him to feel he is in a safe zone. He is anchored with the thought of being in control. To keep peace and harmony it is best to make them believe that truth. Sometimes, I also felt he indulged me sexually just out of mere obligation. But I stop my thoughts always. Its disturbing for the home environment.

My thoughts are broken by the  millennial child who says, “Come on you know mama, she barely ever checks mails or even tries to push for grades. She says that travelling is education, loving is celebration and sex is honesty”. I almost got  caught there. I say, “Yes baby, let’s not worry about all that. Let’s gets the grades going”.

I am always cognitive that I have to be the Madonna which you all have created for me and put me on a pedestal.
That evening, in his drunken stupor, he made out with me. Ok, I also learnt that word “ making out” from the millennial child. I was bored of the act but I sighed and hummed in between. Was worried maybe he heard my Yaman raag. Quickly, I stopped the notes in my mind and said oh my god! That feels great! I knew his mind was not there like mine too wasn’t.

I loved my friend Saida. Meeting her  is really the most deliciously evil thing to do, she keeps telling me how he never cared for her. So she cared for herself. Her words always make me smile and I feel calm in her company. There is no pretence of being another version of me. It’s always me. Everytime we speak,  I  feel I am not that much of a freak to feel desire and passion, because  it’s my natural state of being human. I feel greater to think that I am more in control than Saida and control makes me the Madonna of my home.

That evening, I sat by myself and asked myself the questions which I was scared even my conscience would hear. I asked why is it that desire is also patriarchal, why are orgasms reserved only for men, why is a man allowed to be fat yet desirable and a woman not?

I recalled Murad when we met so many moons back. He couldn’t keep his eyes off me. He couldn’t keep his smile concealed every time he met me. How his strong hands held me from breaking down the day I told him I was getting married to a businessman who Ma said would look after me. Murad was a musician and his earning was meagre. Murad let me go with pain in his voice and anguish in his soul. I still can, on lonely nights, see those honest eyes brimming with tears as he said goodbye.

Lord I will go into hell! And  be surrounded with sad virgins. What a shame would that be. So I decided I mustn’t indulge in these thoughts that are not for the Madonna of the home. You have to remain eternally beautiful without being wild, you have to remain happy without being hormonal and you just have to tow the line.  But, bastard desire is a real crook, it keeps coming in spurts and moments when the rain touches the wet earth and the flowers blossom with nipping the bud in its own force.

I quickly tie my hair and wear my lipstick to regain composure and be another beautiful thing that lies in the home. Dusted from time to time and forlorn  on a busy season of exams and duties. Just like the changing season, my breasts have grown softer and my belly fat gets thicker but Murad has a way of re-appearing when no one is watching me.

I don’t know if I am the Madonna or the whore. You can’t be the same person with so many versions of you. I am scared of discovering my sexuality, so I put my feet in the puddle of water in the garden and feel the wetness calm me down.

Someday, I know that society will accept that lust and love are twins of a separate identity in one being. One protects the other from destruction and separation.

The Untold Stories

Firdaus Is Omnipresent

February 26, 2019

The sound of the marching boots and the incessant screams of the tribals fighting for their land reverberated into the stillness of the chilly evenings. Evening fell early on those eerie mountains and the morning sun broke through the dark clouds very early. It was the night of 25th December 1982 that I recall clearly. A bunch of Khasi men trying to enter the compound of my home and attempting to light up the meter box. I stood stricken as Ma held on to the boti that she used to cut her fish, instructing me to be brave.
“They are cowards, we have no fear”, said Ma to console me.

My young mind knew she was lying because her frail body was shivering. I understood that to face fear you need to lose fear. The Khasis were opening the meter box and screaming Dokhar, Dokhar! And just like the Gods above were deciding we needed to live longer, the CRPF marched close above our heads and the insurgents ran as fast as lighting into the bamboo forests opposite our home. We just kissed death and stood holding on to each other like a boulder withstanding the raging seas.

Truth be told, the mountain people were a peaceful lot. Till the Bangladeshi refugees starting infiltrating into the crevices of the hill. They were insecure about this new phenomenon and one day they decided to take the law into their hands and finish the evil from its roots. They caught every Bengali on the dark streets and punched them till they bled uncontrollably.

The Centre was cut off from this part of India. They didn’t understand the differences between the various tribes and their culture. The Centre intervened by sending the CRPF force with a shoot at sight order.

My school was suddenly shut and the grey-white building looked like a forlorn ghost waiting to be lit again. I didn’t miss school much as I disliked the discrimination against the Bengali students which the nuns too practised those days. The Khasis hated the Bengalis like plague. And I was their easiest target because Baba didn’t stay and I was just suddenly made aware of this reality. In spite of the matrilineal society structure, I felt aware of being a girl in the Khasi land.

The men made lewd gestures but didn’t ever touch. They said mean things about Ma but they never physically harmed any woman. The men were targeted to be butchered.

Just as the CRPF walked past, I saw Ma call a jawan & in her impeccable Delhi Hindi, she told him, that she lived alone with her little girl. She wanted to give them water to drink every time they were tired of marching. They agreed readily because water in the hills is difficult to get and arduous to carry. I saw her carry a bucket with a glass on the side and keeping it outside our gate. I knew she was smarter than the Khasis and the CRPF forces. She gave them deluge in her demure way and protected her daughter and herself from being burnt alive in that wooden home. I learnt the word jugad that day at a tender age of 10.

The CRPF became first name acquaintances. I knew she was putting her best foot forward to keep them happy. They were gullible to affection. She didn’t voice her truth to me, but I I could see her, much more than others did. Her shared sorrow of loneliness, survival and cunning was all visible to me. As she negotiated life, insurgents, army and her patriarchal surroundings of judgement. She still wore her hair in a neat bun and her crisp cotton sari. I realised she was not the one who would ever give up on life and living.

As I take out my red sari, I remember how in that environment of hate, Ma gave me this red sari and said every time you feel lesser, wear your sari and your courage like an embellishment from the Universe above. Once the sheen of courage reaches your eyes, the wrinkles fade, the grey ceases to matter and what remains is your grace and gratitude of your life experiences.

I call this Firdaus which means paradise.

May each of us finds “Firdaus” in the mundane and the marvellous.

The Untold Stories

Blood On My Hands While Sewing The Frayed Edges !

February 6, 2019

Did you see the dim light in the weavers home? Did you see the pregnant wife of the artist struggle while traversing the path to reach the hospital? Did you see the child of the artisan run behind kites bare footed in the afternoon sun? His bare back burnt by the harsh rays as his father weaves fabric for you and me. But his kids don’t have a new shirt, even when the fabric is loosely tied and the thread is worn out with time.


I have had sleepless nights since I saw that reticent weaver who was given a corner stall during the bonhomie of Durga Puja to sell sarees. His stall was rented out for two days, next to a dustbin with people negotiating the price of a saree. The weaver was assisted by a person from an NGO who was trying to help the weaver reach out to the visitors to buy his product, with fewer middlemen and more money. Weavers don’t know the language of economy. They speak to you in their mother tongue; India has 15 official languages and some dialects. He can’t communicate to you. He can’t tell you that when you buy one of his creations, you actually are helping him pay his children’s school fees, his meals and even the thread which goes into his looms.

It’s so easy to look away from the little thread that runs through your yarn of fabric. This fabric is created with hope. India is home to different arts and crafts unique to each state. In my blog, it’s just an mere endeavour to reach out to you as you buy a handmade product. Those trembling hands of the artisans, who are feeling lost and helpless, may regain their confidence with your endorsement. We are nothing without one another. Just as the harvest depends on the shifting seasons, we are all connected equally and harmoniously.

Help Me Help Them…


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