Friday, June 24, 2011

Preview of Ma Bolechhe...

You know that play I'm acting in?

You can read a preview writeup on it here and see a pic too.

Also, because I think Tom Lai's done a fine job on them, here are some more pics:

My mother and I: within seconds of this photo she gives me hell for daring to pontificate on motherhood after my first holiday with my daughter -- who was brought up by my mother, not me.

The second photograph shows my mother and her mother on the phone, discussing, among other things, me. I love it. You can see my mother's worry and tension while to my grandmother I am still a happy thought.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Blank Noise Story

I just finished reading Known Turf by Annie Zaidi – a book I cannot recommend too highly, if you like pieces that make you think – and the last piece in the book, on her association with Blank Noise and her relationship with public spaces, really resonated.

I ‘got into’ the Blank Noise Project partly through (what I once felt was) misplaced enthusiasm. I tend to contact people whose writing/work impresses me and since the internet allows me to do so, I try to let them know that I, Sunayana Roy, appreciate the hard work they have put in. When I first heard of BNP, way back in my college days I believe, I mailed and suggested that they start a Calcutta chapter.

There was a Calcutta chapter eventually, a few years later, a historic meeting for many reasons: I met Dipali there, in the flesh, and I cannot imagine my life without her today; I took Vicky and Rahul to the meeting (I still don’t know why) and the next thing I knew Vicky and I were doing BNP interventions with a baby in a sling; Vicky became a full-fledged member while Rahul was made an honorary member-for-life on account of having jumped in so young.

Over the year or two that that particular chapter survived, I met a lot of people and explained BNP to them over and over again. People joined and people dropped out. Many misunderstood the basic idea of BNP. Put quite simply, BNP members are not regular activists and they do not operate a helpline; the Project is not an NGO, nor can the average member help you file FIRs or counsel you professionally. What the Project is, is an initiative that allows its members to challenge their own conceptions and perceptions of their place in the world they live in. It is a personal journey that you can make alongside fellow members but you will not necessarily be making the same journey even if you travel together.

My journey, for instance, began with me as a young woman whose whole concept of physical intimacy and privacy had taken a severe battering. Breastfeeding on demand made me heavier, clumsier, more prone to embarrass myself with leaking breasts and a baby who made no bones about which part of me he wanted. I fed him in front of my father and uncles and I had to feed him in public transport. While I had never been a shrinking violet, these felt like excessively brazen bodily displays then (now the memories feel like the most natural thing in the world, sweeter than bathing on a hot day).

When this nervous, shaken me was asked to consider why I wore what I did on public streets and why I didn’t wear other things in my wardrobe, it was one thing to state proudly that yes, I have the right to wear what I want, when I want. It was something completely different to get myself to actually wear those clothes in public. I, who had delighted in the short and the tight as a rebellious college kid, had been battered into the loose and the shapeless by pregnancy.

The less secure I was about my own body, the easier it was to give in to what I was expected to wear (the loose and the shapeless). None of this made me happy.

All those afternoons of debate with fellow BNP members and in particular our first, memorable intervention in New Market jolted me out of that rut. It woke that rebellious college kid up in me and made me hunt down my old clothes, my old attitude to dressing as a means of self expression.

It changed my perception of this city. I have loved Cal for the greater part of my life, but something about walking the streets like I own them (since I pay taxes I suppose I do pay for their upkeep), something about this BNP idea of reclaiming public spaces made me fall in love with the place all over again. Yes, women in Cal get sexually molested and they face a lot of non-physical intimidation, but this is my city and today I walk it proudly.

Better yet, I traverse the city without thinking too much about it. I take it for granted as Vicky does. As I should always have been able to. I still keep a weather eye out for gropers, pinchers, feelers-up and catcallers but by and large they no longer bother me. I hardly ever register non-physical sexual harassment (if you're singing a song I'll give you the benefit of the doubt -- I too sing aloud now and then) and if it gets physically invasive then I'm no longer afraid of raising a big old stink.

Would I have reached this same level of confidence on my own? I doubt it but perhaps I would have. What I would not have had would be this understanding of my own space in my city, the foundation for my confidence.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Long View

Before you read this post (and if you are Cousin T, I don't think you should read this one) I would like to make it very clear that this was not written to show you what rotten in-laws I have or how sorry you should be for me. I have no problems with you sharing your own experiences and I will not judge you or your in-laws any more than I expect you to judge me or mine.

A chance remark to Vicky this evening was in hindsight a remarkable milestone in our marriage. We were looking at a photograph of our phoolshojya (first night) and he said that I didn’t look happy. Without thought or deliberation I said that I didn’t because I wasn’t. Only hours ago, while being dressed for my wedding reception, I had been told in front of a roomful of strangers that I was ugly. The finished results of that dressing emphasized my worst features and the flowers fell from my hair before the first guests arrived at the venue. My saree fell out when I finally went to dinner – I cannot remember any other public occasion on which my saree has come apart, and I’ve worn sarees since I was a little child. We ate a dinner of leftovers since nobody had remembered to keep anything aside for Vicky or me. I had sat there on that dais feeling colder and colder on that January night until somebody saw the goose pimples on my arms and borrowed a shawl from somebody else who was going home and didn’t need it any longer.

The fact that I could say all this without any bitterness and that Vicky didn’t feel personally attacked says volumes about how far the two of us have come, I think.

There are many reasons why I never wrote about our wedding. The bitterness set in from my first night at Vicky’s parents’ home when I was served a fish curry gone bad (I don’t eat fish and my in-laws knew that) while the rest of the gathering feasted on catered delicacies*. There were months of political wrangling which resulted in a wedding date that ensured that my maternal uncles and aunt missed my wedding. There were so many things gone wrong before I first raised my voice at Vicky and blamed him for ruining my life. He took the latter part seriously but couldn’t bring himself to believe that his mother would treat his bride with anything less than the kindness and hospitality that she is famous for. It was weeks before he saw for himself the treatment I received and even that didn’t help because where tact and discretion were needed, he yelled at the two women in his life.

(*Just to be clear, the tradition is that the bride is not fed food cooked in her new home that night. I forget the reason behind this but I do know this does not mean she has to be fed bad food!)

It has taken us literally years to work our way out of that initial shaky start. But the events of the last one month, from his standing up for me where I didn’t even know I was being attacked to his making a hot lunch from scratch this afternoon while I slept off the effects of a midnight rehearsal make me grateful anew that I trusted in my guardian angel and married this man. For all the trouble he has introduced in my life, he has also brought in far more kindness and caring than I think I deserve.

Monday, June 06, 2011

World Environment Day 2011

The newspapers this morning reminded me that yesterday was World Environment Day 2011 and that India was the host country to boot. Funnily enough, it was yesterday that I picked up some new plants from Aunty D. This morning I spent a happy half hour repotting a few plants, organising the new ones and generally getting good and grubby.

I present to you the fruits of my labours:

Some are old and some are new and one moved into the windy northern corner (not seen in photo) and I am worried about the results of that, but don't my babies look lovely? When I was away in Delhi for a fortnight I worried about the three days overlap between Vicky's departure from Cal and my return home but I found that not only were the blessed things surviving, some were actually doing better for being left to fend for themselves in the nor'westers.

To my joy, the plant whose name I never can remember is flowering beautifully, unfurling several buds each morning. It has taken a while to settle down, so I am quite relieved. I used to have a tree-full of these white flowers greet me outside my bedroom window each morning back in our colony in Vizag.

I bought that white one together with a pink ixora that has never been allowed to bloom by the ants. For some reason, this amused me much more than it upset me, but for all that I am happy to see some viable buds at last. I love ixoras. When we were young Lakshmi used to pull the nectar out and stick it on her tongue.

Aunty D gave me lots of cuttings clubbed in a handful of pots this time. There is a pretty fern and some leaves that I hope will eventually perk up.

And in the far corner I now have a tangle of vines, aloe vera and a money plant in a bottle that seemed to inexplicably die but is showing signs of coming alive now that the monsoons are nearly here.

She also gave me these climbing cactii-like cuttings which I've arbitrarily stuck into existing pots. They carried two snails with them, so I am charmed. (I can afford to be since I hastily gave away the cutting with the large snail on it to my maid. The tiny snail doesn't unnerve me.)

The grande finale of Aunty D's bounty was this pot with some large ferns from Darjeeling. They remind me of my holiday. I haven't found a place for the pot yet so here it is next to Vicky's cupboard.

I rashly promised to take another large pot form Aunty D's and I intend to, too, but I do wonder whether it will be quite safe out on the landing. In any case, there is no room inside our flat.

I've blogged before about my plants dying on me. I've never really worked with pots before and my first tentative forays were disasters. I'm used to large gardens where things grow willy-nilly. This time, only 2 of Aunty D's plants (the first batch) have died and my ixora and the white flower have both settled down. It is immensely gratifying.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Mejopishi's Chilli Chicken

This is a recipe that I have been meaning to blog for a couple of years now, as a part of a series of recipes for fledgling or unwilling cooks. (I was a card-carrying member of the fraternity, still am, of the unwilling branch.)

Chicken pieces, ideally bony & small -- 500 gms (your chicken seller's messed up cuts will do)
Onions -- depending on size, 4-6
Green chillies -- depending on taste, 4-10
Vegetable oil (sunflower or olive) -- half cup
Soya sauce -- 2 tbsp, approx
White vinegar -- 2 tsp, approx
Salt to taste
[the next 2 ingredients are optional]
Cornflour or ordinary refined flour (maida) -- generous pinch (1 tsp?)
SECRET INGREDIENT -- a bit of hard gurh (jaggery), say 1 tsp worth

1. Wash your chicken well and leave it to marinade in a sprinkling of salt while you...
2. Peel onions and chop them into chunks and...
3. Wash chillies and cut long slits along the length of them.

4. Heat your vegetable oil in a kada and fry the chicken till browned, a couple of pieces at a time. They really splutter so use a long-handled ladle and if you wish, a cover. Set chicken aside.

5. Secret Ingredient Step: Add the gurh (jaggery) to the now slightly cloudy oil and immediately...

6. Dump the onions and chillies into the oil and fry till onions are transluscent and chillies are blistered.

Note: I have no picture of the gurh because I didn't have any and so didn't use any. Also, I'm using double the amount of oil I need. Tiredness results in over-generous pouring.

7. Add fried chicken, stir it all up well.

8. Add soya sauce and vinegar and flour if using. Also salt. You can add more or less soya sauce according to preference, but go easy on the vinegar. See what I mean about far too much oil?

9. Cover and simmer for another 5-10 odd minutes depending on your chicken. Check with fork to see tenderness, mix well to ensure soya gravy covers all pieces and have with plain rice.

Quick notes:
* This recipe doesn't need exact measures and in fact can handle many variations: without jaggery, with a small pinch of sugar, more soya, no onion, much more onion, many more chillies, a generous splash of honey, no flour/cornflour (I never bother with it myself) etc.

* Onions, oil and soya sauce provide your gravy. You can make it with very little oil, and 1 large onion for a dry dish.

*Gurh burns very easily, so make sure the onions and chillies are ready to throw in immediately after you've added it to the oil. Otherwise be prepared to change the oil and pan.

*This recipe can be made in a frying pan, wok or at a pinch, dekhchi, no problems.

Priyanka, there you go. :) Thanks for your recipe, I mean to try it out next time.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

My Mother Said I Never Should/Ma Bolechhe Korish Na

It's here. In another fortnight, the girls and I will be on stage performing My Mother Said I Never Should/Ma Bolechhe Korish Na, directed by Shuktara Lal (Shuki to you and me). I am so excited about this play. I was also very happy with Proof but this one speaks to me as a mother and a daughter in ways I can never fully list out. I've briefly spoken of my difficulty in acting Payal. That insight helped.

To book donor passes on either of our show dates -- June 18 (Sat) and 19 (Sunday) -- please sms or email me your date(s) of choice, number of passes and the amount you would like to contribute. If you're mailing please remember to include your phone number so I can sms your pass number to you.

As with all Red Curtain productions, the proceeds from the sales will go to support a good cause. In this case, it is Hamari Muskaan, a Kolkata NGO that helps provide mainstream education for the children of sex workers to enable them to carve out a brighter future for themselves. As such, you are welcome to contribute as much or as little as you would like to the initiative. To give you a sense of perspective, do consider how much you would be willing to spend in an evening at a multiplex.

I'm so excited! We went costume-hunting this afternoon and found the most perfect sari for Roma, my grandmother. These little things make my day.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Happy birthday to you!

Sunny Days, the child of my heart, the sweat of my, er, well, no, no sweat, but you get the idea, is eight today. I remembered the birthday last night but forgot it this morning. Thanks a million, Sole Vita, for reminding me. (It's her birthday too, do go wish her.)

Eight years of blogging makes me one of the oldest bloggers I know, right from the uncertain start where I signed up on Rediff with no clear idea as to what a blog actually was to me today, with my circle of blogging buddies (take a bow, you guys).

Also, I think this is the 950th post out here.

This little blog has seen me through boyfriends and a wedding, several deaths and a birth. It has shown me the power and potential of online friendships and introduced me to so many people I would never had the pleasure of knowing otherwise. It's been featured on the BBC. Honestly speaking, I don't think I could possibly list all the milestones -- after all, milestones are what this space is all about.

So go on, clap your hands and make a wish and let's see what the universe does about it. And if you can manage some cake today, that would be even cooler. After all, isn't that what a birthday is all about?