Archive for March 2009

Mother can cook

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I am not going to write ‘in my opinion’ repeatedly or even once (apart from this once) in the course of what is to follow. It is my opinion that I write about. To improvise on Abraham Lincoln: I do shine my own shoes.

One of the shortest routes to emancipation for women is to retain their maiden name – or surname actually. One wonders what is achieved by such practice. Obviously the so-called identity that is linked to a name is preserved. Or it becomes a combinatin of one name and two surnames. Imagine what would happen if the latter two were to be, say, Roy Chowdhury and Bhattacharya. One long full signature, that! Jokes apart, there are perhaps more worthwhile things to do in this imperfect world of ours. I do not wish to be both misunderstood and despised, therefore I will clarify: a woman who has otherwise proved herself (to herself) by doing something useful – anything she decides is useful, has the right to assert her independent identity by keeping her surname intact after marriage. Those in regular jobs and regular lives and with no contribution out of the ordinary are taking a shortcut to emancipation. Further clarification: the typical housewife does a wonderful job of managing the homefront, and is in no way lesser than a career woman – not even one that manages both her career and her home. Still, what have these two classes of woman really done to claim a different identity for themselves than the usual? They have simply shown that they are good for something. That by itself does not constitute exceptional contribution, or usefulness. Loosely speaking, we are all useful, all good for something. However, if that usefulness is limited to one’s own survival only, then it is hardly anything out of the ordinary.

What I am talking about here is leadership – or passive following – for a cause larger than one’s own periphery of existence. It could be anything, don’t ask me. Begin with World Peace if you are ambitious. Failing that, devise a plan to take out the garbage from the immediate vicinity- not just your own comminity. Or perhaps get together some elderly folks to arrange for workshops to revive the lost art of hand woven sweaters. Anything larger than your circle of essential existence counts. However, once you are at it, you will probably have little time to worry about whether you want to revive your maiden name or not. Romeo (yes, the character was speaking, not Shakespeare) may not have been entirely wrong, but one must admit there is magic in a name. As the Americans are so fond of saying: You look like a Fred!

What I would like to know after all this pseudo intellectual staff is whether the children are going to inherit their mother’s maiden surname as well. A survey in some newspaper some years back showed all the emancipated ladies saying that they would like their children to bear their father’s name. Very curiouser, wouldn’t you say?

I have a solution, one that I did not try to implement in case of my own family because of certain very good but personal reasons: let the boy carry the father’s name, and the girl the mother’s. That way it will be possible for the mother’s father’s surname to live on if the girl takes after the mother and retains her maiden name after marriage too. The boy can try and see what he can do with his legacy – and his wife. The inevitable solution seems to be to beget two children per emancipated family, one girl and one boy. Perhaps astrologers will be of help here since the only other way of determining the sex of the foetus leads to someplace usually dirty and full of mosquitoes and humans with questionable manners and intentions sitting right outside.

Suitably confusing, I hope, but eminently sensible if I may say so. I should think identities are preserved naturally with one’s achievements: Jaya Bachchan was known always as Jaya Bhaduri to our generation and Tina Ambani is what we have recently adapted to. I can think of none of my lady Professors going the emancipated way although I can not in my wildest dreams believe to come anywhere near them in knowledge, or ability to impart education. I personally know very few males who can. Funny thing is that this is probably the first time in my life that I have consciously classified my Teachers into genders. They had always been individuals, and apart from what constitutes the argument of this article, they still are.

Collecting the previous line of thought here: I wonder if the concept of Daddy’s Girl has something to do with this phenomenon of preservation of identity. After all, the only thing that is being preserved is the father’s surname. The woman strong enough to assert herself cannot possibly be dumb enough to have not noticed that. If it were her own identity she wanted to protect in an otherwise male dominated society, she simply would have chosen to remain a name without a surname tagged on for effect. I don’t know if that is legally possible, but emancipation is not easy. If necessary, efforts ought to be made to pass relevant laws to that effect. You need to work for it if you want Identity of all things! Anyway, the way it stands, certain women simply cannot bear the insecurity that marriage may bring to them, the sense of losing oneself and surrendering to a whole new person and his household customs. The very way one is used to being addressed changes along with living space and routes for travel. The newly married woman is wrenched out of her former existence of her own volition – because people calling her husband ‘ghar jamai’ will simply not fit in her agenda of emancipation as also because that would be a more violent way of disturbing status quo. So here they are, leaving behind every little thing they grew up with and going away to begin a new life. It is not so unfair that they may want to retain a little something while that happens. The more self conscious and therefore insecure ones would. I will not talk about intelligence here: that is an elitist approach and not acceptable. Intelligence, like most other concepts, is highly relative. How come there are so many male chefs is a common point of argument. Women are not intelligent enough to choose as profession what they naturally acquire from their mothers. They leave that to the male: the intelligent monkey stands out. That was just a figure of speech by the way. Shaker’s Radhuni is my favourite show. Well, it is my mother’s, and I sometimes watch.

Mother can cook fantastic is a commonplace, but when the father does the occasional mutton curry, he is the hero who can do it all!-but does not, since there are people who are there for the job, namely, the mother-class.

Still, one must have something to write on… and emancipation and the shortcuts associated are a wonderful subject. It is easy to get noticed, and better than a scandal. I am referring to the likes of myself here, who cash in on such emancipation. May all the independent ladies live long and prosper!

p.s. I am male, and I have retained my maiden name after marriage, and you can contact me for cooking lessons via my website kapush.net

Written by kapush

March 12, 2009 at 10:04 am

Posted in musings

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Games that we play with our furry friends

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I simply must quote myself: a civilized society is primarily defined by its public transport system and by what it does that it does not absolutely have to do, like realizing that animals deserve a decent life as much as we do, and acting upon that realization. We are not bound to take care of our parents when they are old. Some of us do,out of love, and some, out of compulsion, either of a dutiful mind or of a fear of scandal. Animals have not been so fortunate. A dog burned alive is fun. Puppies crushed under vehicles are nuisance to be shoved aside, with a ‘tsk tsk’ if they are lucky, and disposed of when they die after hours of agony. Pouring boiling water over strays is fun too. The recent procession by some persons of note including actress Debasree Roy and Prof. Nabanita Deb Sen in protest against cruelty to animals only goes to show how far we are away from being civilized.

Cruelty to animals is not a novelty: we had the Colosseum, and we still have the Bull Fights. The difference between the Roman Games and the Bull Fights, and burning a dog alive is that the former are still a game where both sides are at risk. And no, this is not a subversive way to condone the killing of bulls by prodding them with several pointed objects first to damage the central nervous system and then heroically spearing them to death. I just wish to point out the difference between the idea of sport however perverted it might be, and the idea of fun.

A very close friend of mine confessed that he used to tie pieces of brick to frogs’ legs and watch them drown when he was a kid. He recounted this with guilt and shame, and explained that he had no idea that the frog would feel pain. For him, it was just an amusing experiment. Coming as he does from an area where there are, on an average, about two murders each month, he did not get to learn much about frogs from whatever was around him.

Something curious: there was this man, carrying his daughter, both watching the complete process of killing, skinning and quartering of chicken, the man all the while holding a conversation with the seller. No one taught me to be squeamish about chicken screaming while they are being trussed up and beheaded. It came naturally. Genetics perhaps. If this little girl grows up to become someone not affected by the real nature of food that we find on our plate while still caring about animals in general, so much the better.

Some people actually do not realize that strays feel pain as much as we do – or that they need medical attention when sick or injured. When you request them to do something like covering up open tanks after work, they sometimes oblige. I am referring to construction workers. However, I still could not convince a long time neighbour to cover his tank while he was promoting his own land. I bought four panels made of slit bamboo and did his job for him. I still had to go every night to put them in place. Sometimes I would find them missing: the workers had been using them. I finally got back three of them after the construction was over. He was not sure what had happened to the fourth one.

Then there are the sadists. A dumb unprotected animal is easy prey. The solution is simple as far as these people are concerned. Before anything else you must put the fear of God into them, or, in this case, the fear of the Law. As it stands, the Prevention of Cruelty Act is, well, laughable. Unless that is amended, no amount of work by lonely crusaders will bear fruit. I would like to think that not a lot of people thought of this before. Those that did somehow did not manage to see it through, as I have not. I am currently working on an alternative version of the Act to present it for review. If you think this might be a worthwhile idea, please do contact me.

To sum up, then, people are indifferent or sadistic, and there are a few lazy ones. And a handful care. There is another category. These people go for breeds. Pets are not family to them, but posessions. Once the pet grows old, IT is set free, in remote and almost uninhabited areas where the poor thing so far provided for dies slowly, without food, fighting off packs of strays. You would not expect them to spare a bread-crumb for the neighborhood stray.

There are quite a few animal lovers out there. I do not include pet lovers who actually love their pets but consider taking in a lost kitten a burden. I am talking about those eccentric individuals who somehow seem to have time to spare to feed the street-dogs or shelter lost kitties in cardboard boxes. They ought to collaborate to make better use of time and resources.

At the same time, the legal aspects must be taken care of, with a formal request to the Chief Minister – or even the President if necessary so that the issue of amendment may be taken seriously. I am not referring to endless virtual signatures in online campaigns. We do not need superior numbers to demand something that is only fair. Even one person is enough. Five are probably better. Fifty applications/ requests from fifty different local unofficial outfits are likely to draw slightly more attention. I repeat: amendments are necessary. People are mostly not saints, and they very often have to be coaxed and forced at the same time. In addition to that, the Police must be instructed to take the Animal Rights Laws seriously. My experience with the Police says this will be more difficult than gettting the amendment done, so we can cross that bridge when we come to it. Also, the indifferent class of people, one may hope, will transform into a slightly less unfeeling lot when animal welfare is in fashion.

In Germany, they have fishing competitions. The hooks are made in such a way as not to hurt the fish. The fish, when caught, is placed in a container that has water in it and the hook taken out. After it has been weighed (in order to decide the winner), it is released back into its habitat. If you are caught manhandling fish that you have caught and are taking home to consume, you will be penalized. Now compare the scene in our fish markets where live fish are kept for sale, gasping for breath, proving to the happy customer that they are indeed fresh. If the seller is benign, he will kill the fish before cutting off the fins. It takes very little to kill a fish, just throwing it on hard ground or beating on its head with a club is enough. If the seller is not inclined to waste his time, then the live fish is scaled, its fins chopped off, the gills ripped out and finally a slit is made where the head joins the body and the guts pulled out. It is not always this gruesome, however. So that the fingers do not get nicked if the fish struggles too much, the seller will sometimes kill it first to protect himself. He does this to protect himself, not so that the fish does not suffer further.

I say let us have our chicken and our fish and what not, let us wear leather jackets and shoes and perhaps even wear fur. Let us kill them all for food or comfort, but please, not torture them for fun. And when we do live up to the dictum of survival of the fittest (read the most cunning and ruthless), let us kill with kindness. Amen to that.


(Published in OPINION, Hindustan Times, Kolkata, November 27, 2008).

Written by kapush

March 12, 2009 at 9:56 am

Posted in Animal Welfare

A Vanishing Essence

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Being a somewhat embittered man fast approaching middle age, it is difficult for me currently to have the Puja Spirit – as they have the Christmas Spirit in the West. Still, even bitterness must have its place (because it is there); one perhaps ought to give vent to it from time to time and on different occasions. And what better occasion than the Pujas: what better context? The essence of Durga Puja is supposed to be the celebration of a cleansing and a new hope. I refrain from using the word regeneration since the killing of evil only shows a new beginning. The only regeneration in this context was by Raktabeeja .


Well, we have our own ideas of cleansing today. We call it culling. We also do it in front of children, and even employ children to do it: to hunt down and wring the neck of a live hen or duck in lieu of money and the obvious fun involved. Many years back, there was a television serial, which showed the events that led to the Partition. One of the ways that the extremist outfits were depicted as employing to toughen their young recruits was to ask them to kill a hen – by chopping its head off with a sharp weapon. Either they had not thought of the more primal (or modern) method of using the bare handed wringing technique or the director/scriptwriter had not.

We also cut down trees for progress and plant saplings. We do many other things, but that is hardly the point. The point is that nobody seems to care. When an ‘Artist’ displayed a live dog as an exhibit and starved him to death, he was invited by a reputed organization to repeat his ‘artistic feat’. Acts being endorsed, carried out and applauded make me wonder if I am the one who should seriously consider changing – for the better, of course. Some years back an advertisement emphasized the value of its product being small and compact. To drive home the point, a young lady was shown shoving books off a shelf like so much rubbish and replacing them with compact disks with a smile on her face that spoke of some supreme achievement. A Television Channel has put up an advertising campaign recently. Huge billboards on roadsides mention incidents and persons in irreverent manner and dubious rhyme and say that none of them is news unless this channel broadcasts it. One such billboard has Rizwanur’s photograph, and his name rhyming with another, with the very same message. An Advertising agency (with real life people who would perhaps like to call themselves artists) created the campaign, and the Channel in question found it appealing.

Which brings my ramblings to the incident last year when a certain Puja was inaugurated by Rizwanur’s mother. She allowed herself to be turned into an exhibit because she is a mother. Every little bit of public exposure helped to bring her that much closer to getting justice. And the Puja Managing Committee must have been beaming with the brainstorming that added such a unique twist to usual celebrations. This is creative thinking today, and Aesthetics.

I have this idea about a civilized society: that it is primarily defined by its public transport system and by what it does that it does not absolutely have to do, like realizing that animals deserve a decent life as much as we do, and acting upon that realization. Fortunately for a lot of people, I am a rather insignificant person, or they would all be uncivilized.

When we were children, the Puja season could always be felt, and smelt. There it was in the air, in the sunlight, in the sky and the lacey clouds and in the green of the trees. It was all pervading, and no matter what one’s station in life, pretty much everyone felt it too deeply. Before the advent of Satellite Television and ‘Promoting’, time moved relatively slowly. It only picked up pace during the early ‘90s. For me, it was as if I lived in a different place altogether, not just time. Perhaps I did. The landscape has changed so much that it is difficult not to believe that that was a different world altogether. I am not exactly waxing nostalgic here: anyone in their mid thirties would know, especially if they grew up in the suburbs. Change, they say, is inevitable. The more things change the more they are supposed to remain the same. I disagree on both counts.

When we were students of Literature, there was this question that demanded a thorough discussion: Why Does Tragedy Please? One of the answers to that question is what might justify this acerbic piece of writing during a time of imminent festivities. Without going into Academics proper, it probably pleases because it makes us think. We don’t often do that. Just as we don’t often realize that we are breathing. When we do, the process so instinctive becomes almost laborious. Try it and see for yourself. Clutton Brock’s essay on Art is still in the Calcutta University curriculum. The author says that the most significant point about Art is that it allows you to stay in the present and appreciate that moment without your thoughts wandering off into the past or the future. Art is still taken very seriously, but like car owners, artists are numerous today. For those of us that drive two wheelers, the roads are a trifle distressing with so many drivers and so little driving ethics. Today everything, including income, is valued by how much it is disposable. Things are not built to last. They are built to serve, and make way for newer models with more functionality. Sometimes it is a good thing too. Welcome to the age of ‘free’ gifts where one has to wait holding a token to receive the gift. And one is, or shall I say, more than one is happy to do just that.

Art and Aesthetics were seriously reflected upon at one point of time, and there used to be lots of debates around what Art is. Today, probably because the artists and art critics of the yesteryears have already talked so much, we tend to DO. There seems to be less thought involved, because there is this deadline lurking somewhere in the next minute or so, and of course, the question of novelty. Even in tradition, there must be novelty. In this age of TRP, Success and failure are defined by how many sponsors one can draw, and how many advertising slots one can successfully offer. Tradition by itself has become meaningless. Not just tradition, the old value system, whatever flaws it might have had, has been, quite simply and easily forgotten and wiped out. No one seems bothered about anything anymore. Art is everywhere, in the billboards, in your drawing room in the form of television commercials and masterclass prints, in your carefully landscaped housing apartments, and in the clothes that you buy from the many boutiques that are so easy to find today. Everyone is constantly thinking about Art. Artists never had it so easy. It is irrelevant what is produced as Art so long as it sells. I am not an Artist per se, but I do my doodles, and one budding agent had once asked me to copy my own painting for sale. I was flabbergasted then, but learnt later from one of my Artist friends that it was a common enough practice, especially among Bengali Artists.

Holding an Art Exhibition at the Puja site is nothing criminal. Somehow, it brings Art closer to the masses and demystifies it. Much as today’s Television Channels and its Talk Shows have demystified the big screen actors. However, whether it is Art on Canvas or on screen, the illusion that is integral to it makes it what it is. Demystifying it, even if it is essential somehow, also robs it of much of its charm. Almost like explaining the tricks a magician is going to perform before he does it. This also makes it a commonplace. Elitist as this may sound, Art is not supposed to be a commonplace. It is supposed to bring out the best in you; it is supposed to be a creative force that transforms reality and transmutes it through an alteration of the viewer’s perception. A whole new world is created when a painting is viewed, really viewed, in a gallery or simply hung on the wall in all its dignity. There was a reason that the Mughal architecture employed and encouraged the use of actual space, space that made you realize that where you stood gaping was grand, and you were not. The sheer vastness of things, their exclusivity, and their own niche is what adds to grandeur, and class. If you merchandise something that is supposed to be part of a long standing heritage, you are bound to market only that part of it which is marketable and lose the essence of it that in fact is IT.

Senior Artist Shri Niranjan Pradhan was seen answering a few queries on the modern ‘artistic’ depictions of Maa Durga these days. What he put so succinctly is what I have been trying to get at thus far: the myth of Durga is that of a warrior, a destroyer, and above all, a Mother. The question that one should ask while appreciating the novel efforts is whether the popular ways of depicting the idol have been successful in incorporating all the elements. The answer is perhaps easy to find when you look around yourself even without looking at the efforts (which, admittedly, is unfair to the artist and the puja committee members). This trend began with the advent of colour television when the traditional audio rendering of the Mahalaya was so exquisitely transformed into the visual medium and broadcast triumphantly. It continued with marketing of Mahalaya cassettes and then compact disks to enthusiastic consumers who broadcast the same loudly on their own audio devices continuously both before and after the Pujas, and yes, even in the afternoon. The essence of a thing was fast losing importance, and soon it was completely forgotten.

This is the new world of freedom of personal choice where one is not compelled to wait with anticipation for the moment when it time for the ritual to be heard in the pre dawn state and in between waking and falling asleep again. I don’t know if there are many people of our age who heard the ritual in its entirety without falling asleep somewhere along the way and then waking up to its magical strains nearing the end, heralding the beginning of the wait. Those seven days following the Mahalaya seem to me very different from the seven days that we have now.

For me, this year, the Puja has already happened when workers at a certain factory worked one extra day to contribute their pay as well as almost the entire amount collected for Vishwakarma Puja (the usual budget is around two lakh rupees) to victims of flood in Bihar. Apart from the obvious self importance that a published work gives to the author, this, more than anything else is probably why I have even bothered to write this article at all.

(Published in Utsav 2008, a Hindustan Times special supplement magazine).

Written by kapush

March 12, 2009 at 9:35 am

Posted in musings