Tag Archives: Calcutta

This is What I Look Like, In Action

Exchange, taken in Calcutta, India on Jan 5 2014. Photo credit: Abhijit Nayak

Exchange, taken in Calcutta, India on Jan 5 2014. Photo credit: Abhijit Nayak

So, I had to post this amazing, quintessential and almost serendipitious pic where I don’t hate the way I look.

It was taken on 5th Jan by Abhijitda (Abhijit Nayak) of Kolkata Weekend Shoots at the transit camp near Babu ghat in Calcutta, India.

I was in conversation with a “sadhu” who ended up telling me his life story, and even showed me his Aadhaar card :). I don’t remember his entire name, but his last name was Goswami. He was from Maharashtra, and despite the last name, wasn’t very fluent in Bengali. He also wore shackles around his feet; shackles that he claimed he has been wearing for ten years.

I am really glad for this photo, as it reminds me of the (different kind of) freedom I have when I am behind a camera, and when I am navigating the world on my own. I am thankful to my friend, and photography mentor, Abhijitda, for capturing this.

And, this. Credit: Abhijit Nayak

And, this. Credit: Abhijit Nayak

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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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Colour(s) of Freedom in Jaggery

Rhapsody by Sanchari Sur

Rhapsody, taken in Kolkata, India, March 2012.

The relaunched Desilit Magazine – now, known as Jaggery – has some of my clicks from the 2012 Festival of Holi in India. They were clicked as a part of a photowalk of sorts (a big thank you to Kolkata Weekend Shoots, and Abhijit Nayak in particular, for introducing me to different parts of Kolkata during my stay in India) at the Jorashanko Thakur Bari (or, the Rabindranath Tagore House). 

You can view them here.

The issue also contains a short story by Mariam Pirbhai, whose article on South Asian diaspora in Canada was the inspiration for my Phd proposal. Which I guess is sort of random and cool.

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Life in a Fish Bowl

This is NOT the photo. I swear.

This is NOT the photo. I swear.

I haven’t touched my camera since my return to Canada last April. It’s lying disused, sad, lonely.  I have thought about it on several occasions. Recently, when the lake froze over in Kingston, I contemplated running out in my winter gear for some fascinating photographs. But the minus temperature outside, along with my toasty blanket, a line up of Criminal Minds on my laptop and the steaming chicken corn soup I had just made… well, they kept me at bay.

These days, when it comes to photography, I amuse myself with the photographs from my big, fat Indian holiday. They keep me warm.

I have a photograph, “Fishbowl,” in CURA. It was taken in Calcutta, India, last March. You can see it here.

It’s featured in the same issue as poet Oliver de la Paz (!)

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(Un)real Photographer

“Prisoner” (taken at a wedding in Indore, India), December 2011

I am not a real photographer.

Real photographers experiment with shutter speed, aperture and other technical difficulties that include numbers– which makes my mind reel. You see, I am no good with numbers. Never was.

As blasphemous as this sounds, my DSLR is almost always on auto. Composition is my only constant.

Yet somehow, somewhere, something seems to click.

My photographs, “Prisoner” (taken at a wedding in Indore, India) and “Cock-a-Doodle-Dead” (taken at Koley Market, Kolkata, India), are in Penduline Press Literary Magazine’s WTF? issue. See them both in their complete glory here.

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Photographing Death

The Hand that Kills: The knife used for the “halal cut”

DISCLAIMER: Some of the images may be offensive or too graphic. Please view at your own discretion.

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 13th March 2012.

I am not the senti type. I don’t cry at movies. When I have friends sobbing, I pat them. Awkwardly. Once, when I was five, I watched a chicken being slaughtered. Without flinching. So, when I went to buy mutton at the local mutton shop last week, the severed head of a goat lying a few meters away from my face did nothing to deter me from peering at it, curious.

“Where do you kill your goats?” I ask the guy.

Young and dapper in his lungi, Nafeez says, “Why! Right here!”

Not having seen him do it even once in the past two and half months I have been here in Calcutta, I prod, “But when?”

“At around 6:30-7:00 ish in the morning.”

That explains why. I am never up that early, except when I am headed to the fish market.

Before I can curb my tongue, I ask, a trifle too eager, “Can I watch? I mean, can I photograph?”

He smiles, “Sure…”

I am not sure why I make the request. I am not even sure why I have this sudden morbid desire to photograph the last few moments of an animal’s death. But what I am most not sure about is why he doesn’t react negatively to my strange request.

I arrive early. The shop is yet to open. The streets are getting busy with people rushing to work or school. Some of them give me stares. Dressed in my pjs and a hoodie, with my camera bag on a weekday, I must be an uncommon sight. I ignore the white noise, waiting patiently for Nafeez.

But Nafeez doesn’t show. It’s past seven. Another guy, much older in appearance, shows up. I have seen him before. I assumed he was Nafeez’s father. Or, assistant. I watch him open the locks, and sweep the front. I ask him about Nafeez. He shakes his head and asks me to call him, offering a number. I feel awkward about calling my local butcher, so I decline, indicating that it’s okay, I will wait.

I wait. It’s almost 7:30. The sun is at a high. The traffic is worse. The number of staring people has increased. I can feel myself sweating under my hoodie. I curse myself. I should have never come on a weekday.

Finally, Nafeez shows up. Smiling, headphones plugged into his ears. He is unapologetic. Instead, he gets to work. Quick.

His shop, like most butchers’ shops, is raised at a height. What I didn’t know was that there is a reason for that height. The shop houses live goats underneath its floor. Nafeez removes one of the floorboards, indicating inside, “Are you sure you will get good photos while standing outside?”

I peer into the darkness, the bleating of the scared goats much clear now. I see two to three goats scurrying around in circles in the enclosed space. One of them sticks its head out of the gap and bleats frantically. I imagine it saying “help!” I want to feel bad, but I feel nothing. My head says it’s going to die anyway. Might as well document it.

“You are right,” I say instead, as I climb onto the shop floor, making room for myself in a corner.

Nafeez takes a small knife, and reaches for one of the goats. It escapes him. He quickly reaches for another, trapping it with his thigh. I watch, unable to click. In a few seconds, he has cut into the jugular.

It strikes me that this is what “halal cut” is. I watch the goat struggle briefly and then die a slow, silent death, as its blood forms a small pool at Nafeez’s feet. I click. And, click. And, click.

A customer, an upper middle class Bengali babu, waits outside, impatient to get some fresh meat.

To Nafeez (in Hindi), “How long will this take? Should I go to that other shop?”

To me (in Bengali), “So, what is that you want to gain from taking these photos?”

Before I can defend myself, Nafeez answers on my behalf, “It’s her pleasure.”

I shrug.

“I love taking photos. It’s a hobby,” I say.

Later, I ponder over his words. Was it my “pleasure” to watch this poor beast die? Was I a sadist?

Someone I once knew was excited about his trip to Barcelona. The first thing I had asked him though, was whether he was going to see the bullfights.

“Uh… I don’t think so. I don’t really like the gore,” had been his answer.

Well, I don’t know about the gore, I had said, but think about it. The poor thing is going to die anyway. Shouldn’t you honour its death with your presence?

We had laughed about it. Ha, ha.

Now, the joke is on me.

Laugh, why don’t you?

Update: All of the photos from this collection were accepted recently by two different magazines. While “Fasting and Feasting,” “Death and Dying” and “The Hand that Kills,” made it into scissors and spackle, “Leftovers” was taken by Carnival Magazine. Oh, and I gifted a framed copy of “The Hand that Kills” to Nafeez. He couldn’t stop grinning.

Death and Dying : Nafeez holds the goat down as it bleeds to death

Leftovers

Fasting and Feasting

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A Novel Idea

Ok, fine. It’s true.

I am pregnant.

With an idea for a novel.

So, after much arguing and shooting down of parental objections-

“How can you go alone?”

“You will be bored in two days!”

“Wait till you fall sick…”

“Is this how you waste your hard earned money?”

“What are your plans for the future? When do you plan to get married?”

and so on it went- I bought a ticket to the city of my birth for a four month stint.

With Calcutta, there is no method to its madness. There is no modus operandi waiting to be cracked.

Winter is not cold. The streets are choked with dust, screaming in silence for the monsoons due to arrive six months later. Cars honk without stopping. People stare and spit, obnoxious and devoid of shame. Mosquitoes serenade you after dark (right before they deliver their love bites). And, the volley of questions… oh the questions.

My mejo jethu asked on our first meeting, “I just don’t get it. How did your father allow you to come alone?”

“I was planning to run away, in case he didn’t,” was my pensive answer with a polite smirk. I am becoming quite adept at these polite smirks.

My maid asked, “What time did you go to bed last night?”

“Late,” I answer again, my polite smirk popping up undeterred. Who the eff cares? You are being paid to clean the house and cook occasionally.

My friend from my nursery days, “You guys are so forward. Your parents are really liberal, aren’t they?”

Just the smirk this time. Oh, if only she knew.

And after being hit by a bout of fever, vomiting, cough and cold, and delhi belly (which should be rightfully renamed to India belly)- all in the span of two weeks after my arrival- I rolled up my sleeves and got down to work.

Work meant research. Work meant reading. Work meant revisiting my thesis ordeal last summer.

Flashback to last summer:

I am trudging through a hundred page Master’s thesis on religious identities of Indian women through fictional representations. In other words, I am screwing myself royally, while the saner of the grad students are taking the easy way out through summer courses. There are nights when I cry myself to sleep, reminding myself constantly of my trip to India that lies beyond those hundred pages.

In the present time, I stare at the books I have ordered. They are filled with academic essays on the time period I want to research.

Smile, dear child, my muse mocks. This is what you wanted, remember?

*I am currently in Calcutta, India, until the month of April, researching and working on my first novel tentatively titled, Blood Red Sky.*

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