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Freedom to live life on our own terms

How many times have you stopped at a traffic signal and turned your face away from the hijra who stood outside your car window asking for money? Wasn’t it pure loathing that you felt? Wasn’t it worse than what you normally feel when a beggar woman with a child does the same? Why? I’ll tell you why. You abhorred the eunuch because you couldn’t identify with her sex. You thought of her as a strange, detestable creature, perhaps a criminal and definitely sub-human.

I am one of them. All my life people have called me hijra, brihannala, napungshak, khoja, launda . . . and I have lived these years knowing that I am an outcast. Did it pain me? It maimed me. But time, to use a cliché, is the biggest healer. The adage worked a little differently in my case. The pain remains but the ache has dulled with time. It visits me in my loneliest hours, when I come face to face with the question of my existential reality. Who am I and why was I born a woman trapped in a man’s body? What is my destiny?

Beneath my colourful exterior lies a curled up, bruised individual that yearns for freedom—freedom to live life on her own terms and freedom to come across as the person she is. Acceptance is what I seek. My tough exterior and nonchalance is an armour that I have learnt to wear to protect my vulnerability. Today, through my good fate, I have achieved a rare success that is generally not destined to my lot. But what if my trajectory had been different? I keep telling myself that this is my time under the sun, my time to feel happy, but something deep inside warns me. My inner voice tells me that the fame and celebration that I see all around is maya (illusion) and I should accept all this adulation with the detachment of a sanyasi (hermit).

The first ever transgender to become a college principal is a rare feat, the media has proclaimed. My phones have not stopped ringing since, and invitations to felicitations have not ceased to pile up on my desk. I would love to believe that those who fete me also accept me as I am, but how can I ignore the sniggers, the sneers and the smirks that they try to hide but fail? For them I am just another excuse to watch a tamasha (spectacle), and who doesn’t want some free fun at someone else’s expense?
Hurt and anger are two emotions that I have learnt to suppress and let go. It is part of the immunity package that I am insured under. I have finally accepted the fact that my achievements have no bearing on the people around me. They still think I am sexless between my legs and that is my only identity. That I also have a right to have emotions is an idea that is still completely foreign to most. I don’t blame them. I blame myself for not being able to ignore such pain. I should have long stopped bothering about them.

It is not that I have not had my share of love in all my fifty-one years of life. They were good while they lasted. I have had major heartbreaks too, but each time I learnt a new lesson. I have loved well and deeply, and I hope my partners, wherever they are now, would silently remember that bit about me. It’s another matter that relationships don’t seem to work for me. Those who have loved me have always left me, and each time I have lost a piece of me to them.
Memories rush back as I sit down to write my story. I write with the belief that it would help society understand people like me better. We are slightly different outwardly, but we are humans just as you are and have the same needs—physical and emotional—just as you have.

———

 

6 Quotes You Must Read on Gender and Sexuality

While many use religion to justify why they are being unfair to a person’s gender and sexuality, Devdutt Pattanaik in his books The Pregnant King and Shikhandi And Other Queer Tales They Don’t Tell You shows how mythologies across the world appreciate what we deem as queer.
Here are 6 quotes on what it means to be a man, a woman, or a queer.
What it feels to be a woman
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Repercussion of Patriarchy
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The meaning of queer in different mythologies
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Should the queer hide or be heard like the thunderous clap of the hijra?
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The functions of the forms
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Traces of feminism in Hindu mythology
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Read Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Pregnant King and Shikhandi And Other Queer Tales They Don’t Tell You and make sense of queerness and the diversity in society.

Cars through the ages

Cars are such an intrinsic part of our lives that it is difficult to visualise a world without them. Although they are the second biggest villain when it comes to air pollution, some villains come in attractive packages and arouse varied passions in the human heart. Gautam Sen’s articulate and extremely readable look at cars, ‘The Automobile: An Indian Love Affair’ gives us a peek into the past and how this industry has evolved. An insight that traverses down the memory lane giving us snippets of information that creates a clearer picture of a familiar and well-loved subject. Knowing about the evolution of the automobile is never a dull subject because all of us regardless of what generation we belong to, have witnessed this gradual unfolding of the multitudinous avatars of the four wheeler.

The Automobile||Gautam Sen

The biggest patrons of cars in the early 20th century were the several princely states during the British Raj. For the Maharajas owning cars was more of a quirk than actually a means for transportation. There are exceedingly entertaining anecdotes of how the Maharaja of Bharatpur converted his Rolls Royce into a hunting car equipped with a howdah (a seat for elephants usually) and how another Maharaja after being insulted by the sales person in London proceeded to buy a whole fleet of luxury cars that would only carry the garbage of the city! Let’s not forget that the Indian royalty were genuine connoisseurs and patrons of the growing automobile industry. The love affair with cars in India continued as industrialists joined the royalty in their predilection for cars. Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Jaguars, Cadillacs and Mercedes Benz were some of the names that became commonly known amongst the upper class in the country. There are interesting instances of art collectors from princely families tracing and acquiring rare vehicles. Owing to a desire to embrace modernity a lot of these erstwhile owners of fancy luxury cars abandoned them, but for some it became a passion of a lifetime to salvage them.  Protap Roy a prince from Bengal and Roni Khan from Mumbai were two such individuals. Like-minded people created the Vintage and Classic Car Club of India and a passion for maintaining old cars as the auto heritage of India manifested in the shape of the Auto World Vintage Car Museum.

Moving on from the romance of the classical styles to the more functional ones over the decades post independence, the evolution of cars and their influence on society and culture is not without its own drama. In Hindi films we saw a surfeit of Impalas, and the films generally ended with a car chase where breaks would fail over a precipice. Fiats and ambassadors were the most common cars seen on Indian roads during the 60s and 70s. With the advent of the 80s the tiny Maruti made its debut on the scene and there was a rush to book this car of the future. In Indian villages folk songs were composed in praise of this car and the owner of a Maruti car was judged as someone quite successful in his life. However, these were still times when families owned just one car, the family car regardless of its size. Cars weren’t air-conditioned and it was quite an agony to be driving in the hot Indian summer with the car packed with the entire family.

Slowly with liberalisation and globalisation the Indian economy took off, and since cars are truly the barometer of the economic health of a country, a variety of new cars could be seen on the Indian roads. New competition made Maruti bring out more luxurious and larger cars into the market. Korean, Japanese, American motor companies were some that found a willing market in India.   Recent history is something we are all aware of, there are cars available for every taste and to suit every pocket. Easy car loans make it possible for the young to buy a car fairly easily. In fact now our problem is a surfeit of cars and the horrific traffic situation in larger towns. One also sees more women drivers on the roads as the easy availability of cars is synonymous with the independence and safety of women in our country. Most families have several cars to facilitate all the members of the family and most people are constantly looking to upgrade their mode of transport depending on their financial situation. A love for travel and adventure sports has brought in a variety of SUVs, larger utility vans as well as jeeps into the market. Culturally we aren’t really very different from the western world when it comes to emotions aroused by a car. So these lyrics from the Tracy Chapman song Fast Car make a lot of sense when it comes to young dreams:

You got a fast car

I got a plan to get us outta here

I been working at the convenience store

Managed to save just a little bit of money

Wont have to drive too far

Just ‘cross the border and into the city

You and I can both get jobs

And finally see what it means to be living.

A diving holiday, disturbing discovery, and kidnapping

Far out in the Arabian Sea, where the waters plunge many thousands of metres to the ocean floor, lies a chain of bewitching coral atolls – the Lakshadweep Islands. Vikram and Aditya dive into lagoons with crystal-clear water and reefs that are deep and shrouded in mystery. But when they stumble upon a devious kidnapping plot, their idyllic holiday turns into a desperate struggle for survival.

Here is an excerpt from Deepak Dalal’s new book, Lakshadweep Adventure where Faisal – the boy who’s care Vikram and Aditya are left in – makes a disturbing discovery.

Front Cover A Vikram–Aditya Story: Lakshadweep Adventure
A Vikram–Aditya Story: Lakshadweep Adventure

Faisal was in a bad mood. His uncle’s impending arrival hovered like a dark cloud above him. And his friends’ decision to abandon him for the day only made things worse.

Faisal had noticed the wind the moment he had strolled out on to the beach, and his mood had soured even further when he saw his friends enjoying themselves. He wished he had accepted Aditya’s offer as he watched them speed their boards across the lagoon. But it was too late now. His uncle would be arriving shortly.

Faisal sat under a palm tree. He passed time drawing figures in the sand. Above him, palm fronds shook and fluttered as the wind whistled through them. The sun shone brightly. The sand intensified its glare, forcing Faisal to shut his eyes. It was pleasant under the tree and the wind was crisp and enjoyable. The rustling of the palms overhead soothed him and he soon fell asleep.

The tide slowly crept up the beach and finally washed over Faisal’s feet, waking him with a start. He looked at his watch, muttering softly to himself. It was past midday.

Basheer uncle would have arrived by now. He dusted sand from his clothes and rose hurriedly to his feet.

Faisal heard raised voices from the living room window when he entered the yard. He crept forward till he was below the window and peeped in.

His uncle was standing in the centre of the room, facing a group of men.

Basheer Koya was a copy of Faisal’s father, except that he was fatter and there was hardly any hair on his head. But unlike his brother, whose manner was calm and collected, Basheer Koya’s face was contorted with rage. His cheeks were dark and red and he was shouting like a man possessed.

‘Fools!’ thundered Basheer Koya in Malayalam. ‘Monkeys have more brains than you lot. Idiots. I thought you had ears. But obviously you don’t. You weren’t to set foot in Kalpeni. How many times did I tell you not to come here? Yet, not only do you come to the island, but even more brainlessly, you visit my home.’

A bearded man with big, wide shoulders spoke. ‘Sir,’ he began. ‘Sir—’

Basheer Koya ranted on, cutting off the man. ‘I travelled all the way to Kochi to make certain that no suspicion fell on me and I returned only after the operation was over. And you? I come home and see you fools sitting in my house. I take all these precautions and now everyone on this island can link me to you and from there to the operation.’

‘But, sir—’

‘You were under orders to head to Tinakara Island. What are you doing here?’

‘Sir. I was trying to explain just that, sir. We were headed for Tinakara. But we had engine trouble, sir. A terrible rattling noise came from the engine and we were forced to head for the nearest island. You can speak to the mechanic, sir. He looked at our boat and said we were lucky to make it here to Kalpeni.’

The explanation diminished Basheer Koya’s rage, yet he continued to glare at the bearded man. ‘Kumar. Where is Kumar?’ he barked.

‘Kumar is safely on board, sir. There’s no need to worry about him. He is in the lower cabin and one of our men is with him all the time. He can’t make a sound or do anything. He won’t be able to alert the mechanics.’

Faisal froze. This was not for his ears. It was wrong of him to eavesdrop. He wondered if he should leave, but who was Kumar and what was his uncle up to?

‘No one is to know that we have a prisoner on board,’ growled Basheer Koya. ‘Even Allah will not be able to help you if he is discovered. I make no allowances for mistakes.’ Basheer Koya stared at his men, shifting his gaze from one to the other. ‘Do you understand?’

There was silence in the room.

Faisal understood full well what his uncle meant. He shuddered.

***

Journey through these breath-taking islands with a tale of scuba diving and sabotage, set in one of India’s most splendid destinations.

The queen of Jhansi lashes out at the British

The rani embraced Damodar at the gates of the palace, with the British officers and soldiers looking on.

Then she turned to face Major Ellis. Her expression was grim, almost forbidding.

‘May I know the reason for your visit, Major Ellis?’ Her tone was casual, but her eyes were stormy.

Major Ellis bowed, feeling unusually nervous. ‘I bring a message from Lord Dalhousie, Your Majesty.’

‘Follow me, then.’ The rani strode into the palace and the soldiers hurried to keep pace with her.

In the main audience chamber, she seated herself on the throne and gestured to Major Ellis to speak.

The major cleared his throat several times before he felt able to utter a word. But speak he did because he had to. ‘Your adopted son, Damodar Rao’s right to rule has been rejected. So, by the Doctrine of Lapse, this kingdom now belongs to the British.’

‘Main apni Jhansi nahi doongi!’

The queen’s voice rang out, firm and true. It echoed all around the royal audience chamber and even along the corridors beyond. The Jhansi officers and guards who heard it sprang to attention and stiffened their backs with pride, almost without realizing it.

‘What did she say?’ the British officer behind Major Ellis muttered to his companion.

The other officer, who understood Hindustani well, translated quickly: ‘She said, I will not yield my Jhansi.’

Major Ellis was clearly uncomfortable, more so when Rani Lakshmibai turned her gaze on him. He had never seen the young queen look so angry. Her face was flushed, her eyes glittered with rage and her fists, partly hidden by her pearl bracelets, were clenched so tightly in her lap that her knuckles shone white.

She sat, proud and erect, on her throne, silently demanding a response from him. He turned his eyes away, unable to justify the decision made by the British.

Front cover of Queen of Fire
Queen of Fire || Devika Rangachari

 

She went on, her fury unabated. ‘Is this how the British repay loyalty? Generations of Jhansi rulers have supported them—have supported every step they have taken in this country, whatever our private feelings on the matter. So tell me, Major Ellis, what have we got for our pains?’

‘Your Majesty,’ he replied, his voice low so that those around had to strain to hear it. ‘I am a friend of Jhansi and a true supporter of your cause. But my hands are tied. I have no other option than to follow the orders of my superiors.’

‘You witnessed the adoption ceremony!’ she lashed out. ‘And you carried the news of it to your superiors. If they now doubt its validity, then it is clear that they don’t trust their own people. Don’t trust you. Yet you bend to their will and follow their unjust orders?’

Her words rankled but he had to answer. ‘I am sorry, Your Majesty,’ he said steadily, ‘but the British will now take over the governance of Jhansi. You will receive a monthly pension and may stay on here at the palace. I need to lock up the treasury and the military stores. Your money and weapons belong to the British from here on. All your soldiers will be dismissed, except a few that may remain for your personal safety.’

All eyes were on the queen; it was as if the very chamber was holding its breath. Sounds drifted in from the soldiers amassed outside the building—the murmur of voices, the clearing of throats, the shifting of feet—harmless in themselves, but indicative of the British military might mere steps away. It gave the rani no option but to obey.

To Major Ellis, the rani’s silence was more ominous than her words.

Her face was white and her hands trembled slightly as she signalled to her elderly prime minister, Dewan Rao Bande, to hand over the keys to Major Ellis.

This was a terrible blow, indeed. The British had been sniffing around various kingdoms, hoping to pounce at the first sign of weakness, which is why it had been so crucial to adopt Damodar and have it ratified. And all had seemed to be well for a while. Now her anger was directed equally at the British and herself. How could she have let her guard down and been so complacent! She should have known that the British would not give up so easily. Yet anger would not get her anywhere, she quickly realized. She would have to think fast and on her feet. She would not give up, she vowed to herself. Somehow, she would get her throne back and ensure Damodar’s succession.

Right now, Jhansi was like an ant before an elephant. But ants could bite and she would make sure this one bit hard . . .

 

Yet another unjust ritual

 

On the third day after the death of Bangaravva, a solemn procession that made its way towards the graveyard encountered a strange obstacle. A blast of wind rose up in revolt, the embers flared and the sacred ritual fire fell to the ground. The ceremony was ruined because custom demanded that the ritual fire never touch the ground.

What followed was chaos and confusion. The people sought a sacrifice to bear the blame for things going awry, and a solution to set it all right. The division between castes and communities came to the fore as the panchayat struggled to pronounce justice.

A poetic work calling for change in our casteist society, Karya unfurls a kaleidoscope of perspectives. Studded with symbols drawn from nature and myth, this small but significant novel explores the politics and power embedded within a Dalit community.

Here’s a peek into the main action of the book.

~

Front cover of Karya
Karya||Aravind Malagatti

The men on the way to the karya stopped suddenly at the boundary stone as they reached the limits of the village. The women in the third group were still some distance away.

A buffalo was swimming in a tank within the bounds of the village. Akkavva, from among the women going to the karya, stopped in her tracks to gawk at it, even as she handed over her pitcher of water to another. Her face, screwed tight with weeping, filled out suddenly like a pumpkin, beaming. It was three months since she had lost that buffalo while grazing it and she had been fretting. Now, she recognized it by the ornamental tipcovers on its horns. For a moment, she thought of the dead Bangaravva and turned back to get her buffalo. Who

knows if it would come home on its own or not? Some of the women who had seen her, turned up their noses at her and walked on.

The men had the, ‘ask them to hurry up’ expression, aimed at no one in particular but as if surely meant for the one particular group that was lingering. Just that no one said it aloud. The women stepped up their pace. The woman who had taken the pot from Akkavva walked briskly, ahead of them all. The men stood facing the village, with their back to the boundary stone. Once water was poured over the stone, they continued on their way facing the graveyard. All of men had the same solemn expressions. The women followed them, matching their strides.

That was when they removed the fresh white cloth covering the kavala mora. Their faces perked up to see the crows that had followed them, thanks to the aroma.

The wind picked up as soon as they crossed the village. Even before this, smoke from the smouldering kullaggi in Mallappa’s right hand had touched the dung cakes in his left; turning some of them too to ash. Once they crossed the boundary stone, the front wind caused the smoking kullaggi to catch fire. To keep his fingers from burning, Mallappa kept moving them to safer spots on the berani and screaming for fresh ones, ‘Ei, this is hot! Give me some more.’

Their feet swallowed the distance. All at once, the men opened their mouths; they murmured:

‘Ei, don’t let the kullaggi fall.’

‘It shouldn’t touch the ground.’

‘It’s bad luck if it does.’

‘Don’t let it fall. Come what may. Control the blaze; don’t let it burn so bright.’

Some even tried to put it down. But the flame would not be subdued. A boy picked up a fistful of mud to throw at it.

‘Ei, into whose mouth are you trying to throw mud?’ shouted Shivappa, Bangaravva’s husband. The fingers of the fist that held the mud loosened slowly, on their own. Mud dribbled through as flour from a flourmill, all along the way. They were getting closer to the graveyard. Mallayya tried his

best to press the dung cakes against one another to control the fire. But the headwind was too strong.

‘Chikkappa, kullu!’ he shouted for dry dung cakes to his uncle, Chandappa.

His uncle had fallen behind. All eyes turned towards him even as their strides quickened. Chandappa, feeling their eyes, darted towards Mallappa.

‘Why, didn’t you bring enough?’ he asked.

‘I did . . . but they’re over . . . You said you’d bring some, didn’t you?’

‘I? When did I say that?’

Mallappa went cold. He broke out in a sweat. His mouth went dry.

‘What do we do now?’

‘We’ll do whatever. But don’t drop it.’

‘Chikkappa?’

‘Chikkappa, he says, Chikkappa,’ Chandappa muttered to himself. And then to the men around, ‘Ei, go and gather some kullu drying in the fields.’

Even before he could finish, a few youngsters jumped the fence and entered the field with a standing crop. But none of them returned. Everyone scolded Mallappa. Everyone cautioned him from letting the ritual fire touch the ground. More than anyone else, Chandappa kept at it. Mallappa’s hands trembled as the heat touched them.

‘Chikkappa—at least fetch a flat stone to place under the burning cakes,’ Mallappa screamed but his uncle showed no concern. He was waiting for those who had gone to get some dry dung cakes from the field. When Shivappa brought a flat stone to help Mallappa, he shouted at him,

‘Why, do you want to snuff out your progeny by blocking the fire with stone?’

‘Not just his offspring,’ added another elder, ‘Looks as if he wants to burn down his whole house.’ Then Shivappa remembered his only son, Suryakantha, the fruit of many vows to many gods. He was already nearly chest-high. Not willing to lose him, Shivappa did not let the stone fall gently

to the ground; he dropped it with a thud. It fell on his big toe and . . . blood flowed.

Mallappa, caught amid the words of caution from everyone, tried his best to put out the fire with his hands but in vain. Already the hair on his hands was singed. The flame was trying to burn them. He gasped, helpless. Tears ran down his cheeks. And, finally, when the burning dung cake scorched his iron-like hands, he screamed and let go of the kullaggi! He looked at his hands, sobbing. They were covered with blisters. He looked around at the others.

Their looks were like knives. Those who had gone to fetch dry dung returned with some. They looked from Mallappa to the burning kullu on the ground. The ash was blown away by the wind and sparks of fire flew from them, happy to have won!

Everyone stood silent for a while. The wind had lost its gusto. All those who had come to attend the karya felt the whole world had come to a standstill. They had even forgotten they were alive.

All this happened in just a few moments.

~

Karya is a depiction of the unfairness of certain customs and how they discriminate harshly, even in dangerous, but easily remedied situations against one section of individuals, the Dalit community.

‘Please, don’t. I am scared’ – The painful world of IVF clinics

Detailing the difficulty of undergoing infertility treatments, What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina is a nuanced, heart-breaking and heart-warming work on the indignities of medical procedures, the precariousness of motherhood, and what this means to women. In this excerpt, Rohini Rajagopal talks about one of her Intrauterine insemination sessions.

~

I heard of ‘artificial insemination’ for the first time in a Malayalam movie when I was eight or nine years old. It was Malayalam cinema’s cult classic Dasharatham (1989), which was so ahead of its time that even now I am not sure if its time has come. A leading mainstream actor, Mohanlal, plays a rich, spoilt man-child who decides to act on a whim and have a child through surrogacy. He finds a desperate woman who needs money for her ailing footballer husband’s medical treatment and agrees to rent her womb. They draw up a contract, turn up for the procedure, and fifteen days later she is pregnant! No failed attempts, cancelled cycles or any other complications. With this movie lodged in my brain for reference, I thought fertility treatments were an easy-peasy lemon-squeezy affair. To be fair to the movie, it is not about infertility. It’s about a healthy, fertile couple who use artificial insemination for conception. It may well have happened that quickly and effortlessly in real life too. But the movie glosses over the unseemliness and hardships of the treatment. For those who have seen the movie, I hate to burst your bubble. Welcome to the world of ART.

Front cover What's A Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina
What’s A Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina||Rohini S. Rajagopal

I began our first IUI in July 2011 with the earnestness of a debutant, expecting early and prompt success… The procedure itself was relatively simple with only a few key steps. The first step was pills to stimulate my ovaries to release multiple eggs. The second was follicular study. Follicles are tiny fluid-filled balloons in the ovaries that function as the home of the egg. They may expand from the size of a sesame seed (2 millimetres) to the size of a large kidney bean (18 mm to 25 mm) during the course of the menstrual cycle, eventually bursting to push the egg out. The follicles are measured at regular intervals during a cycle to ascertain if they have matured and are ready to release the egg. This is done through a transvaginal ultrasound (TVS).

I was not a big fan of TVS. It involved insertion of a long, slim plastic probe into my vagina and twisting it around to get a close look at the uterus. Magnified images of the uterus appeared on a computer screen. I was appalled the first time when the doctor covered the transducer with a condom and dipped it in lubricating gel, indicating that it had to enter an orifice in my body. I thought that scans, by definition, were non-invasive. It caused some discomfort, but it was not very painful. Eventually, I learnt to relax my muscles and spread my legs far apart to make things easier. I wished I didn’t have to get a TVS, but if I had to then I could tolerate it.

The cycle got off on the wrong foot from the very beginning. The first ultrasound showed only one big-enough follicular blob (at 13 mm). The other four or five follicles were too small, indicating they might not reach maturity. This meant I might have only one egg despite taking drugs to stimulate the release of many.

…It was a busy day at the hospital for Dr Leela, who was swamped with several emergency C-sections. I sat alone in the deserted waiting hall of the IVF clinic, biding my time. Other patients had left after their ultrasounds in the morning. No one else was lined up for a procedure.

…Finally, at around one, Dr Leela came and apologized for the delay. I was taken to the operating room, asked to remove my leggings and empty my bladder. I lay down on the bed and pulled a sheet over my naked legs. A tray of surgical instrument kits was placed on a stand next to the bed. I kept my fingers crossed, hoping there would be no speculum.

Dr Leela began briskly tearing the kits open one by one and getting ready for action. When she pulled out the speculum, I lost my nerve. The thin mask of composure I was wearing until then crumbled. I sprang up and held back her hand desperately.

‘Please, don’t. I am scared.’

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. What was I thinking? It was a meaningless request. And Dr Leela had no patience for such trembling and dithering. She was not known to offer empty, placatory words, ‘It’s okay. Just relax. It will not hurt you.’ My protest was an annoying interruption and she reacted sternly.

‘Take your hand off. I don’t need it here.’
The room became tense.

…The ninety seconds it must have taken to fix the speculum and inject the semen were excruciating, and not just because of the physical hostility of the act. Not just because it felt raw or sore or I was bleeding. But because it was a breach of my already fragile self. It tore through the membranes of my defences, leaving me exposed and helpless.

In a few minutes, it was over and the doctor left. The stainless-steel tools were taken out by the nurses. The housekeeping staff cleaned the floor. The room became empty again. The pounding in my heart ceased. I rested in the metallic stillness of the operating room for thirty minutes, drove home, ate my lunch and went to sleep.

That IUI was an eye-and-mind-opener of the path ahead. An IVF clinic is a cold place to walk into. It doesn’t matter which IVF clinic you go to. There might be a difference in degree, but the air is still chilly and biting. You must shed your inhibitions, modesty and fears quickly because the most crucial part of fertility treatment involves lying on your back, knees bent, legs wide open, while probes, catheters and lemon squeezers are thrust inside your vagina by professionals whose day job this is. What you need is the stance of a warrior, not the long-suffering bearing of a patient.

~

Years later, I am just a few weeks away from going into labour. Ranjith’s mother and I are alone at home. We are having a woman-to-woman conversation about the trials and tribulations of bringing a human into this world. We discuss pregnancy scans and the improvements in technology since her time. She speaks about her own repulsion and discomfort during an internal examination, which was necessary in her days when ultrasounds were not as prevalent.

She asks casually, only half-asking, but mostly reconfirming, ‘You’ve never had an internal examination, alle?’

I gasp and mumble something to the effect of, ‘Yes, I have.’ But the truth is, there was no short answer to that question.

~

What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina opens up a discussion that we are hardly willing to have, sensitising us to the physical and emotional toll that medical procedures and social scrutiny take on women.

 

 

‘The skeletons tumbled out of the cupboard’ – Furquan Moharkan

Furquan Moharkan, author of The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds, told us about how he got started on this story, what drew him to the Yes Bank labyrinth, and the experience of writing a story where power dynamics are very much at play.

 

Take us through your story – how did you start reporting on Yes Bank, and what exactly did you uncover there? 

Front Cover The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds
The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds||Furquan Moharkan

FM: You know, the Yes Bank was always an intriguing thing for me. There was too much of glamour for the organisation for the industry it was. Financial services are usually denoted by trust and dependability. When Yes Bank’s much bigger rivals were playing low profile, it was punching way above its weight. Though, that doesn’t mean glamour and financial services can’t go hand in hand. Also, at times of risk averseness by Indian banks, Yes Bank’s loan book was growing at an astronomical rate – almost seven times the overall industry numbers. But nothing was coming out in the market, as Rana Kapoor has managed to keep a tight lid over his alleged misdeeds. But once he was out in 2019, the skeletons tumbled out of the cupboard – and they tumbled at rate which was probably faster than the loan growth under Rana.

Had it not been for that post-Yes Bank results market crash in April 2019, probably I would not have got the leads for uncovering the rot. But after that crash, many in the street lost their holdings in Yes Bank, and financial set-up was visibly upset with the bank, and things started to come to fore.

 

Was your experience of writing a book very different from your journalistic writing?

FM: It was quite different. In journalistic writing, due to the dearth of space and word limit constraints, you can’t build a narrative properly. If I have to drive an analogy, I would say, journalism is painting in a sketch book (develops your fundamentals), and writing a book is painting on canvas (helps you express yourself).

 

Could you tell us, briefly, what happened at Yes Bank?

 FM: The Bank under its founder and former CEO had lent recklessly in lieu of higher margins and with risk assessment sent for a toss. These loans were granted to stressed entities – the firms whose repayment capability was questionable. Once these companies started defaulting, the bank was evergreening their loans – granting new loans to repay older loans. But that wasn’t sustainable and bank had to write them off. For that they needed capital, which wasn’t coming their way. On the other hand depositors started withdrawing en masse. Both combined and it led to severe crunch of funds at the bank.

 

How do people like Rana Kapoor manage to get away (at least to a certain extent for a certain period of time) with orchestrated failures of this kind?

People like Rana Kapoor are blessed people. They are smart and intelligent, but they misuse their gift. They combine their analytical abilities with artistry to manipulate things completely. Such people are usually on an image management overdrive, which explains why Yes Bank, under him, was punching above its weight. What aid them are also connections at right places. So, in their good days, irrespective of political party, the powerful people like to side with them – for the reason they would themselves better know about. So, basically it’s a cocktail of things, that this ‘big brother club’ uses.

 

Are stories like these – malfeasance on the part of powerful people at the top – difficult to tell? Is it more difficult to say, get other people to talk or to access the depths of these disasters because of the clout of the people responsible?

Absolutely. They can go to any extend to keep their image clean – irrespective of how fragile its foundations are. They use money power, legal might, connections and what not, to stop the things that make them uncomfortable. Yes, they would be very good to you, but only till the moment you don’t make them uncomfortable.

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The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds is an exciting read, sure to keep you at the edge of your seats.

10 tips to invest better the Coffee Can Investing way

Most people usually invest in the same four to five assets: real estate, gold, mutual funds, fixed deposits and stock markets. All they end up making is a measly 8 to 12 per cent per annum. Those who are exceptionally unfortunate get stuck in the middle of a crash and end up losing a lot of money. But what if there was another way?
In the book, Coffee Can Investing, Saurabh Mukherjea along with Pranab Uniyal and Rakshit Ranjan show us how to make low-risk investments that generate great returns.
Here are 10 tips from the book to help you invest better.
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Stay home, stay well and well-read

With April comes the spring! Unfortunately, with the current state of the world, it’s advised you spend more time indoors – for your own safety and that of others.

Make the most of this time spent at home, dear reader. Here is a list of new releases from Penguin Random House India coming your way. We’re sure you’ll find something to keep yourself busy, informed and entertained!

 

All Drama, No Queen

Front cover of All Drama No Queen
All Drama, No Queen || Andaleeb Wajid

Farida’s parents passed away in an accident when she was twelve. And for years, she’s had to fend off Reshma Phuppu, a distant relative plotting to gain control of her parents’ house in Bangalore. When all the drama gets too much, she runs away to stay with her best friend, Priya. Farida deeply feels the absence of a family, and only has memories of her distant cousin, Irshad. She’s had a crush on him since she was a twelve-year-old, but they lost contact when her parents died. Nearly two decades later, Priya’s boyfriend, Ajay, serendipitously finds Irshad….

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That Night

Front cover of That Night
That Night || Nidhi Upadhyay

Natasha, Riya, Anjali and Katherine were best friends in college – each different from the other yet inseparable – until that night that began with a bottle of whisky and a game of Ouija but ended with the death of Sania, their unlikeable hostel mate. The friends vowed never to discuss that fateful night.

But now, someone has begun to mess with them, threatening to reveal the truth that only Sania knew. Is it a hacker playing on their guilt or has Sania’s ghost really returned to avenge her death?

That Night is a dark, twisted tale of friendship and betrayal that draws you in and confounds you at every turn.

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The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Good News

Front cover of The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Good News
The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Good News || Meghna Pant

Thirty-four-year-old Ladoo, a simple middle-class divorcée from Rishikesh, wants only one thing from life–a baby. She eats gondh halwa, drinks badam milk, and takes folic acid, to stop her ticking biological clock and become the world’s most fertile woman.

Along the way, Ladoo must figure out whether motherhood means marriage, whether being a single mother means loneliness, whether ‘my body, my rules’ applies to women, and whether doing something scandalous is outrageous or courageous.

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The Power Of Purity

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The Power of Purity || Mohanji

Power of Purity is a compilation of Mohanji’s spontaneous answers to questions posed during various satsangs (spiritual discourses) and interactions across the world. With razor-sharp clarity and wit, Mohanji provides the reader with deep, subtle, yet easy-to-understand insights into the varied aspects of human existence, uniting the seemingly contrasting goals of spiritual mastery and worldly success. Many can use this book as a guide to finding solutions to life’s myriad problems by randomly turning to one of its pages.

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Nagme, Kisse, Baatein, Yaadein

Front cover of Nagme, Kisse, Baatein, Yaadein
Nagme, Kisse, Baatein, Yaadein || Rakesh Anand Bakshi

An intimate peek into the life of the soldier-turned-lyricist Anand Bakshi, from his formative years in undivided Punjab to eventually moving to Bombay and landing his first film Bhala Aadmi in 1958. Along the way, he lost his mother, his place of birth, and his home and wealth, but his zeal to stand up and walk after every stumble and his desire to become a film artist never abated. He eventually rose to become one of the most revered and sought-after lyricists in Hindi cinema, writing nearly 3300 songs in about 630 films over the next five decades. Written by his son, this is an inspiring story of faith, dreams, success and, above all, human values.

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Karma: A Yogi’s Guide to Crafting Your Destiny

 

Front cover of Karma
Karma || Sadhguru

Through this book, not only does Sadhguru explain what Karma is and how we can use its concepts to enhance our lives, he also tells us about the Sutras, a step-by-step guide to navigating our way in this challenging world. In the process, we get a deeper, richer understanding of life and the power to craft our destinies.

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Redesign the World

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Redesign the World || Sam Pitroda

Redesigning The World is not about looking at it from the point of view of liberal or conservative; left or right; capitalism or socialism; public or private; democracy, dictatorship or monarchy; open or closed systems; rich or poor; urban or rural; east or west; white, brown, black or yellow. This proposed redesign of the world has the planet and its people at the centre; it is built on the foundations of sustainability, inclusion, equality, equity and justice so that everyone on earth can enjoy peace and prosperity. It is not an idealist or utopian vision, but one with humanity at its core.

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A Functioning Anarchy

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A Functioning Anarchy || Ramachandra Guha

 

In a long and versatile career spanning thirty-five years, Ramachandra Guha has produced a vast body of work. In each of these, Guha has broken new ground: his pioneering environmental histories of India and his still relevant work (with Madhav Gadgil) on ecology and equity; his social histories of Indian cricket; his monumental history of the Indian republic; his biographies of Verrier Elwin and Gandhi; his anthologies of ecological, social and political thought in India; and his collection of biographical and political essays.

A Functioning Anarchy is a collection of essays by world-renowned historians, lawyers, scientists and journalists sparked by Guha’s work.

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India’s Power Elite

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India’s Power Elite || Sanjaya Baru

How the post-Covid world will be reshaped by class conflicts and caste prejudices remains to be seen. India’s Power Elite, though, is about pre-Covid India. It is an examination of the nature of power and elitism in the economic and political context of India. The morphology of the Indian power elite presents a complex structure, which is what Baru aims to deconstruct—whether it is the civil services, landed gentry or the remnants of the feudal elite. Aimed at the socially engaged reader, this book will also interest students and those who wield power.

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India and Asian Geopolitics

Front cover of India and Asian Geopolitics
India and Asian Geopolitics || Shivshankar Menon

Documenting the changes in India’s foreign policy: from Independence to the Modi era, Shivshankar Menon addresses the many questions, which perplex India as the nation seeks to find its way in the increasingly complex world of Asian geopolitics. From its leading role in the ‘nonaligned’ movement during the Cold War to its current status as a perceived counterweight to China, India often has been an after-thought for global leaders-until they realize how much they needed it.

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Whereabouts

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Whereabouts || Jhumpa Lahiri

Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. The woman at the center wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home, an engaging backdrop to her days, acts as a confidant: the sidewalks around her house, parks, bridges, piazzas, streets, stores, coffee bars. We follow her to the pool she frequents and to the train station that sometimes leads her to her mother, mired in a desperate solitude after her father’s untimely death. In addition to colleagues at work, where she never quite feels at ease, she has girl friends, guy friends, and “him,” a shadow who both consoles and unsettles her.

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The Art of Resilience

Front cover of The Art of Resilience
The Art of Resilience || Gauranga Das

In this first volume of Yoga Stories, Gauranga Das takes you on an inner journey to explore your inner self, beyond the hills of expectation, through the valleys of disapprovals and beneath the layers of self-deception. Thus, bringing you closer to the home of your heart, enabling you to open the door and introduce yourself, to finally meet, the real you.

 

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Makers of Modern Dalit History

Front cover of Makers of Modern Dalit History
Makers of Modern Dalit History || Sudarshan Ramabadran, Guru Prakash Paswan

Featuring several inspiring accounts of individuals who tirelessly battled divisive forces all their lives, this book seeks to enhance present-day India’s imagination and shape its perception of the Dalit community. Makers of Modern Dalit History will be a significant addition to the Dalit discourse. This definitive volume on some of the foremost Dalit thinkers, both past and present, promises to initiate a much-needed conversation around Dalit identity, history and politics.

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Now That We’re Here

Front cover of Now That We're Here
Now That We’re Here || Akshat Tyagi, Akshay Tyagi

The hyperconnected world that once seemed futuristic is now here. And now that we’re here, it’s time for us to educate ourselves for sweeping and endless possibilities. One way to do that is to blur the lines between technology, democracy, design, economics and data, and reconfigure our approach to learning altogether. This book is a giant leap in that direction. By harnessing the wisdom of thought leaders and intellectuals throughout history, by blending business and humanity, industry and society, and by covering cross-disciplinary themes, authors Akshay Tyagi and Akshat Tyagi give us a groundbreaking, genre-defying and utterly mind-bending collection of essays that will help us prepare for the here and now.

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