Monday, October 29, 2018

My Home

My heart and soul resides with you,
And you are my home only-
As home is where the heart is.
I begin my voyage
To places unknown,
And I find new abode to live in,
But it fails to become my 'home',
Like that ship in mid-sea
Whose heart lies anchored to the port,
As I am leaving behind my heart with you,
And 'home' is where the heart is.
I have given you all that I have-
My heart,
My soul,
My love.
And now I am so empty from within,
As I have nothing more left in myself
To give to anyone else.
And my empty heart returns to an empty nest,
To shed tears
For that precious heart of mine,
Which I have left behind.
Because truly, 'home' is where the heart is.

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Being Part of the Bureaucracy: A Female Perspective

 sexism in government offices

Now that it has been eight years since I have become a part of the bureaucracy and I am all set to climb the ladder of my career one step higher, I take a look back to these eight years of service as an officer of the Government of West Bengal. I am currently working as an Assistant Commissioner of Revenue, Department of Finance, Government of West Bengal. I have read a few books on bureaucracy, like "Bureaucrazy Gets Crazier: IAS Unmasked" by M.K.Kaw and a few books on foreign affairs by former diplomats and the immensely popular novels of Upamanyu Chatterjee. But one thing that is strikingly common in these books is that they are all written by male authors and therefore, offer a male perspective to the readers. This write-up is a humble attempt to offer a female perspective on the functioning of the bureaucracy.

My Probation Period
I joined in the District Office of the District of Burdwan on one hot, humid day of March. I was very jubilant and excited to finally join the coveted job. For around one and half months, I remained attached to the District Office to get a first-hand exposure to the job. After that brief period, I was ordered to take the charge of an office on deputation. That particular office was quite famous (or infamous) at that point of time and was labelled as a 'difficult' office, as the people were not supposedly very 'co-operative'. 
"But sir, don't you think that that office needs a strong male officer?", asked one of my fellow officers to the officer in charge of the entire district, who signed that order of deputation.
"What else can I do? The Public Service Commission has sent two female officers only this time.", he replied lamely.
I was too young and too naive at that time to protest against this overtly sexist comment. Hailing from an educated, middle-class, liberal family, my parents have never let me felt that there was anything different about being a woman. I never knew that the adjective 'strong' is associated with menfolk only. I never knew that when a situation demands to be handled strongly, a woman doesn't fit the bill. So I first encountered the deep-seated gender bias only after joining in the job.

My First Official Meeting
I attended my first official meeting merely a month after joining in the job. Quite obviously, I was a bit nervous. I attended innumerable meetings, conferences, workshops, etc. after that first meeting. Looking back, what made me still remember that first official meeting was the distinctly different treatment we two lady officers received. Among some more than twenty officers who attended that meeting, we two were the only female officers. I still vividly remember that the peon of the district office, while serving tea to the officers present that day, deliberately skipped us, as if we two were some invisible creatures. I was surprised at that, as I had no such prior experience. My fellow officer, who was my batchmate also, being a few years older to me and having prior exposure to government job, smartly summoned the peon and ordered him to serve tea to us. But he repeated the same mistake again, while serving biscuits. He most probably failed to fathom that we were officers too, like all male officers present there.

The Block Development Officer
Mr. A was the first Block Development Officer whom I encountered during the course of my service. Like me, he was also a fresh recruit, serving at his first place of posting.

One afternoon, a particular meeting was scheduled to be held at his chamber and I was required to attend the meeting. It was my first trimester of pregnancy. Just waking up in the morning seemed an uphill task because of morning sickness. I retched every now and then. Still I was attending office anyhow as I was new to the job and hence didn't have much 'leave' to my credit. That afternoon, I had plenty of work in office and was about to depute a staff of my office to attend the meeting when he called me.
"Madam, are you coming to attend the meeting?"
"Sorry, I can't. I have lot of work. Besides, many people are waiting here to get their works done. I am deputing a staff to attend the meeting."
"But the Sub-Divisional Officer himself is attending the meeting. You must come."

Now I had no other way out. The distance between my office and the Block office was merely ten minutes walk. Those days, the only vehicle available in those rural areas was motor vans. However, on that day I failed to find any motor van and consequently, I had to walk all the way to the Block office. I was feeling tired and nauseating by the time I reached the Block office and found that the meeting had already concluded. And no, the S.D.O. had not come to attend the meeting. So I was about to leave when the B.D.O. interfered.
"Please sit.", he said and ordered the peon to bring tea for us.
After few minutes of meaningless conversation, when I finally left his office, I realized that he knew all along that the S.D.O. would not come. It was just a ruse to get acquainted with a lady officer.

During my three-and-half years tenure, he called me on innumerable trivial occasions until we both got transferred to two different districts.

The Treasury Officer
Mr. R, the treasury officer, was young and energetic. I met him during the course of my second posting, as my office fell under the jurisdiction of his treasury. He would find mistakes in each and every bill of my office. Moreover, he refused to pass the bills unless and until the officer met him in person.
"You have a Madam, not a Sir. Right?", he would ask the bill-clerk. "Tell her to meet me."
This nuisance continued till he got transferred to another treasury.

I have met many wonderful male officers during the course of my service life. But these two exceptions prove that some men do not hesitate to cast lustful glances at fellow women officers, even when serving in their official capacity.

The Undercurrent of Sexism
There are many government offices even today lacking basic amenities like a ladies toilet. Probably when these offices were built, people never imagined that women can work in these offices too. A lady officer posted in a rural area raises many eyebrows even today. The popular perception is that women officers, by virtue of their being more compassionate and kind, are less intelligent and less efficient than their male counterparts. Women in top echelons are few and far between, further contributing to a lack of understanding of women-specific problems.

The Concluding Remark
Work participation of women in India is extremely poor, just 22.5%, which makes places of work male-dominated spaces.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), out of 131 countries for which data was available, India ranks 11th from the bottom in female labour force participation (FLLP). In fact, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) data reveals falling FLLP from over 40% in the mid-1990s, to 29% in 2004-05, to 23% in 2009-10 and 22.5% by 2011-12. (Data Courtesy: The Times of India)

But I am hopeful that with the entry of more and more women in public services, the perception towards women officers will change for the better in the days to come. We are all eagerly waiting to see that change.

Image Source: a still from the movie Newon

This post titled "Speaking Up About The Sexism I Encountered At Work As A Woman Government Officer" has been published on Women's Web as a Featured Post. Featured Posts are a careful selection of highly relevant and interesting posts picked up by the editors of Women's Web each day. To read the full story, Click here.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Difficult Love Story


"I am what I am. So take me as I am." 
- Johann Wolfgang, German philosopher.

The night was eerily calm, the sky as seen from the balcony of our third floor flat was black, without a single star twinkling. It was late monsoon. And after a continuous drizzle for the entire day, the sky was still overcast, though the rain had subsided for the time-being. I rested my back on the chair, as I plugged the headphone in my ear.

"Pehle pyaar ka pehla gum
Pehli baar hain aankhen num
Pehla hai tanhaai ka yeh mausam
Aa bhi jaao varana ro denge hum."
As I listened to the song for the n-th time, tears started streaming down my face once again. Suddenly a gentle touch on my head broke my reverie. It was a healing touch. I looked over my shoulder and found my mother standing behind me. 
"Come. Dinner is ready.", she said laconically.
"I am not hungry, Maa."
"But skipping dinner is not good for your health dear."
"Will you please leave me alone?", I said brusquely.
She sighed and left silently.

It all started four years ago, when a chance encounter with Vineet changed the course of my life. I was happy and content with my life till then. He came like a gust of wind in my life and I knew that my life would never be the same again.

I hail from an educated, upper-middle class Bengali family of Kolkata. God has blessed me with wonderful parents who are always rooting for me. So when I decided to study English literature, inspite of fetching good marks in science in +2, my parents didn't object. Later, when I took up the teaching job in a local school, inspite of my excellent academic background which could have easily secured more lucrative job for me, my parents again didn't force me. The salary that I earn as the English teacher is decent to ensure a comfortable life for me. During weekends, I volunteer at a NGO named "Hope Foundation" working for the betterment of the lives of underprivileged children. I immensely enjoyed the company of children, both at the NGO and at my school, though I knew for sure that I'll never have any of mine. My parents were eager to get me married. But once I expressed to them my lack of interest in marriage, they never forced me to marry against my will.

I met Vineet at the birthday party of my colleague Mitali's son - Tublu. Mitali is the Geography teacher in the same school where I teach. She is not just a colleague, she is a good friend of mine. Vineet is a distant cousin of Mitali's husband. I never believed in love-at-first-sight until then. But when I saw Vineet, I knew that love can indeed happen at first sight. Vineet Agarwal - tall, fair and handsome - as if a hero incarnated from a Mills and Boon book. He was working as a Software Engineer in a leading MNC in Bangalore. He hails from an orthodox family in U.P. He is twenty years older to me. Guys of that age are normally married. So my first thought was that probably he had a wife. And kids, too. Suddenly I felt a pang of jealousy hitting me. How lucky is that woman who has a husband like Vineet. Though he was not seen with his family in that birthday party. Mitali introduced us to each other, though we didn't get much time to talk and get to know each other, because it was Tublu's time to cut the cake. After that, all guests hurried to have dinner. Meanwhile, I somehow failed to manage to talk to Vineet. Later in school, I came to know from Mitali that Vineet was still single. "Why?", I was curious. "I don't know exactly. May be, he is just not interested."

I met him again exactly after one year, at Tublu's next birthday party. This time I made it a point to talk to him. Conversation flowed easily, as if we knew each other since ages and we exchanged mobile numbers. Though I had his mobile number, I was hesitant to call him this time. But I was pleasantly surprised when I received a call from him a couple of weeks after the birthday party. He told me that he would be visiting Kolkata for a few days for some official work and that he wanted to meet me. The very thought of meeting him in person gave me goosebumps. We met at CCD and over a cup of coffee, he confessed his feelings for me.

Ah, that feeling of first love. It feels like the first shower of monsoon after a prolonged scorcher. It feels like the warm embrace of blanket on a chilly winter night.

But I knew right from the beginning that our families would never approve of our relationship. My parents were shocked when they came to know of this, whereas his family threatened to disown him. He suggested to elope, but I never wanted to take him away from his parents.

"You knew right from the beginning that our families would never approve of this relationship. But now you don't want this relationship without parental approval. Why? What right do you have to ruin my life in this way?", yelled Vineet over mobile.
"Pardon me, if you can", I sobbed.

"The Supreme Court decriminalised Sec 377 of IPC in a big win for the LGBT community. 'History owes an apology to the LGBT community. They were made to live a life of fear.' " , read the newspaper headline. Tears started streaming down my face. These were tears of joy. How long have I waited for this day to come!

Vineet paid the bill of two cups of cappuccino. Then he went ahead and pulled the glass-door of CCD open and stepped on the pavement. It was supposed to be our last meeting. He had come all the way to Kolkata from Bengaluru to bid me goodbye. He was going to USA, putting an end to our relationship. Sitting inside, I was sobbing uncontrollably. People were looking at me strangely. Perhaps they had never seen a guy crying publicly before. Suddenly I stood up from the chair and wiped my tears. They were looking, but I didn't care. I ran to him anyway and hugged him tightly.
"I'll never let you go, Vineet. I'll fight for our love. I'll fight for love like ours that wither in fear of society."
"I love you too, Sanjay. Never leave me. Ever. Together we'll tide over all the obstacles.", whispered Vineet in my ears.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend,
WOW: I Ran To Him/Her Anyway
an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’ 

This is a WOW post!

Image Source: Pexels
This post titled "Theirs Was A Difficult Love Story With Generation Differences... Yet, Love Always Wins!" has been published on Women's Web as a Featured Post. Featured Posts are a careful selection of highly relevant and interesting posts picked up by the editors of Women's Web each day. To read the full story, Click here.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Movie Review: Paromitar Ek Din


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I have always been an ardent fan of movies by Aparna Sen. These days whenever any of her movies hits the theatre, I make it a point to watch the movie. But today I'll write about a movie by Sen that was released way back in 2000 - "Paromitar Ek Din" (House of Memories). Though I had watched the movie at that time, being a naive school-girl, I failed to realize the full import of the movie. Recently I watched the movie again and I was literally shaken to the core after watching the movie. Some of the scenes seemed a direct copy of some of the incidents of my own life. And I was surprised to realise that someone else made the movie long before the unfolding of these events in my life. However, apart from the personal connection that I felt for this movie, the movie is truly awesome in it's own right.

The Story

The movie depicts the incidents of one particular day in the life of it's female protagonist Paromita - the day of her ex-mother-in-law's funeral. Attending the funeral opens as if the floodgate of her memories and all the memories associated with that old decrepit North-Kolkata house comes alive. The movie shows those memories in flashback.

A young Paromita steps in the Sanyal household as the youngest daughter-in-law. With time, she becomes very close to her mother-in-law Sanaka and her schizophrenic sister-in-law Khuku. In time, she gives birth to son, the only male heir of the Sanyal household. But her son is born with Cerebral Palsy. The arrival of an ill child loosens her bond with her husband, who blames her for her inability to give birth to a healthy child. Later, she gets her son admitted to a school for spastic children. Here she befriends Rajiv Srivastava, who is a documentary film-maker, making a film on spastic children. Paromita's son dies an untimely death. The only fragile thread holding her marriage snaps down. Meanwhile, her friendship with Srivastava blossoms into love and the duo decide to get married, much against the wishes of her mother-in-law.

Later, when Sanaka falls ill and becomes bed-ridden at the fag end of her life, Paromita again steps into her ex-matrimonial home, flouting convention, to take care of Sanaka. The entire movie revolves around the day of Sanaka's funeral. The movie ends on a happy note with the revelation of Paromita's second pregnancy.

The Unusual Bond between Two Women

What I found most heartening about the movie is it's portrayal of an unusual bond between two women, which goes against our popular culture where women themselves are touted as women's worst enemies. An unusual friendship develops between Paromita and Sanaka, transcending the barriers of age, background and temperament. When Paromita's husband accuses her for giving birth to cerebral-palsy-affected child, it's Sanaka who firmly stands by her. If Paromita's son Bablu's death takes her farther away from her husband, it only brings her closer to her mother-in-law who provides solace to her. After Sanaka becomes a widow, it's Paromita who takes her to restaurant to savour fish-fry, away from the judgmental eyes of the people, as she understands that Sanaka loves to eat fish though traditionally widows are forbidden from consuming non-vegetarian food.

When Sanaka falls ill, it's Paromita who comes to take care of her ailing ex-mother-in-law, flouting convention.

Sanaka represents women of the previous generation, financially dependent on their male counterparts, afraid to live life on their own terms. Mani, the man she loved, failed to muster courage enough to broach the topic of marriage to her. The man she got married to failed to elicit any feeling of love in her. In the evening of her life, she realised, "Purush manus meyeder kokhono kichhu dite pare na. Konodin na." (A man can never give anything to a woman. Never.") Being trapped in a loveless marriage, she performed her wifely duties lifelong, while secretly nurturing her love for her Mani-da. She admitted to Paromita, "Konodin moner mil hoyni tomar swasurer songe. Tobu kete to gelo etogulo bochhor. Etogulo chhelepuleo holo. Aré biye ki ar sobsomoy sukher hoy re? Hoyna." (My mentality never matched with that of your father-in-law. Still I spent so many years with him. Still I gave birth to his children. Does marriage always turn out to be a happy one? No.")

In contrast, Paromita is the modern Indian woman, having aspirations of her own. She is educated and sensitive. She looks for love within the institution of marriage. When she didn't find that in her marriage, she came out of that marriage. Srivastava understood her the way she is, giving her a shoulder to cry on. But she is not self-centred at all. When the time came, she didn't hesitate to take on the responsibility of looking after her ex-mother-in-law - a duty which even Sanaka's present daughters-in-law refused to take on. She understood Khuku like no one else. While the society at large stigmatised Khuku as "pagal" (mad), she was sensitive enough to understand that Khuku needs to be made to lead a life as normal as possible.

Both female protagonists are strong in their own ways and with time, they forge a bond that is unprecedented.

My Take on the Movie

The movie showcases some stellar performances. Rituparna Sengupta as Paromita, Aparna Sen as Sanaka and Sohini Sarkar as Khuku are impeccable. Use of appropriate Rabindra-sangeets (songs by Tagore) add to the mood. The scene where Paromita reveals to Sanaka the news of her impending divorce and Sanaka breaks down crying, is made more poignant by Khuku singing, "Tori aamar hahtat dube jaay, Konkhane re kon pashaner ghai." ("My boat sinks all of a sudden. Who knows where, ripped apart by which rock.")

No wonder the movie has bagged more than twenty national and international awards. And I am sure that lot of women of our country will be able to relate to one or the other female protagonists. Do give it a watch.

This post titled "Paromitar Ek Din Taught Me That Women Can Be Women's Best Friends" has been published on Women's Web as a Featured Post. Featured Posts are a careful selection of highly relevant and interesting posts picked up by the editors of Women's Web each day. To read the full story, Click here.


Monday, September 3, 2018

The Rupnarayan

Beneath an overcast afternoon sky,
Flows the Rupnarayan-
Placid, content and self-contained.
It's soft waves lapping against the embankment,
The thick foliage of Khirish tree casting shadows over it's surface,
Unperturbed- flows the Rupnarayan.

This vast stretch of water of the Rupnarayan,
This overcast August sky,
This sliver of sunlight sneaking off every now and then,
These rows of casuarina trees flanking the river,
These boats sailing idly,
With their prows painted like human eye,
And this endless flow of water from time immemorial-
Together they make this dying planet worth-living.

© 2018. Swagata Tarafdar. All rights reserved.

*The Rupnarayan River is a river in India. It has joined the Hoogli River. The river also passes through Howrah district. The picture here is taken in Gadiara, Howrah by me.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

10 Years Down The Line

"Ae Waqt Ruk Ja, Tham Ja, Thehar Ja
Wapas Zara Daud Peeche
Main Chhod Aayi Khudko Jahan Pe
Woh Reh Gaya Mod Peeche...''

(Oh time, hold still, stop, wait
Start running backwards now
I have left myself at some point
That road is long gone...)

Remember those lyrics from the 90s most popular movie DDLJ? Yes, the whole India crooned these lines as Kajal and SRK lipped the soulful song. How we all wish for the time to stop at those bends of life where we left our most cherished memories. Recently, accidentally my mother came across an old prescription of mine of 1998. And an epiphany occurred to her that every 8th year of the decade has been a milestone in her daughter's life.

1998: I was just a school-going teenager aged 14. But the year was significant in the sense that I was recovering from a serious illness in that year.

2008: It was the year I appeared for the West Bengal Civil Services. I had left the campus job offer as a Software Engineer (Trainee). Not just the job, I didn't utilize my GATE rank which could have easily landed me into one of the prestigious IITs to pursue masters. Leaving everything for the sake of civil services seemed almost akin to putting all my eggs in one basket. And I was scared that if I failed to crack W.B.C.S., my career would be doomed. That year, my 24th year, turned out to be a major milestone in my life, as that was the year of my one and only attempt at W.B.C.S.

2018: I am the single mother of a 6-year-old boy now. Leaving behind the tumultuous years, life at 34 is on the threshold of another major change.

2028: I'll mother a teenager and god knows which crisis of adolescence we both will have to face.

But time flies as if it has got wings. And we go on achieving new milestones, adapting constantly with changes occurring with time.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Cheers to Friendship

Sharing this selfie with my bestest friend  Priyanka on the occasion of Friendship Day. She has been my friend since the time we were in school. She always lends me ears when I want to vent, gives me shoulders to cry on when I am at my lowest. She is the one who knows me perhaps better than me - she is someone who knows all my secrets. Together we have so many memories that I am at a loss when I mull over which one particular incident to share. One incident which still makes me laugh is our reading together of the first love letter that she received, sitting in the last bench of the classroom of class 11, after the classes were over. All I want to say on this Friendship Day is, "Tere bina ho jeena, Woh din kabhi na aaye."

This post is written in association with Women's Web #bestfriendstales contest.