Author Archives: Deepika Sahu

About Deepika Sahu

I earn my living through writing stories, editing what other people write (in simple terms I am a journalist). I dream of opening a cafeteria in the mountains, owning a beach home on the shores of Bay of Bengal... but right now, they all seem like wild dreams. A gypsy at heart --- am passionate about India's rich diversity, life, music, words, cooking for people I love, soaking in the lashing rain and just looking at the changing colours of the sky. I am a great fan of the Indian Railways and I long to travel in First Class AC coupe across India with my man.

Celebrity Weddings

Looking at celebrity wedding pictures on instagram can be quite exhausting (after the initial euphoria)– emotionally and physically. And more so when you are a journalist even though you are far away from Lake Como and it’s unlikely that in your lifetime you will ever be there. Deepika-Ranveer, Priyanka-Nick have been the flavour of the wedding season. I think, funny man (though I really find it difficult to laugh at his jokes) Kapil Sharma’s wedding coverage is little low on publicity quotient. Never mind, it’s all part of showbiz. Some will get more than others.

But Priyanka-Nick’s wedding has unleashed the inner energy of some frustrated, negative souls in this country. And unfortunately, this breed includes some journalists too (my fraternity). What do you do to people who give comments like the following?

  • Ha ha… let us see how long this marriage lasts (Even if it breaks, neither Priyanka/Nick are coming to you idiots for solace. And you must be a jerk to have this kind of vicious mindset)
  • Nick does not even put his arms around Priyanka (Anyways, he is not going to put his arms around you… so what’s exactly your problem?)
  • Nick’s 10 years younger than Priyanka… too much of an age gap. These kind of marriages don’t work.  Didn’t you see it earlier in Ashton Kutcher-Demi Moore marriage? (Very sad that Priyanka didn’t consider this )
  • Priyanka has no Hollywood career (Anyways, she is not looking for a newspaper job in India)
  • Let us make a list of people who will attend Priyanka’s Mumbai reception (when the official date is yet to be announced) and then dismissing the list telling that no big star will be there. (Hello, are you real?)

And then another moronic question: ‘Why didn’t Ranbir Kapoor go for Deepika-Ranveer’s reception?”

The list goes on. These are the people who have an opinion on anything and everything — right from politics, economy, cricket, cinema to food. They are the ones who give lengthy monologues on what should be Virat Kohli’s strategy in Australia. Never mind, they have never picked up a cricket bat in their life.

The more I hear these kind of conversations, the more I feel the need for grace. You can buy anything in today’s world but you can’t buy grace, empathy and elegance.

 

 

 

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People called Kerala…

This narrative has lived within me for almost four months. I feel, there is always a right time for the story to travel. From my heart to the world outside, In between experiencing the story and telling the story, Kerala has seen worst of times in terms of devastating flood and loss of human lives and property. Now, Kerala is back on its feet.
In India, it’s now time for celebrating Diwali. Diwali, the festival of lights is all about joy, happiness, love and light. This narrative is all about celebrating that light. How dark would be darkness without this light… 
diwali
Hussain:  The navigator, the philosopher
Hussain drove us from Fort Kochi to Palakkad. He also took us to Arakal and in the beginning of the journey, he told us, “I will take you to such a place that you will forget Ooty.” Hussain is the symbol of my India — liberal, secular, quirky, gentle and caring.

He has six friends and he tells us they will stand by each other no matter what happens. Before marriage, he told his wife, “You don’t need to adjust with my parents but you need to do so as far my friends are concerned.” He talked about his wife in a gentle and caring way. He makes sure that his wife has her share of fun and enjoyment. “Just because we are men that does not mean that only we will enjoy. A woman is a human being first and she must enjoy.”

He loves making money and also living life king size. He says, “What’s the point of making money if you can’t enjoy money.” Once in a while, the seven friends meet, enjoy a drink and eat a nice meal of rice and mutton curry. And the icing on the cake is after a drink or two, they all philosophize about life. So what will he do if his wife falls in love with another man? “The only answer to the question is to love her more,” said Hussain.
His friends are from different socio- economic backgrounds. Some of them are government officials, some of them are businessmen. Some of them are earning lots of money and some of them are not. But their bonding is all about love and memories. If they are all together and one friend says, “I am just going somewhere and I will be back in five minutes.” Even if he comes back after two hours, nobody asks him, ‘why did he come so late? Where did he go?’ There are no questions asked and they just take up from where they leave.
Once they all had gone to watch a movie after buying tickets at a high price (and with lots of struggle).  And when they were just about to enter the movie hall, they got a phone call  informing them about someone’s death. They all had a quick discussion and decided that ‘the person is already dead. So, even if we won’t watch the film, he won’t come back. So, it’s better to watch the movie.”
They all seem to see death from a different perspective. Once all of them had gone for a funeral and one of them cracked a philosophical joke about life and death and they all broke into a smile. And then somebody came and told them, “Do you know where are you?” And then one of the friends said, “Listen brother, tomorrow if someone dies in my family, you can come and crack a little joke about life and death. We won’t mind.”
Hussain loves the beautiful landscape of Kerala. He has a warm, loving relationship with Kerala’s swaying coconut trees, its backwater, waterfalls and the mesmerizing monsoon  “Only if you have something tender in your heart and mind then only you will love nature. Otherwise, you will end up buying things at the malls only.”
I asked him about his friends’ religious background. “We all are from different religions — Muslims, Hindus and Christians.” When I told him, “God bless you.” He told me, “No, no, say something more.” I told him, “May nature bless you.” Hussain broke into a gentle smile approving of my statement this time.
Hussain being Hussain has his own theory of people of Kerala going crazy about football teams and forming groups like, “Argentina — fans of Kallepally. Hussain says, “Byakitya nehin hai.. (They don’t have a personality of their own and that is why they are becoming part of the collective.)
Najeeb — The quiet soccer-loving man
Our meeting was accidental. My friend Lekha and I were taking a morning walk in Fort Kochi on a lazy Sunday morning and on an impulse we just went to check out a kiosk which had a board about daily trips to Alleppey or Alappuzha.  And we somehow liked the deal and decided to go there. Najeeb took us to Alleppey. When I expressed my desire to have coffee at the quintessential India Coffee House, he enthusiastically took us to one. We were in Kerala when the FIFA World Cup 2018 was at its peak. You got to be in Kerala to believe the state’s soccer mania. As we were all taking pictures of those huge cut-outs of Messi, Ronaldo standing tall in small, clean villages of Kerala, we wondered about Najeeb’s soccer love. And then when we were inside the car, we asked, ‘Najeeb, which team are you supporting?” He kept quiet and pretended not to hear. But when we persisted, he said with a tinge of sadness, “Germany and imagine they are out.” But the moment he uttered the name of Germany, we all broke into laughter. He also joined us. In his quiet dignified ways.
In no time, he understood our taste and stopped at beautiful churches so that we could admire its wonderful architecture. He took us to beautiful beaches so that we could revel in sunsets.
Gulab — For whom time waits
Gulab is beyond time. He doesn’t wait for time, I have a feeling time waits for him. He took us in his auto from Kalepally to Kalpathy, a heritage village in Kerala. As we were roaming around in the village, Gulab told us to give us a call once we were free. He insisted that he would take us back home ( Earlier in the morning, Gulab was really kind enough to wait at a pre-primary school when we just wanted to spend some time with the kids.)
We had only heard of Gulab’s ‘time sense’ before. That day, we experienced it. Every phone -call to Gulab was met with the standard answer, “I am on my way.” The shopkeepers, the autorickshawallahs, the vegetable vendors were all amused to see three of us sitting comfortably on the verandah of a dilapidated house without a nameplate.
While waiting for Gulab, I suddenly had this intense urge to have a samosa. And my friend Ayaz immediately bought one for me which came on a plantain leaf (you see, South India is a little nicely different from North India). The samosa was really tasty. And thanks to our smartphones, three of us happily indulged in some photo session too. Even after all this self-indulgent acts, still there was no sign of Gulab.
samosa
(While waiting for Gulab…)
In that state of mind, every auto-driver looked like Gulab. But you know, life is not actually that miserable. So, suddenly we saw our Gulab coming and then as they say, time stopped for us.
Living in cities, chasing deadlines at work has made most of us very impatient. We are always in a hurry, always trying to manage time. But for Gulab, time is something else. It moves or stops as per his wish. Gulab is the ultimate boss.
Ordinary city mortals like us can only wait for Gulab.
As the state was trying to cope with the tragedy,  we made phone calls to find out about the well-being of Hussain, Najeeb, Kumaran, Gulab and their families. They were all safe)

#MeToo.. let us just listen

#MeToo has consumed my life for last one week. The more I read about it, the more I angry I feel. And in moments of solitude and self-reflection, many painful memories of hurt and abuse have resurfaced. And the story is both personal and universal. It’s a fact that most women in India have their #metoo experiences  both in public and private space. Since the #metoo narratives have been shared on the social media, many of us are talking to each other to share our experiences. The common thread is that we all have gone through harrowing experiences of verbal, physical and emotional abuse at different level. In our workplaces. And that’s a reality even if it is difficult to swallow.  The time has come to listen to women who are speaking, who are sharing raw emotions which they have been holding within themselves for years together. It’s not easy to come out and speak about your experience of being violated of basic human dignity. By doing that, you are laying your life in front of strangers. You are making yourself vulnerable.

In recent years, the process of communication has definitely become democratized. And one can’t suppress collective and individual voices for too long. Somewhere, like a tree, the voices will find a way to have a place under the sun.

Let us be clear on one thing. This is not a battle against men. This is not men bashing. This is about people who have abused their power, their authority, their superiority in whatever form. This is about not respecting a woman’s boundary. This is about some people having a sense of entitlement based on their power, position and gender. This is about commodification of women. At work place, at intimate spaces, at parties.

It’s nice to see stories are coming out from the entertainment industry, from media, advertising industry, corporate sector and more. Let it all come — from different walks of life, from urban India, small town India, rural India. The narrative of pain, hurt and abuse suffered by women from all walks of life must now be a part of our mainstream narrative. We can no longer push these stories under the carpet. It’s time to listen to our women.

Our streets are not for our women. Otherwise, many of us will not think twice before taking a night flight/cab. And at that time it doesn’t matter whether we women are

journalists/engineers/nurses/academicians.   If our streets are not ours, if we don’t have the freedom to move without any fear in our India then what are we really talking about? These are basic fundamental rights of any citizen. This is our constitutional right to move freely without any fear in our own country. A nation can not be a global player if its women are not feeling safe in their own country. Our offices are now telling horrible stories of sexual abuse. Men at work must realise that women are not sex toys.  It’s not cool to crack sexist, misogynistic jokes. It’s not cool to comment on a woman’s colleague’s body parts. It’s not cool to be a skirt chaser.

The time has come for all of us to be sensitive about gender identity, gender empathy, gender fluidity and look at life and people beyond gender binary. Empathy and compassion is the only way to move forward. Let us teach our children to look at life beyond stereotypes of gender and role play. It’s absolutely fine if your father is a fabulous cook. It’s absolutely wonderful if  your mother loves solving mathematics puzzles instead of cooking rajma-chawal for you on a Sunday.

We need to break down barriers and question our own mindsets. Talking to LGBTQ community members in the last few weeks (post Supreme Court verdict on Section 377) as part of writing stories have made me understand their deep lonely struggles in life. And all their stories have common thread of bullying at school, isolation at home and the innate pressure to be ‘normal’ (which just means being straight).

Let us share our stories and  from there will only emerge lesson of empathy and compassion. As a beginning step,  let us just start listening.

 

 

 

A journalist…what it means to be one

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Photo by brotiN biswaS on Pexels.com

(The youngest member in our newsroom is 22 years old. I have given more years of my life to journalism. Most of the world outside sees journalism as a glamorous profession. Not many are aware of the grime, the sweat and not to talk about long working hours and less holidays. But it is definitely one profession that gives you an ability, a perspective to look at your own life like an outsider)

I am a story-teller but I am not the story. That’s why every day, I wake up with a sense of deep gratitude. It’s humbling to be a journalist. It’s the story that is much much larger than me. It’s the story that matters, it’s the face behind the story that counts. I am just the narrator bringing the story to the world. People trust me with stories which define them as individuals. Not for anything else but for the fact that I am a journalist. People bare their vulnerable souls to me and share with me stories of love, loss, success, failure, aspirations .. all in the hope that their story reaches to the world. As much as you need the stories, you need the story-teller too.

Let me take you on a retro ride. It’s March, 2002. I am walking along with my colleagues in the riot affected areas of Ahmedabad — amidst burnt houses, smoke billowing from the roofs of  houses, textbooks of young children lying here and there in tattered condition, once shiny utensils now all black and beyond any shape and most importantly charred dreams. The loss is immense and palpable.  Grief stricken women and men open up their hearts to us i.e strangers armed with little yellow notebooks and ball-point pens. The world calls us ‘journalists’. A woman in her early 40s wearing a pink salwar kameez and a green dupatta holds my hand and tells with tears in her eyes, “Go and tell the world what you have seen here and what I have told you. Tell the world.” I hold her hands  gently and say, “I will. We will.”  I am the outsider in her world. Her loss has given me an entry into her intimate world. I have a comfortable home in the western part of Ahmedabad to go back to in the night.

But here in the midst of devastation — I am the narrator, I can’t be the story. Yet, I have to be there with them without losing my sense of self.  I have to bring back the story as it is to the world outside. I have to draw the boundary of not losing my self and stealing the story from them.

On another day during the same period, my senior colleague and I go on the field to do a story on relief camps. From there, committee members of the relief camp take us to a graveyard nearby. They say the smallest graves are the ones that hurt the most. Standing there among wailing men, I actually counted the number of graves of little kids who had fallen prey to mindless violence earlier in the day. There were nine of them. In moments like that, a part of  me feels like an intruder and I want to move away from that deeply private moment of those grieving intensely.

But the story is the winner here and it holds me back. There’s no moral dilemma here. I have to tell to all of you  who are sitting in their homes, or working in offices and who are not privy to what’s happening there. I have to be detached at that moment to tell you what I saw there — without any colour, any filter. I can’t jump into the frame, I can’t be the frame. I need to be there among the people to bring you back the story no matter how gruesome is the story or how heart-breaking it is. I believe, if you don’t have it in you to come to face to face with death, violence, loss and grief then you can’t be a  journalist. You got to be somewhere else.

My best friend who worked with Sebastin D Souza ( in Mumbai Mirror), famous all over the world for his photograph of Kasab in action in CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) station in the Mumbai terror attack, which eventually led to Kasab’s conviction, asked him once, “Sebastin, didn’t you feel scared while you were clicking photographs of Kasab?” He said non-chalantly, “What was there to feel scared? I was just doing my job — shooting him with my camera.”  He didn’t glorify his moment of truth, how brave he was or how put his life into risk.

Years later in an interview, Sebastian said to a leading news channel , “After all that hype of 26/11, nothing has changed. I don’t feel anything. I try to erase it from my mind. It does not seem such a big event now. Photo-wise, yes, it was a very big thing. My pictures were used across the world and helped convict (Mohammed Ajmal) Kasab (the lone attacker captured alive and hanged in November 2012).”  As matter of fact as it can be.

On a slightly chilly winter evening, I met Kalpana Gupta, a woman who had lost her husband, two kids and home in the 2001 killer Gujarat earthquake. I was meeting her five years after the earthquake had consumed her once picture-perfect life.  Like a phoenix, she had risen from the ashes of pain, loss and longing. She had remarried and she came to meet me with her two year old daughter. She took me to the same apartment where she lived before the earthquake took away everything she had nurtured lovingly. She offered flowers on the door and we sat down on the ground floor of her apartment on two plastic chairs facing each other. She was living in another part of the city then and had just taken the possession of her newly built flat.

There was no question to ask her. She had to tell her story in her own words. Till now, I have not seen someone crying throughout an interview. She had no control over her tears. The poignancy of her story overwhelmed me. Yet I had to sit stoically throughout the interview and listen to her attentively. I distinctly remember walking back on the neon-lit streets of Ahmedabad with a heavy heart. But the narrator’s job begins with that.

No matter how heavy is your heart or how dark is the night, your qwerty key board is your place to go to. In the stillness of the night, you have to detach from the world around you.  Then it’s just you and the story. That’s the ethereal moment when writing feels like prayer. That’s why, it’s intoxicating to be in the newsroom day after day, week after week and actually year after year. The high of holding the story within you and then letting it travel to the world. Once you let it go, you have no control over it.  And it’s that juxtaposition of brutality and tenderness that has fascinated me all these years. The brutality of telling a story as it is and the tenderness of the story becoming a part of your life.

We are living in strange times. An overdose of information, fake news, issues of ethics plaguing the media, the list is endless. It’s not easy to be a journalist in today’s time. But then it’s almost impossible to resist a story. And letting it travel through the world.

Wiser, fatter in love

Statutory confession: I am no expert in man-woman relationship. I also believe that a relationship is deeply personal. This piece is just based on my experiences of being in some meaningful and not so meaningful relationships. Yet, I have immensely enjoyed this roller coaster ride called ‘being in love’.

Silence is ‘not’ golden: There was a poster in my friend’s hostel room which said, “If you can’t understand my silence, you can’t understand my words.” I don’t know whether my friend took it seriously or not but yours truly definitely took it seriously. So, I just thought that my silence would speak, solve all problems with my man. All that I would need to do is to sit in one corner of the room, maintain a Buddha like posture and if need be, shed some pearly tears.  But real life is much more than a poster. Understanding silence is very serious business (more so for your man). I have realized that most men are not really good at understanding silence. They find it easier when you express yourself. So, the next point is a natural progression of this one.

Argumentative Indian: Amartya Sen, please forgive me for using your famous book title in this context. But I have discovered the joy of arguing. Well, it doesn’t earn me money but it gives me immense pleasure. And being a student of social sciences, I make sure that my argument is both historical yet contextual. Man, I know I am a late bloomer. But I never knew that there’s so much of fun in arguing.  Sometimes it feels like a high octane tennis match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Feasting .. no more fasting : I thought I had this secret AK 47 weapon with me. Of not eating. Rather refusing to eat whenever we had fights/disagreements. Well, over the years, I have realized that man-woman relationship is a tad different from Gandhiji’s Satyagraha or Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption fasting agitation at Jantar matar, New Delhi So, I have surrendered my secret weapon with great happiness. Now, if I have a fight/disagreement, then I make sure to order mutton biryani, kebabs and polish it off with a plate of caramel custard or rabri with jalebi. Life feels uber delicious. The weighing machine sometimes look alarming. Well, everything is fair in love and war. And, didn’t somebody say love is all about layers? I am just adding layers to myself.

Still tectonic plates, dormant volcanoes: For years, I dealt with innumerable earthquakes, volcanic eruptions within myself. I was operating from a high disaster zone called ‘heart’, But of late, things have settled down. There has been no need for any disaster management. The tectonic plates are all still. And the volcanoes are all lying dormant. Life feels disaster proof.

 

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(This was posted by my favourite Priyanka Chopra on her Instagram feed)

 This too shall pass: When you are young and head over heels in love, you think this comes with a stamp of eternity. But then you grow up and you experience life, death, relationships, you realize that everything evolves in life. Evolution is the truth of life. So, the older, wiser me has decided to take a chill pill and curl up in the couch and revel in the line ‘This too shall pass.” Be it happiness, sadness, laziness or even dreadful Indian summer.

Nobody is going anywhere: The younger me had this terrible thought in her head —“If it  ends.. what will happen?” Well, it took me some years to understand that nothing begins, nothing ends (To quote Osho). Nobody really goes away anywhere. And the husbands (and lovers who behave like husbands) find it most difficult to go away. They somehow manage to stick on, for different reasons. Even when I threatened my hubby recently with this killer line, ‘I would put you on OLX,” he just didn’t move an inch. I have a feeling my husband may have a similar tale to tell about me. Fair enough, I think.

Social media has other ‘social’ uses: I am not a great fan of people flaunting their love on Facebook. Most of my friends who write long love notes to their spouses on Facebook are not in a happy personal space (their off line confessions say a different story). I prefer to stay away from professing love on Facebook.  Life seems blissful. Sometimes no virtual information is good information too. Unlike many other contemporaries of mine, I am freed from the pressure of being a Miss Marple / Lady Agent Vinod/ Bobby Jasoos or even to change profile pics thrice in a week.

Take love seriously but not the lover: I am fascinated by the idea of love. I feel just being in love makes me a better person. The lover is a part of the whole, large, beautiful concept of love. I fiercely protect my right to love. I love being in love.

To Kerala, with love

It’s Onam today — Kerala’s much celebrated harvest festival. But how does one celebrate in the midst of loss, pain, grief and devastation? Kerala is going through a harrowing time because of the massive floods. The magnitude of this natural calamity is beyond anyone’s imagination. But then Kerala has a million stories of hope, love and generosity. Here’s to Kerala’s magical landscape and its beautiful, resilient people. Kerala, you will  always be close to my heart.

(I visited Kerala just a month ago i.e July, 2018. The pics are from my Kerala trip. )

 

PICTURE PERFECT

 

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UNDER A CLOUD… STANDING TALL

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BACKWATERS CALLING

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NET GAIN IN FORT KOCHI

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YOURS TRULY WITH KERALA’S TWINKLING STARS  

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LET’S GO QUIRKY

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