All She Had Left

She knew the pigeons would be waiting for her, so she quickly rushed up the narrow staircase. She was already late and this annoyed her. Dilawar had still not returned and her wait this morning had been in vain too.

“Go home. We’ll talk when I get back”, Dilawar implored. “Let me stay here with you”, she cried, holding on to his hand. “Things could get out of hand. Trust me! I know I haven’t given you reason to, as yet, but let this be a new start”, he assured. “I will wait”, she said, squeezing his hand tightly as he pulled it away and hurried off. Series of crackles reverberated just as she turned to leave. For a split second, she balked, her very core exploding into smithereens. There was an uproar and the crowds around her went into a hysterical frenzy, but a mystical serenity spread over her and as promised, she wound her way through the throngs. At the gate, she turned back to look at Dilawar, but there were too many people blocking her line of vision. She walked back home, knowing that he would keep his word….

And here she was, still waiting. A throaty welcome greeted her as she reached the terrace- the singsong cooing of the pigeons. Her feathered companions hovered around her, flapping their wings incessantly, uplifting her spirit and making her smile. Their adoration calmed her and for a brief moment, her blanched face beamed- beamed like the face of a young bride. As the pigeons settled down, she walked across the terrace and looked at the spectacle that lay before her.

The courtyard was in a state of disarray, with overgrown shrubs and wild grass. Seasonal mangoes hung low from the trees, their sweet scent permeating the air around. Further away, beyond the tall eucalyptus trees that marked the end of Sardar Bahadur’s estate, the golden dome of the gurudwara shimmered in the morning sun. The faint sound of kirtan drifted in the air, giving the morning a surreal feel.

The city had been founded in the sixteenth century and its clustered houses and narrow by-lanes had innumerable tales to tell. The haveli too had its story.

“How long do I have to wait?”she sighed. This was not what she had dreamed of. Making her way to the door, once again she hoped that the wait would end. The tread down, brought back the feeling of despair. She was all alone and the haveli haunted her…

——————————————-

Meher had entered this haveli as a young bride of eighteen, with great fanfare, hope and expectations. The only daughter of Baba Sahib, her betrothal had been fixed at birth to Dilawar, the only son of Sardar Bahadur. Both families were well known and there was no question of deviating from what was pre-decided.

Halwais from Lahore and Amritsar had been engaged. Day after day, delicacies churned out; barfis made with almonds and pistachios, mathis and shakarparas, all piled high on silver platters, covered with hand made phulkaris. The humdrum of activity, the spontaneous burst of the dholki and folk songs, had teemed the atmosphere with an electrifying buzz. The whole universe had revolved around her, with Biji pampering her with mehndi and Darji tearfully blessing her with his smiles.

The ceremony took place on a beautiful morning, with the fragrance of tube roses filling the morning air and the sublime recitation of the sacred verses. Each verse gave Meher the confidence of a beautiful life ahead.

“Har peh-larr-ee laav par-vir-tee karam drirr-aa-i-aa bal raam jeeo…

Har dooj-rree laav satigur purakh milaa-i-aa bal raam jeeo…

Har tee-jarr-ee laav man chaao bha-i-aa bai-raag-ee-aa bal raam jeeo…

Har chou-tha-rree laav man sehaj bha-i-aa har paa-i-aa bal raam jeeo…”

Dressed in a bright red shalwar kameez, she looked beautiful. The colourful threads of her intricately embroidered phulkari veil, shone brightly in the morning light. Sitting beside her, was her future- Dilawar.

They had met- only once, when he had visited with his parents to finalise the details of the upcoming wedding. A fleeting glance had convinced Meher that those were the brown eyes she wanted to drown in. Had she looked longer, Biji would have admonished her for her bold move.

Bidding farewell to her parents was the hardest and with trepidation, amidst the beating of the dhols, she crossed the threshold into a new life. Her new home welcomed her. Built using the principle form of Sikh architecture, it had a high portico that lead into the central courtyard. The lush green expanse within the walls was unique, especially since it was one of the few havelis, amidst the labyrinthine and ever-expanding network of lanes and closely clustered buildings.

But something was amiss and she realized it immediately. Dilawar, who should have been by Meher’s side, had walked away as soon as they had settled down in the courtyard.

The various ceremonies continued and Dilawar’s family carried on as if everything was fine.

They all fawned over her, but something continued to nag her.

And as soon as Meher had been taken to her room, the mystery had unraveled…

“So this is destiny! A match made in heaven! You don’t know a person and then one day you are put together in one room and you live happily ever after”, Dilawar said, looking apathetic.

Not knowing how to respond, she simply sat quietly.

“Meher means blessing. That is what you are to your parents. Let’s see how it works out for me. By the way, Dilawar stands for one with a daring heart.”

Their eyes met and Meher tried to read Dilawar’s. What she saw yet again was a deep abyss. She would have continued staring had Dilawar not moved to draw the curtain aside.

Cold breeze scented with the fragrance of marigold came into the room.

“I know we were betrothed even before we knew what it meant. And because of the family honour, both of us could not go against this. But did you even for a moment want something else?”

The direction this conversation was taking, discombobulated Meher .

Dilawar was waiting for her answer and she didn’t know what she was expected to say.

“ Meher, I don’t know what your expectations are. I on the other hand, have none. This decision was taken for me by my parents as it was in your case too.”

“Is there a problem?” asked Meher, expecting to hear the worst.

“I don’t know!” With that, Dilawar went into the adjoining room and Meher was left alone, sitting on the bed, with all her hopes and expectations lying broken all around her.

Silent tears rolled down her cheeks and it was then that she really wanted someone to hug her tightly and squeeze away, all the pain that erupted inside her.

This was not the way she imagined things would be.

Never had she felt this alone.

Dilawar came and quietly sat down on the chair and started reading. Meher was totally lost as to what she was expected to say or do. Never in her wildest dreams had she thought that life would take such a devastating turn.

Everyone who knew Meher always talked about her exuberance, her smile, her ability to always have hope and the happiness she spread.

The Meher who sat on the bed that evening was unknown, even to her own self.

She had known that she would miss her parents and her familiar surroundings, but the excitement of a new future with someone, who she would learn to love, had made her step into this life with propitious expectations.

She could feel Dilawar watching her again, but she did not care. At that moment there was nothing that could be done.

Various options raced through her mind; speaking to her in-laws; running back home.

She could ask to go back to her parents, who would be there for her, but she knew that they would be completely shattered.

‘Now what?’ she thought…

The chirping of the birds woke Meher up. She looked around at her unfamiliar surroundings and sat up immediately.

All that transpired the evening before came back to her, and her eyes flooded again.

Dilawar lay fast asleep on the chair, the book held lightly in his hand.

With his brown eyes, that Meher had hoped to drown in, and his regal bearings, he was what every girl would have dreamed for.

A fleeting glance, when he had visited Shikarpur with his parents, had made Meher fall in love with him. Meher wondered if the first attraction could be called love. The way things had turned out, she didn’t know what had made her look forward to this union. Both were strangers. Did Meher really love him without knowing him?

Last night she had resolved to be strong about this situation.

This morning she was a bundle of nerves again.

‘This is just a bad dream’, she thought.

Part of her wanted to be with Dilawar. She stood at crossroads and there was no one she could ask for help.

The burden seemed to be weighing her down.

‘Ay man mayri-aa too sadaa rahu har naalay.Har naal rahu too man mayray dookh sabh visaarnaa…’

There could not have been a better thought coming to her, than this beautiful verse from Anand Sahib.

She knew things would take their own course and whatever the outcome, she would accept it as her destiny.

Not wanting to disturb Dilawar, she got up quietly from the bed and went to change. She put away her wedding finery.

The day may not have proved auspicious for her, but she would tread strongly ahead, even if alone!

She got ready and quietly went back into the room.

Dilawar was still fast asleep and Meher resisted the urge to touch his face. Was he real? Was she still in the middle of a nightmare?

She gently took the book from him and looked at it.

She had seen Soz-e-Watan by Munshi Premchand, but hadn’t had a chance to read it.

In college, some of her friends, who were sympathizing with the revolutionaries, revered the book.

Darji had forbidden her from getting involved. One of his cousins Ajit Singh, was on the run, and this had caused some problems for the rest of the family. There had also been an uproar when Darji had heard about the Gaddar Party. There were many who supported the revolutionaries, but Darji did not approve of their ways.

She wondered what her father would say if he got to know about Dilawar’s reading choice.

Quietly putting the book on the table, she walked away…

“ Meher, Dilawar left early morning for Lahore”, Maaji sounded apologetic.

It was already two months since she had been married, though only in name. Meher had decided not to worry her parents and play along with destiny.

The visit back home had been a short one and with a heavy heart, she had returned to Amritsar.

Dilawar’s parents had been very welcoming and Maaji, his mother, had tried to keep Meher busy. There was always an endless stream of visitors, added to that were visits to the bazaars and the running of the house.

Every morning Dilawar and his father left for work, only to return in the evening, when they would all sit together for their evening meal.

Meher only spoke when spoken to and this was attributed to her supposed shyness.

What helped her keep up the farce was her indifference, which now seemed to require lesser effort than a few weeks earlier.

Maaji, knowing well that the couple had not settled down, stayed alert. There had been times when Meher had heard her arguing with Dilawar. There was something which she could not put a finger on…

“ He didn’t mention anything”, Meher said, feeling slightly let down.

Maaji went about doing her chores and having nothing to do, Meher decided to go up to the terrace.

It was the most beautiful part of the haveli and this was where she had started coming everyday. A flock of pigeons fluttered around, disturbed by the intrusion. With their nests in every nook and cranny, the terrace was their domain. Walking past them, she went and settled down on the ledge. The birds settled down too and their gentle cooing made her agitation dissipate. From the terrace she could see the courtyard. The place was abuzz with activity, everyone seemed busy. Beyond were the grey shadows of the city with its domes and parapets and the distinct golden dome of the gurudwara.

Amritsar was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, fourth Guru of the Sikhs, on a site granted by the Mughal emperor Akbar. The Guru ordered the excavation of the sacred tank and called it Amrita Saras , from which the city’s name is derived. A temple was erected on an island in the tank’s centre by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.

During the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the upper part of the temple was decorated with a gold-foil and since then the building has been popularly known as the Golden Temple.

Amritsar became the centre of the Sikh faith, and the focus of growing Sikh power.

The city flourished and gained prominence.

The terrace was where she let down her guard, crying to her heart’s content…

Dilawar apprenticed with the well known lawyer, Malik Khan and Meher knew that he was preparing for a very important case at the Lahore High Court. There were days when he stayed back in Lahore.

When home, he was cooped up in the library and that was where he had found her one day, lost in her book. As soon as he came in, she got up to leave.

“Stay, it’s okay”, he said, coming towards her. The sudden interest and proximity made her nervous and as she tried to move away, her book fell from her hands. Dilawar’s laugh made her indignant.

“Relax! I was just curious about your reading interests”, he said, picking up the book. “Didn’t know you could read Urdu”, he said, handing back Bulley Shah’s poetry.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me”, she said, taking back the book and walking out of the library.

Dilawar looked out of the window and saw her going up to the terrace. She was beautiful, her dark black hair tied up in a snake like plait, with light brown eyes that lit up when she smiled.

But that smile had become a rarity.

He wished he could turn back the clock…

“It’s been a week since Dilawar came home. What sort of work is this? Doesn’t he realize he is married now?” Dilawar’s father was furious. Meher had never heard him raise his voice.

“Give him some time”, Maaji said, trying to calm him down.

“He wasn’t ready…”, she stopped mid-sentence, realizing that Meher was seated close by.

“Meher, why don’t you go and rest. It’s late and I don’t think Dilawar will come home tonight. He must be busy with the case”, she said, coming up to Meher and holding her hand lovingly.

Not wanting to be part of the discussion, she quietly got up went to her room. She was too distracted to read, so she turned on the gramophone and lay down on her bed. Sleep eluded her, but she lay there listening to Gauhar Jan’s melancholic voice.

She heard the door opening and gathered that Dilawar had entered the room. Her back was towards the door, but she heard his footsteps approaching the bed.

Her heart was pounding, but she lay still, eyes closed.

“I wish things had been different”, he said softly, before moving away.

Silent tears rolled down her face…

“Meher, why don’t you come to the college tomorrow? Mrs. Besant is giving a lecture on Home Rule”, Bani said, enthusiastically.

Meher had met Bani a month ago, when she was out shopping with Maaji.

Dilawar and Bani’s husband apprenticed together and Bani spent her time writing for The Tribune.

The couple’s revolutionary ideology was well known and at the time of the wedding, both had been in Lahore, attending a rally in honour of Lala Lajpat Rai.

Maaji had encouraged Meher to meet up with Bani.

Twice a week, she had started going with Bani to the Khalsa College library.

The library was being extended and Bani and Meher had volunteered to help with the catalogues.

“I don’t know if Maaji will agree”, Meher replied, without looking up.

There was a stack of books in front of her and she wanted to finish listing them as quickly as she could.

“I don’t think it should be a problem. After all, Dilawar is one of the organizers”, Bani piped in.

“Really? Are you sure?” Meher asked.

This bit of news surprised her. She wondered why no one at home ever mentioned this. She had seen the books he read and had heard him talking passionately about the politics of the country.

“What do you mean? I am sure because I go for the rallies too. Dilawar is very active. Initially his parents were not very happy, especially since your father-in-law has a lot of British contacts”, Bani said, looking at Meher quizzically. “Don’t tell me you don’t know this! Anyway, just ask him and come.”

Dilawar was taken aback when Meher asked him about the lecture.

At first he was hesitant, but then he had agreed.

This was the first time Meher went out with him. Maaji had not been very happy with Meher wanting to attend the lecture, but had given in when Dilawar asked. S

eeing them leave together, she said a silent prayer for their happiness.

The lecture was well received by the audience and Meher was surprised to see the large number of women in the audience.

Dilawar was caught up behind the scenes, so Meher found a place next to some missionaries from the Theosophical Society.

Bani had been unable to make it as her son had taken ill.

Annie Besant spoke articulately about Home Rule.

The whole experience had been exhilarating and for a brief moment Meher forgot her problems.

“Thank you”, she said, with a smile, which caught Dilawar by surprise.

A brief connection and then the constricting disconnect. The exhilaration from a few moments ago was replaced by the dull ache. She wanted to reach out and beg for love.

They had driven home in silence and as soon as they had gotten back, Dilawar headed to the library and Meher went to her room.

She lay on the bed for a long time, lost in her thoughts, wondering what lay ahead. She wondered whether there was someone else. There was only one person she could ask…

“So how was the lecture?” She was in the library with Bani and as always, Bani could not work quietly.

“It was all very new for me. What Mrs. Besant said makes sense. I wonder what Darji will say? He has always taken a very strong stand against those who rebel”, Meher replied.

“This is not a rebellion. What the people want is self-governance. Why can’t we decide how our country is run? Why can’t our money be used for our people? Why should our people die? So many lost their lives fighting Britain’s war”, Bani argued.

“I understand what you are saying. But this is for the Viceroy and the members of the assembly to sort out. Anyway I have something important to ask”, Meher said, not wanting to get into a heated debate on politics, “But you have to promise that you won’t say this to anyone”, she continued.

Bani’s curiosity was piqued and she was all ears.

“Bani, is there someone else in Dilawar’s life?”

It took Bani a few seconds to grasp the intensity of Meher’s query. “Someone else? Why would you ask that?” she asked.

Much that Meher had resolved to handle this strongly, she found herself bursting into tears.

With her voice quivering, she poured out her heart to Bani.

Visibly distraught, Bani held on to Meher. “Why didn’t you tell your parents?”

“I know they will be shattered if this was true. Maaji knows that things are not right between us. She hasn’t said anything, but I can sense it. But I didn’t want to ask her”, Meher continued, relieved that she could share her burden with someone. “I need to know. I don’t think I can go on like this.”

“I really don’t know what to say. I can check, but I think you should ask Dilawar directly”, Bani replied. “And do it as soon as possible.”

“I will. Soon”, Meher sighed…

Dilawar had been in Lahore when the riots broke out and he was advised to stay back. The authorities had strict orders to enforce a curfew and no one wanted to take a chance.

The city was abuzz- a peaceful protest outside the Deputy Commissioner’s residence had taken a bloody turn when security forces had fired at the protesters. The unfortunate incident was followed by some dissidents retaliating against the British nationals in the city. The ensuing violence, a day before Vaisakhi, shrouded the city in gloom.

That evening when Dilawar got back home, he confirmed that there would be more trouble, especially if the authorities imposed martial law. “But you don’t need to worry. Commissioner Hayes has assured me that it’s all under control. And anyway, tomorrow’s Vaisakhi celebrations will carry on. They are keeping an eye on things”, Dilawar’s father said.

“And you believe him? At least thirty people have been killed. Had they not fired at the protesters, all this would not have happened”, Dilawar replied.

“Let’s not get agitated. You must be tired. Go and rest”, Maaji interrupted, trying to diffuse the spark.

“I have to go out for a bit. Will be back in an hour”, Dilawar said as he got up to leave.

Meher knew she would have to wait.

Tomorrow was in any case a blessed day; a new day…

Vaisakhi morning was hectic.

Meher had overheard Dilawar talking to his father about the protest being organised at Jallianwala Bagh. His parents had tried to discourage him, but Dilawar had been adamant.

“It is an opportune time to reach out to the masses. Thousands are in town for Vaisakhi and since there is a fair, some of the leaders will put forward their ideas”, Dilawar assured.

“Why don’t you take Meher with you? She will get to see the Vaisakhi festivities too. Am sure Bani will be there too”, Maaji suggested.

“Baani won’t be there today”, Dilawar answered.

“Maaji, I forgot to mention that I have to go to the library today. Even though it’s a holiday, we decided to complete the listing”, Meher added.

Dilawar had seemed uncomfortable taking Meher with him and Meher had sensed it. Though deeply hurt, she knew she had to take the first step. She needed to speak to him and ask what the real problem was. If there was someone else in Dilawar’s life, she would leave. Divorce was a taboo, but not as bad as staying in a loveless marriage. She knew she had to unravel this mystery.

‘And today is the day’, she affirmed.

Going to the library was an excuse, a justifiable one according to Meher.

As soon as Dilawar left, Meher left the house too.

The streets were crowded so she tried to keep up her pace. The bazaars were an explosion of colour and sound; dupattas and turbans of all shades imaginable, the ringing of the bells, an assortment of wares being hawked, the sizzle of delicacies being churned in the stalls, music and speeches blaring from the mikes.

There was enough police presence to remind everyone that the normalcy they saw was flimsy. As they approached the centre of the city, Meher tried her best to move closer to Dilawar. She didn’t want him to know that she had followed him, but she didn’t want to lose him either. The entrance was narrow, allowing limited access into the park and as Meher got inside, she realized she had lost him.

She looked around frantically, and was almost on the verge of tears, when she saw Dilawar staring back at her. He was furious, his shoulders stiff and eyes glaring. Covering the distance in a couple of strides, he held her arm and pulled her to one side.

“You should not be here”, Dilawar said, his tone laced with disapproval.

“I have to speak to you. Since you haven’t been home as much, I thought I could use this opportunity”, Meher replied.

“This is not the right place. Go back home and we will talk when I get back. Do Maaji and Darji know that you are here?”

“They don’t know. They thought I was going to the library with Bani”, Meher said guiltily.

“I just need to speak to you. This is very difficult for me”, she pleaded.

“Meher, go home and we will speak when I get back. Please!”

“Just hear me out”, she pleaded.

Tears streamed down her face and in her heart she hoped that Dilawar would understand her pain and reach out.

“What is it? I really don’t to get into any lengthy discussions right now”, he relented, though halfheartedly.

With all the courage she could muster, Meher poured her heart out; her dreams and how they had been shattered, her loneliness; her fears. Dilawar was silent.

Something had shifted and Meher felt a connection.

His shoulders were slumped and his eyes, which had earlier been hard and cold, seemed sad.

“I had no idea. There is a lot that I have going on. I didn’t want to get tied down, but the pressure had been immense. Sad that we are in this situation and I have no idea how we can move on”, he said. Meher felt let down.

“Is there someone else?” she asked, hoping against hope that his answer would be a negative.

“Sorry?” he questioned. Meher repeated the question. “Is that what you thought? No there is no one. But it’s not that simple. Let us talk when I get back home”, he sighed.

“Let me stay here with you”, she cried, holding on to his hand.

“Things could get out of hand. Trust me! I know I haven’t given you reason to, as yet, but let this be a new start”, he assured.

“I will wait”, she said, squeezing his hand tightly as he pulled it away and hurried off.

——————————————-

Both Meher Kaur and Dilawar Singh died on that fateful April morning.

A self-governed India had been Dilawar’s dream.

This dream came true on 15th August 1947.

Many lives were lost, hundreds and thousands displaced and destroyed.

Meher, like most of the people in Jallianwala Bagh that morning, was unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Her last thoughts had been of reaching home and waiting for Dilawar.

When Dyer’s fury was unleashed, she had been walking towards the entrance, with dreams of a fresh start, of finding love and staying happily ever after.

 

(This story was first published on http://www.storymirror.com in July 2017)

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It’s a(Wo)man’s World

http://www.talkingcranes.com/tc-article/it’s-woman’s-world/1037

Artika Aurora Bakshi

With International Women’s Day around the corner, I decided to explore why women authors used male pseudonyms. This was prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries, where many women felt the need to mask their true identities so that they would be taken seriously. From Louisa May Alcott, best known for her literary marvel “Little Women”(which thankfully was published under her real name) to the Bronte Sisters, who knew that the literary world was strongly prejudiced against female writers, many found freedom of expression cloaked in a man’s identity.

One would have thought that the world is less prejudiced today, yet when J.K.Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, turned out to be Joanna Rowling, many wondered why the much acclaimed author of a record breaking epic series, shied away from writing under her real name. Wondering whether her stories would be accepted by her target audience- young boys, she decided to listen to her publishers and use her initials instead. As she had no middle name, she chose K (for “Kathleen”) as the second initial of her pen name, from her paternal grandmother.  She further went and wrote her detective thriller The Cuckoo’s Calling, as Robert  Galbraith, again for reasons best known to her. Sales soared, when it came out that it was Rowling again, who brought Comoran Strike to life.

Digging in deeper to understand how far rooted this trend was, a whole new plethora of literary marvels opened up. Some may have felt intimidated, hence resorted to male names to skirt past discrimination, but there were many who wrote as themselves, even in times when it was literally a man’s world. History is proof that women have always been writers, creators of fine literary treasures. Now, with publicists, agents and the social media the world is a different and it’s much easier to make your name as a writer. But, in centuries past, when women were neither seen nor heard, a few rose and made a niche for themselves on their own terms and in their own names.

It is to these women, that my 8th of March,2015 is dedicated. May the pen of a woman always create beauty, wisdom and love.

Sappho, of the Isle of Lesbos, shines through the fragments of antiquity, just like her lyrical poems. What remains of her poetry, are fragments which have been pieced together painstakingly to bring out the artistic flair of her exuberant and enchanting style. Melodies from 600 BCE can be heard today and Sappho stands tall even today.

 

O Venus, beauty of the skies,

To whom a thousand temples rise,

Gaily false in gentle smiles,

Full of love-perplexing wiles;

O goddess, from my heart remove

The wasting cares and pains of love

 

Ancient China, with its edifices, porcelain, silks and logograms mesmerises the world even today. In this strongly patriarchal society, women were neither seen nor heard. In a man’s world where Astronomy, Mathematics, Politics, Poetry and Prose determined the stature, Ban Zhao peeked out from behind the shadows and made her mark. As a teacher in the royal court in 100 CE, she gained political influence and prominence. Known as the first female Chinese historian, she is credited with Lessons for Women, an advice manual for women of that period- teaching them the art of being submissive!!!! She became China’s most famous female writer; the Ban Zhao crater on Venus named after her.

For Christine de Pizan, writing came naturally and this medieval author wrote poetry and prose to support herself and her three children. She served as a court writer in medieval Franceand her work reflected her astute knowledge of aristocratic custom and fashion Christine’s view on mythology, legend and history gave her a niche over other writers during that period. This Italian French author,is best known for her famous literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. While the first brings to light the past contributions of women to society during the medieval period, the latter works as a guide to women in 14th century on how to imbibe the qualities from the first one. Her practical advice for women in that period was sought after. According to her, “Rhetoric is a powerful tool that women could employ to settle differences and to assert themselves”.

Often credited with being the first woman writer to earn a living by her pen, Aphra Behn started writing plays for the London Theatre to support herself. Having spied for the British crown and being imprisoned for debts once she returned to London, she saw writing plays, poems and then novels, as a safer way to sustain herself in 17th Century Britain. Her story, The Royal Slave written in 1688 narrates the tale of an African prince forced into slavery in Surinam. With more than fifteen plays to her credit, Behn along with Eliza Haywood and Delarivier Manley is regarded as one of the most influential writers of 17th and 18th century. This “Fair Triumvirate of Wit” died a pauper despite her success as a writer in her lifetime.

 

 

DID YOU KNOW???

Famous Novel Pen Name Real Name
Fifty Shades of Gray E.L.James Erika Leonard
The Hardy Boys Franklin W. Dixon Leslie McFarlane
Out of Africa Isak Denisen Karen Blixen
The Mill on the Floss George Eliot Mary Ann Evans
In Death series J.D.Robbs Nora Roberts
The Townsman John Sedges Pearl S. Buck

 

Carry On ……. Writing

http://www.talkingcranes.com/tc-article/carry-onwriting/440

Artika Aurora Bakshi

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

? Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Had Sylvia Plath been alive today, she would have definitely felt more at home now than in the 1960s. The world today, belongs to the writers. Everyone writes because everything in life is writable!!! While some achieve the ultimate dream of getting published and accoladed for their work, there are countless others who are also living their dream by writing journals, blogs and soulful posts on various social networking sites. Close to 90,000 books get published every year in India, the United States sees around 300,000 books being churned out yearly. Even though books constitute a sizeable percentage of writing, thanks to technological progression and the increase in virtual platforms, written expression is multiplying at a phenomenal rate.  Twitter is flooded with an average of 140 million tweets a day and Facebook as of March 2015, has over 1.44 billion monthly active users. Blogging services like Tumblr, Medium, Blogger, Technorati and WordPress see an increase in number of users everyday.

Colombo hosted a very unique lit fest, “Annasi & Kadalagotu Lit Fest” this April. Annasi is the Sinhala term for pineapple and Kadalagotu is the humble chickpea. The aim of this festival was to reach out and make literature accessible to the common man.  One of the sessions I attended was on Blogging. The guest bloggers were passionate bloggers in Sinhala and English and the session was quite electrifying, with discussions  on the criticism bloggers face, the lack of recognition, legitimacy of blogs and blog plagiarism. The session was enough to make me wonder on the importance of writing on virtual platforms and whether blogs qualified as ‘LITERATURE’. How gratifying is the virtual world???? The more I googled, the more involved I became.

Preeti Singh, my partner in The Good Book Corner is an avid blogger and a published author . Her blog ‘preetiwhines’ gives a peek into what’s happening in her life and many can relate to what she writes. Blogging, for Preeti, was a way to develop her voice and refine her writing. As to the future of blogs, Preeti says,“I think with more people wanting to write, blogs can only become  bigger. Not in this fashion though. Now newspapers and online portals also assign  blogs to people – HuffPost does that – you have the freedom to write your blog, it gets edited and cleaned up and posted on their site. The other place that is becoming popular is Medium – a blog community by the same people who started blogger….in the future such collaborations will become big, and might compete with online news”.

When I asked her whether blogs qualified as literature, she clarified, “technically no…though of course when you hit the button, you are ‘published’! Yet, loads of blogs have been converted into books, or have developed stories that became novels, food and travel memoirs”. Preeti’s book ‘Unravel’ was released in 2014 and when asked as to what was more satisfying……. “Blogging satisfies my need to vent and have something out there….and publishing is a longer deal”.

Arpita Bhawal has also blogged passionately and is the author of ‘Vices of Eden’. She was a guest columnist with an afternoon daily in Hyderabad and started blogging because she wanted her articles to be available online even after the newspaper was trashed. According to Arpita, “I wouldn’t say that blogs qualify as literature, because “literature” in my view is a more structured, lengthy and fictional form of writing, with a story that gives the entire picture. Literature as we have learned is not just a musing or a brief opinion; it is a detailed, conclusive and definitive point of view of the writer on the subject (fiction or otherwise). Blogs qualify not as literature unless they are strung together to give them a theme, name, purpose and story. Literature is storytelling while blogs are incident – instance telling”. As to what is more satisfying- blogging or getting published, Arpita feels, “Blogging is like popping the cherry on the cake in your mouth for a quick taste of what the cake would be like. It is instant gratification. But publishing a book is like creating a child or giving birth to an invention that can impact or even change the world. I find publishing a book is far more satisfying only because the journey of the writer during the creation of that book is as enriching as the experience the reader gets from reading something totally new or relevant or fantastic. Imagination gets its full glory in a book unlike blogging”.

Bob McKerrow ‘Wayfarer’, another well known blogger, feels that any story, poem, article or photographic essay written or spoken, is literature, though quality, is another thing!!!  He is a humanitarian, mountaineer, polar traveler, writer and poet and work for the Red Cross. “I am a good story teller. In 2007 my communication guy in Indonesia said  “ Why don’t you tell your stories to a wider audience and he helped me set up a blog. Blogging and blogs are changing and will continue to change. I don’t see Web Logs as such, but more as a repository where I can put my travels, writings, lessons that other people can access quickly through google or other search engines. I have done and seen things few others have, so I feel it a civic duty to share as in many cases, through my blogs, people find a relative, a friend, a place or something that has a huge impact on their lives”, says Bob, when asked about the future of blogging.

Like Preeti and Arpita, Bob too feels that publishing a book is more satisfying. “Nothing beats the feel of a book. Holding it, smelling it, caressing it and looking at the quality of the paper, the print, the maps, photos. And then, reading the content. Then putting it in your library and taking it out from time to time to read. Blogging can never compare to that”, he iterates.

Literature, generally defined as any form of writing( though in times long gone by, oral forms were included), enjoys the status of being grand. When judged as an influencing piece of grandiose writing, most books find their way into this elite category. The commonality being, that these pieces of writing stay for generations, much after the author is no more. They influence and inspire and become talking points amongst literati, centuries later. While blogs don’t enjoy permanence, many blog writers are working on making their blogs more long lasting. In an attempt to be attain posterity, blogs are being edited, sequenced and given semblance before being published. Many of the upcoming writers today, started by writing their own little journals and feeding their precious blogs. They influence, inspire and strike a chord with their readers, just like books.

I am not really a blogger and I am yet to publish my books, but I write! I have written since the day I discovered the alphabet. From scribbling my name on coloured pieces of paper to writing down teenage poetry as a way of venting out, writing has always been a part of my life. 2007 was the year I discovered Facebook and there was no looking back. I have always been expressive, and with Facebook my expressions found words and I could share them with the people who mattered. My posts told my stories and there was no inhibition as the people who were on my friends list were those who knew me well – that I have always been an open book. Writing on this virtual platform gave me the confidence to reach out to a wider audience and it was in 2012 that my first article got published online. The world wide web has been my space and I am also working on getting two of my manuscripts published.

While the future is unclear and blogs are not always seen as anything short of the bloggers’ rantings, for now let us give them the importance they deserve. It is after all the ‘Art of Writing’ that is clearly the winner. So, write on!!!

Amritsar Revisited

http://www.sikhnet.com/news/amritsar-revisited-photo-journey

Amritsar Revisited ~ a photo journey

August 7, 2013 by Artika Aurora Bakshi with SikhNet ~ artika.bakshi@yahoo.com
Amritsar Revisited
by Artika Aurora Bakshi
amritsar (103K)
Born and brought up in Amritsar, every time I think of the city I think of the warm bonds and cold lassis, hot Amritsari kulchas and sweet hospitality.

A city founded by Guru Ram Das and put on the world map for being the most important city for Sikhs world over, it has history pouring out of every corner. Blessed was this city and it’s people.

Highly pleased at the sincere devotion and courage of the women of Amritsar, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji said, “maian rabb razaian”(Ever blessed by God be the women of Amritsar.)

Much has changed over the years- a little for the better and a lot more for the worse. A city that could have been the pride of Punjab and India, lies neglected.

Where on one side I can see the pristine Golden Temple and the famous Rambagh Gardens, the other side sadly portrays despair. Rubble from incomplete building and road projects, overflowing trash bins and stray animals all over.

I am revisiting Amritsar here in a series of photographs…

AmritsarVisited (94K)
Amritsar Re-revisited

What stood out in Amritsar during my last visit in July, 2013 was the commitment of it’s citizens.

The commitment of the Amritsari’s is visible in the faces of VOAVoice of Amritsar and Eco Amritsar, two NGOs started by a group of conscious citizens. The mission statement of VOA is stated below………

“This group is created as an aftermath of ANNA HAZAARE anticorruption movement.The aim is to continue public awareness in all fields with special emphasis on development in the city of AMRITSAR. On 8th of April 2011 at 8 PM history was created in Company Bagh when over 300 people assembled impromptu to support the cause of anti corruption movement.All like minded people are welcome to join so that the VOA becomes a flagship against CORRUPTION , BAD ADMINISTRATION ,BAD GOVERNANCE and above all POOR PEOPLE COMPLIANCE to all initiatives of NGO`s or Administration. Lets cheer up this 3rd media which is not corruptible , in which everybody is an administrator,journalist and editor. LONG LIVE THE SPIRIT OF CLEAN AND FAIR SOCIETY.

VOA has been active ever since, in awareness and cleanliness drives all across the city. It was rather funny to see that street vendors were on their alert, the moment they saw any of the VOA members approaching with the VOA stickers shining brightly on their cars. Eco Amritsar is also another strong voice that that taken up this herculean task of making Amritsar the pride of Punjab.A historic meeting envisaging Eco Amritsar took place in the city in July 2012 bringing together over 200 representatives of religious bodies, city administration officials, environmentalists, youth leaders, educationists and business leaders to commit to make the entire city eco-friendly by year 2017 when city celebrates its 440th anniversary.

The task of these two premier organizations is not an easy one, especially when faced with the high level of inefficiencies and corruption at the district and state levels. Amritsar has been neglected and the state of affairs is a sorry one. Until and unless each Amritsari does not move beyond the boundaries of their fancy kothis and steps into the streets, the task of regaining Amritsar’s lost glory will remain a dream, lost in the files of the city and state administrators.

Wishing VOA and Eco Amritsar all the very best in their endeavors.

AmritsarVisited1 (47K) voa_logo (13K)

Eco-AmritsarLogo (60K)AmritsarRevisit (53K)

In the words of SINGHS ~ Riches Between the Covers

http://www.sikhnet.com/news/words-singhs-riches-between-covers

In the words of SINGHS ~ Riches Between the Covers

July 25, 2013 by Artika Aurora Bakshi with SikhNet
In the words of SINGHS
by Artika Aurora BakshiThe pen is mightier than the sword! This has been advocated through the years by many. I have always wondered how many of us actually believed in it and how many of us have actually taken that path. Two prominent Sikhs who have lead the way by showing that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword and that freedom of speech should be exercised without any fear of repercussions are KHUSHWANT SINGH and TAVLEEN SINGH.

Both have been prominent in the Indian and International print media for decades and have set a standard so high that very few have been able to reach it.

2012 saw them both release two very unique books. (see below ~ SikhNet editor)

The Free Thinker’s Prayer Book– written by India’s grand old man. When Khushwant Singh says something or when he writes, we all take notice- we notice it is for sure, whether we agree with it or think of him as someone who has lost his mind…..that is a very personal view and I shall leave it at that.

The introduction takes every individual back to the moment, when we have all questioned the religious and ritualistic dogma that are there in our lives. We have all wondered why???

I am a Sikh by birth and by choice and I too follow all the prescribed rituals! I believe in Universal God and take inspiration from the ten teachers of Sikhism. The lives of our Gurus inspire and guide. In an environment which has no gurudwaras or exposure to Sikhism, it is I, who tell my children, the stories of the Gurus and make them comprehend the verses and hymns in our Granth Sahib.

But there are times when I have questioned the existence of God, the list of prescribed ways to reach him and the very idea of Karma.

In his book, Khushwant Singh raises a question- “if an all-powerful, all-seeing God does exist, why is there injustice and suffering in the world? In our country alone, for every Mother Teresa and Baba Amte, there are thousands who have killed and raped in the names of their gods, as was done during Partition on both sides of the border, in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002. Neither the law nor God has made them pay for their crimes.”

I too have wondered that if both I and the person who has wronged me are praying devoutly, who will God listen to? My religion does offer me what I seek in terms of support- a crutch sometimes and guidance, and I for one don’t believe in conversion to another faith to find solace. You either find it or you don’t, as simple as that. But will making me follow the prescribed way, take me to salvation? Here is where, I agree with the author…” ahimsa above all; work as worship; honesty; helping people in need;silent charity and respecting and preserving the natural world- my own religion”. Every page as you turn, gently reminds you to cherish life and enjoy every aspect of it.

Every scripture moves and is worthy of admiration.

What Khushwant Singh has done is, put down all these little pearls of wisdom in one little prayer book- a book that inspires and reaches out. Written, so that everyone connects to it, especially the Gen next. It is them we need to reach out to, if we want humanity to prosper. I am not talking about religion, because for me HUMANITY IS MY RELIGION.

A must have book in every house and definitely a pre-requisite for all godmen, preachers and politicians, who have till now been successful in playing with human emotions on the basis of self professed godliness. Thank you Mr. Singh for your little treasure of prayers and precepts.

” life is not always fair. Sometimes the good suffer for their deeds and the wicked prosper. So there is no use telling anyone that there are rewards for the good in life. Goodness of the heart should be a habit, and it’s own reward.”

 


 

What strikes out when you pick up a copy of Tavleen Singh’s “Durbar“, is the silhouette of Lutyen’s Delhi- Rashtrapati Bhawan and South Block, courts that have decided the fate of India and its Indians for more than a century!

The Delhi whose foundations were laid by a group of Sikh Contractors, who Lutyens commissioned to build a capital worthy of an Empire that would stand tall amongst others. The same Delhi, which silently watched as more than 3000 Sikhs were massacared in the reigm of the most democratic party India has seen. A pogram which is still a wound that is far from healed, because justice has been knowingly delayed or should I assume denied.

The book starts with a very powerful note from the author, a typical firebrand trademark of Singh.

Throughout the book, you get to read little personal accounts seeped in what is a typical Delhi Society nuances. The parties, the politics and the big hearted punjabi way of life!

Singh started her career in the same year that I was born. The red tapism that existed that time can still be found in our country, where babus rule and paper pushing still is a common practice. It’s the connections and pulls that work.

Coming back to the book, every page as you turn tells you a story that is so captivating that you cannot put it down. Facts can be cross checked. Covered in this book are the events that have shaped the India we see today. Named openly in the book are all the game players. Singh’s account is a bit biased, but then we all take that from a memoir. Given the position she was in and still is in, it is a good history lesson for the younger generation. Timing is apt too with the elections coming up soon. Whichever party has led India since Independence, the state and condition has remained unchanged. From the power brokers at the centre to the regional parties, everyone has milked India and the citizens for personal gains. Religion, caste and ethnicity has been used by our so called leaders to keep the KURSI ( chair).

Reference to this book has come up again in today’s scenario. On 30th April, 2013, one of the main instigators of the 1984 pogrom, Sajjan Kumar was acquitted by the Delhi High Court in one of the three registered cases. Durbar openly spoke about 1984- the reasons why it escalated and the inability or the unwillingness of the Congress to do anything to stop the carnage.

Coming back to the book, it may be biased and a bit exaggerated, but it is a real eye-opener. From the Congress to the Janata Government to the NDA and UPA, who do we as Indians turn to, if all they care about it is one upmanship and hidden personal agendas.

bar (7K)

Was It A Riot, Or Was It A Pogrom?

https://sikhchic.com/1984/was_it_a_riot_or_was_it_a_pogrom

Was It A Riot, Or Was It A Pogrom?by ARTIKA BAKSHI

Pogrom-a

Shashi Tharoor – a man of many words. Many meaningful words, that hit a chord every time they are expressed.

Having heard him speak during his time at the UN and on his entering mainstream Indian politics, he has impressed me. Here was a man who actually said it the way it was.

His 2001 novel, “The Riot” struck a chord with me.

It deals with the Hindu-Muslim riots in India as an aftermath of the criminal demolition of the historic Babri Mosque by right-wing Hindu mobs, setting it against a background of Indian markets opening to big multi-national corporations like Coke, Walmart, etc.

He takes you through the events with a series of interviews, as well as notes from journals kept by the protagonists – Priscilla Hart and V. Lakshman: an American NGO worker in love with the subcontinent and all it’s drawbacks, and an Indian bureaucrat, who works within the system but with suppressed romanticism lying somewhere deep within him.

Through this well-narrated tale, what particularly struck me was the character, Gurinder Singh, Superintendent of Police. An upright Indian Police Service (“IPS”) officer and a St.Stephen’s College product, who curses, swears, jokes and enjoys his drinks strong, and easily comes forth as a hero.

The bureaucrat holds his advice to heart and values his sincere friendship.

The reason Gurinder gives for joining the police force holds true, or should I correct myself here, held true, in the dreams of thousands of families in rural Punjab. Most parents have dreamt of their turbaned boys joining the Indian Adminstrative Service (“IAS”), the IPS or Armed forces. Sikhs have always been looked at with a sense of awe – their integrity, their fearlessness, their commitment to defending and protecting the underdog …

Gurinder delves into the aftermath of the 1984 pgroms that left a mark on the heart of each and every Sikh and, I suspect, on any Indian who has fully understood the idea of, and dreamed of a secular and harmonious India.

For me, the 1984 pogroms are a faint memory, but Gurinder’s words left my heart cringing. We are given a quick overview of the birth of the militancy in Punjab in response to the state’s human rights abuses against the Sikhs, to the unnecessary sacrilege of the Darbar Sahib by Indira Gandhi’s troops, to the day she paid for her sins at the hands of her own security guards.

What followed was a massacre of innocent Sikhs across the lregth and breadth of the country, a blot on everything India claimed to be in its own well-cultivated public persona.

Through Gurinder Singh’s experience, Shashi Tharoor attempts to highlight the high value Sikhs give to serving humanity.

During the pogroms, when Gurinder Singh’s 10 year old nephew and brother-in-law are massacred by a marauding mob, he considers resigning from his job as a senior police bureaucrat. But he doesn’t.

His grieving old father stops him, saying that by staying within the law enforcing agency, he could work towards preventing such crimes from happening again. Thus ensues a bit of a dialogue on the duty of a Sikh to contnue to work for ‘sarbat da bhalla’, even when confronted by the worst in human nature.

However, the novel merely touches on the 1984 anti-Sikh massacres.

Unfortunately Tharoor –  an educated, intelligent and well-informed man that he is, working in the thick of the very political party which authored the pogroms – fails to distinguish the term “riot” which correctly applies to some of the aftermath of the Babri Mosque demolition, from what happened against the Sikhs in 1984: a pogrom and nothing even remotely akin to a ‘riot’.

It is odd that the author would bring up the 1984 crimes in a book titled “Riot”, and not highlight this distinction.

It was a golden opportunity – unfortunately squandered – to correct his fellow countrymen from the ongoing and intentional mischief of the repeated use of the misnomer vis-a-vis 1984.The motivation, obviously, is to dilute and minimize the enormity of the crimes. But the net effect is that the whole country confirms its boorishness in its relationship with its most patriotic segment of society.

The government, the country’s public intellectuals, the media, and therefore the people, have continued the fraud ad nauseum.

But the fact that Shashi Tharoor has failed to distance himself from the practice is in itself troublsome.

Maybe, just maybe, he’ll write a book soon under the title, “Pogrom”, and redeem himself.

 

May 29, 2012

“The First” and from the heart!!!

Nanak-JarnailSingh-b

http://www.sikhchic.com/travel/desperately_seeking_nanak_in_sri_lanka

Desperately Seeking Nanak …
In Sri Lanka by ARTIKA BAKSHI

 

 

 

Find me not in temples of stone; But in your heart, O’ devout!”

 

As per history and janamsakhis, Guru Nanak came to Sri Lanka during his Second Udaasi (journey).

The route taken was from Puri to Gantur to Kanchipuran to Tiruvannamalai to Tiruchchirupalli, and sailing all the way from there to Batticoloa.

My search for the ”charan padak”- the place where he set foot – took me to The Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka.

There are no records of a place called Dibar, some seven odd miles from Batticoloa, where the Guru set foot for the first time in this island nation.

Conflicting reports off the internet pointed me towards Trincomalee, and I set off to search the land there. The east coast of Sri Lanka – the famed Shaivite kingdom where the Guru was welcomed by the Hindu ruler – welcomed me with a smile.

Torn by the recent civil war, this region shows marks of a painful and bloody era, that is now the latest addition to the history books. It tears my heart to see that this holy place, which supposedly marks the first step of Guru Nanak, the Prince of Peace, in the land of the Buddha – the preacher of ahimsa – bears so many marks of suffering, torture and destruction.

With no leads on the temple linking to the Udaasi Mutth, which is supposed to have the Mool Mantar written in the Sinhala script, I reach a dead end. In various conversations with people from the area.

I reluctantly come to the conclusion that tsunamis in the past and coastal erosion could have been responsible for erasing all links.

Some even point towards the strict religious sentiments of the Sinhala Kings or the destruction caused by the Portuguese invaders. What stand there today are two ancient temples dedicated to the deity, Shiva – the “Destroyer” of Hindu mythology.

Constant badgering of the personnel at the Archaeological Survey offices is also not helpful as no one knows of any stone inscription bearing the name “Nanakacharya” which was said to be at the Anuradhapura Museum.

The search takes me to Anuradhapura, one of the glorious ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. I pass towns and villages with their Christian churches, Hindu kovils, Buddhist viharas and Muslim mosques.

I remember the Guru’s teachings of a universal God. All living here in harmony and praying to this one God in their own ways. I draw a blank at Anuradhapura too and feel a bit disheartened.

My restless mind looking for footprints from the Guru’s journey across the ocean, and then it dawns on me that it is not in the temples of stone or ancient scriptures that I can find him, I can find him within me and within the hearts of so many Sindhi settlers from Pakistan, who migrated to Sri Lanka during the Partition of 1947- with images of Guru Nanak, and the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and the teachings in them.

Here, they were blessed by the Guru and started a life afresh with all the dedication and humility that symbolizes Guru Nanak. Every Year, on Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary, a beautiful darbar is held at the Sindhi Community Centre on Galle Road in Colombo.

Kirtan by the sangat is followed by parshad in His memory, and then, langar.

 

The author was born and brought up in Amritsar, Punjab. Married to Maninder Singh Bakshi and a mother of 2 boys, she has been living in Sri Lanka since 2000. An MBA in International Banking and Finance, she is currently teaching in an International School in Sri Lanka.

April 12, 2012