Category Archives: anecdote

Becoming Chikni Chameli in 3 Steps

I encountered Chikni Chameli in the December of 2011, mid afternoon at the Calcutta airport, waiting to board a flight to Indore. I was on my way to a friend’s cousin’s wedding. The overhead televisions kept blaring the annoying music of the item song, in sync with its provocative lyrics and gestures. Men and women alike had their eyes glued to the rhythms of Katrina Kaif’s thumkas and chest thrusts.

Fast forward to December 2013. Calcutta, again. 2 am. I am hunched over my laptop, seeking inspiration to finish my final assignment for Carolyn Smart’s fiction workshop class. Write a flash fiction piece, under 500 words. There are no parameters, except for the word limit.

I finally find inspiration , through another writer I admire. And, a stream of unconsciousness. Who knows where inspiration really comes from?

Several drafts, and a few rejections later, my piece sees the light of day.

My short fiction, “Becoming Chikni Chameli in 3 Steps,” is up at Matrix Magazine. You can read it here. It is a part of their trans issue, edited by Lucas Crawford.

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My Top 30

Cover photograph of LIES/ISLE's last issue (Issue #7).

Cover photograph of LIES/ISLE’s last issue (Issue #7).

Everyone should have a top five, a top ten, or even a top twenty.

I have a top thirty list.

That’s thirty literary magazines I want to see my work in.

The top three are the cream of the cream. The literary elite.  They are listed in the order of their (almost) unbreakable publishing bourgeoisie-ness.

The rest that follow are still pretty big deal, but they are listed in no particular order.

Some of them (a whole lot actually, now that I am looking at them again) are Canadian.

Some Canadian magazines from my "Top 30" list.

Some Canadian magazines from my “Top 30” list.

Why this list?

Because it’s good to aspire.

Also, from what I have heard, publishing credits not only earn you street cred (as a writer), but also boosts your ever flailing writer’s ego.

And since recently I got to cross off a name from the list, I have been on top of a cloud higher than #9.

My most queer piece till date, “Regular,” got accepted by LIES/ISLE! Watch this space.

Update: My  TOP 30 list. Click to download.

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Coming to terms with the real me

real selfTwo summers ago, my stalker claimed that he “knew” me because he had read every single thing I had ever published.

But that isn’t the real me, I had wanted to say. That is just an online persona. That is how I talk in my head when I am writing. That is me performing online.

And it does so much feel like a performance. That I cannot bare my bones and just exist within my skin. That even when I am writing about an honest experience, I am also self-censoring.

I tried keeping this anonymous blog once (it still exists somewhere) where I could proclaim my inanities without shame. But even faced with faceless strangers, I kept up the performance until finally one day, I stopped writing there completely.

The truth is… the only time I can truly shed my skin is when I am fictionalizing. The moment I turn to fiction, the words become more visceral, more a part of me than apart from me. It’s ironic in some way, I suppose. That I can be myself when I am essentially making things up, and not otherwise.

It’s almost as if the real me is a fictionalized version of me. Or, several versions of me.

The only comfort is that they are less idealized versions. Versions that help me come to terms with who I really am.

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Why I Can’t be a Fashion Blogger

Okay, I found this funny.

Okay, I found this funny.

It’s simple, really. I love fashion, but I am too lazy to be fashionable all the time.

Okay, maybe that’s a tiny lie.

I do make the effort. I have been making an effort ever since my India trip (a trip I still haven’t recovered from and long to repeat and re-repeat till I do).

So, not too long ago, I had the chance to meet with two fashion bloggers in Calcutta.

Debiparna Chakraborty, who had invited me, is a fabulously sexy plus size blogger, much like my friend, LuAnne D’Souza from Dubai who goes by the name Weesha in the blogging world. The second one was Anupriya Dutta Gupta, also known for her fashion line, Howrah Bridge. There was a third person as well, Shreya Goswami, but she is a photographer.

So, let me be honest. I had been apprehensive about this meeting. Me, a struggling writer-in-progress/grad student (for life!) who didn’t care too much about fashion (well, not until recently) was about to meet fashion bloggers. For fun. Yeah, right! Too-much-pressure, I tell you.

Plus, there was this fear. What if they were superficial? Yes, I stereotype too.

But nice people, them. Debi and Anu. I was almost sad I was leaving India two days later. Anupriya asked me if I intended to ever have a lifestyle section on my blog, and I said no. Because you know, the blog is my creative space as a writer/photographer.

But then, I seriously thought about it. Why not? I could be a fashion blogger if I wanted to. I could fill this niche of a short, curvy, big busted brown girl fashion blogger, something I hadn’t seen yet. So, why not, right?

Well… no.

For one, I simply don’t have the time or energy. I am a full time graduate student. I am working on my second MA thesis. I am taking a poetry workshop/class this term with seasoned Canadian poet, Carolyn Smart (see what I did there? Name dropped…). I just finished all of my PhD and grant applications (phew!). I am planning to launch a literary magazine soon (an idea I had been flirting with for a year). I am also working on my novel and a collection of short stories on the side. So… no way on earth did I have time for fashion blogging too.

Two, I barely know anything about fashion. What I do know comes second hand. From magazines, from my ever fashionable younger sister, from friends, from the internet (long live fashion bloggers!). For example, I recently learnt about accenting, how you can accent certain fabrics with certain colours. The lingo is still very new to me.

And three, I am more of a voyeur, rather than an exhibitionist. It’s true. I love watching (no, don’t you dare go there). So there is no way in the seven wonders of the world am I going to put up pictures of me on the internet for the world to see. Especially pictures of me accompanied with posts that talked about clothes on my body. My BODY.

I am the kind of person who self-censors her private life on social media.

And oh my god, I completely forgot. My brush with a stalker/harasser last year (that led me to making an official police complaint. The police of Mississauga were so very helpful in taking care of that. Thank you!). I don’t want to encourage my stalker (or, potential stalkers) in any way.

I am better off, living the life of a pretend-recluse writer. The one who parties with people she knows. The one who is mostly very social in person, and online, but won’t cross certain boundaries because it is beyond her comfort level…. wait, what?! I didn’t just type that. That is a complete lie.

I cross boundaries all the time.

Not just because as a writer, you should, but because that’s who I am.

Sigh, I guess I could be a fashion blogger after all.

If I really wanted to.

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Kama Sutra Lost

A painting from Deepak Chopra: Kama Sutra

A painting from Deepak Chopra: Kama Sutra

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 22nd June 2013.

My mom has thrown away my Kamasutra book. Atleast, I think that is what happened to it.

I remember the first time she came upon it. We were in my room, cleaning out my closet. She insisted on helping me. I didn’t really have a lot to hide at the time, as most of what was hidden was on my laptop, but there was a bright, pink thong. And, that book.

She came upon the piece of lingerie first.

“What is this?” she held it up with her thumb and fore finger, as if afraid of getting tainted.

“A thong?” I shrugged.

“Why do you wear this? Does it even cover anything?” she shook it in my face.

I had never actually worn it but had bought it on a whim, with other underwear. Those 3 for 25 sales.

“Well, if I don’t wear it now, when should I wear it then? At your age?” I said, in jest.

She shook her head, and kept it back where she had found it.

A few minutes later, she chanced upon my Kamasutra book.

“And, what is this?!” she sounded pissed.

“A book,” I felt a little guilty for even owning it at the time.

“Why?”

“It was on sale,” I said, sheepish.

Well, to be honest, it had been on sale. I had walked into a bookstore and there it had been, on the “sale” table. It wasn’t even an actual sex manual. More like a large coffee table book with paintings of naked limbs in hues of dark, passionate red.

“So, you bought it?” she demanded.

“Well, I bought it for the paintings,” I finally admitted.

This time she looked skeptical, flipped through the erotic paintings, gave a grunt of a half satisfactory “hmph” before putting it back in the crevice I had created specifically for the book.

That was six years ago.

In those six years, we had moved to a new house. I had acquired new shelves for my many more books, including anthologies of erotica, some of which I displayed openly on my shelves. Some of which I had even offered to her, saying, “read this!”. She hasn’t taken up on my offer yet.

So today, with the heavy downpour outside, I remembered those paintings. I wondered who the artist(s) had been. A burning desire to know came upon me. It took hold of me till I gave up what I had been doing and went to look for it. But the book… well, the book was gone.

Books don’t just disappear, I reasoned as I searched everywhere. It couldn’t have just grown a pair of legs, and walked out of the house. It couldn’t have been stolen, the sheer size and colour (it has a Tide safedi type white cover) a deterrent. I know I didn’t lend it to anyone. Then where was it?

I remembered that the book had been kept aside with many of my excess books till my dad had installed the new shelves. Since I had been away from the house, living in another city at the time, my parents had filled the shelves with those excess books. The shelves were located in my “writing room” (as I called it) in the basement.

I went down. I switched on the lights. I perused my shelves. The book was not there.

I sighed. I had looked everywhere. There was only one explanation for it.

“Did you throw away my Kamasutra book?” I asked my mom when she came back that evening.

What book?” she looked confused.

I patiently described the book. The details of her aversion on her first encounter with it.

“So, did you?” I asked, again.

“Why would I throw your book away? Do I have an enmity with your book?” she defended herself.

Since I know my mom would never lie, I am left unsure. Has dad gotten rid of it? But why would he? Did someone steal it? But why?

The absence of the book doesn’t bother me as much as the loss of the book itself. I could, of course, just order a used copy from Amazon, but the book would not have the personal history I had with my previous copy. That history would be lost.

Also, I had just wanted to know about the artist(s).

Turn your hell into heaven, my mind said. Google!

And so, I did.

Update: I realized that another book of mine was missing (The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger). It was a hard cover graphic novel. A much bigger and heavier book than my Kamasutra book. So, where the hell was that? As it turns out, in an overlooked box in a neglected dark corner of an overlooked storeroom in the basement. Along with- guess what?- my Kamasutra book!  Now, they are both where they rightfully belong, out in the open on my bookshelves. 

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So, now I am a photographer. Le-git.

“So, now you are a photographer,” said my mom, when I called her to tell her the news. As if winning a contest of some sort adds to my credibility of being a photographer.

“Yeah… I guess so.” I said with casual nonchalance.

Flashback to end Feb:

Friend: Hey, there is a photography contest at Queen’s. You should enter something.

Me: When is the deadline?

Friend: Today! I just got the email.

Me: Forward, please?

It was a Monday and I had so much lined up. There was my class at 10am. Then, a meeting with a student. And then, those books I had to hunt down at the library for a presentation I was doing on campus the following week (on Bollywood Item Girls, which is a whole other story by itself)… I wasn’t even sure if I would have the time to send anything in by their 11:59 pm deadline.

But I did. Five minutes before the clock struck 12. Me, the last-minuter. Living life on the edge.

The contest, organized by Queen’s University International Centre, was in its 5th year. Open to both undergraduate and graduate students, the demand was for “international” photos. We could submit a maximum of 2 images in 2 different categories.

A week after the submission, while I was in Edmonton for a conference, I got an email. Congratulations, it said. From 250 photo submissions, both of my photographs had made it in.

While “Fervour” won second place in the “People and Culture” category, “Together, we can” won first place in the “Critical Global Issues” one.

A bit about the photos:

Fervour (Varanasi, India):

"Fervour," Varanasi, India.

“Fervour,” Varanasi, India.

Taken at the evening prayers on the riverbanks of Ganges in the city of Varanasi, this photo of a young priest in the midst of his daily prayers, along with many other priests, is a regular occurrence. However, it was the look of devotion on his face, even amidst the rituals, that I had to capture a photograph of that expression.

Together, we can (Kolkata, India):

"Together, we can," Kolkata, India

“Together, we can,” Kolkata, India

While on a photowalk with a local photography club, “Kolkata Weekend Shoots,” I found myself in the largest wholesale market in Kolkata, also known as “Kolay Market”. While leaving the claustrophobic ambiance of the market, my attention was arrested by the shouts of these four men who were struggling to carry a huge load on their heads. I was both amazed and paralyzed by the sight.

The photo represents the hardships of the working class in Kolkata.

Today at their Gala exhibition/event, I got a bunch of gift certificates (read: m-o-n-e-y) and huge blown up versions of my winning photos. I have to admit it. The blown up versions have me most excited about winning this contest. If you are a student and an aspiring photographer in Canada, you know it’s goddamn expensive to blow up your photos.

So, am I a photographer?

Yeah, I guess so. (I am just doing what I do best. The duck-water thing.)

If you happen to be in Kingston, Ontario, check out the photos (along with other winning photos) at the Queen’s University International Centre on the Queen’s campus. They will be displayed (along with their descriptions) for the next two weeks.

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Breakfast with Teju* (Cole)

Teju Cole, author of Open City (2011)

*Because we are on a first name basis now. 

Yes, it’s true. I had breakfast with Teju Cole.

But of course, like every life changing event (because yes, it is indeed a life changing event for an aspiring writer to have a meal with a world famous writer), this one had a series of causalities that led up to it.

For one, I happened to be in Kingston this year because I am a student at Queen’s University.

Two, I am at Queen’s because I decided to do a second Master’s. I mean, how many people do you know who willingly signs up for a second Master’s? Exactly.

Three, I am friends with Bilan Hashi, whom I had met with as a consequence of her being a student in my program at Queen’s.

Four, Teju Cole happened to be in Kingston this particular year for the Kingston Writers Fest.

And five, both Teju Cole and Bilan happen to follow each other on Twitter.

Of course, Bilan may have never actually messaged Mr. Cole to meet with aspiring writers like herself and her friends (like me) if one of her acquaintances hadn’t done the same with Junot Diaz. Which had worked. Because not all famous writers were stuck up people and actually cared about meeting other writers-in-progress. Hmmm. Who knew?

So, this was the morning of 27th September. Bilan and I are in the lobby of Holiday Inn on the waterfront. We have a breakfast appointment. With Teju Cole.

It’s 9:30. We are on time. I haven’t had more than an hour’s sleep the night before on account of Foucault but had dragged myself out of bed at 8:00 because you didn’t miss these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities unless you were stupid.

We are contemplating whether to approach the lady at the reception, who is eyeing us suspiciously anyway, when the elevator doors open and Bilan goes, “There he is!”

Teju is all smiles.

There is a round of hellos and handshaking and introductions.

We are about to head into the hotel restaurant when we are stopped by none other than Michael Ondaatje.

Was that a sharp intake of breath? Hold on. There’s more to come.

“Teju. We are leaving at ten,” he says. He is talking of their drive to Toronto that morning. Teju leaves on a plane to New York later that day.

“Ten? Can we leave at 10:10? Or, 10:15? I was going to have breakfast with my friends,” and here, Teju introduces us, “Sanchari and Bilan”.

We shake hands with Mr. Ondaatje (while slightly in awe, if I may add).

“You can have 10:20,” Mr. Ondaatje smiles.

We walk into the restaurant, take our seats, and order coffee and breakfast. While Bilan goes for pancakes and I for a garden omelette with fries, Teju settles for a croissant.

The conversation is organic. We discuss our research interests. Bilan talks of her experience of living the underground life in Jeddah, to which Teju makes up a first line of a possible short story where the narrator finds herself snorting coke with a mother of three in Jeddah. We laugh. He shows us Variations on the Body by Michel Serres, a book he is reading at the moment. He tells us about how he quit his doctoral degree halfway through just to finish his novel. We talk of (Jhumpa) Lahiri, who he’s friends with, and whom I admire.

Then he follows me on Twitter right in front of me. And soon, the half an hour is up and I have forgotten the questions I had planned to ask him. He had not at all been what I had expected. Friendly but not superficial. Intellectual without being pretentious.

Before we can protest, he has paid for our breakfast and scampered away with an impish smile.

For a few seconds, Bilan and I are in a daze.

We solemnly agree that yes, we can now successfully cross ‘having breakfast with Teju Cole’ off of our bucket lists. Like it’s no big deal. Yup, none at all.

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