Monday, December 14, 2015

Pride - 3 PRIDE WALK!

The colours and the celebration! 

More than 2000 (that's right - two THOUSAND) people turned up to walk for Love, Equality, and Solidarity!

There was dancing ...

And mystified onlookers....

And more dancing ...

posters galore 

and SO MUCH colour

What a fantastic day

PRIDE - 2 (Art and Craft)

Making posters for Pride walk


And another round of Poster making

And making badges!

They turned out pretty good!

PRIDE -1 ( The Fund Raiser)

So, the pre pride fundraiser in Kolkata this year was a costume party (mainly because i insisted so much on a costume party he he).  Preparations included the topi....

and the jooti.... 

The final result ended up being something like this....

The cronies looked pretty nice too!


And then the Drinking began       and pics continued

more friends arrived

 and much fun was had!


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Conditioning Conundrum

On the way home from a particularly intense and meaningful session of the Sunday Adda, I hopped on to a bus. Normally, on a Sunday evening at 8ish, I would just take one of the many autorickshaws plying the fixed route between the Adda spot and close-to-home. But, this is durga puja season, and all the Bengalis and their uncles have gone ape-shit crazy. Normally deserted, horror movie setting streets have looked like middle of the day at a busy shopping destination for the last couple of weeks. Traffic, non-existent to the point of scariness under normal circumstances at that hour, has been standstill and crawling it-will-take-forever-to-get-there over the last few weeks. So, not chancing waiting another hour in the insane auto queue, I just jumped into the first bus I saw that was headed in the right direction.

Miracle of miracles! There was a seat! So I parked my more than ample behind, and settled in to ruminate on the fantastic session we had just had talking about male gaze, comfort levels, policing of women's bodies and clothes, movies, books, feminist theories, Freud, Woolf, and SO MUCH more. In the intensely slow crawl to where I was going, many people got into and off the bus, of course, some noticed, some not, in my post adda zen state.

One pair I did notice consisted of a young guy and a girl, probably in their mid 20s. They got in, and seeing the crowded, standing room only, state of the bus, chose a corner near the doors to stand. I sort of vaguely, peripherally, noted the animated conversation they were having, and concluded – probably erroneously – from the body language and particular nyakami of the woman, that they were a couple or at least romantically interested in one another.

Soon, a seat opened up across the aisle, and the young man promptly rushed across and took it, leaving the girl standing where she was. The first reaction I had was anger. A clear, knee jerk, what a creep, he-should-have-let-the-girl-sit, what’s-wrong-with-men type of reaction that came from some lizard brain conditioned part of me. And that, the reaction I felt, that spurt of anger, immediately made me uncomfortable.

People who know me can vouch for how vehement I am about equality, about the abilities of women to negotiate this world without being constantly infantalised and babied (as chivalry does), and so on and so forth. The woman was not older, physically differently abled in any way that I could see, or pregnant (that I could see). Any of those would have made me ok with my anger, because I would be angry with anyone, of any gender, not giving up their seat in those cases.

But here were two similarly aged, similarly abled people, and yet my first reaction, my instinctive (conditioned?) knee-jerk had been of anger simply because the “man” had taken the seat. Putting myself in that situation, if one of my male friends had dared to offer me a seat “just because I am a girl” I would probably have beaten the shit out of them, or at least handed out an extensive and caustic tongue lashing laced liberally with feminist theory and egalitarian rhetoric. I DEFINITELY do not want a world where ANYONE gets special treatment (either good or bad) simply because of something like gender.

So, time for introspection I guess. About conditioning and its effects. About how successfully I have been able to resist conditioning. About how many of my received notions I have been able to ditch. About why/how I have seemingly retained some (unconsciously or consciously). And so much more.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


An apparantly homeless, possibly mentally ill, middle aged man walks into one of the chain cafe outlets that are all the rage with a certain section of the young and hip, and the older but cooler crowd. He walks straight back into the little atrium area where the smokers like to hang out. He looks around, and plonks himself on a chair at one of the tables, an occupied one.

The change in atmosphere was electric. The change from light, fun adda to massive discomfort and distrust was so sudden it was like the physical slam of a huge wave bashing into us. A thick, viscous wall of all the nasty possibilities, of instinctive cringeing, caused the worst case of “chhondo poton” i have seen in a long, long time.

He sat next to me, at the table behind me, and leaned over to ask for a light. I am ashamed to say i felt the creeping discomfort too as i handed him the box of matches off our table to light his biri. Conversations, taking place at each table and across tables; vivacious and effervescent, had come to a grinding halt by now. The odd word muttered under the breath, and a lot of looking at each other and at the man was going on.

An employee of the cafe walked out to the atrium area, and i shook myself ready. With all the recent cases doing the rounds on facebook of poorer or homeless people being mistreated by employees of various establishments, i had no cause to expect anything else from this one too. My friend and i exchanged glances, and stiffened our spines to intervene if things went too far or if the employee got obnoxious.

He started with asking the man “what are you here for? Have you come here to smoke?” Something he would never ask any of us, regulars, dressed a certain way, appearing to be from a certain class,even if we had sat there for hours without placing a single order, as my friend P pointed out later. And yet, a couple of minutes into this man's appearence, and here he was. The man replied he was going to order some coffee, at which the employee asked another employee (who had come out in the meantime to offer moral support or something) to get the man a menu card. The promptness of service in the arrival of the menu card to the table would have impressed the most jaded of customers. Luckily, i didnt need to intervene, and the employees went back to the counter, presumably to give the man time to figure out what he wanted.

There were four tables in the outdoor area, two occupied by pairs of people (including ours), one had a young woman sitting alone and one, the one behind me with a young man sitting alone. Mr X (as i shall call him for easier referral) had looked around when he first arrived and sat down with the unaccompanied young man rather than the woman which i thought was rather good of him, and unusual in this country. Plenty of men i know or have had the misfortune to run into would take the situation as an excuse to inflict themselves on the solo woman, and then use that as an excuse to strike up a not- so-wanted conversation or try to instigate unwanted “friendliness”.

The palpable discomfort and mistrust of the other customers (myself included in the discomfort i am ashamed to say) continued, peaking in the young man sitting at that table getting up and walking across the atrium area to join the solo woman at her table rather than share a table with Mr X. While we were all fidgeting, hemming and hawing, and quite unable to relax and enjoy ourselves solely because a particular person is sitting in the same space, Mr X asked me if i would share my coffee with him, “i dont have any money for these coffees, you see”. Given that these coffees start ar 100 rupees, that is quite understandable. I had a couple of inches left in the bottom of my glass of black iced coffee which i told him he was welcome to if he didnt mind the taste (no milk no sugar is not a very Indian way of drinking coffee). He was fine with it, i handed him my glass.

Thinking about wanting to buy him a coffee of his own, i had almost made up my mind to get up, tell him i was going to get him a coffee, and go order, when Mr X said “must go and meet xyz today! Oh! I had forgotten! He'll leave soon!” to general space, and got up to leave. As he passed the solo wioman's table (she was inside at the counter at this point) he reached over to stub out his biri in the ash-tray. The young man who was at that table, having shifted there to avoid Mr X, lunged across the table as the man reached out to SAVE a pack of cigarettes lying on the woman's side of the table, presumably her property.

Mr X simply smiled, said “i wasn't going to take those” and left. The whole thing must have lasted hardly 10 minutes.

The atmosphere changed palpably again instantly. As if the lightness came back, but with a darker edge. Everyone started discussing Mr X. The table next to ours was occupied by a female friend of ours and a man of her acquaintance who we had met there, at the cafe, a couple of hours before, and had the sort of conversation with that you tend to have with strangers in cafes. We spoke of books and music and movies and such. This man now began to talk about how he hated random people just talking to him, and how he was not normally a violent person but “today” he wanted to be violent to Mr X. They left pretty soon after, too shaken i presume to reclaim the jolly night they were having before this rude interruption.

The young man of the chaged tables shoved his oar in a couple of times to the conversation the three remaining women, (me, P, and solo woman) spontaneously started having. Getting not much response, and feeling some disapproval (i personally felt really weirded out by his move of tables), he left too. The three of us talked for a while about how we were thinking of intervening if the employees had misbehaved (all three of us), how we were thinking of buying him a coffee (me and solo woman), how all of us found young man's action extreme (turns out he was the one who summoned the employees to “deal with” the man. He told solo woman he was a counsellor! And claimed that he could tell at a glance that the man was not a “druggie” but simly mentally ill! And then proceeded to inflict himself on her despite her very apparent discomfort with the conversation – which i could see from across the atrium – and tried to get very friendly), and how we felt about everyone's reactions, including our own.

After all, he hadn't done anything the slightest bit out of line. He hadn't misbehaved. In fact he had been more polite and well behaved than a lot of people we deal with on a daily basis. We are all self identified libertarians, liberals, often with a leaning to the left, involved in or in favour of activism and all of that. So, not surprisingly, it was a blow to our self images to see our own reactions, and we could not get away from a feeling of guilt and ashamed-ness.

What was it about a mild mannered, decent acting, middle aged man that rubbed us all the wrong way so quickly and so violently? Just because he looked scruffy and unwashed? Just because he looked down and out? Just because he didnt dress the way we are used to seeing people there dress? (not true since he was in pretty standard clothing, jeans, a t-shirt) What was it about the arrival of this one man that had such an effect on a whole bunch of people? What caused that knee-jerk, almost instinctive, conditioned, instant discomfort? 

And --- at the end of the day --- what does that say about me?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Waterlogged in Kolkata

heavy nighttime rains
- It has rained in Kolkata pretty steadily all day yesterday, and through most of the night. As anyone who knows me will know... this made me really, really happy! I am a hardened and confirmed pluviophile – someone made peaceful and happy by the rain! Some good news on the personal front went extremely well with the (in my opinion) fantastic weather, adding layers of awesomeness to already extant awesomeness.

This morning, I woke happy, ready to take on the world, and looking forward to a day at the office of the NGO I volunteer with. I was going to get a lot of work done, have a lot of fabulous adda, and scandalise a colleague some more with my “nasty” jokes. Then... i looked out the window. It was still raining, and the day promised to be great.

So off i went, to the baby garage, to leave monkey and head for the office. Lalala. Except the garage wala called as i was locking my door ... “dont leave! We are waterlogged! Even the evevator pit is flooded and theres water up to the first step of the staircase!” Okay ... but i've kinda left anyway, so let me get there and i'll see... how bad could it be? Five minutes later garage wali calls “don't turn the cab into this main road! Its all flooded”. So, i'll get off at the corner of the highway and leg it, i think – and say. “But, but how will u walk here? Its all flooded.” i paid no attention. After all she hadn't been outside, she was talking on the basis of what she could see from the balcony.

not so bad :D 
And then, i was at the corner, and the main road WAS flooded, including the sidewalks. And i am talking knee deep. With a sigh i start wading, generally, it wouldn't be so bad, but this is Kolkata. The so-called sidewak is sporadic, appearing and disappearing suddenly, dug up in places while other spots have mounds of tiles or stones. Bad enough on a normal day. When it is all under roughly a foot of muddy water, making all the pitfalls (literal and metaphorical) invisible, well... let's just say the situation is not ideal to be carrying laptops in.

identify the drain and the sidewalk
Did i mention the drain? Oh yeah! This is Kolkata. So this new, planned, township part of the city has large open drains... about 2.5 feet deep and roughly a foot wide. Which, by the way, are also under water and equally invisible at this moment.

So, here i am, engaged in a recarious, foot slipping, blood curdling, slipper sliding wade through to the baby garage, and i also have to worry about whether i am veering too far to the right and might end up in the bloody drain! (dont even get me started on what's probably in the water i am wading through. The less i think about it at this point the better.

And then! It starts to pour! And i mean pour like there is no goddamn tomorrow, umbrellas are redundant, raincoats dont matter, whatever you do it will get you anyway kind of pour! So, somehow trying to protect the lappy from getting too much of nature's largesse, and trying to prevent my sizeable rear end from ending up in the water or in the drain, and trying to prevent myself breaking a foot or an ankle in an unseen, hiding under the water sidewalk pothole, i somehow manage to get to the building.

Now i must trudge up five floors (water in lift well, remember? Hence no elevator service, aint that great?). So anyhow, i made it in one piece. 

And the first thing i did was run to the roof of the building to try to catch some of the chaos on film. Empty highway was a testament to cabs and buses being mostly off the streets, people were returning dejected from the Metro Rails station, and some of the local train lines were out as well.

Well, got a dose of childhood :D a RAINY DAY from work, and khichudi for lunch. Almost worth the little swim in the morning.