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emancipatedmeblog

A writer's romance with life.

My Tagore and Tripura

IMG-20160630-WA0001I was raised in a typical Bengali household surrounded by books, music and the Bengali culture. In short it was an intellectual family having higher taste for humanities subjects and performing arts. I often remember my summer vacations in school when my mother would play harmonica and teach me music from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. That was my first association with the poet. My parents were educated from convent schools and had great knowledge of books, music, art and culture. This helped me to delve into books of English, Bengali and Hindi. Their association with music drove me to learn piano and admire the chords of the church organ in school. My father would read excerpts of the poems of Gitanjali and explain to me deep thoughts of the poetry. He was outstanding in elocution and treasured the golden treasury of English Poetry too. I was quite astounded that Tagore had written every word, song and poetry on the various seasons, emotions and occassions as beautiful as the renditions of Vivaldi (music on every season). Sometimes he was inspired by English songs, at others he would resort to Indian compositions of states like Manipur. Many of the Poet’s songs have been incorporated into the Brahmo Samaj, a society founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy of Bengal as a monotheistic reformism and renaissance movement of Hindu religion.

That was when I was quite young in school. In childhood I sang and danced to the poet’s compositions. I got selected in All India Radio and Doordarshan and gave many performances as a child artist. The nobel laureate influenced my teenage years when I took to dancing Rabindra Sangeet Dance and Drama as stage performances. As soon as the spot light was on in the auditorium and the music began I would dance to the words of Tagore’s songs in trance. That was the power of the poet’s writings. Later on, I took to choreography and taught many girls who loved to work under me and some of them won awards too for their performances. So I was encouraged to teach more from the poet’s work. I was deeply associated with the poet through the dance.

When I was in intermediate school I visited Joransanko (Rabindranath Tagore House) with my relatives. I still remember wandering in the rooms and verandah of the house. I deeply observed the family tree map, notes, letters, utensils and other artifacts of the Tagore family. I remember the room of Tagore where I stood before the mirror and a thought came to my mind. There were shivers down the spine where I thought that this is the very mirror that reflected Tagore’s image. He dressed before this mirror numerous times. And I am so small before all that he has given to the world and the generations of humanity. His writings, paintings, scribble and doodles all remind me that he was an artist in every sense. When he was young he said “why twinkle twinkle little star” (the nursery rhyme) is taught in a classroom. Why not under the sky, in the open ? His innocent thoughts led him to build Vishwa Bharati University where students are taught outside under the sky and that lets their imagination and knowledge spread and the mental horizon widen. He was one great poet who was inspired by nature.

And as we all know we all have to become professionals at that one stage in life. My profession too took me away from Tagore and his beautiful deep compositions. I worked as a lawyer for many years and got married and settled with my husband. One fine day a wedding invitation came and the venue was Agartala, Tripura. I knew Tripura was once a princely state and there were many bengali’s settled there. Bengali was one of the dominant languages spoken there with a typical rustic Tripuri accent which was quite difficult for a Bengali like me who knows the more traditional language. We packed our bags and at once decided to visit Agartala.

The flight landed on time and here we were in the car on the way to the Tripura Tourism Guest House. Agartala was a neat and clean city and I could not wait to explore the South of Tripura. South Tripura encompasses of many towns and the beauty of Tripura lies in the countryside landscape. We were short of time hence our target was to visit only South Tripura. It was close to Agartala, whereas North Tripura a hilly landscape was quite far away from Agartala. The wedding ceremony was decent and we explored the taste of many kinds of fishes brought from Bangladesh. The delicacies were preparations like “Chital mach er moeetha” and “Shorshe Bata Illish “. The Illish or Hilsa fish is available in abundance in Bangladesh and exported to many other countries of the world. It is a sea fish but comes to river Padma, Bangladesh to lay eggs. It is at that point of time when the fishermen catch it. It is rich in vitamins and Omega 3 acid and hence considered good for health. Tripura has one of the best Paneer Cheese and many sweets are made out of it. The taste of Bengali sweets in Tripura is very unique just because of the quality of the milk they use in making the Cheese.

As soon the wedding ceremony was over we prepared to move around Agartala and visit the popular places. We first went to the Radha Krishna temple which is an official temple of the Tripura Palace ruled by Manicky Dynasty. The temple was hosting Bengali Keertan (holy music) and we loved the atmosphere. From there we went to the Haveli Museum which was the old palace of the Manicky Dynasty. On our way to the Museum we saw the Central Jail of Tripura. It is said that Surjya Sen, the renowned freedom fighter of the Chittagong Rising (Chittagong is now in Bangladesh) was kept as a captive in this building. Now the jail is not operative and lies vacant. It can be seen from outside. While standing and noticing the building I could hear the echoes of the past. The jail will be converted into a college by the Tripura government. The Haveli Museum was very unique as it gave detailed descriptions of the number of tribes living in perfect harmony with the Bengalis in Tripura. The stastistics described in the Museum showed that there were majority of Bengalis and Reang Tribes living in the states. It was followed by Jamatia etc. Each of the tribes had their own sense of dressing, jewelry, cuisine, festival and language. The tribe occupation included agriculture farming and handicraft making. Beautiful models were designed showing their daily activities of farming and livelihood. Each of the tribe constructed their own self designed and styled huts in which they lived. I was in love with their wrap around cloths, shawls and jewellery. The Museum also showed how the king’s Darbar(royal court) was hosted in ancient times in a dramatic form with display models. There was a beautiful throne and an ancient photograph of Manickya Dynasty where it was shown how the king hosted the Darbar.

From the Haveli Museum we moved to much more fascinating and thrilling performance of the Beating Retreat Ceremony at the Indo-Bangladesh Border of Tripura. The ceremony is conducted everyday at 7:00 am in the morning and 5:00 pm in the evening to display the national flag by the border security forces of both the countries border. At the dawn the flag is raised and at the dusk it is brought down with an organized parade by the security men. We clicked many photographs with the security men of both the borders. I felt very proud that there were Indian women too who were selected by the Border Security Force (BSF), India. There was a huge crowd gazing at the ceremony and our day ended on a beautiful note.

We slept early as the next day we woke up very early and left the guest house in a cab at
8:30 am in the morning. The Tourism guest house had designed our itinerary and we were very grateful to them. We crossed the Sepaijhala Wildlife Sanctuary and reached the Tripura Sundari/Matabari temple. Tripura Sundari Temple is situated in the ancient Udaipur, about 55 km from Agartala, Tripura believed to be one of the holiest Hindu shrines in this part of the country. Popularly known as Matabari, crowns in a small hillock and is served by the red-robed priests who traditionally, minister to the mother goddess Tripura Sundari. Considered to be one of the 51 Shakti Peethas, consists of a square type sanctum of the typical Bengali hut. It is believed that Sati’s right foot fell here during Lord Shiva’s Dance. The temple consist a square type sanctum with a conical dome. It was constructed by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya Debbarma in 1501, there are two identical images of the same deity inside the temple. They are known as Tripura Sundari (5 feet high) and Chhotima (2 feet high) in Tripura. The idol of Kali is worshiped at the temple of Tripura Sundari in the form of ‘Soroshi’. One is made of kasti stone which is reddish black in colour. It is believed that the idol was Chhotima was carried by king in battlefield. This temple is also known as Kurma Pitha because it the temple premises resembles kurma i.e. tortoise. Every year on Diwali, a famous Mela takes place near the temple which is visited by more than two lakhs pilgrims.

Legend has it that king Dhanyamanikya who ruled Tripura in the closing years of the 15th century, had a revelation one night in his dream, ordering him to install Goddess Tripurasundari in the temple that stood on a hilltop near the town of Udaipur. The temple was already dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and the king was confounded initially, unable to decide how a temple dedicated to Vishnu could have an idol of the consort of Shiva. However, the oracle repeated the divine injunction to the king once again the following night, thereafter the ruler decided to obey the ethereal command, notwithstanding the fact that Vishnu and Shiva typified two different sects of religious following. Thus, the Tripura Sundari temple came into being in around the year 1501, and is now about 500 years old. This legend is recounted as one of the example of how solidarity between the two sub groups, the Vaishnava and Shaiva sects, was known and fostered even during medieval times.

We had a peaceful prayer at the temple. There as a water tank constructed near the temple for the devotees to take a bath in that water before they offered the prayers. The temple is a Shaktipeeth and a site of hindu pilgrimage. The sweet “Peda” is of small size and given to the devotees in a small earthern urn. The taste of the prasad will linger on in my taste buds for life and that would be one more reason among others to visit Tripura again. From Tripura Sundari Temple we started for Bhubaneshwari Temple which was an ancient temple built by Raja Govinda Manickya. The temples were typical terracotta style of architecture found in many parts of Bengal. The chief temple was lying vacant and new idol was placed in a newly constructed temple. A statue of Rabindranath Tagore was constructed and bouquets and garlands were placed on the statue as the poet had his birthday on May 8th, 2016. The primary reason why the statue was constructed was because Tagore had mentioned about Bhuvaneshwari Temple constructed by the king Govinda Manickya in the two plays “Bisarjan” and “Rajashri” respectively.

The information available from google entailed many details on the temple as follows .Bhuvaneswari Temple in the famous Hindu temple situated on the bank of Gomati at Udaipur in Tripura. The Temple is immortalised in two of Rabindranath Tagore’s plays – namely Rajarshi and Bisharjan. Travelling just 55 km from the capital city Agartala, the Bhuvaneswari Temple Tripura is a rare specimen of temple architecture. The temple of Bhubaneswari at Tripura was built by Maharaja Govinda Manikya, is located near the old Royal palace of Maharaja Govinda Manikya constructed during 1660-1675 A.D.

The temple was built in between 1667 – 1676 A.D., during the reign of Maharaja Govinda Manikya. The temple is constructed on a 3 feet high paved terrace. The roof features the typical four-chaala style with stupa like crowns on the entrance and core chambers. The stupa on core chamber is adorned with floral motifs are exquisite. The historical significance of this temple is that it is the back-drop of the famous novel “Rajarshi” and the drama “Bisharjan” composed by Rabindranath Tagore.

From the temple we moved towards another destination called “Neer Mahal”. The name Neer Mahal was given by Rabindranath Tagore, who stayed in this palace for many months. It is a lake palace. The name of the lake is Rudrasagar. We visited the palace in a boat. The whole palace is white in colour and has beautiful rooms and gardens. The left hand side of the palace belonged to the king and the guests. The right was where the servants and staff stayed. The palace looked dreamy in between the lake. There was a cloud burst and it started to rain. The palace looked beautiful amidst the rain and soft breeze. It was the poet’s favorite season. “Sravana gagane ghor ghanghata, nishit yamini re”, the composition in Prakrit language by Tagore that describes rainy season where there are dense clouds and rain. The rooms reminded me of the times when the poet stayed and lived. I was thrilled to have that wonderful feeling of past imagination and presence of Tagore’s spirit. After a mystical wandering inside the palace we came back on the boat to reach the jetty. In between the lake there were water lilies, ducks and cranes all enjoying sudden rainfall. From the jetty we took two coconuts to sip it as we were thirsty and anxious to arrive at the next destination.

We crossed many lakes, hilly areas and started feeling that landscape was changing the further we moved towards Sepaijhala Wildlife Sanctuary. The forest looked deep, dark filled with dense shrubs, foliages and tall trees. The huge entry gate and ticket counter arrived in front of us and we bought a ticket for us and a car ticket to enter the sanctuary. Our car entered through the gates and we crossed an observatory and forest department buildings for many kilometers. I was wondering how far it is and it was noon time of the day. After many kilometers we reached at a destination where the second ticket counter was situated. We got down from the cab and bought tickets for ourselves. The driver warned us not to venture alone deep in the jungle as it was not safe.  Initially we did not understand the warning but when we stepped inside we had a strange errie feeling that there was no one except us in the sanctuary. It was 3:00 pm., monsoon had arrived in the North-East and the clouds thundered with lightening. The sounds of the insects and the animals created a typical jungle feeling. Sepaijhala is famous for clouded Leopard and spectacle monkey.Each cage had an animal and the cages were far from each other. Sometimes the cages were so far from each other that we felt tired and scared of walking alone in the sanctuary. There was a unique animal called “Hoolah Gibbon”, a kind of monkey which made strange sounds when it saw people gazing at him. After walking quite few miles and looking at various animals including tiger, bear etc. All of a sudden we saw our road was blocked by a fallen tree. Last night a thunderstorm was followed by heavy rainfall and the tree had been uprooted. Hence from here we could not move any further and decided to go back. While we were walking back after few miles we saw a Raeng family of ten to twelve members walking ahead of us. We got relieved that we were not alone. All through our walk in the sanctuary we were haunted by strange imagination that a carnivore can appear from anywhere and would attack our neck from the back. With increasing heart beat we ventured too see the strange dense forest and came back to the main gate of the sanctuary safe and sound. The sanctuary main gate got closed at 4:00 pm right after we returned.

We were very hungry and asked the driver (who was also hungry) to take us to a dhaba where we could have some morsel of food. While on our way to another famous pilgrimage site called “Kasba Kalibari”, a hindu Kali godess shrine we discovered a unique small eatery where we had a typical rustic Bengali meal with a unique touch of Bangladesh cuisine. There was dal (pulses), rice, a very tasty vegetable dish followed by fish and mutton curry. The staff who was serving us the meal asked us whether we would like to have a pickle/chutney called “Shukti mach er chatni”, a chutney made of dried fish. We nodded and had it with dal, though it had the typical fishy smell we enjoyed the flavour of Bangladesh. As soon as we finished our meal I asked for the typical Bengali sweet pan (betel nut) as they made it by adding a piece of the typical Bengali Gondhoraj Lebu (the Kafir lime is available in plenty). With stomach filled with simple yet memorable food we moved towards Kasba Kalibari temple near the Kamalasagar Lake situated right at the border of Bangladesh. We offered our prayers and collected prasad and photographs of the goddess with us. There was no street lighting and roads were curvy, hilly and dusty.

One of the most unique features of South Tripura was the small lakes, forests and coconut trees that were part of a very natural landscape. It is said that North Tripura is a hilly region with many tea gardens. It is the place where many of the tribes of Tripura live in perfect harmony. There was beauty in simplicity and virginity. There was no urbanization and as we moved from one destination to the other we felt like it was part of a picture postcard. There was magnetism in Tripura certainly and one visit was just not enough to know about its culture, art and heritage. I could understand very well why the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore was so deeply connected with Tripura. I have visited countries abroad and seen many other states but the beauty of North-East is impeccable. It is like the words of an artistic poetry completely unscathed by negativities of a typical mechanical urban lifestyle.

The last day we visited one of the most beautiful heritages of Tripura. It is called the Tripura Palace now preserved as a State Museum. Earlier it was a Legislative Assembly but recently it was converted into a Museum with inauguration by Vice President Mr. Hamid Ansari. The palace has similarity with Victoria Memorial, Kolkata. It is white in colour and was constructed by Martin&Barn Co. As we stepped inside the gate we could hear Hindustani classical music being played. We entered the palace and were greeted by a softly playing Rabindra Sangeet. There was a huge picture of Sachin Dev Burman father of the renowned musician Rahul Dev Burman. The two famous musicians belonged to princely family of Tripura. There were many geographical, historical, economical and statistical data on the state of Tripura. We went through many details of it. The Museum had covered all information on the North –East and neighbouring countries of South-East Asia. We were glad to see the details and models on the various tribes of the North-East. The maps and notes gave genetic details, livelihood, cuisine etc. The palace was a store house of great information. It gave a huge historical detail of the palaces, temples and other historical buildings in the different districts of Bangladesh. My maternal grandmother belonged to Rajshahi and I was thrilled see the pictures and historical buildings of that district. My husband’s paternal grandmother belonged to Noakhali, a district in Bangladesh and there was immense amount of information on that part of the world. One of the significant features of the Museum was a gallery exclusively on the life of Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindranath Tagore’s grandfather Prince Dwarkanath Tagore had a deep bond with the royal family of Tripura (the Manickya dynasty) and that is how the nobel laureate visited Tripura often.

The Museum had beautiful paintings depicting the Rajmala (Bengali: রাজমালা). It is a chronicle of the Kings of Tripura, written in Bengali verse in the 15th century under Dharma Manikya I. Rajmala gives an account of the mythological origin of the kings of Tripura, tracing the genealogy of the ruling king to the Lunar Dynasty as the 149th king since Chandra (the Moon, treated as the founder of the dynasty). It also states that the ancient name of Tripura (Twipra) was Kirat, after the brother of Puru who was banished to the Eastern provinces by his father Yayati.

Reportedly, the Bengali version was composed by the pandits Sukreshwar and Baneshwar of the royal court based on the recitations by the royal priest Dhurlabhendra Chantai of an oral tradition in the Tripuri language.

The Rajmala presents a list of 149 kings of Twipra as of 1431. The first king of the chronicle is Chandra, the Moon himself; the seventh is Druhyu, one of the sons of Yayati, a Lunar dynasty in mythology. The 46th king is called Tripur (Tripura) as a kind of mythological eponymous ancestor of the Sanskritic name of the kingdom. The list of historical kings begins with the 145th king, Ratna Fa (fl. 1280). He was the first to assume the title Manikya and as such can be considered the founder of the Manikya Dynasty. We noticed many details of Rajmala and came back to research more regarding the Chronicle. The above details have been gathered from the internet.

The four Manickya rulers

While observing the detailed information and research work in the Museum we came across two major intellectual kings of Tripura. We came across the fact that the rulers of the ancient State of Tripura were not mere patrons of art and culture but also accomplished in different creative fields. There were many journals in the West mentioned that mentioned their works of art, photography, literature and music.

We need to mention Birchandra Manickya specifically as he was a superb painter, an excellent photographer, a great composer of music, a profound scholar of Vaishnav literature and a connoisseur of all creative activities. He created waves in the literary world by conferring the honour of the ‘best poet” in 1882 upon the young Rabindranath Tagore. The poet was hardly 21 years old then and he had to his credit only one book of verses – Bhagna Hriday – (The Broken Heart). Birchandra was so moved that he immediately sent a minister all the way to Jorasanko to convey the message that he could see the promise of a great future in the young poet. Tagore was taken by surprise to say the least. Tagore has mentioned the event in his autobiography Jiban Smriti and paid tribute to Birchandra on a number of occasions during his journeys to Tripura.

This was the beginning of what were to be lasting ties between the grand ruling house of a princely state and a great poet who dominated the literary world. This historic bond lasted for over sixty years till the end of Tagore’s life. He became friend and guide to four generations of Tripura rulers.

The elderly Birchandra was quick to befriend the young poet. Tagore went to Kurseong twice, during 1894 and 1896. On both the occasions the Raja invited Tagore to be a guest of honour. Those meetings provided a rare opportunity to both of them to know each other more intimately. Tagore was then hardly thirty-three years old and Birchandra almost double his age. The young poet felt shy about expressing his thoughts but in all literary discussions he was treated as an equal. Tagore often recalled the sweet memories of those golden days that he spent together with Birchandra at Kurseong.

Birchandra was pained at the ruthless criticism that Tagore’s early literary works drew from critics at the time. He even wanted to buy a printing press and invest one lakh rupees, a princely sum in those days, so that editions of Tagore’s works could be published. But as luck would have it, while returning from Kurseong Birchandra died in Calcutta in 1896.

Bir Chandra Debmanikya

Birchandra’s worthy son, Radhakishore, lost no time in extending an invitation to Tagore. Radhakishore ascended the throne in 1897 and died in 1909. During these twelve years, Tagore visited Tripura five times. On many occasions, Radhakishore sought Tagore’s help in dealing with complicated problems of statecraft. Tagore’s advice was sought in all matters right from the appointment of ministers, drafting of state budget, framing of code of conduct for the officers of the royal court and general approach towards dealing with erring officials. Tagore showed hitherto unknown skills in all these areas of statecraft. The erstwhile Tripura royal family still preserves the rare historic documents written in Tagore’s own handwriting where he has shown his remarkable ingenuity in matters of public finance, state policy and principles of education. Radhakishore became dependent on Tagore in all the areas of day-to-day administration.

Tagore with Radha Kishore Debmanikya

The King Radha Kishore Manickya had a close relationship with Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore first visited Tripura in 1900 during his reign. The King supported Visva-Bharati University with an annual grant of Rupees 1000.Although in dire financial condition on account of a devastating earthquake the king pledged his daughter in law’s jewellery to anonymously sponsor the scientific research of Jagadish Chandra Bose.

Ujjayanta Palace was built by Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya during 1899–1901 at a cost of 10 lakh (1 million) rupees despite financial constraints. The earlier royal palace of the Kingdom of Tripura was located 10 km (6 miles) away from Agartala. However, as a result of a devastating earthquake in 1897, the palace was destroyed and later rebuilt as Ujjayanta Palace in the heart of Agartala city.

King Radha Kishore Manikya was a patron of learning. He set up the R.K.I.school of Kailashahar besides donating funds towards construction of Victoria college of Comilla in Bangladesh. A full-fledged medical unit in Kolkata’s R. G. Kar Medical College and Hospital was set up with financial assistance provided by him.

This association of Tagore with Radhakishore had a lasting impact on Tripura’s ties with greater Bengal. The benevolent Maharaja contributed liberally in various literary, cultural and scientific endeavors of Bengal. Tagore once approached Radhakishore for financial help for scientific research undertaken by Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose who was in England and in a dire financial state at that time. Radhakishore himself was in a very precarious condition financially as the palace at Agartala was being re-built after being damaged by a severe earthquake. The marriage of prince Birendrakishore was also approaching. But the ever-generous Radhakishore did not fail to rise to the occasion. He wrote to Tagore that he was prepared to deprive his would-be daughter-in-law from a piece or two of jewellery for he was sure that in return, Jagadish Babu would decorate mother India in a much more befitting manner. He granted a sum of rupees fifty thousand, a vast amount of money in those days with the only stipulation that his name was not to be made public.

Radhakishore also sanctioned an annual grant of Rs. one thousand for Tagore’s Viswa Bharati which was continued for nearly fifty years till the death of the last ruler, Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore.

Birendra Kishore Manickya

Radhakishore’s son, Birendra Kishore, also inherited the rare artistic acumen of his grandfather, Birchandra. He was a great painter as well as a musician. Like his forefathers, he extended liberal financial grants to Viswa Bharati. It was during his time that Tripura’s relationship with Tagore acquired a cultural role. In 1939, Birchandra’s great-grandson – Maharaj Bir Bikram Kishore, visited Shantiniketan.He deputed Rajkumar Buddhimanta Singh from Tripura as a Manipuri dance teacher at Shantiniketan. Buddhimanta was followed by a number of other talented experts in Manipuri dance from Tripura. They made remarkable contributions in providing the floral foundation of effusive softness, style and grace to Rabindra Nritya.

Bir Bikram Kishore Debmanickya

Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, Tripura’s last ruler, Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore greatly respected Rabindranath Tagore. It was his privilege to confer on Tagore the honorific “Bharat Bhaskar” just three months before the death of the great poet. Tagore’s 80th birth anniversary was celebrated at the royal Durbar of Tripura. An emissary was sent to Shantiniketan to formally confer on Tagore this last tribute of Tripura. The ailing poet was so moved by this generous royal gesture that he made no secret of his feelings,”Such a free and disinterested bond of friendship between an immature poet whose fame was yet uncertain and one enjoying royal distinction is unprecedented in the history of any literature. The distinction that this royal family has conferred on me today illumines the final horizons of my life”.

During his last visit to Agartala in 1926, while addressing a public meeting Tagore had another occasion to pay tribute to Tripura. In response to the love showered on him by the Kishore Sahitya Samaj of Agartala, Tagore said, “…it has been my privilege to receive honour even from the hand of kings in the West. But the tribute I received from a prince of my own country is to me, personally speaking, of much greater value. That is why my relationship with the State of Tripura is not just that of a guest for a day. This relationship is wedded to the memories of the father and the grandfather of the present king

After a grand visit to the Museum we were very hungry and decided to visit a restraunt and have the cuisine of Tripura. The google helped us and we landed in Manickya Court which was being run by the Palace. We had the Royal Tripuri Thali which consisted of Tripuri rice, bamboo shoot curry, veggies, chicken curry and a pork dish. The thali was freaking spicy and tasty at the same time. There was a gulab jamun for dessert and we had it immediately to cut the spice.

The reception of our friend was conducted beautifully with great food comprising of the Bengali delicacy “Illish Bhape” (Steamed Hilsa in mustard sauce). What a beautiful and smooth trip it was. We carried many memories of Tripura. We saw the Indo-Bangladesh border for the first time. There was no difference in topography yet the land remained divided by a iron fence. I could understand how the Bengali’s felt during the partition of Bengal. Lord Curzon divided Bengal long back but the cries, love and pathos still haunts Tripura and its people. A feeling of morbidness and flashback engulfed me every time I looked at the fence. Recently, my cousin sent me a documentary on the life of Rabindranath Tagore and I clearly saw how all night the women of Joransanko (house of Rabindranath Tagore) stitched rakhi till the break of dawn to built brotherhood between the hindus and muslims during the East and West Bengal partition. I have many reasons to go back to Tripura and one among that would be “Tagore”.

Note:

“Nobel-laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore’s close relation with the princely state of Tripura and its four successive rulers forms an important chapter in the state’s history” –

The Tripura Tourism website entails the following details –

This was of course a natural corollary to the liberal patronage extended to Bengali language and culture by the Manikya dynasty rulers of Tripura since the days of king Ratna Manikya (1464-68). It was in the course of a political crisis that Tripura’s ruling monarch Krishna Kishore Manikya (1830-1849) got in touch with prince Dwarakanath Tagore, fabled grand father of Rabindranath, and obtained timely assistance.

In his maiden letter to king Bir Chandra Manikya (1862-1896) dated may 6 1886 poet Rabindranath Tagore referred to this familial relation while seeking ingredients of Tripura’s history on which he later based his celebrated novel ‘Rajarshi’ and dramas ‘Visarjan’ and ‘Mukut’. Even before that, young Rabindranath had occasion to have a feel of king Bir Chandra Manikya’s magnanimity in 1882. The king was in a state of shock following the untimely death of his dear wife and queen Ms Bhanumati in the year 1881 and during that period of bereavement he studied young Rabindranath’s celebrated love-poem ‘Bhagna Hriday’.

A highly refined and sensitive man – practically a poet in the core of his heart-king Birchandras sent his emissary Mr Radharaman Ghosh to the family home of the Tagores at Jorasanko near Calcutta to congratulate the poet on his behalf . Rabindranath’s relation with Tripura’s royal family did not however snap-as he himself had feared-with the demise of king Bir Chandra Manikya in 1896 .

Bibliography – Information is based on the visit, observation, discussion with people from Tripura and research on the internet post a visit to the State.

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Marraige: What is so social about it in India [Published by EFiction)

I was reading “Single in the city” by Sushmita Bose and the thought of a single woman challenges crossed my mind. The book hilariously narrated incidents that were faced by contemporary single woman. The writer established a fact that being single is so chic yet it has all the burdensome issues around it. An independent professional woman is one who manages everything personal and professional on her own. I have seen single women leading life on their own terms. They never have any inhibitions on moving from a small town to a metropolitan city.

In today’s world where Vogue brings the women empowerment video “My choice” and BBC the documentary on “India’s Daughter”, my thoughts deal with the position of a spinster in the society of India. A woman in India is accepted by society when she is married. A spinster fares well in her career yet the society follows and torments her on the marital status in India. When will she settle down? Whether her parents still searching a suitor for her? Some distant aunt and uncle call her parents to ask why she is not getting married. The society decides not to invite her for a party where couples have come. The question of marriage is easily asked by every single person in a social gathering. Even by female counterparts who are married, marriage is treated as an achievement in life. The entire social gathering starts focusing on a woman’s private life. The society sets the standards of time that a girl should get married in her early twenties other wise she will not get a good suitor. Further, many girls who are very tall or highly educated find it hard to get a husband for themselves, so the Indian society discourage girls not to be too ambitious. In the professional front, a woman gathers respect and stature when she is married or else her single status is a much sought after topic of discussion in her absence. This is happening in this age where India is building rockets, establishing schools, universities, launching mechanical gadgets and women rising in various professions. The basic nature of Indian society is as primitive as the prehistoric man. Is it a Flintstone’s India?

The Indian society makes the brave, financially independent and freedom loving woman to start avoiding the social gatherings. She will go on a social avoidance and depression syndrome. The professional woman who was doing client meetings, conducting negotiations, doing presentations, working along with male colleagues and globe trotting suddenly crashes her self confidence on the ground and does not even discuss this issue with anyone. Social avoidance is a major emotional issue found in the women in India. Such avoidance leads to depression and limits her psyche around the four corners of her own household. Women are unable to tackle the challenge that the society throws at them and are often victimized.

The tales of social avoidance and depression of a single woman are numerous. In a small conversation with a friend who is a psychiatrist threw a meaningful insight into such problems. I could gather that single women became extremely independent, over sensitive, fiercely feminist, aggressive, dominating, shopaholic, kept excess of pets to receive love and bloated by overeating. They mostly suffered from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In many cases, women resort to counseling and anti depressants. She grows a reaction against the society, men and a constant struggle goes on in her mind over loving her space. The adjustment capacity lowers down and she finally chooses to remain single all her life.

A spinster forgets that when a person is happy and cheerful in a social network it is then the destiny takes a turn and lands her into a more satisfactory position. The social network should enlarge and the basic nature of mingling with people should not stop because of a social pressure. The complex of not having a partner should not disturb her. If anyone tries to put pressure she should not pay heed to such conversations, better avoid it. She can also state that it is a private matter and subjected to her parents jurisdiction.

The thought of a balanced independent woman is disappearing in today’s world. We often find the qualities of a balanced woman in our mothers. A woman should not let herself down by the inquisitive society and should peacefully balance her professional and personal life. She should not get worried if her biological clock is ticking, face the challenge and be a winner. Indian society forgets, marriage is not an achievement, it is a personal choice. One should get married when he or she thinks it is right. Marriage is a want and not a need. A growing need is developing for awareness of social avoidance syndrome. In a phase where the Indian society challenges a woman on her single status, she should just take it easy and stay calm. The society will always interfere in personal matters, smart is a woman who does not get affected by it.

About the Author

Mili Chatterjee (Ghosh) is a corporate lawyer by profession. She has spent considerable part of her life working with a law firm. She is developing as a freelance writer for media and publishing houses. At leisure she cooks, dances and prepares sketches. Her passion is music, writing, travel and photography. She has radical, unconventional and realistic approach towards life. She believes that humanity is the biggest of all religions. She is a thinker and keen observer of the society. Her ideas, innovation and creativity often come from instances picked up from reality.

The bengali bioscope – ” From the view of the bengali audience”

Ray

A question that always bothers my mind is the scope and public reach of Bengali films. They are shown at the various film festivals like – New York Film Festival, Dubai Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, Goa Film Festival, Kolkata International Film Festival, Moscow International Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival etc. These films are gracefully recognized across the globe. The foreign audience understands the effort and the stories depicted in these films despite the language hurdle. But what about the teeming millions of India. They are prevented from watching these films due to language barrier. This does not happen only to Bengal cinema. There are very few regional languages films that are translated into Hindi or English.It happens to the wonderful Marathi, Kannada etc. meaningful theatre and cinema. They do produce significant art and creativity. But very few Indians are not linguistically challenged. We often say that cinema has no boundaries. This is just a huge irony, India produces amazing creativity through cinema but public reach is a major blockade of this creative art form.

The 21st century Bengal cinema is all about experimentation and an unconventional blend of stories. Undoubtedly, there is commercial cinema  like Bollywood etc. where shooting is done at various foreign locations with songs, dances, action packed thriller and are higher budget films. The common Indian sentiment that surrounds yet not surpass is that a movie for the masses is proletariat and that the experimental art cinema is bourgeoisie. In the past few years, the audience of Bengal wished to explore new subjects apart from watching those regular commercial movies with the actor and actresses prancing around trees and shrubs in a garden. A trend which grew and revived the creativity of Bengal cinema. The new age directors like Srijit Mukherjee, Kaushik Ganguly, ChurniGanguly, Parambrata Chatterjee, Sandip Ray (son of legendary director Satyajit Ray), MainakBhaumik,  Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha are doing extensive research to produce a single piece of film. Each of their films is regarding a subject that has been less ventured upon.

It was the 90’s when there was a downfall in terms of significant films. The films had become extremely low budget, commercial with paucity of adequent content and depth. Then there emerged directors like Late Rituparno Ghosh, Goutam Ghosh and Aparna Sen who brought some extremely well made films that potrayed great creativity, thought provocation and mass followers of their next venture. It was a refreshing change again for the audience of  Bengal who were starved from watching good cinema.

If we go down the memory lane directors like Satyajit Ray, RitwickGhatak, Mrinal Sen, Hrishkesh Mukherjee, Tapan Sinha etc. were notable artists whose films have been shown across the globe and appreciated. They showed the world that Indians too are not novice but intellectually awakened and enlightened citizens of this continent. Satyajit Rays film institute in  Kolkata is major platform for students of film and television. His films are studied also in University of California.These stalwarts were polymath of their genre like , specifically Ray who scripted, cinematographed, directed, sung, directed music, painted, designed sets and costumes of films, wrote stories etc. Ray was highly influenced by  Vittorio De Sica‘s Italian neorealist 1948 film Bicycle Thieves during a visit to London.” and after watching it he thought to become a film director. I wonder what a significant cinema it was as it gave birth to Satyajit Ray and Anurag Kashyap (new age bollywood director) as a director. These two individuals born in different eras are influenced by the same film.The period of Ray can be described as the era of Film Rennaissance of Bengal. Ghatak’sMeghe Dhaka Tara inspired another art filmmaker Mira Nair and beckon her towards good cinema. Their films showed the world that India was much more than just a snake charmer’s land. The death of this kind of intelligentsia and cinematic geniuses lead to the downfall of the Bengal’s creativity in terms of film making. And this intellectual death can be seen clearly in the late 80’s and 90’s of Bengal cinema. It seemed to the audience as the dusk era of what Bengal could artistically produce for the nation and the world. The art that broke the human confines of language, race etc. breathed its last at the rise of the 90’s era.

Now in this century, the abovementioned new age directors are bringing out of the box stories. The director’s like Kaushik Ganguly explores the subject of sexuality in his films. Srijit Mukherjee whose films are experimental, great presentation, thrill. To the audience he is the Indian adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Allen Poe. He is a former economist and has been assistant director, lyricist, actor on stage and films. His subject of films are well read and researched. He rose to prominence with the film Autograph that gathered critical acclaim and appreciation. Who could have thought that “BaisheySrabon” (thriller film) could have a subject so meaningful behind it.His film potrayed the Hungrealist movement of Bengal. His film subject was a daring move as it dealt with anti Rabindranathtagore analogy, causes and significance and was able to draw sympathy from the audience. Rabindranath Tagore, the literary genius of Bengal who is worshipped by every Bengali in Bengal. Then comes MainakBhaumick who has been an assistant director to late Rituparno Ghosh, his films are cosmopolitan in outlook and studies contemporary culture, problems and issues of today’s society. Sudeshna Ghosh and Abhijit Guha are duo who too produce experimental subject cinema. The aforesaid directors deal with subjects and issues that have never been dealt out by anyone in India.

Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Hrishkesh Mukherjee, Tapan Sinha, Late Rituparno Ghosh etc. have directed  hindi films in Bollywood casting Bollywood actors and actresses. The late Rituporna Ghosh has directed mainstream Bollywood actresses in Bengal cinema and achieved huge apreciation for those films. Amidst all this artistic creativity, we as an audience have virtually acknowledged that the bioscope of Bengal is reviving and is moving with the pace of contemporary lifestyle, education, progress and thinking. This is arrived at due to the commercial development happening in Bengal and many new producers are coming forward to produce new projects. It is also acknowledged that the actors, actresses, directors etc. are extremely talented as often seen that they are playing multiple roles in the aspect of film making. Some of them can sing and dance at the same time, while others can write lyrics, direct, write and act. Each of the individual of the industry has many god gifted talents and has something interesting to give to the audience.It is also seen that directors like Satyajit Ray and Rituparno Ghosh had a stint in the advertising world before they came to mainstream cinema. The directors as mentioned in this article have received Bharat Ratna, National Film Award and other higher recognitions for their contribution to Bengal bioscope. Each of the directors mentioned in this article are studious, talented and well read.

All this is about the Bengal cinema which will continue to produce many more beautiful films that will touch the class audience. The directors will read, study many more books, theatre and films across the globe and potray those rare subjects that we often overlook. The thing that bothers my mind is this classic art form of Bengal still has a language barrier and the teeming millions living in various parts of the country will fail to notice the depth of the subjects just as we as Bengalis miss the piece of art depicted by other regional cinema and theatre. How ironical this is, the world is watching through various film festivals what India has to offer yet the Indians themselves are just confined to language barricades. My thoughts such as these arise when I watched the masterpieces Amelie, Bicycle Thieves, Jean Paul Satre’s – A political murder, Girish Karnad’sNagamandala etc.

That New Year…

IMG_2782.JPG

The background music begins with a familiar sound of Christmas carols playing the “silent night and a holy night…all is calm all is bright, round the virgin mother and child..and Aparna Sen focuses the camera on the Anglo Saxon Park Street of the very bohemian Kolkata and its ostentatious opulence with huge Christmas icing cakes being served in the magnanimous “The Grand” ( fondly remembered as “Hotel Shah Jahan” of the famous book called “Chowronghee” by captivating author Shankar). Eventually the camera moves it to the flamboyant Anglos driving in the streets with balloon laden Standard Heralds, Austin Cambridge and all that’s vintage and grandeur to a dingy, dark railway bridge where a beggar women in torn clothes sits clinging and shivering with her child and the music in the background grows louder and piercing “round the virgin mother and child”. This was a small clipping from 36 Chowronghee Lane, much too now people’s delight, Aparna is known more for her placid plots and unconventional thinking in 15 Park Avenue, Titli, Sati, Unishe April and Paromitar Ek Din. Precisely, Chowronghee Lane with Jennifer Kendall (“Prithvi Theatres her brainchild”) was the beginning for her…and later won a national award in the early eighties of the modern century.

A divine 31st afternoon when I visited a salon, where a typically shallow, flashy Punjabi lady (‘no offences to Punjab, just that most of them are rowdy”) sitting and doing her make-up and my attendant doing my hair spa. At the stroke of seven, everyone was rushing to their respective homes and the staff of the salon too waiting to leave for their houses. The owner of the shop was also Punjabi lady all dressed in black, wearing a micro mini dress, flaunting a loose cleavage with black stockings and boots (“giving me silent heart attack coz she was in her late fifties). One of the female staff members said “you are looking like a doll madam”, to which she gave a snooty and unpleasant forced smile showing as if this comment was not required from you.  A young lady was swabbing the floor and looked at me with a smile on her face. I smiled back and she replied, “Didi the haircut is suiting you, I said thank you and Happy New Year in advance”. After a while she came again and gave a watch that was lying at the massage room saying “I think you missed it there”, I said thank you so much. I asked her what she was doing on the New Years Eve, to change her mind. She said “Mam I do not have friends, neither can I afford to go to the dance parties” and looked at her colleagues who were also leaving. I said, “ok wish you all a very happy new year and no worries”, I am also staying home this eve so eat well, sleep well, love your family and begin your new year tomorrow.

And believe me that you all are going to celebrate the best New Year, take it from me. I am also staying home…tell me isn’t it better to watch television shows inside a warm blanket and eat home cooked food. The staff members greeted me with a smile and agreed. “One of them said, who kya hai na didi…hum se koi customer ache se baat nahin karta hai and jo karta hai hum unse wafadar ho jaate hai..aapko naya saal mubarak ho”. I had to slip away quickly from there before the owner would come and hang me somewhere on the wall on the grounds of infuriating her staff.

I was driving down in my car, buying few things from the market and had to stop to wish another one a new year wish. No no…this time it was the smallest black and white stray puppy on the planet lying around a municipal dustbin and poor children hovering around it. I stopped my car and realized that the puppy was bleeding and had got hurt. I had to pick up the dirty little thing in my car and rush to the nearest chemist shop. The chemist guy wondering what on earth I was doing asking for cotton and antiseptic cream on a new year’s eve. I tied a white bandage around its little foot and dropped it back near the dustbin where it was lying before. Fortunately its mother had arrived and I was relaxed and saved from adopting him (“though I know I cannot forget its docile face and contrarily the aggressive face of my landlord who would not have allowed a dog to stay in my paying guest accommodation).

My food arrives in the night, brought by a tiffin chappy whose a teenager. I opened the door and realized the chilly winter breeze and there he stood shivering and holding my tiffin box. I asked him as usual “ki korchish” he said..nothing didi, kichui na”, after a while he said…” tumi party teh jacho didi”, I said na re. Amio aajke tor moton badee teh thakbo, I’ll be staying home like you. I gave him some money and said do you like the hot chilly chaat of the city. He said yes didi, then go for it tomorrow. He looked at me with a dazzling smile and believe me all of you readers, nothing in this world can replace the smile on that child’s face.He said “Thank you very much didi”, I said “Tui Engriji janish”, you know English. He said yes, I used to go to school. I said, what happened now? He said, well you know it I would not have been giving Tiffin’s from door to door. I realized and remembered my maternal grandma who used to say, “always look down below you will be complacent in life”, you will be happier in life comparing yourself with those who are have nots and not those who have. I have my house, food, parents, job and a decent life. I do not expect much and shall try to make other’s new years’ worthwhile rather than mine because the pleasure derived from this happiness is unmatchable and impeccable. Believe me!

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Come to Manali

Manali

It was a bright monsoon day when parents and I took off for a trip to Manali. It was a long distance drive. We travelled by road from Lucknow to Delhi. The newly built Yamuna express highway was a beautiful path. We moved again and stopped for lunch at a nearby dhaba then we kept moving ahead and reached Delhi.

We haulted in Delhi for a day and then again started for Manali the next morning. At 5 in the morning we started driving down to Manali and reached a wonderful Dhaba that served us breakfast. It is to be noted that Punjab and Haryana side has more developed Dhabas and highway inns. The word “Haveli” is used for denoting a dhaba or an inn and has comfortable stay and relaxing packages. The highways have all basic amenities including shops and malls.

As we started reaching Manali we saw the Beas river right aside us from our car window. The sight of the Beas river and the beautiful snow laden mountains made us feel having come into the Indian Switzerland. The Beas river was sea green in color right near the Radha Swami Satsang Ashram. We stopped at Manali for some tea and again started driving down alongside the mighty Beas river.

We crossed a dark tunnel which was lighted and was ranging for about 2.5 to almost 3kms. The picnic spots were beautiful and were in plenty alongside the road to the top of Manali. The picnic spots were small places aside the Beas river and provided Hotel accommodations, cafes and tea points. The drive is long and it took 16hrs in total to reach our destination.

We reached in the late evening and our Hotel was Portico Sarovar that was built aside the Manalsu river. Manalsu river is the river that flows there and the name Manali is derived from her.Early morning when we opened the curtain we saw the beautiful Himalayan range shrouded with Deodar trees. The day was followed by a buffet breakfast at the hotel and then we visited the lovely Manalsu river and dipped our hands and feet into it. We clicked pictures and laughed and played with the stones of the river.

Next day we visited market i.e. the Mall of the hill station. We purchased typical Manali wear and other items from the Mall. The himcoop products are quite authentic, supported by the HP Government and consist of the best fruits of Himachal Pradesh (“HP”). HP is considered to be the fruit bowl of India. Two days went by walking down the mall, observing the Manalsu river and visiting the Hidimba Temple.

We saw the lovely ice-capped mountains while sipping tea and coffee at the hotel. Most of the hotels were built of wood and glass windows in order that the tourists feel the surroundings while having food at the café.

There is a Manu temple also that is built in Manali is dedicated to Manu who is considered a saint. Manusmti (written also as Manusmriti or Manusmruti) (Sanskrit: मनुस्मृति), also known as Mānava-Dharmaśāstra (Sanskrit: मानवधर्मशास्त्र), is one metrical work of the Dharmaśāstra textual tradition of ancient Vedic Sanatana Dharma, presently called Hinduism.[1] Generally known in English as the Laws of Manu, or Dharmic discourse to vedic Rishis, on ‘how to lead the life’ or ‘way of living’ by various classes of society.

The text presents itself as a discourse given by the sage Manu, to a congregation of seers, or rishis, who, after the legendary great floods in the vedic state of Brahmavarta in India some 10,000 years ago, beseeched him to guide them in how to face such calamities in future though an organized life with “guidelines for all the social classes”.[2] His response was captured and preserved in memory as a dialog between himself and the sage Bhrigu in some 2685 ślokas, the compilation of which is called Manusmriti.

What I could gather by the Manali trip was that the trip should be splitted in various parts. From Lucknow to Delhi, then from Delhi to Ambala and finally from Ambala to Manali. This causes less exhaustion to the traveler and keeps the energy quotient alive as the road gets covered into milestones.

Leaf Tea – A regal taste of India.

leaf tea

On a distinct rainy day, I made myself a hot cup of Orange Pekoe that my mother in law gifted me. It reminded me of a dream I had a few days ago. The dream described my past life where I was born in the town of Dibrugarh in Assam. My house stood there amidst an Assam tea estate where its roof was shrouded with fog and mist. I was sitting by its window where I could see the tea workers walking past the road below with basket of tea leaves picked freshly from the estate. The hot “cha” on my lips brought me back to the present. I put on the famous song “Ek kali do pattiyan” (one bud two leaves) by Bhupen Hazarika to begin my affair with tea.

A morning is never complete without a cup of steaming tea and newspaper. This common habit is coming down from generations. Have you ever questioned yourself from where this tea drinking habit came from? You will be really surprised to know that the history of tea is as rich as the Indian culture.

The alliance of tea with India goes back to the British colonial past. It is a well known fact that the British love their tea and the country has many tea rooms of the past. In the countryside of England “fine leaf tea, scones with freshly made jam and clotted cream” have a perfect marriage in the noon. A great quantity of good leaf tea in India is exported to United Kingdom. India is a country rich in tea and coffee plantations. The East, North-east, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are tea growing belts. All these belts grow and export tea in large quantities abroad. My association with leaf tea starts from an early age and is influenced by the culture of West Bengal.

Lord William Bentinck formed a tea committee on January 24, 1834. Few regions in India were deliberated upon for their suitable climate and soil conditions for planting tea plants in India.

Mulk Raj Anand’s “Two leaves and a bud” deals with the topic of oppression of the poor in a tea cultivating region of India. The tea cultivating regions in India are a cauldron of emotions of labours, frequent leopard or panther attacks and unrest due to terror campaigns. It was generally said that tea liquor is the blood of labourers. But it was a great romance, romance of the tea. The homes of tea estate owners and managers are colonial in its architecture and British culture and manners are prevalent there. The British divided the workforce in India in these tea plantations by assigning the Punjabis in workshops, Bengalis as clerks, Biharis as coolie (porter), Nepalis and Tribals as labourers. Chinese varieties of tea were first introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea. The British, “using Chinese seeds, plus Chinese planting and cultivating techniques launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate tea for export. ” Maniram Dutta Baruah popularly known as Maniram Dewan (1806-1858) was an Assamese nobleman in British India. He was the first Indian tea planter, and is credited with establishing the first commercial plantations of the Assamese variety of tea. Maniram Dewan participated in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and was hanged by the British for conspiring against them.

Many of the leaf tea varieties grown in India are exported to Britain and other countries. The states of Bengal, Assam, Sikkim and parts of tea growing regions in Northeast and South consume those varieties as well. The cultivation of good taste and knowledge of the right leaf tea is a matter of education and culture in a particular state. The health benefits of good leaf tea is not known very well known to the Indian people of the North (except Kashmir) and West and other non-tea growing belts. The most excellent leaf tea is in a healthy competition to green tea benefits.

The state of West Bengal consumes leaf tea in large quantities yet the “quality” of tea is very important to every Bengali household. On my tea tasting journey from Siliguri, Darjeeling and Dooars in West Bengal, Assam and Sikkim etc. in Northeast, Wayanad and Munnar in Kerala and parts of Ooty etc. in Tamil Nadu, various interesting facts I gathered from tea instructors, people and tea drinking rooms. There are different varieties of tea in the market and leaf tea is one of them. Tea connoisseurs will vouch for leaf tea for its refined quality and light brew. Let us know what makes leaf tea so special.

Classification of Tea

The Tea Board of India is established as a state agency of the Government of India to promote the cultivation, processing, and domestic trade as well as export of tea. In the tea industry, tea leaf grading is the process of evaluating products based on the quality and condition of tea leaves itself. Have a look at the classification of tea as given below –

 Orthodox Tea (Leaf tea)

These teas are blackish or brownish in appearance and comprise of four main categories:

• Whole Leaf
Long and wiry, grade name FTGFOP (Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) or TGFOP, GFOP, FOP in decreasing order of quality and fineness in leaf appearance.

• Brokens
Meaning what it says i.e., smaller in size, Grade name TGBOP (Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe) or FBOP, BOP in decreasing order of quality.

• Fannings
Still smaller and lighter particles than Brokens, Grade name GOF (Golden Orange Fannings) or FOF, OF, in decreasing order of quality.

• Dust
In a cup, Orthodox Teas are generally bright and brisk. The whole leaf grades are lighter than brokens. In fact, the smaller the leaf particle, the more colour and body it infuses.

One of the finest teas of India and Srilanka is Orange Pekoe as described above. It is extracted from the dried leaves and buds of the Cameallia sinensis plant. Orange Pekoe has specific subgrades, such as flowery orange pekoe, golden flowery orange pekoe, tippy golden flowery orange pekoe and finest tippy golden flowery orange pekoe.

 CTC Teas (Granular) or (“danedar chai in Hindi”)

These teas are blackish or brown and the Crush, Tear and Curl (CTC) process of manufacture makes the tea Granular. These comprise of 3 main grades viz. Brokens, Fannings and Dust. CTC brews quickly and makes a full bodied gustier cup than Orthodox Tea.

The highest grades of tea are referred to as orange pekoe (leaf tea) and the lowest grade as fannings or dust. These brokens, fannings and dust mixture are sold in the market in the name of various brands which is consumed in every household in the Northern hills and plains (except for Kashmiri Kahwa), West and few other non tea growing belts. The tea in these non tea growing belts is called “danedar chai” (granular tea) as given above.

 Green Tea(Leaf Teas)

These teas are processed differently (without fermenting) and are greenish in leaf colour, giving very mild yellowish green liquor.

 White Tea (Leaf Teas)

These teas are hand processed and semi fermented. Only the delicate buds (middle leaf) are used.

The principal chemical constituents of Tea are Caffeine, Tannin and Essential Oils. The first gives the stimulation, the second gives the body and strength and the third gives the flavour and aroma.

Famous Leaf Tea of India

Darjeeling Tea

Tea grown on the misty heights of the hill district of Darjeeling are popularly known as the “Champagne of Tea” is famous the world over, for their exquisite aroma and taste. The premium Darjeeling Tea is generally mild in character and has a distinct natural fruity or muscatel flavour. Undoubtedly, it is the best tea in the world and the most sought after by connoisseurs. Darjeeling produces the highest quality but the quantity produced is less than 2% of the total tea produced in India. The bulk of the Darjeeling tea comprise of Orthodox Tea. Green tea is also manufactured selectively. Some premier tea Gardens also manufacture the semi fermented White Teas.

Granular tea fiasco

A herbal granular tea (“danedar chai”) is also consumed with various ayurvedic herbs. The “danedar chai” which does not have a distinct taste, is often made better by adding milk, sugar and other spices such as ginger, cardamom etc. Sometimes people boil the milk along with tea to make it thick which is even more unfortunate as the flavour of tea disappears, it becomes more of creamy consistency and difficult to digest. Tea, which is essentially a lighter brew now transcends down to a milk pudding. It is strange but a fact that no where else in the world “danedar chai” is consumed. Being a third world nation, the reason behind its consumption is its lower cost as compared to good varieties of leaf tea. It is often treated as the tea of the Proletariat of India. A large quantity of good leaf tea is exported as well. In the general stores across India “Lipton” or “Golden Tips” leaf tea is available (except for East and North East where there are many leaf tea brands). The habitual leaf tea drinker has lesser options but to choose Lipton or Golden Tips leaf tea from general store and retail chain in malls. Hence availability of Leaf Tea brands in India is a problem. After much of exploration in a town or a city of the whole of India a tiny, quaint shop selling leaf tea may or may not be discovered. But in the East and North East there are several brands, malls, retail chains and shops selling leaf tea. The hunt for finding good leaf tea is not a problem there.

Leaf tea preparation, picking the right leaves, understanding its taste is an art and culture. Good quality Leaf tea is associated with Bourgeois practices. Preparation of tea makes all the difference. You might remember your grandparents for the excellent brew they made. Truly enough, the grandparents of the East and North -east are masters of the culinary art of making good leaf tea. Those were the legacy of the colonial times, when the clock struck 3 in the noon, the elegant saucer, plates, tiny tea spoons and cutlery was laid on a fine embroidered table cloth. The aroma of the tea leaves could be felt as soon as your grandparent poured the brew in the tea cups from a stout bone china tea pot. You immediately knew it was fine leaf tea of “Makaibari” or “Runglee Rungliot” that they bought.

The traditional steps are as follows –

Boil water in a kettle. Add tea leaves (as per cup) to the teapot. Cover the lid of the teapot. Put a tea cozy over it to prevent heat from escaping. Soak the tea leaves for 4minutes. Open the tea pot and you will see the colour of the tea as golden brown. Now add hot milk, milk powder or have it as liquor and add sugar or honey as per taste. Serve it to the tea cups with a strainer. Sometimes half a teaspoon of danedar chai is added in the tea pot just after 4 minutes and covered with the lid for 1 minute. This accentuates the flavour of the tea for those who prefer strong tea after a hard day at work. One can also make leaf tea in a deep bottom sauce pan and cover it with a plate.

So far people in India, people have only realized the benefits of Green tea and not the premium leaf tea. Without adding ginger and other spices the “danedar chai” does not have a distinct smell, optimum taste or texture. The art of knowing good tea and cultivating a distinct taste for finest leaf tea is prevalent in the household of the East and North East where each guest is welcomed with a hot cup of luxurious leaf tea. Over a hot cup of supreme leaf tea, the intelligentsia had countless discussions of the past and the present. In the East, the cha (tea) and adda or gobeshona (intellectual discussions and debate) goes together. It actually releases a new frontier for the authors, poet, singer, painter, student, political activist, and artists in various forms. A person from the East and North East would like to spend more on the tea than anything else. Green tea has taken the market by storm and by now we all know about its beneficial properties. However, the benefit of leaf tea is still shrouded with mystery. A cup of leaf tea can actually make you wake up in more ways than one.

To begin with –

• Leaf tea is a powerhouse of antioxidants that help your body to fight with free radicals.

• Drinking a cup of leaf tea can keep the bad or LDL Cholesterol from clogging your arteries and cures endothelial dysfunction. Thus making it heart healthy.

• Other than that it has anti-microbial properties.

• Leaf Tea also and exhibits synergistic effects when used with popular antibiotics.

• Good leaf tea can work wonders on intestinal infections. It has antioxidant properties that remove toxins from the body.

With great amount of unrest in tea growing regions, the romance of the tea in India still continues in its traditional colonial form and beauty. There is lack of knowledge of high-quality leaf tea in India. The general notion is “to buy branded clothes, eat in five star hotels but not have any idea or expenses on good leaf tea”. It is quite ironical as foreigners, intelligentsia, elite clubs, cultured millionaires are fascinated with the tea gardens and purchase packets of good leaf tea. Fancy hotels like Leela serve leaf tea in the most elegant of fashion. Tea rooms are becoming very popular, but it still has to grow. There are attempts to make tea drinking as popular as coffee drinking. Maybe one day there will be a date over tea than coffee. Hopefully, people will say ‘a lot can happen over tea too!’ United Kingdom, Japan and China have the fashion of tea rooms where good leaf tea is served. There is a growing need of spreading the knowledge of supreme leaf tea in India. There are many small tea rooms across India that have leaf tea on their menu in many cities but the exclusive Indian Tea room chain needs to be developed like Café coffee day, Barista, Costa and Starbucks. There is a huge requirement for leaf tea availability in general stores and big retail chains like Big Bazaar, Spencer, Reliance Fresh, Easy Day, 24/7, Spar etc. in India (except for East and North- East where leaf tea is available in plenty). The brands of leaf tea that are prevalent in the East and North East should expand and increase their availability in all kinds of retail chains and general stores in India.

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Age of Medusa

medusa

In Greek mythology Medusa was a monster, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with a hideous face and living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazers on her face would turn to stone. Medusa was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who thereafter used her head, which retained its ability to turn onlookers to stone, as a weapon until he gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity the image of the head of Medusa appeared in the evil-averting device known as the Gorgoneion. The cloak of the diabolical Medusa is now seen quite often whenever we open any daily soap on any language in the 21st century India.

A few months ago the world celebrated Women’s International Day. The nostalgic period of the 90s is gone forever when Doordarshan (Indian Television) produced meaningful programmes and stories. For many consecutive years women on daily soap have transformed themselves into stone hearted and venomous Medusas ruining the concept of family and parenting. The make up is horrendous and the dress is picked up from the chandelier hanging in the ceiling to stitch a sari. Well apart from humor, no social message, satire or depiction is given on values, education, principles of humanity, idealism, nurturing of culture or a woman’s struggle in society. It is quite unusual that women in films are depicted in a better light than on the television serials. The other day grand news arrived in the media that India becomes one of the first countries in the world to open all combat roles to women in the army. Indeed that was good news for the status of a woman but back at homes on the television we get to see the pessimistic image of a woman glorified not as a homemaker or professional but meant to break homes and create bitterness in relationships. How should we deal with the contradiction?

Women earlier and now are always targeted first in the social stratum of the society. In past times when women of the household joined any profession she was attacked by the society as someone whose financial condition is not good and is joining work to sustain her family. While now an educated, cultured, constructive and intellectual housewife is targeted by the society and husbands for not providing financial contribution to the household. Men often assert that how they should introduce their homemaker spouse to the society? What status  should be given to homemakers, they ask? She was humiliated then and the humiliation and mental harassment continues till now only the times have changed. She hardly gets any respite when she is not tormented. But still in earlier period women kept the culture and values of unite the bond of the family. Now the urban corporate woman is unable to keep her marriage intact, forget about her other relationships. Even her same sex relationships are unstable and emotionless.

While delving into the pages of Social Contract Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke I was having reminiscence of the State of Nature concept. I researched again and found the following information:

The state of nature is a concept used in moral and political philosophy, religion, social contract theories and international law to denote the hypothetical conditions of what the lives of people might have been like before societies came into existence. There must have been a time before organized societies existed, and this presumption raises questions such as: “What was life like before civil society?”; “How did government first emerge from such a starting position?,” and; “What are the hypothetical reasons for entering a state of society by establishing a nation-state?”.

In some versions of social contract theory, there are no rights in the state of nature, only freedoms, and it is the contract that creates rights and obligations. In other versions the opposite occurs: the contract imposes restrictions upon individuals that curtail their natural rights.

Societies existing before or without a political state are currently studied in such fields as paleolithic history, and the anthropological subfields of archaeology, cultural anthropology, social anthropology, and ethnology, which investigate the social and power-related structures of indigenous and uncontacted peoples living in tribal communities.

 

Has the Indian woman gone back to the State of Nature ? A family structure in traditional India consists of not only the nuclear family but also grandparents, parents-in-law, and unmarried sisters-in-law. Though the joint-family is linked to ancient India, it is still prevalent in modern day India. Traditionally, baby boys were preferable to baby girls since boys were able to earn money and support the family, whereas girls were expensive to raise. In addition to being unable to work for a living, the girl’s marriage dowry required a hefty amount of money and other luxury goods such as valuable jewelries and saris. Once girls were married off to the other families, they would have to address their new parents-in-law as “father” and “mother”. As home maker of the family, the wife’s duty was to supervise the household and take care of the children, as well as to please her new in-laws.

In India, the lifestyle and culture of the Indian women has gone into many phases. From the 1920s to the 50s she was mostly occupied doing household chores as a housewife. Women married into the upper middle class, elite and princely class were treated differently. They were taught to read and write at home by a teacher. The concept of sitting and studying at the writing desk was a regular feature in those days. The art of embroidery was taught by the mothers, aunts or grandmothers. She would learn to sketch, paint, sing or play the piano taught by a British teacher. Flower decoration was taught in various homes and the Japanese flower decoration technique of “Ikebana” was quite popular. Women were expert in stitching crochet and knitting woolens. They knew the usage of cutlery and crockery to set the table for guests. They were proficient in decorating the interiors of their homes. Sometimes French too was taught by a French teacher. English and Russian books were translated in Hindi, Bengali and other languages so that people could read the rich literature of other countries. Often classical music and instruments like sitar and veena was taught by teachers at home. Many women from different parts of the country participated in the freedom movement too. Women were also writers who wrote profusely on the freedom movement and social issues in vernacular newspapers, books and journals. Cooking was taught by the elderly females of the family. She wore exquisite collection of saris and knew how to wrap a sari on her own. Her life was limited to the four corners of the house. She could move out of the house only with her husband or parents. India with the rich cultural heritage of various dance forms, the art of dancing was then looked upon as the arena of Devdasis (a girl “dedicated” to worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life).

During the freedom movement, India’s customs like Sati was abolished by The Bengal Sati Regulation or Regulation XVII, A. D. 1829 of the Bengal Code. It was a legal act promulgated in British India under East India Company rule, by the then Governor-General Lord William Bentinck, which made the practice of sati (the immolation of a Hindu widow on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband) illegal in all jurisdictions of British India and subject to prosecution. Prior to this act, the widows were traditionally expected to pursue a spiritual, ascetic life, particularly the higher castes such as Brahmins. Hindu Widow’s Remarriage act of 1856 abolished the prohibition of marriage of widows in India. Bengal too had a tragic past of a ghastly treatment of widows as if they were untouchables. She could eat only vegetarian food and was kept away from all comforts and luxuries of life. The dreadful life of an Indian widow is clearly seen in the film “Water” directed by Deepa Mehta. No matter how elite the family was, during labour pains an expecting woman of the house were shifted to the cow shed and the delivery was done by a mid wife (such atrocities have been written by Tagore in his famous work called “Stree Patra”). Often she would contract Tetanus and die while giving birth to the child. When India woke to Independence, young girls started attending schools, universities and joined the freedom struggle. A great amount of literature was written in India by gems like Prem Chand, Mahadevi Verma, Ismat Chugtai, Sadat Hasan Manto, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Vibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay etc. Their writings were written from instances picked from the social life in India. Their pen was the sword by which they rebelled through their writings. Their writings defeated the social evils and customs that throttled the liberation of a woman of that era. Women unlike today’s world were shown in a better light through the writings of the aforesaid writers etc. The freedom movement accentuated the printing of various vernacular newspapers too and ladies of the house did read the morning newspaper and participated in political discussions and debates. There was always a writing desk and table lamp where the woman of the house studied, wrote letters and read books from the library. The education, writings and culture in this era was primarily focused to free India from the British and eradicate the social evils that proved as an impediment for the progress of humanity. Women were portrayed as truthful, strong, intelligent, kind hearted, graceful, idealistic, virtuous and educated personalities. Off course, they were towering geniuses nurturing families with their superiority of character and personality from their men folk.

Few BBC documentaries on the Georgian and Victorian Age in the United Kingdom threw great light on the lifestyle of women in that era. It was obviously a patriarchal society with the men as the chief bread earners and the women as housewives who took care of children. A typical day of a housewife of that era began with the man leaving home for work and the woman of the house retiring to her morning room. Appropriate sunlight showed on her writing desk where she could read or write letter, send instructions to the servants, maids and cook. She would also read a book referred as the bible for household chores where she could gather tips of how to run, maintain, cook, stitch etc as a housewife. She would often go to library pick up the books of her choice or paint or do embroidery sitting near the fireplace. Similar information can be gathered from the English classics written by the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen.

A peep into the past culture and Renaissance in Bengal brings forward an interesting history and we get reminded of our grandmothers and other elderly ladies of the house. The three essentials qualities for a girl of marriageable age was she should be good in literature, must know how to sing and have long hair. I remember my grandmother reading the English paper and when asked can you name the Presidents of the USA starting from the first. She would start with George Washington and name all in descending order without a pause. Another aunt was going blind with the old age but she read the “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy slowly till one month. Books were very precious to the women of the family and every family had a personal library. The art of writing letters transformed into high intellectual preci, essays, sketches and creativity. People made albums of letters exchanged. Botany students remembered and researched on the names of various species of foliage and prepared Herbariums. It was those very times when Shantinekatan was formed and the art of creativity and knowledge spread throughout Bengal. Few years ago, my Grandmother showed her grand collection of blouses for her saris as the cloth of the blouses was sourced from England. In those days there was no gas or stove, kitchen gadgets or modern amenities but the women of the family cooked on charcoal and wood fire on mud ovens in heavy copper utensils. No matter how illustrious the family was, the kitchen was the most ordinary part of any household. But they were expert in their cooking skills and those recipes are much sought after in today’s era. Women took pride in the culinary skills and said that way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Despite all the amenities of a modern comfortable kitchen very few woman enter the kitchen or know how to cook in modern India. Most of them consider the kitchen as a cook’s job while their husbands lap up the plates eating “Ma ke haath ka khaana” (Mother’s cooked meals). Much of the culinary skills and recipes are getting lost with the death of our ancestors. Sari the national dress of a woman is piece of charm and elegance that the foreigners across the world look with awe. Women generally do not prefer saris instead hot pants have taken their place. Sari,  essentially a Hindu dress has been easily replaced by Salwar Kameez which is a Muslim dress. Wrapping a sari is limited to occasions of wedding, birthdays, parties and festivals etc. The small scale cottage industries that is proficient in providing employment to weavers of fabric of each state of India is suffering a decline due to the advent of boutique culture and coming of georgette fabric. Most of the urban women do know how to wrap a sari and take help from the elderly ladies of the family. On the contrary women of past wore much heavy ornate saris with great amount jewelry from head to toe. It was a regular custom in those days. Sometimes weird remarks come at the workplace if a woman chooses to wear a sari. Are you an air hostess?

The question is the disappearing and decline of “idealism” of the Indian housewives in particular. Did the limitation of four corners of the household nurture more preservation of art, music, idealism, education, culture and develop discipline and restraint in their behavior? Are the housewives a prey to daily soaps on television and social network media? The pornographic websites are looming large and very recently news came of a housewives group that indulged quite freely in pornographic material circulation as their primary hobby on a contemporary social network quite ignorant of a plausible offence under the Indian Law. The Department of Telecom order says that content hosted on porn sites relate to morality and decency and is, therefore, subject to “reasonable restrictions” on the Fundamental Right under Article 19 Freedom of speech and expression of the Indian Constitution. Earlier from another city news came of housewives indulging in a sex racket and exchange of husbands. On one hand India is facing a challenge as how to curb rapes and molestation and on the other educated women, clad in saris are living in comfortable homes are reducing themselves to nymphomaniacs. What is the cause behind the degrading psyche?  What kind of message do they convey to the society in general? Are we blindly aping the west? Even the West is not indulging in such hippocracy. Are we going back to the Neolithic ages? Even the Neolithic age man and women were distinctly involved in collecting the basic amenities for their survival. How ironical and shocking it is that these are the same woman clad in a sari and one can easily be smitten by their innocent looks. I cannot recall a woman whom I know who is good at embroidery or narrate a piece of information or discussion from the subject of humanities or science. They are obsessed by shopping, aimless walk in the malls and spending a large sum on their outer appearances rather their inner self. There is absolute dearth of women who have increased general awareness, research capacity, discussions or debates. It is also noticed that there is high rise of unemotional women who are least affected by social injustice, crimes and anything that borders on the principles of humanity. The concept of writing letters has been replaced by social network platforms and telecommunication network. Housewives are rarely seen studying or occupying themselves in something constructive. A typical urban woman with very few interests finds more pleasure spending hours at the pubs and parties with friends rather than coming back home. Very few women come home to pursue their passion or hobbies. The question of working women pursuing their passion is a challenging job as they come home very late from work. Generally, working hours in plenty of organizations can be very taxing and again very few build their passion. On the other hand, the housewives are busy counting the saris, shoes and jewelry they have to showcase them in the kitty parties. Their diverted attention is towards daily to hourly shopping, makeovers and unnecessary selfies. Social network is reduced to a tool of baseless chats, accumulation of hourly photograph that exhausts all their energies towards beneficial purposes. It is for in today’s era there are very few women in terms of professional or housewives actually delve in something constructive in terms of their own living or imparting culture through parenting. Women generally do not have writing desk and table lamp where they study. The meditation, research and learning and studying process is not treated as compulsory part of their lives.

The growth of the female objectifying professions is another vice that we need to delve into. Women now willing stand next to a new car or bike model or dress inappropriately in advertisement where there is no need for a woman to appear. For example – perfume, deo spray and men undergarments advertisement.

In general a survey conducted in the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. A typical graduate urban woman is a slave to shopping, pub hopping, drugs, pop culture, drinking and addicted to the daily soaps on the television. Moresoever, she will be so influenced that she goes to the extent of copying the dress worn by the characters that may or may not suit her personality. The negatives of jealousy, competition, complex, ego, feeble, untruthful, coward, undignified, unkind, cruel, harmful, uneducated qualities are highlighted of a woman through vamps with no constructive storyline. She learns it all and is thus carried forward in her parenting field. The woman is getting literate but not refined and educated. She is moving away from intellect and depth at large. On the other hand psuedo-intellectual and unrequired aggression rate is getting high. The emerging of nuclear family, encouraging a girl child’s education, professionalism, globalization, economic growth of India, corporatization leads to emancipation of a women who was once upon time was tied down in the garb of orthodox traditions, deep rooted culture and responsibilities. Does the flamboyant bird free from the cage flap faster flying into sky away from the shackles of constant suppression of an Indian family structure? What about the controlled emotions of our mothers and grandmothers? Those controlled emotions have been replaced by temper, aggression, attacking and verbal assaults.

Rabindranath Tagore had written Ghaire Baire (The home and the world) way back in 1916. The book illustrates the battle Tagore had with himself, between the ideas of Western culture and revolution against the Western culture. The noted filmmaker Satyajit Ray made the story into a film. The film dealt with a subject of emancipation of women and what it does to them and to the men who love them. The Home and the World tells us not only the personal struggles of the three main characters, but also little details of the family structure and how traditional Indian households were like. The story is set in early 20th century India (specifically, 1907) in the estate of the rich Bengali noble Nikhilesh (Victor Banerjee) and in the chaotic aftermath of Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal into Muslim and Hindu states; the nationalist movement is trying to impose a boycott against all foreign goods (by claiming that imports are at the root of Indian poverty). He lives happily with his beautiful wife Bimala (Swatilekha Sengupta) until the appearance of his friend and radical revolutionist, Sandip (Soumitra Chatterjee).  Bimala is a traditional, obedient house wife who is faithful to her husband, even forcing herself to be respectful towards her nagging sister-in-law. However as she falls “in love” with another character, she slowly weans herself from her traditional housewife role. She becomes more daring, more confidently brushing off her sister-in-law’s criticisms, crossing outside the women’s quarter of the house, and easily conversing with her new found love (a radical revolutionist), who is not her husband. She easily forgets her simple, caring and loving husband. Through her change from the good house wife to an independent, more modern woman, readers learn about the traditional ways of the Indian household.

Is this is the kind of emancipation that we desired? The gradual shift from the inclination of building a graceful, systematic and well managed home to a typical upstart nuclear Nouveau riche household is the new trend. We are gradually going back to the dark ages where Medusa was alive. It is coming as an ending to all constructive habits of our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers. It is true that our ancestors were much more grounded, cultured and stuck to roots and values. There are a high percentage of unemotional and self centered women who are inundated with their thoughts of self interests, achievements, material pleasures and liberation. There are very few women who are signing up for a good cause. Is the focus towards high professionalism and blind focus on materialism dwarfing their abilities to build better homes on values, discipline and culture.  It is high time that we realize where the generation of women is heading to. Is it that her career oriented outlook driving her away from home and its needs. Her gradual rise in the professional field is snatching her away her me time. The space to give time to her needs and interests. Science and commerce develops a machine and business oriented mind that wipes away everything connected to humanities subjects. The more the nations progress economically the more the woman will become business and machine slave. It is true financial independence is important but it does not mean at all a degraded intellect, behavior, taste, art and culture. Time has come, that women realize what emancipates them largely, nurturing her intellect within the household or without it. Happiness comes from within, it is inside us. While studying Utilitarianism I remember what Socrates once remarked “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. “

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The fake nationalism

Bookshelf

 

A few days back National Geographic magazine cover of 1985 showed a Pashtun girl from Afghanistan who was found in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Her eyes have captivated the world and is fondly remembered as the “Third World’s Monalisa”. She belongs to the land ravaged by war. Her name is Sharbat Gula who had been photographed by Steve McCurry in 1984 and found her 17 years later and photographed her again in Afghanistan. She was found in the morning of 1984 when he spent his day documenting the ordeal of Afghan refugees.

The excerpts from the magazine stated that Sharbat Gula spent her terrible days in Afghanistan during the times when it was invaded by Soviet Union. She was six years old when bombing killed her parents. She dreaded the planes flying in the sky. Sharbat’s brother said “There is no privacy. More than that, you live at the mercy of the politics of other countries. The Russian invasion destroyed our lives”. He narrated that they moved through the mountains and hid in caves in fear of the planes. The movement ended with a refuge at the refugee camp tent living with total strangers. She can write her name but cannot read. She is hopeful of giving education to her children. She said in the Magazine that “I wanted to finish school but could not. I was sorry when I had to leave”. The woman has no idea of the power of those green eyes. Those eyes have touched so many lives across the globe. She is caged in a cultural tradition that dictates that she must not smile at a man who is not her husband. Hence she did not once smile at McCurry. What a reunion!

The famous Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy of TeD talks calls attention of everyone on how TeD has made efforts to look upon the children who become suicide bombers through a completely different lens. She says that in 2009 there have been 500 bomb blasts across Pakistan. She has spent the year working with children who were training to become suicide bombers. She was also trying to understand the Taliban recruiters as to how they were converting these children into live ammunition and why these children were actively signing up to their cause. The talks showed a documentary titled “Children of the Taliban”. The documentary narrated“The Taliban now run there own schools. They target poor families and convince the parents to send their children. In return, they provide free food and shelter and sometimes pay the family a monthly stipend. TeD obtained a propaganda video made by the Taliban. Young boys are taught the justifications for suicide attacks and the execution of spies.” TeD also made contact with a child from Swat who studied in a Madrasa like this. They obtained information that the child belonged to a poor farming family. He joined the Taliban a year ago. TeD correspondent asked as to “how does the Taliban in the boy’s area get people to join them?” The boy said that “they first call us to the mosque and preach to us. Then they take us to a Madrasa and teach us things from Quran.” He also said that “children are then given months of training. Taliban teaches them to use machine guns, kalashnikov, rocket launcher, grenade and bombs. They ask us to use them only against the infidels. Then they teach us to suicide attack.” The correspondent asked, “Would you like to carry out a suicide attack?” He replied, “if god gives me the strength”. Ms. Chinoy has researched on the process of training of these children by Taliban. She elaborates that it is a five step process as follows:

Step 1: Taliban preys on the families that are large, poor and they live in rural areas. They separate the parents from the children by promising to provide food, clothing and shelter to these children. Then they shift them off hundreds of miles away to hard line schools that run along the Taliban agenda.

Step 2: They teach the children the Quran which is the Islam’s holiest book in Arabic, a language that these children do not understand and cannot speak. They rely very heavily on teachers whom Ms. Chinoy has personally seen distort the message to these children as and when it suits their purpose. These children are explicitly forbidden reading newspapers, listening to radio, reading any books that the teachers do not prescribe them. If any child is found violating these rules he is severely reprimanded. Effectively the Taliban creates a complete blackout of any other source of information for these children.

Step 3: Taliban want these children to hate the world that they currently live in so they beat these children which Ms. Chinoy has seen it. They feed them twice a day like dry bread and water. They rarely allow them to play games. They tell them that for eight hours at a time all they have to do is read the Quran. The children are virtual prisoners, they cannot leave and they cannot go home. Their parents are so poor that they have no resources to get them back.

Step 4: The older members of the Taliban, the fighters start talking to the younger boys about the glories of martyrdom. They talk to them that when they die they will be received up with lakes of honey and milk. How there will be seventy two virgins waiting for them in paradise. How there will be unlimited food and how this glory is going to propel them to become heroes in their neighbourhoods. Effectively this is the brainwashing process that has begun.

Step 5: That Taliban has the most effective means of propaganda. Their videos that they use are inter-cut with photographs of men, women and children who are dying in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The basic message is that the Western powers do not care for civilian deaths. She also said that they preach to the children that being suicide bombers is the only way to glorify Islam. She further goes on to show videos of active children suicide bombers who killed many people. The video said that “the Taliban are essentially running suicide schools to create a generation of boys for atrocities against civilians. TeD correspondent interviewed a child asking him whether he would like to carry a suicide attack. The boy replied that “he would love to do it but only if he gets permission from his dad”. The boy further added that “When I look at the suicide bombers of my age I get so inspired by their terrific attacks.” The correspondent asked, “What blessing would you get from carrying out a suicide attack?” He replied “On the day of judgment, God will ask me, why you did that?” “I will answer, “My Lord! Only to make you happy! I have laid down my life fighting infidels. Then god will look at my intention. If my intention was to eradicate evil for Islam then I will be rewarded with paradise.” Ms. Chinoy ends the talk with these words “If you grow up in these circumstances, faced with these choices, would you choose to live in this world or in the glorious afterlife?” .As one Taliban recruiter told her that “there will always be sacrificial lambs in this war.”

The face of Sharbat Gula strikes a familiarity to the preview of a book written by the Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini titled “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. The too describes the two dreadful lives of Afghan woman namely Mariam and Laila. Mariam is an illegimate child and suffers from both the stigma surrounding her birth along with the abuse she faces throughout her marriage. While Laila born a generation later, is comparatively privileged during her youth until their lives intersect and she is also forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. The book is a characteristic portrayal of female characters, their roles and hard struggle for decent survival in the Afghan society. The book also revealed the ghastly dictums of the Taliban policy on the Afghani women and the people of Afghanistan in general.

On the other hand, the world salutes and remembers Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. She is the Pakistani activist for female education for women in her native Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Northwest Pakistan where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. Yousafzai has pioneered in advocacy of education and launched an international movement for the same. Despite being shot three bullets, her determination to bring a change does not stop her from being the Prophet of education in Northwest of Pakistan. Malala strongly says, “Some people say that she is the girl who was shot by the Taliban. As far as I know I am just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education. When my world suddenly changed, my priorities changed too. I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed and the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up. I tell my story not because it is unique but because it is not. Though, I appear as one girl five foot two-inches tall, if you include my high heels. I am not a lone voice, I am many, I am Malala but I am also Shazia, I am Kainat, I am Kainat Soumro, I am Mozoune, I am Ameena, I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. In the year 2015 representatives of all around the world will meet. It is not the time to tell world leaders to realize how important education is. They already know it. Their own children are in good schools. Now it is time to call them to take action for the rest of the world’s children. So it becomes the last time that we see a child who is deprived of education. Let this end with us, lets begin this ending together, today, right here right now. Let’s begin this ending now. Thank you so much”.

In one part of the world people dream of education and die without getting it and on the other part we come across the Jawaharlal Lal Nehru University (JNU) controversy that is burning the nation in fury and even shuddered the Parliament. With the opposition not only picking brick bats on JNU’s eulogising of a branded terrorist and vehemently condemning his hanging. The opposition went a step ahead dragging a suicide issue of a student from Hyderabad Central University. The campus of JNU was ablaze with protests of students being arrested for Sedition. Sedition means conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch. A fleeting reference came in connection to Sedition Law when sedition charges against Balwant Singh and an accomplice who had raised anti-India slogans in Chandigarh within hours of Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984. The Sedition term we have heard in the past in the text books.

We under the Indian Constitution have been given the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 (a) of the Constitution but this freedom comes with the Clause of reasonable restriction. What is the reasonable restriction? Clause 2 provides that” Nothing in sub clause (a) of Clause 1 (i.e freedom of speech and expression) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of [sovereignity and integrity of India,] the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.] Article 19(1)(b) to assemble peacefully and without arms. The right of assembly includes the right to hold meetings and to take out processions. The right is also subject to restrictions like the assembly must not be in breach of public peace, should be unarmed (non-violent) and reasonable restrictions can be imposed under Clause (3) of Article 19 in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India or public order. In Afghanistan, people are deprived of education whereas in India the Right to education is covered under Article 21(A) of the Constitution that states that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine. Much has been deliberated upon by the framers of the Constitution to provide education in India. The framers observed that in view of the financial condition of a new independent India it was not feasible to make it Fundamental Right under Part III (Fundamental Rights) of the Constitution but included it in Chapter IV as Directive Principles Of State Policy. However a judicial initiative was undertaken in Mohini Jain Vs State of Karnataka where it was held that the Right to Education at all level is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. In UnniKrishnan Vs State of A.P the Court specifically held that the Right to Education for the children of 6 to 14 years is a Fundamental Right. The Court did not agree with the decision of the Mohini Jain’s judgement that children of all ages have the right to education but held that the right to education is available only to the children of upto the age of 14 years and overruled the Mohini Jain case on the point. The Court further said that after 14 years of age the obligation of the State depended on the economic capacity and development. After a lapse of 8 years the Right of Children to Compulsory Education Act, 2009 was passed by the Parliament to give affect to the 86th Amendment Act 2002 that made education a Fundamental Right.

During the freedom movement our country was deluged in nationalism and not anti -national parades. Those times the women of the country even sold their jewelry to fund the freedom movement. Leaders like Gandhi united India through protest marches, boycott and swadeshi movement etc. He generated nationalism throughout the country. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian all united themselves for the freedom movement. No caste, creed or religion proved as an impediment for the dream of a liberated India. When freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Azad laid their lives for India. Veer Savarkar died deprived of dreams of a free India in a locked up cell in the Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Kaalapani). The thousands of Indians who were locked up in that prison and the walls of the jail still echo their dreams and cry for independence. The thousand deaths in Jallianwala Bagh that deeply affected Subhash Chandra Bose and with this pain and motivation he formed the Indian National Army. The resignation of Surendranath Banerjee from the Indian Civil Service and the arrest of Bal Gangadhar Tilak for Sedition as an example of fearless sacrifice during the freedom movement. The Chittagong Rising under the leadership of Surja Sen (fondly called “Master Da”) that eventually lead to his death. The protest of Simon Commission by Lala Lajpat Rai and succumbing to injuries by the lathi charge that lead to his death. The Moderates and the Extremists who worked towards their goal of a free India. There are many freedom fighters whose names are heard verbally or mentioned in books and magazines etc. The thousands of women in India who willingly joined the movement by breaking the family bond and sacrificing their lives for this country. The writings of rebellious authors who wrote profusely in vernacular newspapers, journals and books. It was quite sure that every other household was dreaming of an independent India.

It brings shivers down the spine to read the history of freedom struggle. We ask ourselves, is this the India that our forefathers dreamt of? The numerous meetings and brain storming sessions that the leaders conducted to build a constitution on the principles of liberty equality and fraternity. Are we reaching close to the prophecy of Winston Churchill who warned Gandhi not to play with fire and said “Power will go to the hands of ras­cals, rogues, free­boot­ers; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst them­selves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles…..” How effortlessly the misguided youths raise their voice against the government because it’s a democracy. Could they promulgate anti national ideologies under the Taliban regime? I wonder why there is an uncanny similarity between the misguided children as suicide-bombers of Taliban with the misuse of Article 19(a) of the Constitution just because India happens to be a democratic country. Is there any realization of the tax that we pay for education? Education is an unfulfilled dream for Afghanistan, people are dying of deprivation of basic amenities and instead choose to send their children to suicide schools run by Taliban. The youth shouted slogans of Fascism. They are shouting the long forgotten dogma of Benito Mussolini whereas Italy is a Republic now. Italy was criticized for its zero tolerance approach towards its enemies, authorized by Mussolini. Fascism means an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization which is a direct contradiction to the principles of Democracy. The fact that that they have the courage to shout slogans is only possible in a democracy. How clearly we see the wrought of defiance and audacity in the garb of protests? The people under Taliban regime cry for education and better lives. In that dreadful geographical and war devastated state they have chosen to kill and die for a better afterlife. And here how much gratitude we have that education is reduced to a tool of politics and virtual battlefield within the nation. Insulting and demeaning the very roots glorifies them as a student. How ironical is that every other family of India who sent their children to the army to lay down the lives for the nation and here we have a bunch which is garnering hatred from within their hearts with their fury as deadly as a suicide bomber.

It is said that youths are the future of this country. Many people do not know a CRPF woman constable was the first to spot the terrorists and was shot dead by them as she raised the alarm. She was awarded posthumously India’s highest peacetime award, the Ashok Chakra award for her courage for dying defending the Parliament of India from the terrorist attack on December 13, 2001. It comes as a challenge that none of these youths have the courage to join the Indian National Army or for that matter even join the exhaustive course and drill of Indian Administrative Service. We come to realize what sort of guidance and principles we are imparting today to our children. Is this the kind of freedom India desired? It is sure that the souls of our ancestors are being tormented and trembling in their graves with shame. The freedom fighters criticized the British for the divide and rule policy, what are these youth doing now? Aren’t they allowing fissiparous tendencies to raise their ugly head in the country? Are we faltering on the parenting part? What is the reason behind declining gratitude and the escalating defiance in the youth? Is globalisation of economies and fast paced corporate take over responsible? What is the reason behind the growing aggression, indiscipline, verbal assault, attack, declining law and order and actions carried out of impulse? It is quite easy to type and write antinational ideologies on the social network but the actual courage is to qualify the Indian Administrative Examination (IAS) and work as an honest officer or lay down one’s life as an officer of the armed forces. It is quite easy to flow in the water with the tide, the challenge and courage is to stand against it. Will the youth have the kind of fearless nationalism like our past generations? Those brave hearts that united the nation and not divided it? It is high time that we ponder what nationalism really means and whether we should give so much of unwanted attention to a terrorist.

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Bibi Russell: fashion of substance

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The rustic voice of Bhanvari Devi, a singer from the ancient town of Pushkar, Ajmer (State of Rajasthan), becomes the title track of a Pan Nalin film, Angry Indian Goddesses that depicts urban Indian women. Rustic essence alludes the mankind in various forms. One such charming Goddess has captured the world with her fascination for the culture of village folks. She finds beauty in poverty. Yes, she is charmed by the splendor of rural society.

She is a dusky beauty and her face has captured renowned international fashion houses of Europe like Yves Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Karl Lagerfeld and Georgio Armani etc. The pride of Bangladesh is Bibi Russell who has worked as a fashion model with Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar. She was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, completed her schooling from Dhaka and earned a graduate degree in fashion from London College of Fashion in 1975 and first became a photo model and then landed in catwalk. After a much bright career as a fashion model she returned to Bangladesh in 1994. Thereafter she opened Bibi Productions, a fashion house fusing indigenous Bengali cultural elements into her line. As of 2004, her company employed 35,000 weavers in rural Bangladesh. Bibi Productions is a name in itself as she has generated great bit of employment of skilled and talented weavers and provided stable income. She has given great economic progress and upliftment to the dying creativity of the rural folk.

An award winning film has been produced by Sonia Kripalani on Bibi with the title “Silken Synergy” in 2010. Bibi proudly says that the song “Ekla Cholo Re” by Rabindranath Tagore was written for her as she chose to walk alone. She would love to adorn the Japenese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto in gamcha, khadi and silk.

To understand Bibi’s work and background, I traveled across Kolkata and Dhaka. The weaving industry in Bangladesh is being challenged enormously by the growing competition of the cheap machine made fabrics especially from the neighboring countries. It came as a threat to the survival of the local Bangladeshi weavers. Many weavers across the land have become impoverished and are forced to look for more menial and less paying jobs in the big city. As a result the entire handloom industry of some ten million weavers has been threatened. Bibi has tried to reverse the decline. She after staying and visiting various parts of Bangladesh came with her indigenous program of action “fashion for development”. Fashion for development means socio-economic development, sustainable income and better livelihood. When we first hear this word we find it unrealistic for a poverty stricken third world country like Bangladesh. Fashion can only mean luxury there, nothing else. Bibi is different, she believes that fashion is for everyone. Even a rickshaw puller has his own sense of fashion. Fashion is a culture for her, everyone has it inside them. She thinks a fashion designer has a sense of responsibility towards the society. Through fashion, culture and creativity she plans to eradicate poverty in Bangladesh. Despite the flood and poverty it is the eyes of the people that shine like stars and draws Bibi to her homeland. In this poor country, there is also an extreme amount of strength and people like Bibi Russell are part of this strength. The strength is the culture, traditions, skilled crafstmenship and the creativity. The problem in Bangladesh was the lack of self confidence and the loss of market for the weavers. Through her own sense of style, communication and socializing she went into the core of the weavers problems. Bibi’s first assignment was to create a market for handloom weavers. To market it, by creating awareness and to give handloom an international status. She encouraged the domestic scene by building resources and skill among young artisans, craftsmen and creative workers. She began with a small design studio in the downtown Dhaka. She agrees that she needs government and non government institutions to save the ten million weavers. But as of now she has established her own fashion line using handloom for her ready to wear outfits and jute (a natural fiber) for accessories like shoes and jewellery. Her shows abroad have been really successful. Her shows have taken place in Paris, Spain and London etc. She has traveled in many villages including Rajasthan in India to connect with the weavers. She has showcased her summer and winter collection at the Rajasthan Heritage Week, a textile development project where she has utilized Khadi and Rajasthan handloom fabric like Kota to dress models from top to bottom. For the local weavers and their children, Bibi is not only a great diversion but a significant link to prosperity. She is their messiah in her own way. In a flood ravaged Bangladesh, not only the children of the weavers are attending school but they are learning weaving as well. The generation of employment, empowering local crafts and design communities on using regional resources, resurrecting traditions to build sustainable national brands on principles of fair trade. She is building green economies that give dignity of design and labor back to the east. She sacrificed her personal and promising professional career abroad. She has given a new meaning to the lives of the poor weavers.

Bibi Russell is denoted as the modern Gandhi who has created a revolutionary Swadeshi (indigenous manufacturing) movement. She has designed clothes for bengali movie of renowned director Goutam Ghose called “Moner Manush” based on the life of Lalon Fakir of Bangladesh (a bengali mystical minstrel saint, reformer and thinker). She has also designed for the leading actress Ananya Chatterji in the film Dwitiya Paksha. This year, 2015 marks a beautiful chapter as she came to Bangalore to showcase her designs. Bibi is very fond of marigold, and the flower is adorned amply on her models who showcase her designs on the ramp. When I first saw Bibi at her show, she looked vibrant, very bohemian, and simple with colourful glasses, ethnic jewellery and insanely colourful stole. That’s Bibi for me, the woman at the top of my mind. The bearded men with turbans and women in rural ethnic jewellery looked enticing to the urban audience. She adorns her women with beautiful ornate turbans and head dresses. I was transferred to a different world altogether. Bibi has promoted the Bangladeshi stole “Gamcha” and lungi (a wrapped cloth on the waist) to a different sartorial level. Bibi’s Gamcha is proudly adorned by the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas. She extensively researches, innovates her own sense of style. For instance, she used khadi (cotton cloth) to create jeans. It was sold like hot cakes abroad. She has been a crusader for reviving the dying weaving industry in Bangladesh. She is giving impetus to an ancient industry that once produced the famous Dhaka muslin and jamdani.

Bibi had no inhibitions at all when she was young. She was bohemian, dynamic, thought provoking with a powerful mind and traveled the world with a duty to promote the crafstmen and women of the rural world. She is immensely creative, innovation, intelligent, honest, diligence and has a great vision for fashion industry. Although she was working abroad and visited Dhaka on a holiday, she would travel all through the country specifically to learn and find the creative corners and cultural traditions. Language was never a barrier for her as she was interested enough to learn and understand the dialect. Bangladesh is a country with a plethora of regional dialects and she made a point to know it to connect to the poor. She is a woman who is not at all business minded but is living a life for others, i.e the poor. One can say that her work is not limited to creativity but fashion for social and economic development. She is indebted to Bangladesh forever for what she is today.

In the year 2013, she was interviewed quiet beautifully by Andrea Kolb (a marketing expert and social entrepreneur) as one of the top 20 person to watch in that millennium. With UNESCO supporting her development initiative she has been commissioning her services in Latin America and Africa. To promote weaving industry in Africa and South America Bibis schedule has grown hectic and she has been a recipient of many awards.

Bibi’s work in Laos and Cambodia deserves a special mention. She visited Cambodia and the War Museum of that country has influenced her very much. Rural women in Cambodia are born as HIV positive. She officially works for such women there and provides free medicines and aid. She is also providing medical assistance to the HIV infected women in Bangladesh. To create awareness and campaign for AIDS she assists the weavers to attach a red ribbon to the Bangladeshi Jamdani sari.

The world remembers Bibi as the Artist for Peace by the UNESCO in 2001. Earlier she received an honorary fellowship of the London Institute in 1999, title for Designer for Development by the UNESCO in 1999. In 2004, she received a Peace prize by the United Nations Association of Spain. She has been rewarded Cross of Officer of the Order of Queen Isabella by the King of Spain. It was presented to Bibi by the Spanish Ambassador to Bangladesh, Arturo Perez Martinez. She received great love and support from Federico Mayor, Director General, UNESCO and Queen of Spain.

In her journey as a designer she has not only worked with the great big names of fashion but her foray now is into the socio economic development of the rural craftsmanship. She is a woman with a different frame of mind. She has less attraction for opulence and materialism and much love and care for the poor. She truly wants the poor to prosper. The poverty and landscape of Dhaka captivates her forever.

Being a style icon and ethical fashion icon she is a goodwill ambassador for the impeccable craftsmen and women who work immensely towards preservation and creation of traditional textiles and crafts. For a considerable part of her life she is working abroad including Colombia. The language or cultural barrier does not stop her. She only finds difference in geographical landscape and physical structure of humans. Bibi’s favourite quote is “We live in this world and we love it” by Rabindranath Tagore.

The question is to the people who have a great career and are master of creativity. How many of us really come forward like Bibi by leaving the wealth and comfort of our homes? The way Bibi has learned numerous dialects, lived, sang, danced, bonded and spent months and years in the half deluged sultry villages of Bangladesh. Our market is flooded with dying cottage industries and the disappearing crafstmenship of the poor people. There is consistent development in various sectors and economic liberalization but do we care enough for the downtrodden? How many of us in our careers do something for our society? The great minds do it better than us. Marx’s, philosophy of materialism does not intrigue them. They complete their learning, receive great accolades in their career and later on work for their country. They care and love the society in which they live. They are humans of a commanding vision, compassion, secular and powerful mind. We all have something to learn from them. As the great minds leave the world, their footprints remain embedded in our hearts. Bibi Russell is a woman to be proudly recognized for her work and I salute her. The next time I buy a Jamdani I will think it is Bibis gift to the world.

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