Christmas In Calcutta

There goes a saying among devout Bengalis, ‘Bangali’r baaro maashey tero parbon’; which when translated essentially throws some light on how much the Bengalis love embracing and celebrating festivals since time immemorial. Be it Durga Puja, Holi, or even Eid, if there is a festival, Bengalis shall celebrate it with full fervour. And in keeping with the jubilant Bengali souls and their love for festivities, how can the Yuletide spirit be left behind?
If we look back on history, we’ll see that Christmas became an essential component of the winter festivities in Calcutta primarily during the British Raj. Calcutta being the primary hub of socio-political activity of the British, it was also the major site for their recreation and festivities, and Christmas was no exception. Christmas was among the most important religious festivals and congregations for the British and Jew community that inhabited the city back then, and it is only imperative for Christmas to be celebrated with enormous fervour and dedication. The city would be bedecked with lights, the churches would partake in service, and the British and Bengali-Christian communities would celebrate the day with traditional Christmas gatherings all across town.
After the departure of the British, Christmas declined in importance as a religious festival in most parts of India. The small Anglo-Indian community in India still celebrates Christmas in a big way, even in Calcutta where they still observe midnight mass and take part in elaborate cake-mixing ceremonies. To the non-Christian community in Calcutta however, although it is not of much cultural importance to them, they celebrate it as a festival which they dedicate to homecoming and uniting with family and friends in the Yuletide spirit.The nip in the air sets the mood as the Bengalis set out to spend Christmas in their own glorious ways. It is interesting to note the ease with which the Bengalis have incorporated a festival so deeply rooted in religious history, and made it into a festival of their own, when old friends meet, families come together, and take part in charitable activities, traditional Christmas feasts, parties and what not. Christmas has been adapted by the Calcuttans as a festival of reconciliation, of charity and good work, and most importantly as a time when one would leave behind the monotonous hustle of their daily lives and partake in whatever that would make them happy. It is not just another holiday in the calendar, it is a day when Bengalis would also fully celebrate the pleasant chill in the Calcutta weather, go out in all their finery, and channel their festive spirit with as much fervour as someone who belongs to the community where Christmas holds a cultural importance. Many Calcuttans also pay their respects to traditional Christmas practices by going to the Church, seeking authentic English confectionaries especially from British confectioners Flurys and Jewish confectioners Nahoum’s, decking up their homes with red and green adornments, giving each other presents and the likes. Christmas thus serves as a glorious example to how culturally inclusive Bengalis have always been, to be able to adapt themselves to cultures and practices not their own, but to unite in festive spirit and spread happiness and love around them.


Deconstructing the Nuances of Fandom Culture

In the contemporary marketplace of popular film and media, with its strong reliance on adaptations of comic book superheroes, best-selling young adult novels, and decades-old television shows, the concept of fandom becomes something of a complex, hybridized connection between fan consciousness, nostalgia, and the life extension of contemporary studio– and producer-driven media. Being a fan in this generation entails subscribing to a cult, that digs its roots among similar demographics all around the world, a community of like-minded individuals with a strong passion for a popular sensation. Now with the advent of social media, the fandom culture has grown, and it continues to grow as an essential part of the lives of these people.
    Fandoms are essentially what transform cinematic and literary works into multimillion-dollar franchises with millions of followers across the globe. The enormous power that these franchises have harnessed on account of their popularity, of shaping and moulding the lives of people, cannot be undermined. What is said and done by these popular sensations influence the sense of right and wrong in the people who follow it. It is subtle, and never shoved in people’s faces, which is also what makes the inadvertent teachings of these sensations so hard to monitor and critically accept. Belonging to a fandom has its own set of advantages.  They give rise to businesses; inspire art and imaginative extensions to already existing plotlines (ie. fan-fiction) and results in a different kind of social atmosphere.  Being in a fandom means being united in opinions, and internalizing the ideologies propagated by the said sensation. This is precisely where the hazards of being a devoted fan come into play. Even though the ability to criticise and separate the reel from the real should ideally be inseparable parts of every fandom, it is not always so. It lies in the fans’ critical faculties to be able to alienate themselves from the fan point-of-view to able discern all that is wrong with the said sensation. What is good for entertainment, doesn’t necessarily qualify as ideologies the impressionable young adults should embrace. This is a gospel truth that isn’t accepted by the more vehement fans.
    Take for instance, the fandom of the increasingly popular sitcom FRIENDS. It is imperative above all to recognize its popular success and its ability to provide a light hearted laugh when needed. But it is rather disconcerting how a huge demographic of young adults have overlooked the not-so-subtle prejudices in the script and subscribed to idolising characters and their relationships. To try and point out say, the homophobic and racist angles of the show, the lack of character growth, or toxic romantic relationships which have been so popularly idolised, would mean going against the ethics of being in a fandom like this. Conscious imitation or inadvertent impact- no matter what the medium is, idolising the wrong things would lead to very flawed ideologies and eventually hamper a teenager’s emotional growth.
   It is quite evident how widespread the impact of popular culture has become nowadays. It impacts us and moulds us in ways we can’t decipher, in subtleties, in silent admiration, in vocal appreciation. Being a part of a fandom also illustrates a world of black and white, a world of unconditional admiration, with no room for critical acceptance. Personally, I feel this has also become a trademark of how the current youth deals with their personal affairs as well, all in blacks and whites, with no space for a solace in greys. We have been conditioned to believe that blind following is the only genuine love, and reasonable criticism of anything you have claimed to love amounts to silent betrayal.
   To me, fandoms have been one of the fascinating phenomena in recent popular culture. Fandoms illustrate a world of never-ending curiosity, a world where a passion drives the best of artistic creations, a place where limitless imagination can find a home. To be able to believe so strongly in a world of make-believe is indeed something magical, only however when exercised with caution.

Urdu: Poetry in Language

If we look into the meaning of the very word ‘Urdu’, we find its Turkish origin means ‘camp’ or ‘army’, because of its predominance among army-men (‘Lashkari Zuban’ or ‘the language of the army’). It is a beautiful blend of Persian, Turkish, Arabic and local Hindi dialects and is known to be one of the origins of Hindi, and has a reputation for fascinating non-Urdu speakers for years.

My first tryst with Urdu was when I was four or five and my mornings were intricately touched with the ornate tune of ghazals wafting into the air. I was too young to figure out the lyrics then but I was very fond of how they sounded, and the soulful music became an integral part of my mornings, thereafter.
My growing penchant for poetry then led to an expedition into the beautiful verses of Urdu. The beauty of Urdu not only lies in its sonically pleasing aesthetics but also in the sheer skill with which the words make our hearts wrench in the idyllic reality of it all.

The legacy of Urdu manifests itself in its largely popular verses on love and heartbreak, as well as in revolutionary literary works that brought about radical changes at the time.

Below are the seventeen most beautiful Urdu verses that I go back to time and again, like the folded corners of the yellowed pages of a favourite book and never have they failed to enchant and move me.

  1. fāsla nazroñ kā dhoka bhī to ho saktā hai
    vo mile yā na mile haath badhā kar dekho

           (The distance between our eyes can be deceptive
stretch your arm out, and see if they meet)

 -Nida Fazli

      2.   aae the hañste khelte mai-ḳhāne meñ ‘firāq’
jab pī chuke sharāb to sanjīda ho ga.e

(We came to the tavern all gay and frolicsome
now having drunk the wine, sombre we have become)

– Firaq Gorakhpuri


    3. ab to un kī yaad bhī aatī nahīñ

          kitnī tanhā ho ga.iiñ tanhā.iyāñ

        (Nowadays even her thoughts do not intrude
see how forlorn and lonely is my solitude)

-Firaq Gorakhpuri


     4.  aage aatī thī haal-e-dil pe hañsī

          ab kisī baat par nahīñ aatī

         (Nothing now could even make me smile;
I once could laugh at my heart’s own plight)

-Mirza Ghalib

5.  maut kā bhī ilaaj ho shāyad

      zindagī kā koī ilaaj nahīñ

        (For death a cure there well may be
but for this life no remedy)

– Unknown


6. bas-ki dushvār hai har kaam kā āsāñ honā

     aadmī ko bhī mayassar nahīñ insāñ honā

 (It is difficult that every goal be easily complete
for a man, too, to be human, is no easy feat)

 -Mirza Ghalib

7. zindagī ke udaas lamhoñ meñ

     bevafā dost yaad aate haiñ

 (In life’s sad moments one tends
to recall the faithlessness of friends)



8. bevafā.ī pe terī jī hai fidā
qahr hotā jo bā-vafā hotā

 (I sacrifice my heart upon your infidelity
were you faithful it would be a calamity)

– Mir Taqi Mir

 9. kitne muflis ho ga.e kitne tavañgar ho ga.e
ḳhaak meñ jab mil ga.e donoñ barābar ho ga.e

(However many paupers passed, and wealthy went and came
when they were consigned to dust they were all the same)

 -Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq

10. āgāh apnī maut se koī bashar nahīñ

      sāmān sau baras kā hai pal kī ḳhabar nahīñ

       (The time of his death, man cannot foresee
uncertain of tomorrow, yet plans for a century)

-Hairat Allahabdi

11. duniyā meñ ham rahe to ka.ī din pa is tarah

      dushman ke ghar meñ jaise koī mehmāñ rahe

      (I did stay in this world but it was in such a way
a guest who in the house of his enemy does stay)

 -Qayem chandpuri


12. duniyā ne terī yaad se begāna kar diyā

      tujh se bhī dil-fareb haiñ ġham rozgār ke

      (This world has caused me to forget all thoughts of you
the sorrows of subsistence are more deceitful than you)

 -Faiz Ahmed Faiz

13. sāhil ke tamāshā.ī har Dūbne vaale par

      afsos to karte haiñ imdād nahīñ karte

     (To a drowning person, they on the shores who stand
do lend their sympathy, but not a helping hand)

 -Fana Nizami Kanpuri

14. aaj nāgāh ham kisī se mile
baad muddat ke zindagī se mile

     (Today I chanced on someone unexpectedly
it was after ages life was face to face with me)

 -Khumar Barbankavi

15. kuchh to majbūriyāñ rahī hoñgī
yuuñ koī bevafā nahīñ hotā

     (she would have had compulsions surely
faithless without cause no one can be)

-Bashir Badr

16. koī samjhe to ek baat kahūñ
ishq taufīq hai gunāh nahīñ

       (if someone were to listen, one thing I will opine
Love is not a crime forsooth it is grace divine)

 -Firaq Gorakhpuri

17. Bak rahā huuñ junūñ meñ kyā kyā kuchh
kuchh na samjhe ḳhudā kare koī

       (Lord I pray that no one comprehends
All that I rant and rave in ecstasy)

-Mirza Ghalib


The Irony of the Largest Democracy- the AFSPA?

The violent carnages in the Kashmir valley has long been the unrelenting target of a brand of macho-patriotism being exercised by the Indian nationals for decades, an unending series of morbid episodes unfolding to reveal our daily dose of bloodshed and death. It is clear that the national government is unprepared to give up on the much debated AFSPA just yet, wistfully deluded by the notion that only an act so vicious can be effective in safeguarding the valley and stamp out any resistant force that threatens them. Hence they pass off the local protests as nothing but irrational hostility, without paying the slightest heed to the unjustified use of the AFSPA by a power-drunk section of the military. The arguments provided by them are simple- that the insurgencies are nothing but a contrived conspiracy being reeled out by our Muslim neighbors and thus military intervention is only imperative to keep their protests subdued.

It would be unjust to completely disregard the measure of truth that these arguments carry. But for the Centre to acknowledge the military violence and subsequent local insurgencies in the valley would mean coming in terms with their own decisional flaws. It would mean giving up the country’s image as a global pluralist democracy, a risk that the political elite choose not to take in the fear of losing their obvious ticket to faux-Western liberalism. Hence the obvious solution is not to own up to mistakes, but to instead underplay the people’s sufferings entirely and suppressing them. And by underplaying the brutal truth, we have glorified the apparent necessity of the AFSPA, and instilled in the Kashmiris a deep-rooted sense of estrangement and disaffection.

The irony here is rather stark. On one hand, we as a nation are eager to keep our image of a secular and multi-ethnic democracy unsullied. And in an attempt to do so, we alienate a part of our population and impose an act that turns rightful citizens to nothing more than subjects chained with no rights or protection. An ideal democracy has no place for an act so vicious and violating. We speak so gloriously of Kashmir being as much a part of India as any of the other states are, and yet we have failed as a democracy the very moment we snatched their rights and muffled their voices. It is nothing but our farcical idea of nationalism in play when we glorify the selfless courage of our power-drunk soldiers in a desperate attempt to justify our democratic failure. After all, denial is the utmost form of self-defense.

If we choose to treat Kashmir as an integral part of the nation in keeping up with its pluralist image, we cannot suppress the situation as something insignificant and irrational. As a nation that once had to push against similar circumstances to be free, we cannot pretend that a liberalized army is the simple solution to this. This situation, first and foremost, demands recognition. It is high time we acknowledge the plight of the people we call our own, repeal the AFSPA and give them back their basic constitutional rights. We must stop the unchecked violation of human rights by the army against their own people. And most importantly, the nation needs to listen. Instead of blatantly labeling them as terrorists under Pakistani influence, we must critically examine their perspective and empathize with their cause. The only way to placate is not by force, but by putting our arms down and trying to listen.  

Why Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ is as problematic for men as for women

“This was locker room talk,” Trump said in Sunday night’s Presidential debate. “This was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it . . .This was locker room talk. Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it, and I hate it, but it’s locker room talk.”

Out of the many outrageous things that the latest Presidential debates brought to the surface, was this phenomenon called ‘the locker room talk.’ This phenomenon, as understood from the connotations of Trump’s justification to his lewd statements, is a case of macho-masculinity; for in the locker room, when clad in towels and covered in post-games sweat, men can only unleash their most primitive caveman side and engage in hormones-dictated conversation. Thus according to Trump, men, in their most uncensored and natural habitat, would quite instinctively lose their disguise of political correctness and get down to engaging in objectifying and privately harassing women. He is implying that this is, in fact, how the most rich and powerful men talk when not burdened by the mask of social propriety. After all, Bill Clinton’s treatment of women was worse and as long as this rampantly sexist ‘locker room talk’ is not being acted upon, there is not even any inherent harm or danger.

Trump quite unconsciously brought forward what is potentially one of the biggest issues in the current scenario of gender politics- the classic ‘men will be men’ syndrome. His explanation to his lewd comments and rampant disrespect towards women and their bodies, is the inherent entitlement that operates within him- as if, being obsessed with sexual acts or disrespect towards women is the fundamental imperative of being male. As if, masculinity is defined best by such uncensored ‘locker room talk’ and that all men, by virtue of their masculinity, must objectify women as an act of leisure.

If this is not equally demeaning to both sexes, I don’t know what is.

It would be foolish to completely disregard the existence of men, who in fact, do subscribe to such a school of thought. These men lurk everywhere- in our homes, workplaces, public transport; ripping women of their bodily authority, ogling, if not groping, women, and dismissing women as just objects feeding the male sexual appetite. This is precisely the demographic that bolstered Trump’s campaign and took him this dangerously close to being the President of one of the most powerful nations in the globe.

Kissing or groping someone without consent is sexual assault. It’s popular for such men to brag about similar behaviours. Hiding such behaviour in the guise of jokes or meaningless banter is an attempt on the part of such men to make it acceptable. It is not. And the men who do not take pride in such rampant sexism, feel the pressure of reaffirming their masculinity while present in such male-exclusive spaces, and barely can muster the courage to call out on the sexism.

Trump’s generalization of sexism as a male imperative is wrong. It is a warped image of the entire male population; an image that hardly fits all those men who believe in progressive thought and look at women in equal social standing, worthy of equal opportunities. One of the many problems that Trump brought to surface in his debates is this toxic idea of masculinity, an idea to which many have already subscribed and many feel the pressure to succumb to. It is very important now, more than ever, to teach our boys that being male does not entail being inherently disrespectful towards women, does not give them an unquestioned access to women’s bodies.

It is also interesting to note how sportsmen from different arenas have come out, guns blazing, in protest of what Trump wrote off as ‘locker room talk’. American professional basketball player Kendall Marshall tweeted ‘PSA: sexual advances without consent is NOT locker room talk.’ while L.A. Galaxy player Robbie Rogers tweeted that he was offended by Trump’s remark. “Claiming Trump’s comments are “locker room banter” is to suggest they are somehow acceptable. They aren’t.”, said Cleveland forward Dahntay Jones.  

Trump is the poster image of a brand of sexism aided hyper-masculinity that has pushed forward rape culture to what it is today. It is important for all of us now to unite and educate, and prevent any such innocent ‘locker room talk’ from giving rise to more such Trumps in future.