Tag Archives: India

When Poems come to Roost

venn

I rarely write poetry nowadays.

The last time I wrote a poem, it was for a boy I had just met. He was leaving, I wanted him to have something of me to remember by etc. You know how that story goes. Especially if you are a poet, then you have definitely been in that boat at some point.

Most of my poems are personal. Some of them are political. While others are healing.

And then, there are those that are all three, like that sweet spot in a beautiful Venn diagram.

Two of my poems, “Badaun Sisters” and “Origa-me,” are in The Feminist Wire. You can read them here.

Also(!), The Feminist Wire happens to be one of the publications on my Top 30 list!

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Filed under poetry, Writing about writing

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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Filed under anecdote, observation, Writing about writing

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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The Femail Project

The Femail Project

I am pleased to announce that two of my photographs, “Bride and Bride” and “Freedom Colour,” have been chosen to be exhibited at The Femail Project exhibition in Birmingham, UK. This is the first time that my photographs are being exhibited in an art gallery and that’s why I am sort of over the moon.

About the photographs:

1. Bride and Bride

Bride and Bride_Sanchari Sur-WATERMARK

Bride and Bride, Toronto Pride Parade, 2010.

Taken at the 2010 Pride Parade in Toronto, “Bride and Bride” represents the freedom to marry the one you love, and the ability to celebrate that freedom. To me, this picture undermines the norm of  compulsory heterosexuality; it embodies the idea that love does not need to be confined within patriarchal norms.

2. Freedom Colour

Freedom Colour, Kolkata, March 2012.

Freedom Colour, Kolkata, March 2012.

Taken in Kolkata, India, in 2012, this photo represents the Hindu festival of Colours (or, “Holi”) where “play” using colours allows for a freedom of transgression between caste and class lines in India.

About the project: https://www.facebook.com/thefemailproject

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Women in Clothes Style Survey

funny-woman-shopping-failure-cartoon

What is the role of style in a woman’s life?

This is one of the main questions that authors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, aim to answer in their crowd sourced book forthcoming from Penguin in 2014. (For anyone who’s interested, they are accepting surveys until the end of this month. More information can be found here.)

The questions  in their survey were probing without being intrusive. In the process of answering the questions, I uncovered a lot about my own motivations of existing as a person.

I realize that this blog post isn’t directly related to my own writing / writing process, but at the same time, the answers I came up with revealed the ways in which I approach my writing as well. Here is an edited version of my answers:

THE STYLE SURVEY

QUESTION 1

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing? Can you describe this moment and what it was about?

I was 12 years old and I was in (puppy) love with a boy four years older than I. I think I became conscious not only about what I was wearing, but also about my weight. At one point, I even started watching my food portions. I think that was when I started to adjust myself to my new body where I stopped wearing oversized t-shirts to hide my breasts and opted for more fitted clothes.

QUESTION 2

When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I have dressed up with care, my clothes carefully chosen, my makeup carefully done, my contact lenses on—this is when I begin to walk with a confident swagger. Sometimes, I become aware of men looking my way and that boosts my ego even more. And when equally confident women also look my way, I know I have got it.

QUESTION 3

Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you keep buying this thing?

Not really. I try to adapt my clothing to the season and my body shape. Usually, I won’t buy something because it’s in fashion or because it’s trending. I buy stuff that flatter me and is also comfortable. For example, I have started wearing shorts with flowing tops in pastel shades this summer. I am careful to choose colors that suit my skin tone and make me look attractive. The shorts enhance my height, since I am very petite. I also wear flats because I am uncomfortable in heels, even though heels make me look taller.

I am also careful about the durability of the piece. How long will this piece last? Can I wear it through multiple seasons? etc.

QUESTION 4

What’s your process in getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?

It depends on where I am off to. If it’s a meeting with my thesis advisor or a class I am TAing, I will dress more formally. The make up is usually done to enhance my eyes (my best feature) and I leave my glasses on. I might wear a formal dress or a shirt/top with formal pants. If it’s just to meet friends or an errand, I will put on something casual, maybe jeans with a tee? I love t-shirts and have a lot of them. However, I make sure to buy t-shirts that are comfortable and “different”. I have a lot of t-shirts from a green company in India, No Nasties, who specialize in organic and fair trade cotton t-shirts. I keep buying their tees for the comfort and fit, even though they cost a little more.

QUESTION 5

What are some dressing rules that you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to anyone else, but which you follow?

Be confident in whatever you wear. It’s all about being able to carry it off, even if you are unsure inside. Projecting confidence is important.

QUESTION 6

What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style?  What was said?

N/A

QUESTION 7

Do you think you have taste or style? What do these words mean to you?

I think style and taste are very arbitrary words. I mean, what I might find stylish or tasteful may offend someone else’s aesthetic sense.  However having said that, I think I wear stuff that makes me- as an individual- come off as tasteful, if not stylish. I like to look good in what I am wearing, but feel comfortable at the same time. I also believe in being able to look sexy without revealing too much skin, and I believe that is something I have mastered for myself. Then again, if one can be confident in what they are wearing, regardless of whether it’s considered stylish or tasteful by mainstream fashionistas, then does it really matter?

QUESTION 8

a) Do you consider yourself photogenic?

Yes, at certain angles.

b) When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?

It depends on the photograph. Sometimes, when I smile too much, my nose begins to look dumpy. Also, when my neck isn’t visible in a photo, my face looks fat.  But to be honest, I do not like being in front of the camera much, as much as behind it. When I was in India for four months, I traveled a lot and took a lot of photos, yet there are only a handful of me to document that I had actually been to certain places and seen certain monuments.

I sort of regret not being a camera whore. I have been trying to change this, and trying to document myself more, through photographs. However, I have realized that if I don’t do this consciously, I don’t get photographed. Le sigh.

QUESTION 9

a) What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?

Mostly confidence. I envy confidence, because I have to keep reminding myself that I can be all that if I only believe in it. There is a woman I particularly admire- Sharanya Manivannan. She is a poet and writer based in India, and she knows how to dress with panache.

I also admire my younger sister’s ability to throw together stuff and manage to look ravishing. I think I have learnt a lot about fashion and make up over the years from my sister.

b) Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?

See above.

QUESTION 10

a) How and when do you shop for clothes?

When I am in the States (which is twice a year) because it’s cheaper. Also, when I am in India. I need to try clothes on in person and see myself a few times before I decide to buy something. Accessories, however, do not require that much thought.

b) Do you have any shopping rules you follow?

Yes. I always ask myself: do I need this or do I want this? Sometimes, if the piece of clothing is especially flattering on me, the latter wins.

QUESTION 11

a) What is your favourite piece (of clothing or jewellery)?

Don’t have one.

b) What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?

A handwoven Kashmiri woolen stole from India. Since it’s black with intricate stitching, it goes with almost anything. I love this item in the winter as it’s warm as hell. Yes, I still own it and still wear it.

QUESTION 12

Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?

Yes, after I finished my Master’s in 2011, I realized that I needed to dress to impress. Back in graduate school (then), I did not care about what I wore. I wore whatever was available and to be honest, most days, I looked sloppy. Now I realize that clothing matters. People judge you by what you wear and how you appear. And this judgment can have a direct impact on your self esteem. I had really low self esteem back then, and was unsure of a lot of life choices. I was also very socially awkward. Things are different now. I dress to look good, to exude confidence. I am also able to mingle easily now.

QUESTION 13

Do you care about lingerie?

Yes, they need to be sexy and comfortable.

QUESTION 14

How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?

See answer to question 12.

QUESTION 15

Can you recall any times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?

No.

QUESTION 16

a) What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?

Nothing on my face, except my glasses and lip balm. I am in my bright blue loose pjs and a Tantra t-shirt I only wear at home. My hair is tied up in a knot.

b) How does makeup fit into all this for you?

I wear makeup only when I leave the house. Sometimes, I only do up my eyes and slap on some lip balm.

I used to hate wearing makeup and it’s only recently that I have learnt to tolerate wearing it regularly. But whenever I am at home, it’s no makeup for me.

c) What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?

Perfume is so bourgeoisie. I have never bought perfume for myself. The perfume I own have all been gifts. I put on Dove body spray on a daily basis. It’s understated and makes me smell pleasant without being obnoxious.

QUESTION 17

Is there any article of clothing, piece of make-up, or accessory you carry with you or wear every day?

Yes, black eyeliner and lip balm. Without fail. I am nothing without them.

QUESTION 18

a) Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?

Do books count? I care a lot about what I am reading outside of school. Usually, a lot of literary fiction.

b) Do you think you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances and chores? What is it?

Sure, I am always thinking about the lead up. Where is this all leading up to? The way I am, the way I appear to be, the time I am putting in, the friends I have, what is the point of it all? Will this lead to a better me? What is the big picture? I am always worried about the big picture, the end goal of it all. It helps me keep my life in control.

QUESTION 19

What would be a difficult look for you to try and achieve?

A free spirit? I need some structure to my life. Without (a little bit of) structure, I am lost. Yet, I lose structure when I am on a “break”. So, I am not really sure.

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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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