Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Review: In Other Words - Jhumpa Lahiri.

I am reviewing this book under the Flipkart Book Review Program.

It is my unbiased opinion.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book In Altre Parole is a memoir written in Italian and translated into English In Other Words about her journey to find her identity through language. Born as a Bengali Nilanjana Sudeshna, Jhumpa has recreated herself several times through her books bringing out the issues of exile, alienation and identity. In her first nonfiction attempt she chooses to give us a glimpse of the two years in her life when she moved from USA to Italy where she stayed with her Spanish husband and two children (Octavio and Noor, again breaking from the true form of identity through name for them.)
The book is beautifully written, full of angst of the author to find a new voice and identity through language. In the world, there are Trans Gender people who want to completely change themselves because they feel they belong to the other gender. Jhumpa is “trans linguistic” because in her heart she feels she is neither Bengali even though she was born to Bengali parents nor English because she was raised in London and USA but feels more Italian because she chooses it and intrinsically had felt so for many years.
While the book is interesting to read, after a point the reader may feel “What’s the big deal? It’s only a third language she is learning and we know Hindi, English, Marathi, Bengali and even French or Spanish!”

The book is evocative, truthful and a slice of Jhumpa Lahiri’s life and work. Not many authors have crossed over to new languages to write and Jhumpa through “In Altre Parole” urges writers to go beyond their comfort zones and to do more for their craft. But more than that it didn’t leave me as riveted as The Lowland or The Namesake. I hope Jhumpa continues to write stories in English, not just for the awards that she will gather no doubt, but because she has the gift of storytelling that must not die in any language.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Forbidden Desires

‘Why do romantic relationships fade away? Does the magic slowly die? Or do lovers simply wake up one morning realizing they are done? Is it a trick that time plays on happy couples or is it something more profound, an evolution perhaps, of our feelings and our needs?’

Imagine if there was a person you don’t know anything about, who was slowing destroying your marriage.

Imagine if there was a stranger who entered your life and made you realize you were living a lie.

Imagine if there was a love so deep that you needed to sacrifice everything you have to save it.

Imagine if you found out your partner was cheating on you.

What would you do?

Naina, Ayesha, Kavita and Kaajal are four women who know nothing about each other’s lives and continue to live in their own secure world. Until one day, they’re forced to reckon with their shocking truths that they never imagined!

Their desires will come to haunt them, provoke them and make them fight to choose a new path in their lives.

Will these women survive their stories of passion, betrayal and pain? And is there a larger mystery that binds them together?

Best selling author and film writer Madhuri Banerjee brings to you a new romance thriller that interweaves different stories of women and their passions and how all relationships ultimately crash into each other.

Available at leading book stores and on Amazon: Flipkart:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How To Judge a Man in Bed by the Coffee He Drinks!

The type of coffee you order can reveal a lot about your personality and how you are in bed!
Clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula recently conducted an observational study of 1,000 coffee drinkers. As Dr. Durvasula notes in her book entitled You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life, despite the interesting and impressive qualitative research that was gathered “we are no more defined by our coffee orders than we are by our astrological signs.” ( )
So I researched further and found out the correlation between coffee and men. I could judge how a man is in bed by the coffee he ordered! The following observations are based on what men would order in a café, not what they have every day at home. (This is not an exact study and results may vary.)
1.   Men who drank black coffee were generally more traditional minded, quiet in groups, efficient, no nonsense kind of people and didn’t like to experiment in bed even though they were very passionate lovers.
2.   Men who drank cappuccinos and lattes were kind of easy, laid back people with a love of music, films and very giving in bed.
3.   Men who liked iced drinks are quite fun to be with, have a great sense of humour, sharp, intelligent and love experimenting in bed though they could be commitment phobic.
4.   Men who like their coffee with a little bit of milk and sugar might want to please too many people and be balancing too many things in life and can feel overwhelmed sometimes in life and in bed.
5.   The men who had instant coffee were procrastinators, quite absorbed in themselves and didn’t have fantastic relationships though they were very creative and good looking!
6.   The double decaf, soy, extra-foamy men tended to be more obsessive, controlling, and detail-oriented. Their sex life could be very “organised” and pencilled in.
It’s quite interesting to find the choices we make are directly related to the coffee we have. And not surprisingly as we grow older, our preferences for how we have coffee changes as well. If you observe this phenomenon further you’ll notice how as your coffee inclinations change so will your needs of your partner. Most often we start drinking the same type of coffee our partners do and invariably we can see a change in our personalities as well. When I was younger I had cappuccinos and dated a man who had cappuccinos as well. We had a live in relationship and were quite care free then. When I switched to black coffee with hazelnut I found a partner who was a black coffee drinker as well. You can guess what my sex life was! And now I have brewed coffee. Dark roasted. With sugar. And I can’t date a cappuccino man anymore!
Too much coffee can have negative effects on the health. Ideally two medium cups of coffee a day should suffice for your caffeine needs and your sexual desires!
So next time you want to date a man, don’t ask him his astrological sign, ask him how he takes his cup of coffee!

From Lovers to Brothers. Conscious Uncoupling.

Recently actress Gwyneth Paltrow said that her ex-husband Coldplay singer Chris Martin was like a brother to her. While this brought out a universal, global reaction of, “Ewww” it also got me thinking about my ex relationships. Suddenly I realised that my ex and I were still friendly and completely platonic. Did that make him my brother?! 

How do lovers become brothers?

Let’s begin from love. We fall in love. We get married and we hope that we will remain passionate and intensely connected to the person forever. However over time we notice that the passion wanes, the understanding fades and the needs differ. The relationship becomes bitter. This leads to acrimony and most often to break up, separation or divorce.
So why is the divorce rate rising?

In 1900, average life expectancy was only 46 for men, and 48 for women. Today, it’s 76 and 81 respectively. In the last 116 years, it’s increased by 43 years for men, and 48 years for women.
What this actually means is that when humans lived relatively shorter lives, they could easily adapt to one person for the entire period. Whereas today we’re actually living three lifetimes as compared to early human race. Hence we may have three significant relationships in our lifetime.
Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four, five, or six decades. This is not to suggest that there aren’t couples who happily make these milestones—we all hope that we’re one of them. Everyone enters into a marriage with the good intention to go all the way, but this sort of longevity is the exception, rather than the rule. Accomplishing that requires occasionally redefining who we are separately within the relationship and discovering new ways of being together as we change and grow. It’s important to remember too, that just because someone is still married doesn’t mean they’re happy or that the relationship is fulfilling.
So when we separate/divorce we have feelings of betrayal, angst, loss, and hurt that leads to much drama and distress with couples and their children.
Katherine Woodward Thomas in her book Conscious Uncoupling defines it as the path to end a relationship through mutual respect, kindness and deep caring.
What a wonderful way to end a relationship! Without the mudslinging and crying.
So what has this to do with lovers becoming brothers?
At some point when the passion dies and the caring begins you understand that you truly want your partner to be happy. That he/she gave you a deep love when you needed it most. Their intention was to fulfill your purpose at that time. And now the time is over. You will slowly realise that your partner is not entirely at fault for the breakup of the relationship. You will learn to forgive yourself and them. 

You will learn that your personal growth, your journey and your needs are determined by a larger universe, a new lifetime. And your partner doesn’t fit into it. When you consciously uncouple, letting go of ownership, possessiveness, insecurity and anger, you will find a way to converse freely about how to heal and maybe even how to love again.

There are many people who ask, “Won’t you ever go back to your ex? After all he’s safe, comfortable and a known devil is better than an unknown one and we all have needs you know.”
Those who left their relationships in a bitter manner with deep regret and angst, will never be friends much less lovers with their ex. For those who went through the break up amicably will realise after a few years that they’ve lost all sense of attraction to the person they were once with. Often we look at our exes and wonder, “What was I thinking?” We were thinking differently because we were different people then. It was a lifetime ago.

When the attraction dies and the love remains, when the bitterness fades and the caring stays, when the sexual needs perish but the conversations linger, that’s when you know that you’ve moved on from lovers to friends. And when you realise that the bond is deeper than just friendship – it’s an eternal bond you will cherish forever, that’s when you think your ex could actually be like a sibling. Then there’s endless happiness, respect and freedom! 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Don't Cheat! Be in a Poly Amorous Relationship

Wikipedia defines Polyamory as the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships involving more than two people, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It has been described as "consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy"

There are essentially 5 rules to a poly-amorous relationship.
1.      All partners consent to it and choose to be in it.
2.      Take responsibility for your own emotions, instead of projecting them on your partner.
3.      You can practice polyamory whether you are single/in a relationship or married.
4.      You can have different kinds of relationships with different people. You can have deep emotional relationships that are not sexual. Or a sexual relationship with someone you share something with. The essence is commitment to your partners.
5.      Open, radically honest communication with all parties.

Many people confuse Polyamory with Polygamy, the practice of having multiple wives, and that is associated with traditional, patriarchal cultures, where the women may be repressed and where they do not have the same rights to take other partners themselves.
In Polyamory, women and men have the same rights and freedom to have multiple relationships. The same rules apply to both.

Polyamory is also sometimes seen as being synonymous with open relationships. But there is a deep diference between the two. Open relationships are where a couple decide to open up their relationship and marriage to sexual adventures outside the relationship. But it is purely sexual. Generally, no emotional bonds are encouraged or allowed.

In polyamory, the basis is the emotional bond. People who choose polyamory, do so because they believe in the ability to love multiple people, and want to be in multiple committed relationships.

Reema (name changed) has been in a poly amorous relationship for about five years now. It means that while she’s married, she’s  been in relationships with two men over the last few years with the full knowledge of her husband.  One of them has not been sexual in nature. Her husband too has two other relationships as well with the womenn coming over to meet Reema.

Are relationships having a paradigm shift?

A lot of relationships run into trouble because we expect our partners to be everything to us. 
There are a lot of expectations, disappointments, resentment and cheating is rife.  With polyamory, there is the recognition that you can give and get different things to and from various people. So the pressure on your one partner to be your best friend, lover, husband, therapist, who will also love theatre as much as you, who will get as excited and watch every football match together, who will share your love of poetry and obscure music, is removed. This allows a relationship the breathing space it needs.

For outsiders, their most common refrain against polyamory is that the people who practice it do not really love their partner, otherwise why would they go looking for something else? This is the biggest fallacy. Polyamory is not intended to be the refuge for the committment-phobes or the ones that are trying to escape an unhappy relationship. In fact, if it a relationship is suffering, the true poly person would be working on it instead of running away from it.

Another reason that polyamory is on the rise globally is because many people are seeing monogamy is an option not a rule.  While cheating has always existed within relationships and marriages, many today  find the idea of lying to and betraying their partners distasteful, and prefer to openly talk to each other about their desires instead.  Emotional intelligence plays a large role and this is why, by and large the people who practice polyamory tend to be highly educated and self-aware. A certain exposure to the world and being well traveled, having the time and opportunity to work on themselves, questioning ideas that are no longer relevant to oneself and making their own rules are some of the characteristics of polyamorists.

As the seminal book, Sex at Dawn points out human beings are not built to be monogamous. It was conditioning. With the arrival of the agricultural age, men needed to know who their heirs were in order to deal with land rights, legacy etc, and that is when monogamy became the norm.

Meghna has been in a poly amorous relationship for over ten years. She has a steady boyfriend and is deeply in love with a man, Karan. Her boyfriend knows about Karan and is okay about him in her life. They all have had dinner together on most nights. And Karan’s wife is close friends with Meghna.

As an independent woman one can choose who one wants to spend time with instead of hoping to spend all your time with just one man. And waiting for that man to be free or understand everything about you can get lonely or frustrating. In a poly amorous relationship no such pressure exists on partners though there is still an expectation to be loving, thoughtful and just be yourself! It takes the edge off a relationship that can actually bond it better.

Hence the relationship is defined by intention and commitment. A poly amorous relationship is different from serial monogamy, where you go from one partner to another being faithfully loyal to one at a time. This can be exhausting because you’re trying to find the perfect partner to fit into your life and it can be heart breaking when you move on rapidly from one to another. 

A poly amorous relationship allows you to have both and still be honest with all of them.
In this complex interaction lies a simplicity of being needed, of being alive, of feeling excited about the prospect of something new and still having something stable always. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

But most couples are not ready for this in modern India. It is a huge blow to the ego to realise that your partner also loves and desires someone else. Doubt, suspicion and jealousy creep into relationships when you know that the person may not come home to you that night. And the concept of fidelity and honesty is held as the highest virtue in marriages all across the world.

So how do poly amorous relationships survive?  Through radically open, and sometimes painfull honest conversations.  You have to be able to talk about the most uncomfortable, difficult things while managing your emotions at the same time. You take responsibility for your jealousy and insecurities instead of blaming it on your partner. You support each other in their process, understanding that everyone is in a different stage.

Some people find that sharing your partner can have unexpected advantages. Dhruv has a wife whom he loves intensely. She and he have a lot of values in common, love going on holidays together and enjoying growing with their kids. At the same time, he found himself falling in love with a friend who shares his love of business and he can talk shop with.  Dhruv spoke to his wife about opening their relationship to polyamory. She was initially hesitant and had doubts but once she observed how his relationship with other woman added a spark to their own marriage, she began to open up to the idea. Dhruv also made sure she was secure and felt loved.  Later, she herself fell in love with a man who loved art and brought out a side of her she had forgotten.

But a poly amorous relationship has its downsides and it’s not for the large majority of people.
1.      Jealousy can ruin all the relationships.
2.      Initial love and trust can fade away.
3.      It can be exhausting to go from one to another.

So isn’t it easier to cheat?!

Samaira who is a poly amorous relationship says she doesn’t want to cheat on her husband or boyfriend because it’s dishonest to herself. She chooses to give trust to both. And when people understand that sex is not the main element of a relationship, they can let the ownership of the person go. In a poly amorous relationship you don’t need to lie to anyone. You don’t need to hide, sneak around, and be afraid of getting caught and having confrontational arguments. There is no betrayal! You have made your stance clear and both of you have realised that your relationship is about love, companionship, communication, and being there for each other when you need each other. That’s far beyond a sexual act! An honest relationship actually makes sex hotter!

So how do you find people who are willing to be in one once you and your partner have decided to take this step? When you travel alone or together you find like-minded people, or through dating sites, and speaking to friends of friends.

All relationships are evolving. What you needed five years or ten years ago is not something you need now. Sometimes you grow apart. And even sexuality is not in the same continuum as it was a decade ago. Our minds, our hearts and our souls make space for more people, more conversations, more experimentation, and more adventure. Isn’t it better to be honest about it rather than being deceitful to your partner and insincere to your heart?

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Trauma of Divorce on Indian Men

When Sahil Gupta (names changed to protect identities.) celebrated his 16th anniversary on 28th October, little did he realise it would be the last time he would see his wife and two kids. He bought his wife a bouquet of flowers. The next day his wife told him she was going downstairs with the kids to play badminton but instead left with them to her parents place. The next thing he knew she had filed a dowry case 498A against him and did not allow him to speak to his children again. Sahil has no idea what went wrong.

Darryl married for a second time in his late 30s and brought his wife Garima home. They lived with his mother and soon Garima wanted the house to herself, and the deed be transferred in her name. Darryl said his mother had nowhere to go. His mother suggested that the couple look for a rented place somewhere since none of them seemed to be happy with each other. Immediately Garima moved to her mother’s place and claimed she was thrown out of the house and filed a dowry case against the son and mother. Darryl is so shocked that he’s gone into depression.

Indian society sees only one narrative and is very quick to judge. A woman in India needs only to put a dowry or Domestic Violence case, file an FIR or put a rape case against the husband’s family and it is the onus of the men and family to prove it wrong. They are declared guilty in the face of society, the law and their friends even before they have a moment to catch a breath and prove their side of the story.

In the case of Sahil he could see she was moving some of her clothes out but thought she was giving them away. Except she strategically planned to keep a few things at her married home to tell the police that she was thrown out. She also told them that the parents tore off her clothes. Sahil’s parents are in shock as they had treated her as their own daughter always siding with her over Sahil and helping her with the children, house and her work whenever she wanted. As old people, they are yet to recover from this shock and trauma. .

There was the case of Amrita who left her husband Gaurav three months after her son was born and went off with her lover. She put a rape case against her husband and a harassment case against his sister and didn’t allow him to meet their children till he gave her twenty lakhs and a divorce. Refusing to do so, Gaurav stuck by his ground that he would take her back despite all the horrible things she had said about him. After five years her lover left her and she came back to Gaurav who had to build his life with her all over again with his son heartbreakingly calling him “Uncle.”

Why do women take this route?!

The top causes to a woman filing a criminal case against a man are:
1.    Fractions in the joint family – the woman doesn’t want to live with her in laws. She wants to leave and the son cannot let go of his parents. She feels trapped and wants to get attention.
2.     Infidelity – any party husband or wife could be having an affair. If he is having an affair, she is hurt and angry and the only way she can get back at him is through filing a case. If she is having an affair, it’s easy to put a case against her husband so she gets some money in her name rather than a divorce where he can prove she has been cheating on him and she ends up with nothing.
3.    Arranged marriage – Most often Indian women have been forcefully married off and they don’t get along with their husbands. There are several cases where the woman wants to go back to her old lover but the only way to get out of this marriage without her parents and family forcing her to stay on, is to file a case against the family and use article 498A to be free.
4.    Woman Feels Slighted – Most housewives may have an identity crisis at a given point in their life and if a man has said something to slight her, she will get offended. Over time their ideologies change and the romance may die. Misunderstandings rise and everything becomes a huge issue. To ask for a divorce might not be acceptable if the man has not technically done anything and the only way she can save face is to file a 498A case.

So what is Section 498A?
·     In 1983, ‘Section 498-A of the IPC was introduced with avowed object to combat the menace of harassment to a woman at the hands of her husband and his relatives.
·       Section 498-A is a cognisable and non-bailable criminal offence.

With this on him, the Indian Penal Code makes it impossible for the man to fight his case. In some cases like the Mumbai High Court there have been cases where both the parties were asked to have shared parenting with unlimited access to the child. This works if both the parents stay in one city. 

What happens if the mother has taken the child and gone back to her parents and filed for a case in her own city? Then it’s up to the man to keep showing up for court cases in her city to prove he is eager to be with his children or fight for his rights. This is both expensive and exhausting.

There was one middle class family who had been so besmirched with a case that they chose to settle and give the woman twenty five lakhs and go through with the divorce just so that the man could see his children as soon as possible. They took a loan since they didn’t have the money and gave it all to her. Later they saw that she was holidaying in a foreign location while the entire family had fallen into depression and were contemplating suicide since the society thought that the man had been violent and was impotent, as she had claimed.

"A total of 63,343 married men committed suicide in 2012, with a fair amount of them having faced domestic problems," says Amit Gupta of Hridaya, a men’s rights organisation.

“It is the middle class that bear the brunt of this draconian law,” says Men’s Rights Activist Deepika Bhardwaj. “A hard working middle class family needs to cough up huge sums of money to save face in their society while the rich want the matter to die quickly and settle for the sum asked. This could be in crores.”

Money has power. It is often money that leads the woman to file DV (Domestic Violence) cases against the husband and family. As in the case of Sahil Gupta, the woman expected him to earn much more and have a house in her name by a certain time. As he could not provide that for her, she walked out on him.

Many times a husband says the wife must work to have equality in the relationship and both parties shall look after children and home. But the wife refuses. Later when he’s built the nest egg to be more comfortable with his wife and family, she deserts him saying he never paid enough attention to her and it’s time she get the entire nest egg for herself for the years she’s given in the marriage.  

All these cases that are flung on the man are traumatic and there are many men and families who are so scarred that they never get married again or have children. My friend Rahul struggled for two years to get out of a dowry and rape case and finally when he proved he could not give his ex-wife two and a half crores, she settled for fifty lakhs and left him alone. At forty, he had to start over to build his bank balance and find love. A man who loved children so much that he thought he would have a few is still single after ten years and wounded for life.

In Bangalore, there was a woman who was caught having an affair and brought back by the police and given a warning. But her husband chose to file for divorce. She immediately went to the same police to file an FIR against him for harassment and now there is a case against him and his family that they need to fight out. It’s easy to persecute the miscreant but they don’t tell a woman she can be in jail if she files a false FIR.

So what can be done? Here are just a few of my suggestions.
1.     The law should consider how to rehabilitate the woman in her choice of work and help her stand on her feet instead of sucking the man dry in a divorce.
2.     The law must take into account the man’s point of view and hold him innocent until proven guilty.
3.     Many more support groups should come out to help men who have been battered as well.
4.     Women who have filed cases must have solo counselling to gauge if it’s a genuine case or has it been influenced by a third party.
5.     Children should have unlimited access to both the parents whenever they choose with a neutral guide around to supervise.

Marriages do deteriorate over the years. Women feel slighted in some way. And most relationships are power struggles where the man will always say or do something stupid and the woman will feel bad. Most men are not evolved creatures and have no sensitivity sometimes. But it’s always better to go for marriage counselling or take the help of family and friends to sort out issues rather than resort to criminal cases that crack the family and traumatise the children. Or go for a divorce that is amicable, thinking about the children and helping each other stand alone.

According to Activist Deepika, Feminism has become a buzzword for the society. All the inputs from friends, media and society tell a woman to be more aware of her rights. This could lead to aggression. 

A slight remark could result in a full blown war. Small instances over time can instigate the woman to fight for her “rights.” A lover, a friend, a sister could initiate a thought process that the woman is better off alone, should not stand for such “atrocities” and can get all the money she wants if she fights it out!

It is natural to be influenced when you see cases of women who get lakhs of rupees in court cases and full custody for the children. A wife who feels like she has been insulted in the marriage takes the same steps her friend has, not understanding that each family, relationship and man is different. She will use her children against the man and not realise she is creating a permanent psychological damage to them. She may fill their ears with horrible things against the father and his family and permanently shake the children up.

I am still a feminist. I believe that we have come a long way to fight for women’s rights and I am fully supportive of equal rights and pay for women. There are genuine instances of dowry, rape, harassment, abandonment and other evils that a woman has gone through in a marriage and family. She must be strong and use these laws to protect herself. I believe that being strong doesn’t mean putting someone else down. I believe in allowing room for dialogue. And I believe that men have a right to be innocent till they’re proven guilty and not the other way around.

But more than anything behind every case there is a human story, of someone being hurt and threatened, with an extortion that leaves them bitter, sick and damaged.

At the end of the day let’s all be humanists. Whether a woman has been hurt or a man, let’s be sensitive to both. Instead of playing the power card you have another ace up your sleeve. It’s called forgiveness. And if people don’t let ego get in the way, forgiveness can help save a marriage.  

Reserved for One: A poem

We don't trust enough We don't pour out our hearts  Telling all our secrets, our fears and surrendering to each other. Comple...