Category Archives: observation

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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The Slumdog Millionaire that never was…

An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 8th December 2010.

Ruslaan Mumtaz. That name would not mean much to me (or, you) personally unless you have had come across this piece of news that would hint at a film history that could have been written differently.

Dev Patel

Think of that day when Dev Patel’s face flashed at you from the big screens. Even if you could ignore his natural good looks (think of his pouty lips that hint at a youthfulness that many girls would admit to have longed for), it would be a little difficult to get past Jamal’s anguish while he searched wildly for his Latika. And, you agreed among your friends while you debated and discussed the movie in detail, that yes, this guy could act. Not once was there any dispute that Patel was unfaithful to his role.

But imagine a different scenario. Think of another guy in Patel’s place. Think of Ruslaan Mumtaz.

The guy missed out on being the slumdog millionaire that we equate so freely with Patel’s anguish-filled eyes. As it turns out, at the time of the movie’s final auditions, the guy was “beefed up” for his role as a movie star in the mainstream Bollywood movie Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai. He was rejected for not being lean enough.

Ruslaan Mumtaz

But wait.

Before I could feel bad for the baby-faced Ruslaan…

Before I could start jumping to conclusions based on hearsay…

Before I could rely on the news item…

Before making up my mind at all, my inner journalist prodded me to watch his movies. Had this guy been capable of changing history, if not for his “muscles” at the time, as he claims?

The next thing on the agenda was to watch his movies Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar and Teree Saang, both of which have done well commercially in India. Surprisingly, I found his slight awkwardness endearing. And, the irony is that while this guy is now a well known face among movie goers in India, Patel has lost himself in a stream of unknown faces in Hollywood (let’s not forget the bombed The Last Airbender blazing in his trail).

But do I think that Ruslaan could have been a better slumdog than Dev? Could he have pulled off an authentic Jamal being an Indian himself, instead of the British-born Patel? Would his anguish have been as great, if not greater?

Probably not.

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Singlehood to Doublehood: Indian Wedding outside India (Part 2 of 2)

It’s somebody else’s wedding (thank god). You breathe a sigh of relief and seat yourself in an inconspicuous corner, hoping to spend the three days of wedding celebrations in oblivion. But deep in your heart you know it’s next to impossible, since you are in your mid twenties and- horror of horrors- SINGLE. Somewhere your mother is conspiring with your aunt to find you a “nice boy”.

Unfortunately for you and other South Asian single women and men, weddings are seen to be ripe opportunistic sites to hook up one’s single sons and daughters. How typically Bollywood.

Imagine this: Boy and girl fall in love over the span of three days where he courts her through sangeet (he sings to her, of course), wedding (eyes meet over the sacred fire and play teasing games) and reception (where they end up dancing together and- in an ideal world- exchanging facebook contacts).

In the real world, aunties and uncles hope to latch onto the next eligible (and hopefully, available) bachelor for their daughter/niece/friend’s daughter/friend’s sister’s cousin’s daughter in India (the combinations are countless).

As it happened to my friend’s cousin, who had come over from New Jersey with his family to attend the wedding.

The aunties and uncles: “Are you single?” (I swear they said this in a chorus)

The single cousin: “Yes, I am happily single and intend to remain this way for as long as possible.”

Polite laughter.

The aunties and uncles: “But why? You should not think like that!”

Embarrassed nervous laughter from single cousin.

Personally, I am happy enjoying the eye-candy. So when the bride’s mother asked me if I was going to be next, I smiled carefully and said, “We’ll see, won’t we?”

Photograph: Copyright Sanchari Sur

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Mehndi Madness: Indian Wedding outside India (Part 1 of 2)

Bride's Mehndi (Hands)

What is it with Indian women and mehndi? Is it the smell (not too bad when its wet, but let it dry, and it really stinks!)? Is it the gooey brown gunk-like texture? The designs that swirl from the plastic mehndi cone, and mesmerize those who are watching on? Or, is it just a stereotypical wedding madness that contributes to the mehndi madness? 

"I want some on my feet too!"

Traditionally, Bengali weddings do not have a henna/mehndi ceremony. However, going with the current trend in the West, where over-ritualization has somehow become an intricate part of simulating an Indian wedding outside of India, not having a mehndi ceremony is almost as sacrilegious as a Hindu slaughtering a cow. 

 

My own encounter with mehndi started in middle school back in Dubai, where I was surrounded by muslim girls, many of whom were (or at least, considered themselves to be) mehndi experts. I have had them work their magic on my hands, as well as, those of the other girls in my class. Watching those 12-13 year old girls deftly handle a mehndi cone to produce designs out of pure imagination was an act of sheer wonder. 

Henna Artist hard at work

Years later, I am here again, at a family friend’s wedding—at the mehndi ceremony. The henna design artist is a young girl who is a fourth year student at University of Toronto. I hear many sceptical exclaims (in hushed tones) around me: “She is the henna artist? So young?” The disbelief is ripe in their voices.

The aunties are silenced, however, once their eyes rest on the henna designs on the bride’s hands and feet.

Bride's Mehndi (Feet)

Soon there is a line of aunties and kids alike waiting to get their hands, feet, arms and (in one lone case) back painted.  The excitement is palpable. 

 

“How long will this last?” 

“How should I remove it once it dries? Should I wash?” 

“How can I make the colours come out darker?” 

There is a deluge of unstoppable questions, while some in their carelessness, end up smudging their designs while they are still wet. 

“Oh no, can you fix this again?” 

At first, I try to stay away.  Pretend to be unruffled. Yet, something magnetic pulls me towards the phenomenon. 

“Fine,” I admit it slowly. “Paint one hand only.”

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

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Caste as an Identity: Dalits Exist on the Edge of Humanity

“Why is my caste my only identity?” – Omprakash Valmiki, Joothan.

‘Dalit’ was not a word that belonged to my vocabulary. The word ‘untouchable’ hovered as a vague ghostly embodiment on the edges of my consciousness, but Dalit was an unknown foreign object that waited just out of reach. I had to only reach out and pluck it. Luckily, in the fall of 2005, Dr. Arun Mukherjee introduced me to Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan in her second year “Post Colonial South Asian Literature” class.

Dalit is a term that was readily adopted by the untouchable communities all over India. As a translator of Joothan from its original Hindi to its English form, Mukherjee writes in the introduction that “this was the first time that [the untouchables] had been able to name themselves, as a collectivity, rather than be named by others”.

Among these “other” names, one that most springs to mind is Gandhi’s ‘Harijan’. A loose term for ‘Children of God’, Gandhi allowed for further segregation of the Dalit community rather than an integration into the mainstream. Kind of ironic, if you think about it.  I wonder if he stopped to think of his foolish mistake. Even today, people from the higher castes (or, anti-Dalits, as Mukherjee puts it) use the term ‘Harijan’ to insult and taunt.

I remember Ma telling me about Gopal. When she was a little girl living in the city of Calcutta, almost half a century ago when proper disposal of excreta had not even come into existence. When you apparently shat into a huge earthen pot that was later emptied out by the sweeper, a designated untouchable. In my mother’s childhood days, Gopal was this sweeper.

The boy cleaning his basket and vessels, after he finished his work. India, 2007. Copyright Senthil Kumaran / Trikaya Photos.

The boy cleaning his basket and vessels, after he finished his work. India, 2007. Copyright Senthil Kumaran / Trikaya Photos.

He was known as a mathor, meaning a  guy who was responsible for cleaning people’s excreta (and who cleaned his?). He was literally an untouchable as everyone gave him a wide berth. Sure, he was invited to weddings, but he always had to sit far apart from the other wedding guests.

A recent article in Deccan Herald that sparked me to write this blog post pointed at a demeaning incident where as a way to protest injustice and to get their voices heard, members of the Dalit community were forced to smear human excreta on themselves. In the town of Savanur (in the Haveri distict of the Karnataka state in India), the Dalit community were evicted from their homes by Savanur Town Municipal Council (TMC). In a world where greed wins over humanity and commercialism rules in the face of poverty, the TMC decided that their land would be better off if used for a commercial complex rather than as the homes of the many poor Dalit workers who have been residing there for the past seventy years.

Dalits covered in human excreta at Savanur

These Dalit workers and their families belonging to the Bhangi community (which is also treated as the lowest among the Dalit community) were first given verbal directives by the TMC, which later accelerated to cutting off of water supply, dumping garbage in front of their houses, and insulting and threatening their women. Frustrated, these workers were forced to extreme measures that included a march to the TMC office on Tuesday July 20th, and pouring human excreta over themselves as a way to protest their continued humiliation.

Result? The TMC Executive Officer H.N. Bajakkanavar defended TMC and said that they had assured to provide houses under various housing schemes.  He also explained that the water supply was cut off because it was illegal. Irony again, as Dalit Sangharsha Samiti activists testify that there are other illegal water supplies in town that are still in existence.

As Valmiki writes in his book Joothan, “Because in their eyes, I am only an SC (schedule caste), the one who stands outside the door”. Thus, even though the Dalit community constitutes 16% of the Indian population, they are still left standing outside the door of humanity.

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