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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

A marriage bureau in Gujarat is facilitating gay marriages. What does this trend say about the future lives of homosexuals in India? Sonia Sarkar reports

  •  PIC: THINKSTOCK

  • AN EQUAL MUSIC: (Top)The Ahmedabad bureau has gay prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (below) as a counsellor

After years of dilly-dallying, Vishal, a marketing manager with a pharmaceutical company, decided to get married. The news far from pleased his parents. First, they threw a fit, then dragged him to a tantric. Next, his father brought home a female prostitute – for him.

“All this because I said I wanted to get married to a man,” says Vishal, who is from Mumbai but is currently settled in Ahmedabad.

When he couldn’t convince his parents, Vishal approached Arranged Gay Marriage (AGM), India’s first gay marriage bureau. A couple of interactions later the matchmakers there managed to get through to his parents. “They saw several videos on gay relationships on the Internet; they read about gay marriage on various websites; they sat through several counselling sessions to know how gay relationships work,” says Vishal. Once they were convinced, they started looking for a partner for him.

The search ended with Kartikey, a professor in a Mumbai college. “We are getting married in December,” says Vishal. Maitree Basu, who works for an IT firm in Bangalore, also met her partner Tanushree through the bureau. The two tied the knot last year.

Like Vishal and Maitree, over 23 other homosexuals – gays and lesbians – have found their partners through this Ahmedabad-based marriage bureau since it was founded a little over a year ago. To date, the bureau has facilitated four such marriages in India and 20 abroad. And its Facebook page is perennially flooded with queries.

Unlike Australia, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Canada, South Africa, the Netherlands and some states in the US, gay marriage is not legally recognised in India. In fact, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits it.

But legalities don’t seem to deter Urvi Shah, the 23-year-old owner of the bureau. “Gays and lesbians also have the right to live a normal life just as any heterosexual,” she says. “Everyone needs a life partner. Moreover, marriage reflects traditional Indian values.” Having said that, she is well aware that in India “coming out” is no easy task, forget deciding to get married. She feels strongly about the social exclusion and psychological distress homosexuals are subjected to and through the bureau offers counselling support to those who want to come out of the closet.

For homosexuals opting or wanting to get married, the idea is to publicly claim their societal space as a married person just as any married heterosexual person. Only last month, Manjit Kaur, a 30-year-old Punjab Police woman sub-inspector married another woman at Pucca Baugh, in Jalandhar, complete with Hindu rituals. Mumbai-based Gaurav Salve, a chartered accountant, married Jake, an American, last year. He says, “I am a religious person and I wanted to get married. For a man in India, getting married to a man was impossible.”

Manvendra Singh Gohil, the celebrity gay prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat, often counsels the clients of AGM. He asks, “When heterosexuals have the liberty to marry, why should gays be deprived of the same right?”

No reason, except that among other things it isn’t easy for homosexuals to find partners keen on a long-term relationship and commitment.

“Homosexual men do have a tendency to have multi-partner sex as their stable relationships are not recognised by society,” says gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi. “Our first baseline survey in Mumbai in 2000 showed that gay men had an average of 11 casual partners in a month. This figure has now come down to four and even this is reducing,” says Ashok who is chairman of the gay rights organisation, Humsafar Trust. He stresses that as society is getting used to same-sex couples, the chances of stable gay relationships are increasing.

In the meantime, however, the going continues to be tough for Urvi who runs the bureau out of Gujarat, the BJP-run state that supports criminalisation of gay sex. She will tell you it is considered “unethical for a Hindu girl to support homosexuals” and she is used to receiving random threats. Recently, an anonymous caller threatened her with acid attack.

On the home front, too, niggling worries abound. Her parents seem to have got past the initial worry about what people will make of such an initiative. But they cannot stop worrying about how it will impact Urvi’s own marital prospects. Perhaps they worry that no one will believe that she is herself of heterosexual orientation.

Urvi, however, is unbudging. Her steadfastness holds out hope to the homosexual community. Gaurav is thinking of adopting a child.

From counselling and facilitating same-sex marriages will AGM diversify into helping homosexual couples raise a family? It well might, once the trend they’ve floated settles in.

 

 

 

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170604/jsp/7days/story_154978.jsp

Returning to Bangladesh is like going away to find myself home

CROSSINGS

DHAKA IS a bit like Calcutta – noisy, chaotic. I connect the Bangladesh capital with traffic jams and those cage-like green auto-rickshaws that give new meaning to claustrophobia. But this time, as I leave the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport behind, on my way to Banani in the north of Dhaka, I cut through an eerie silence.

The city is a ghost town. The autos are missing, and there are no crippling gridlocks. A festival is around the corner, but there is little sign of the joyousness that comes with Eid.

Dhaka is observing a two-day national mourning to pay homage to those killed in a terror attack in an upmarket cafeteria. I land there three days after the attack that killed 20 people, most of them foreigners, in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone, Gulshan.

Chaos on the roads is a sign of normal life in Dhaka; calm indicates that not all is well. When I visited Dhaka for the first time in 2011, all was well: the city was loud and messy. I was on my way there from Jessore – and was surprised to see towering buildings, flyovers and glitzy malls in the capital. Jessore, on the other hand, was the archetypal sleepy town.

Jessore is an hour’s drive from Benapole, the Bangladesh border town which is commonly used as a crossover between Dhaka and Calcutta. I was there to chase a story on child carriers who illegally ferried sugar, urea, bicycles, cough syrups and even country-made pistols to Bangladesh from India.

Unlike Dhaka, there was no “rush hour” in Jessore. There were no newly-paved footpaths or highrises either. There was a time when Jessore had the biggest cinema hall of Bangladesh. But Monihar had been overtaken by multiplexes elsewhere. Jessore, however, now boasts of a technology park, multi-cuisine restaurants and malls.

It is also a treasure trove of heritage. The Jessore Institute Public Library, established in 1851, is Bangladesh’s oldest and largest library, with a huge collection of books, manuscripts, journals and newspapers. And you can’t go to Jessore and not see the massive sculpture called Bijoy, at the Michael Madhusudan Memorial College campus, dedicated to the martyrs of the Bangladesh War of Liberation of 1971.

Going to Jessore was like going home – albeit a home I had never visited. Jessore is the place my ancestors came from. For years, I held up the flag of “Opaar Bangla” and participated in various Bangal vs Ghoti debates, where I left no stone unturned to make the former look superior in every respect (knowledge, food, hospitality and much more) to the latter. So when I reached Jessore, it was like a dream come true – I was in the place that I belonged to. Like a true Bangal, I told myself, ” Aah, amago dash.”

My paternal grandfather, Adhir Kumar Sarkar, a timber merchant, lived in a sprawling two-storey house with long white columns, overlooking a thakur dalan (where the deity was kept for daily worship), in the erstwhile Khashial village in Jessore. Several acres of rice fields surrounded the house, we were told. Middle-aged Nakuruddin Mia used to look after the fields when grandfather shifted his base partially to Calcutta in the late 30s. Even though he visited Khashial at regular intervals, the visits during the Durga Puja were special for the family: gatherings, lunch, new clothes, entertainment, celebrations.

My efforts to locate Khashial were in vain. The village doesn’t exist anymore, I was told. But I traced my roots partially to the ancestral house of the Bengali poet and father of the Bengali sonnet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. At his house-turned-museum in Sagordari, I came across a signboard of the Jessore and Khulna Co-operative Bank, which had an office in the complex. My grandfather was a member of the board. I felt like an achiever to have partially traced the past.

The spiral staircases of the house took me to the room on the first floor, whose walls were plastered with photographs of Dutt, his poems and even some of his answer scripts. At the entrance of his house was his epitaph, a verse of his own. A few days before his death on June 29, 1873, Dutt gave the verse to Debaki, who, some historians say, was romantically interested in him. It read:

“…On the bosom of the earth,

Enjoys the sweet eternal sleep

Poet Madhusudan of the Duttas.”

These words rang in my ears for days.

As I touch the soil of Bangladesh once again this June, I wonder how life would have been if my grandfather had chosen to stay back, like many other Bengali Hindu families. But the thought doesn’t stay with me for long as I quickly recall the words of a Hindu friend from Dhaka: ” Din kaal bhalo na, bujhla. Amra khub bhoye thaktesi” – these are not good times, we live in fear.

Indeed, attacks on Hindus – bloggers, priests and activists – by Islamic radicals are rampant in Bangladesh these days. The social fabric of Bangladesh is changing. Young men from elite families are joining terror outfits. The other sign of radicalisation is the use of veils by women. Hijab or burqa is not mandatory in Bangladesh, yet more and more women are wearing one these days. An old timer of Dhaka tells me, “Even some years ago, if a woman from the relatively conservative part of old Dhaka stepped out of her house in a burqa, the local urchins would tease her with the words ‘Burqe wali bua, tere burqe mein chuha’ (There is a mouse in your burqa, aunt).”

But I decide that for my grandfather’s sake, I will always celebrate Bangladesh. I leave for India after a special Eid meal at my friend’s place. The taste of the shorshe ilish – mustard hilsa – and maachch chorchori – a mix of various kinds of fish – stays with me long after I return home.


 

 

The fear of unnecessary cuts and the desire to have a natural and private delivery are prompting women to have their babies at home. Not surprisingly, this has led to a demand for trained midwives, says Sonia Sarkar
Three years ago, when 30-year-old Bincy Shibu Thomas of Cochin went into labour at 2am, she was not rushed to the hospital. Instead, she called a midwife home. The midwife delivered her second child, a baby girl, in the comfort of her own bedroom, with her husband and two-year-old daughter by her side.

“It was a happy and intimate experience,” says Thomas, a homemaker married to a software engineer. “It was so smooth that none in my building got to know that a child was born in my house,” she adds. Thomas opted for a midwifery-assisted birth again for her third child last year.

Kundo Yumnam, a 32-year-old Imphal-based entrepreneur, gave birth to a baby boy last December at home. “Lots of people had been scared of what was going on in the bedroom, not realising it was how birth happens naturally. Some still think I was crazy to have had my home birth without medical interventions, while others have changed their opinion and said that it was brave of me,” she says.

More and more women from middle- and upper-middle class families across India are reaching out to midwives because they say they want the process of childbirth to be natural and safe, and only midwives can ensure that.

“In a month, at least 10 women ask about midwifery-assisted home birth. Four years ago, there were just one or two inquiries,” says Manjari Kawde, a Mumbai-based gynaecologist and obstetrician who runs Beams Hospital.

Independent studies on childbirth second this. In her paper, Childbirth Narratives: Voices of Educated Urban Women, Subarna Ghosh, a researcher with Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University, says five out of the nine women she interviewed for her paper had a midwifery-assisted birth. “Affluent women are engaging midwives who are trained abroad or have come from the West. They keep doctors only as a back-up option,” Ghosh says.
Kanika Aswani with her husband and child
The demand for midwives is also linked to the fact that hospital births are seen as impersonal. “Midwives do their work with love and care. Women need that most when they are birthing,” says Hyderabad-based practising midwife Vijaya Krishnan, a graduate of New Mexico’s National College of Midwifery. Krishnan’s role typically starts around the 12th week of a pregnancy and continues for six weeks after the birth. Charges vary between Rs 45,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh, depending on the city.

Many women prefer having their babies at home because hospitals are too public. “In the hospital everyone is watching me writhe in pain. At home, it was my own space. I felt safe, comfortable, not agonised,” says Mumbai-based reiki healer Kanika Aswani, who gave birth to a baby girl two years ago.

Couples also appreciate the fact that husbands have a more active role to play in midwifery-assisted births. “They massage and encourage their wives. They are aware of all their choices, pros and cons of any intervention, and can make effective decisions without getting into a flap,” says Thomas’s midwife Priyanka Idicula, a certified midwife and director of Birthvillage Natural Birthing Center, Cochin.

But in a country where babies were once mostly delivered by midwives, only a handful of them are trained and registered. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the density of nurses and midwives in India is 17 per 10,000 population, which is low compared to Finland’s 108 and Britain’s 88. The midwives available in large numbers are either traditional birth attendants (such as a dai) or those who have completed a two-year auxillary nurse and midwifery programme. They, however, are not equipped to play an active role in birthing and merely assist doctors.

Childbirth with the help of midwives has been popular among poorer people, but of late the government has been promoting institutional deliveries among them to check maternal mortality rates.

The ones in demand are those who have received advanced training. “Only some of us, who are adequately trained in midwifery, can handle cases holistically like our counterparts in countries such as Britain, New Zealand and the Netherlands which promote midwifery-assisted home birth,” says Lina Duncan, who runs Mumbai Midwife, a private midwifery practice.

These trained midwives, equipped to deal with issues such as vaginal bleeding, irregular movements of the baby, emotional disturbances and mental trauma of the mother during pregnancy, can administer emergency medication during birthing. They also provide check-ups, nutrition counselling and baby-care training later. Some provide services at home and a few run their own centres. There are also foreign nationals, trained as midwives, who deliver the services and often tie up with obstetricians, who support home births.

Another oft-quoted advantage of midwifery-assisted home birth is that midwives are on call 24×7, unlike doctors. Medically too, the benefits of midwifery assisted home birth are plenty. “Post-natal depression is lower among women who opt for home birth. Risk of infection among babies is lower too,” says Ruth Malik, founder of Birth India, a Mumbai-based NGO to promote safe childbirth practices.

 

Experts also feel that the new midwifery assisted birth options have empowered women to take a decision of their own, in child birth. “Traditionally, in India, even if the woman is educated, everyone else would decide for her, when she is pregnant. At least, home birth options are giving them a ‘better’ or ‘braver’ choice of child birth leading to their empowerment and satisfaction,” Ghosh adds.

 

One reason why pregnant women are opting for midwives is the increase in Caesarean (C-section) deliveries. Often, hard pressed doctors find it easier to deliver a C-section baby than wait for a natural birth to occur. Delhi-based Divya Deswal, who runs Birth Bonds, an NGO that provides childbirth support, believes that doctors also instil a sense of fear among expectant mothers.

“In most cases, mothers have been told there are problems with normal delivery, so they are forced to go for a Caesarean or an induced birth,” says Deswal, a doula and hypnobirth practitioner. Doula is the term for a birth companion and post-birth supporter, while hypnobirthing is a childbirth process that uses a combination of techniques – breathing methods, positive thoughts/language, deep relaxation and visualisation – to remove fear. A lot of women also opt for midwifery-assisted birth for their second child, because they want to forget their previous traumatic experience.

Thomas recalls how the doctor induced labour during her first pregnancy. She had to lie down for 12 hours before her child was born. “Before the delivery, an episiotomy (surgical cut at the opening of the vagina) was made. It was painful and the doctor never took our permission,” she says.

According to WHO guidelines, only 10-15 per cent of births in India require surgical intervention. Another WHO study that reviewed 1,10,000 births from nine countries in Asia, including India, in 2010 revealed that in hospitals where Caesarean births took place, more than 60 per cent was done for financial gains and not because surgery was required.

“Women being led to agree to Caesarean surgery on the basis of false information, like C-section is safer than vaginal birth or telling them their baby might die without the surgery when the baby is absolutely fine, is a violation of the human right to autonomy,” says Hermine Hayes-Klein, executive director, Hague-based Human Rights in Childbirth, an international NGO.

Gynaecologists, however, are not convinced that midwifery-assisted home birth is a feasible option in India. Renu Misra, a senior consultant at the Delhi-based Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science & Research, says such births are feasible in countries which have a community health service integrated with higher centres. “There, a woman can be transported to a hospital in no time if she develops a complication,” she says.

But women like Thomas are happy with their midwives. For them, the transition to motherhood is less scary and painful.

 

a shorter version of the story appeared in The Telegraph on June 26,2016.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160626/jsp/7days/story_93267.jsp

 

Prakton made me realise a few things related to a man-woman relationship. A movie which didn’t really capture the correct image of an independent woman but could rightly portray a “modern” man, gave us a few lessons of life.

Here is my takeaway.

 

A man could be very progressive professionally but he could be absolutely traditional in his personal space. A man, may get attracted to you, because you are independent and forthright but he would still like to be domineering. He would be proud of your “achievements” ( it’s a disputed word though) but he would be uncomfortable if you are praised a little too often.

So never try to adjust with a wrong person. Understand the early signals and move on. It will hurt you a lot, sometimes, for next few years (if you are extremely sensitive person and slow to changes) but you will torture yourself if you linger on.

After many years, he might tell you that you still occupy a part of his mind but he would not like to be with you for all the qualities that you have.

He would choose to be with a “not-so complicated” woman because this gives him more peace.There is no questioning. There are no arguements. Since his word is the last word, there is absolute peace.

But this movie also tells you to respect the fact that some women, amongst us, believe in sacrificing and compromising because that’s where they find happiness.Don’t look down upon them because their larger goal is also to be at peace. You may not approve of their ways of seeking peace.

A movie, sometimes, helps one understand the complexities of life.

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I thought of writing this blog several times earlier. Every time, I collected my thoughts, I made an excuse not to pen them down. Strangely though, this perpetual desire to delay, perhaps, came from my unjustified fear that I might have to go through the pain once again.

But today, I forced myself to write it. I felt an internal push to flush out all fears and apprehensions that I have developed in the past two years. It is certainly cathartic.

In fact, a piece written by one of my ex-colleagues on her ailing mother, in a way, inspired me to start writing it. In that blog, she mentioned, how her mother cannot recognise anyone after she met with an accident some months back. After reading it, I was reassured that life is all about sudden changes and we should gracefully accept them. And we are not the only ones dealing with it.

The other thing that inspired me to write this blog is the film, Piku, which, I thought, is based on a father-daughter relationship (For me, it was not just about constipation of an aging man but something more). I watched it with Baba and both of us could relate to the main characters – Bhashkor and Piku.

Both of us enjoyed the nuances of the relationship. I could see Baba smiling and laughing, every now and then. Sometimes, he cross-checked the names of the actors with me. He looked very involved in it.

These days, very few things amuse Baba. So when we see him smiling, we feel relieved that he is happy. We keep a constant watch on his expressions because he doesn’t articulate his feelings as immaculately as before.

Yes, all four of us – my father, mother, sister and I- live a life, which is clearly demarcated into two phases – before and after. The event which divided our lives into two separate phases is my father’s cerebral stroke on April 3, 2013. The stroke paralysed his right side. It robbed him of his speech too.

But after rigorous sessions of physiotherapy and speech therapy, he is now able to walk with the help of a stick and he has regained his speech, to a certain extent. But his comprehension skills have been badly affected which delays his speech. Sometimes, he fumbles. He takes a little longer than usual to gather his thoughts before he can speak.

But this has been a long, very long journey for him. When he came home after spending 17 days in the hospital, he was no less than a little baby, who had to learn everything afresh. He was nose fed for a week before he could start eating through his mouth. After many months, he learnt to eat on his own, using his left hand. He learnt to pronounce words and speak in sentences. Initially, it was very difficult to understand what he wanted to say. We repeatedly failed at our job but he never gave up. Now, we don’t make guesses anymore. He is coherent and clear in his speech. He also learnt to write with his left hand but surprisingly, his handwriting remains as artistic as before.

These days, his job is to write short sentences and essays to let his thoughts flow. As part of his therapy, he makes small additions and subtractions too. I am proud to see his diligence and sincerity in doing his homework. His honesty and hard work remain the same as it used to be before, when he ran a fire bricks factory as a works manager on the outskirts of the mining town, Dhanbad in Jharkhand for more than three decades.

In these two years, there have been many ups and downs. Some days, he would walk well but then, there would be phases, when his pace would slow down. He would sink into bouts of depression, when he would refuse to speak and would gradually forget basic words of communication.

Every time, the pace of progress is lost; there has been a whole new process of starting things afresh. But if we cajole him to keep trying, he makes an effort to overcome these hurdles. He, truly, has the spirit of a fighter.

For the past two years, many have questioned his abilities to cope with physical deformities. It is difficult to convince people that he is doing enough to live a normal life but it’s not easy for a stroke patient to recover fully. Only a few understand that his journey from the hospital ventilator two years back, where he was lying like a vegetable, to a casual evening in a nearby theatre today, has not been easy. He is not suffering but he is struggling. He is struggling to live a “normal” life.

On many occasions, I have asked myself, why does my father have to go through all this? Why a stroke? Is stroke worse than cancer? I must confess that there have  also been occasions, when I have secretly envied acquaintances whose parents are hale and hearty and can move around alone.

That’s when I also remembered what my father always said, ‘you are better off than many, in many ways.’ After reading my ex-colleague’s piece on her mother, I am clearly convinced that we are better off than many.

People who know my father well remember him for his sense of humour, which is laced with sarcasm. He is a man with immense knowledge about practicalities of life. He is an intelligent man who has made the most of his resources.

As his child, I have always been in awe of  his spontaneous thinking. Whether it is making protective gear with unused welder’s glasses for us to watch the solar eclipse or covering the damp walls of my room with Rajasthani paintings in Delhi’s Outram Lines, he always thought on his feet. Even now, when his brain functions only partially, he has surprised us by thinking on his feet, more than often.
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Whenever I try to remember our lives before Baba’s stroke, I feel, as if, I am talking about some past life. It feels a little distant because a lot has changed in these two years.

But it’s my mother, whose life has certainly changed in a big way in this period of two years. A homemaker, who preferred to spend most of her afternoons reading Bengali novels and watching television, she was oblivious to the world’s various games. But now, she has stepped up in a much bigger way than we could imagine. Someone who needed guidance in her bank proceedings or to book a taxi is now handling everything all by herself. She always looked up to Baba for every big or small advice but now she has only her own judgement and wits to rely upon. Not like Baba can’t help her decide but these days, Baba chooses to be nonchalant about worldly matters. Sometimes, it is difficult to cope with his insouciance.

Earlier, Baba used to call the shots on every occasion but now his interest lies only in deciding what time he will go for a walk or what snack he would like to munch in the evening. (He insists that he should be fed  “phuchka” every day but his demand is difficult to meet with).

But as a daughter, I celebrate my association with him for a lot of things. I love the way he has lived his life on his own terms and conditions. He has never toed the line. He has never taken the easier road. He has always taken a stand. Perhaps, it is his rebellious nature that pushed him to participate in the uprising in Bengal in the 70s.(Many young men in Bengal in the 70s were part of the movement).

Since childhood, I have heard many stories from my grandmother and Aunts about how he had to be away from home, for months. Once, he came to our north Calcutta house to see my grandmother. The cops got to know about his whereabouts and chased him. He would have been shot dead if a neighbour hadn’t helped him jump off the boundary wall of the colony and flee.

Every time, I have heard these stories, I basked in the glory of my father’s “not so glorious” past. I developed a sense of pride to be the daughter of this rebel. I have shared these stories with people I trust.

Baba is well versed with Mao Tse Tung’s The Little Red Book and Lenin’s ‘What is to be Done?. Baba deeply believes that it is important to challenge the establishment. He has always been a great supporter of the masses. An avid follower of the Leftist ideology, he strongly believes that there will be a resurgence of the Left.

It is some of these ideologies that make him different from others. But let me also confess, as a child, I felt deprived because he didn’t behave like any other father. For example, when our school bus would break down, he would come to school, on his motorbike, to check why his kids haven’t reached home yet but would not take them along with him. Instead, he would go to the BCCL (Bharat Coking Coal Limited) office and ask them to send another vehicle to fetch all kids from school. (Just a backgrounder, most school children in Dhanbad used to commute in buses provided by the BCCL).

That was in the late 80s. In the early 90s, when he graduated into a four wheeler, in similar occasions, he would invite other kids of the neighbourood to come with us in the vehicle to ensure they don’t feel deprived.

When we used to visit Calcutta during vacations, I remember, my father used to buy clothes for all our paternal cousins. For him, every child (we are seven of us in the joint family) held equal space in his heart as his daughters, sometimes even more. He always felt indebted to his brothers who took care of him after his father passed away. He was only 11 then.

All his life, he accumulated memories. But these days, he tends to lose them, bit by bit.

My father is the salt of the earth. Just like before, he will be the first person to offer help to anyone. Since his mobility is restricted these days, he expects us to execute duties which he would have done earlier.

In these two years, I have seen an ebullient man slowly turning silent. I have seen a workaholic, forced to be confined to home. But I am happy that certain things that make him special such as his temper (I inherited it from him), his straightforwardness and his ever-forgiving heart (which my sister has inherited) remain with him.

He loves people unconditionally just as before. Till today, he is a big fan of women who make it big. He continues to be a liberal thinker. He would always encourage his daughters to fight for their rights. He would want young women to make a career before focusing on marriage. He would advice us to work for our own satisfaction and not for money. (He followed this principle all his life.) He is the same man who would prefer to wear a shirt worth Rs 50 if that fits him well. He still abhors branded clothes.

He continues to remain someone who we can fall back upon. But yes, sometimes, he responds, sometimes, he doesn’t.

But even now, he continues to be my confession box. When I complain to him about a frustrating day at work, he says, “Take it easy.” When I confide in him that I have been drinking a little too often, he says, “Be careful. Don’t make it a habit.” When I tell him, I am dating someone, he curiously asks, “Are things  serious?”

I realise, the more he changed, the more he has remained the same.

There is something else that remains unchanged. It is his love for music. He starts his day, listening to his favourite singers – Begum Akhtar. Manna De. Shyamal Mitra and Geeta Dutt. Even today, he flawlessly sings his favourite Shyamal Mitra number, ‘Na na na jaabo na, mono jete naahi chaaye.Ei shundor prithibi chhere..mono jete naahi chaaye.” (No, I won’t leave now. I don’t want to leave this wonderful world, now )

It was a birthday party with a difference. The bungalow at 97, Lodhi Estate, in Lutyens’s Delhi, was lit up, and the menu included some of the most delectable dishes of Kashmir. The capital’s Who’s Who was there – except for one. The birthday girl.

Five months after Sunanda Pushkar, 52, was found dead in a hotel room in Delhi, her husband, member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, had thrown a party in her memory. Many of the guests there that June evening couldn’t believe that the vivacious woman was no more.

They have trouble believing the rumours and reports now doing the rounds of the city. Earlier this week, the Delhi police termed the death on January 17, 2014 – so far widely seen as suspected suicide or accidental death – a possible murder by poisoning. A special investigation team has been formed to probe the death.

The stories about her unresolved death refuse to die down. Senior cops reveal that the autopsy report had shown that she had 15 injury marks on her body, caused in the 12 hours before she died. A puncture mark between the index and middle fingers of her right hand indicated the possible use of a syringe.

Was poison, as the police hint, injected into her body? And could the death have been related to a controversy that broke out during the Indian Premier League (IPL) of 2010? A section of the media had then alleged that Tharoor had used his influence as Union minister to get Pushkar sweat equity worth Rs 700 million in a cricket franchise, Rendezvous Sports World, which had bid for the Kochi team. Questions were raised as to whether Pushkar was acting as a proxy for him, speculation that Tharoor dismissed. But the controversy ultimately resulted in his resignation as a minister in the United Progressive Alliance government.

The city which thrives on salacious whispers came up with a host of theories. Some held that Pushkar, who thought her twice-divorced husband was in a relationship, had threatened to spill the beans about the IPL fracas.

“What she would have revealed about the IPL controversy or something else would have hurt a lot of politicians in India,” claims BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who has been taking considerable interest in getting the mystery of her death solved. “I suspect that was the major cause of her murder,” says Swamy, who met her for the first and last time three days before her death at a function in Thiruvananthapuram.

The police are checking whether there are any Dubai links to her death. Police sources say that four people – two from Pakistan and two from Dubai – were staying in the same hotel where Pushkar was found dead around the same time on fake passports. The sources say the police are probing the role, if any, of the Dubai underworld, which controls illegal betting and match-fixing in cricket.

But there are enough reasons to back the suicide theory, too. Three of Sunanda’s close aides confirm that she was depressed for the past few months before her death. “Anybody who spoke to her could sense that,” a cousin from Jammu says.

Pushkar, clearly, was troubled about her marriage. “Every marriage has some problem or another. That Sue was not keeping well aggravated her anxiety,” a male friend stresses.

Bollywood actor-producer, and a regular at Delhi parties, Nasser Abdulla, says that Sunanda had revealed to him that she suffered from lupus, an autoimmune disease. He had urged her to go for a 10-day vipassana (meditation) course. “I had told her that meditation helps someone who’s ailing and disturbed,” he says.

Part of her depression could have emanated from her worries about her marriage. There was speculation about Tharoor’s relationship with a Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar. Tharoor and Pushkar issued a joint statement saying that they were together and happy. It also said that Pushkar had been hospitalised after an illness and was seeking rest.

A day before she died, however, Pushkar posted a series of personal messages, supposedly sent by Tarar to Tharoor, on his Twitter account.

In an earlier TV interview, she had said that her husband wasted a lot of time on Twitter. “Twitter is my sautan (husband’s second wife),” she had joked.

To most spectators, it seemed that the marriage was unravelling. And that surprised their friends, for theirs was a whirlwind romance. The two had met in July 2009 in Dubai, where Pushkar, who ran a real estate company, was based. Tharoor, a former UN under secretary-general, had by then moved to the Gulf with his then wife.

“They were like teenagers in love. The two were inseparable,” a former Tharoor aide says.

Emotional and spirited, she was intelligent, complex and sensitive. “She had many grey areas to her life too,” a friends says.

Another friend recalls that Pushkar loved Hindi film songs. Her favourite was the old Lata Mangeshkar classic from Guide, Piya tose naina laage re. “She danced to this once at a private party,” the friend recollects.

The two were married in August 2010. In a media interview earlier, Tharoor had admitted that he was in a rush to get married to her because he didn’t want any more controversies regarding their relationship.

Friends of the couple say that Tharoor was completely besotted. Even though he was married at that point of time, he wanted Sunanda’s company, they say.

“She was vivacious and intelligent. One of the other reasons why Tharoor got attracted to her was that she was well connected in Dubai,” a male friend of Sunanda says.

“But She too enjoyed the power and luxury of being the wife of a senior politician and a former union minister,” he adds.

A close friend of Sunanda believes that they complemented each other – though there were differences. For Tharoor, always good with words, romance was all about reciting poetry for her. For Sunanda, romance meant togetherness, the friend says.

Tharoor is soft-spoken in public; Pushkar was known to be vocal and impulsive. She slapped a man who had groped her when she arrived with Tharoor at the Thiruvananthapuram airport to attend a literature festival in October 2012.

“She was not a dainty lily, she knew what to do at the right time and she always did it,” a friend says.

But one of Tharoor’s former aides says while suave and sophisticated, he was also hot-tempered. Media reports quoting their domestic help say that in the last few months the couple often fought – sometimes physically.

A cousin, who fondly called her Pinky, stresses that Pushkar was outgoing. The daughter of an army officer from Kashmir lived a life that seemed to belong to the pages of a fast-paced novel. After graduating from a Srinagar college, she worked as a restaurant hostess in a Srinagar hotel. She married a Kashmiri Pandit, Sanjay Raina, in 1986 but was divorced in 1988. She later married Sujith Menon, a financial consultant, and had a son, Shiv. Menon died in an accident.

“She was a Kashmiri at heart even after being in different parts of the world for so long. She often spoke of her Kashmir days,” a friend says.

She was also a good cook. “She loved feeding her guests. She knew how to connect to them,” says Sanjoy Roy, managing director of the production company, Teamwork Productions, who was one of the guests at her posthumous birthday party. “We badly missed her that day.”

Birthdays, for Tharoor and Pushkar, were special. Four years before he marked June 27 with lights and gushtaba at his Delhi residence, they had another memorable birthday.

“It was on her birthday that I proposed to her in Kasauli,” Tharoor had said in an earlier TV interview.

A few minutes before The 100 foot journey was about to begin, my friend intimated me that this movie is about food. I must confess, I was disappointed to hear that. Neither am I a gourmet, nor a great cook, so my interest in food is limited to my meals, twice a day.

But I gradually discovered that it is not about food alone. In short, the story is about one young Indian, Hasan Kadam, who is a great cook. He runs his family restaurant first in Mumbai, then in London. But the family soon moves to a French village and opens an Indian restaurant. They were doing well till one night, the restaurant was vandalized by a chef of their rival French restaurant, run by Madam Mallory, across the road, just 100 feet away. Mallory, upon realizing that her chef was the man behind the attack, fires him and apologizes to Hasan’s family.

But Hasan realizes that if he cannot defeat his enemy, he should join them. He joins Mallory for six months to add finesse to his art of cooking. He was already in love with Marguerite (the sous chef in the restaurant), who he met on his first day in the village. Despite being in love, Marguerite feels threatened by Hasan’s presence because she knows he is a competition. After Hasan joins in, Mallory’s restaurant gets the second Michelin Star, an elite honor bestowed on only a handful of restaurants in Europe. This honor came to Madam Mallory after 30 years of receiving her first star. The entire credit goes to Hasan. The award draws national attention to Hasan’s cooking, and he is offered a job in Paris, which he accepts.

But after some time, he leaves his promising career in Paris and comes back to the village, to his family, to the girl he loved. He makes a business proposition to Marguerite that the two will work together to get a 3 star for Mallory’s restaurant. She happily accepts the proposal. And their journey begins.

There is a convincing message that the film sends across to all of us, especially professionals like us who are very career oriented. The message is that two people who love each other can never encroach on each other’s space. They will only enlarge the space where the two can comfortably stay together.

Many of us, (here, I am primarily talking about journalists) who are in our mid-careers, have really worked hard to reach where we are today . The journey has never been easy for those who had no Godfathers in the profession. It is only because of the sheer love for what we want to do and for what we believe in, that we have earned certain space in this ruthless professional world.

Having achieved whatever little we all have in our own way, I feel, we often get trapped in the cobweb of false recognition. It is the virtual world of Facebook, Twitter and many other social networking forums that rule our lives these days. We get swayed away by the number of times our stories get shared on social networking forums. We judge our work by the number of followers we get on Twitter. This constant look out for validation is slowly ruining our individualities, in a way. Sometimes, we argue for the sake of argument because the order of the day is to go against the tide. Stronger the argument, more the likes on Facebook or more the number of followers on Twitter. But if there is anyone who disagrees with us, we take half a minute to un-friend or un-follow that person. This gives us an immense sense of pleasure and accomplishment.

I feel, we are becoming self-obsessed and self-centered. Our world starts and ends with us. There is no place for someone who holds a view, contrary to ours.

In my opinion, this superficial happiness on the digital platform has taken a toll on our real life relationships. Not that we don’t want people in our “real” lives but we have prepared a checklist for them, a list which is drawn mostly in the lines of the responses that we get in the virtual world.

The checklist is like this. The person has to accommodate himself/herself according to our convenience. We should hold the right to call the shots – to befriend or un-friend people anytime. We should have the right to cut off ourselves from the other person, whenever we think is right or whenever we feel that the other person is occupying too much of our precious time.

It clearly shows that we are too impatient to accommodate the other person in our life.We think it is “cool” not to value our real life relationships because we have thousands of friends and followers in the virtual world. It is unfortunate that we lack sensitivity in dealing with relationships, even which we choose.

Conveniently,here again, it is all about ourselves. The other person doesn’t exist for us. . Our shortsightedness doesn’t allow us to look beyond this vicious cycle of deadlines, bylines,exclusives and fan following on social networking forums.It is sad that relationships are extremely short-lived these days because we give priority only to our ambition and success.

But The 100 foot journey reminds many of us that ambition and success can co-exist with various relationships in life. All we need to do is to re-work our priorities from time to time. It also tells us that we have to trust people we love. We should also understand that our partners are not intruders, nor are they threat to our flourishing career. They are not here to take away our space but to share their own space with us. They can never intrude into our privacy because they respect it as much as they respect their own privacy.

If we truly believe in this, it will be a wonderful journey together. An incredible journey of sharing and togetherness.