My Friend Alexa Post 5 : Durga Puja in Mysore

I wrote four rant posts as part of the My Friend Alexa campaign this month. Durga Puja begins today, and I have decided to stay indoor to stay safe amidst the pandemic. I thought it was a golden opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and revisit Durga Pujas spent in various cities during my student/professional life.

I lived in Mysore from 2009 till 2014. ICICI Bank gave me the first posting as Branch Manager in this beautiful laidback city. Mysore barely hosted a couple of Durga Pujas then. This picture was clicked in 2012, a year after I had lost Ma. It was my second puja after the wedding. I didn’t apply for leave to go home for puja that year; it was traumatic to celebrate when every small instance reminded me of my mother. We went out for dinner on the day of Saptami, and on our way back we saw the first Durga Puja of the city. Needless to say, it was difficult to control my emotions.

Durga Puja in Mysore

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  This is my fifth blog post and you can read the previous four articles here.

My friend Alexa: Rant post 4 -Learning should be fun

A recent ad on TV shows a kid developing an app after learning coding and a bunch of investors starts fighting at his doorstep for funding his venture. The ad drew a lot of flak on social media for its insensitive content. While the idea of learning coding at an early age might not be a bad idea, luring people into unnecessary competitiveness and showcasing unrealistic dreams are both unacceptable. This ad reminded me of the multiple instances when I would coax my parents to buy a jar of Horlicks/viva/complain because I felt that the products would lead to my growing intelligence.

But the utopian world created by the advertisement industry is for another day. While growing up, I believed that my father’s favourite lines were ‘learning is fun.’ I didn’t realize how much those words took away the pressure to perform, to be a topper, or crack every competitive exam. I excelled at academics because I had a family who celebrated every small achievement with love. In turn, studies became a source of happiness for me. When people ask how difficult it is to get back to academics in the late thirties, I say it is fun. Probably, my best years of life comprise memories of my academic life.

It is only after my son started school last year that I learnt to appreciate my parents’ outlook towards learning and knowledge. As a mother, I don’t think I have that level of confidence and calmness. I still get rebuked by Baba if I ever use a parameter to compare my son’s performance with anyone else. Over the last few months, online classes have brought out the darker side of competitiveness in many parents. Irrespective of the age of the kids, parents fight to create a favourable impression for the child. Every time, I feel like joining the race, I remind myself that the race has only begun.

The issue lies in the education system of our country, where marks are given precedence over knowledge or applied skills. The parameters for success begins at high scores, getting into any prestigious institute and then seeking conventional career choices. None of this should be a problem if the child is happy and acquires skills relevant to his choice of career. But the number of students committing suicides is growing at an alarming rate and most of them crumble under the unnecessary expectations of parents and society.

I could have continued with the doctorate program at India’s top institute and become unhappier every day. Instead, I chose to quit and enter the corporate world. I didn’t need to explain my decision because my happiness meant the world to my parents. After MBA, I became a banker more by chance than by choice. When life gave me an option to take a sabbatical post-delivery, I reconnected with my love for written words and decided to make writing my profession. It wasn’t an easy choice either, but it makes me happy, and the same joy spills over to my personal and professional life. Going by the parameters that judge success, I am not sure where I can fit in. But, if I revisit my learning curve, it has only followed an upward slope.

And I hope I can raise my son with the same thought of enjoying the process of knowledge acquisition and learning how to apply practical ideas to theories. The reforms in the education system might still be a long route, but dismantling the parameters that separate success and failure on an individual level might be the first step towards a happier future for children.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  This blog post is the fourth and last rant post for this season.

Durga Puja begins tomorrow onwards, and quite a few of us have consciously chosen to stay safe by staying indoors. I intend to take a virtual trip down the memory lane over the next four posts and post pictures from the puja celebrations of the last few years.

My Friend Alexa: Rant post 3 – Writing is a profession too

In the last couple of years, I have earned the displeasure of a bunch of relatives for not staying in touch. Some have even labelled me a snob for not picking up calls to catch up on life. Eight years of corporate life, filled with multiple con-calls throughout the day, customer queries, and work-related conversations had the phone glued to my ears. When my son was born in 2015, I made a conscious decision to stay disconnected.

Within a couple of years, I had successfully managed to rub them on the wrong side with my assumed ‘snobbish’ attitude. Instead of getting worked up about the unfairness of the deal, I took it in my stride and decided to stop giving explanations. If people didn’t understand the difficulties of raising a new-born with the husband on an outstation medical duty, they didn’t deserve my time.

In 2017, when I began writing and eventually decided to make it a full-time profession, there were quite a handful of ‘well-wishers’ who wanted me to go back to a real job. According to them, penning down thoughts was a hobby that I could pursue while continuing with a corporate job. They gave examples of their ‘super mother’ friends and acquaintances who had managed motherhood, high-profile’ jobs, and hobbies with elan.

Initially, I took a lot of pain to enlighten my near ones that I wasn’t pursuing a hobby; I was turning a passion into profession. Did they understand? Hell, NO! Some thought it was a stupid idea, some spoke about how my son was soon going to grow independent and make me regret my choice, and some didn’t even think twice before labelling me an escapist. Thus began my first step into a new profession.

Last year, I decided to get a professional degree to add value to my career. The snide remarks related to going back to academics in my late-thirties only made my resolve stronger. I kept a screenshot of the payment I made for the course. It came handy to combat those who thought my husband was paying for my third post-graduation. While writing isn’t a great paymaster, it isn’t impossible to earn the amount needed to fund my studies. Unfortunately, many in my immediate circle still have trouble understanding it.

Even today, I don’t pick up calls unless they are from my immediate family, very close friends, my son’s school or an unavoidable urgency. I prefer to revert over messages as per my convenient time, ensuring that I respond to each one. Writing isn’t a job that can have anyone working with my mind switched off. My mind is active even as I go about my daily chores. So, when I sit down to write, I shut out the world and plunge into creating a magical world. Like Stephen King advises in his book ‘On Writing’, “Write with the door closed.”

Creative endeavours require as much hard work and support as any other profession; the return on investment is much slower and lesser. But that didn’t deter me from diving into this new world after taking a 180-degree turn from my previous profession. And I am not the only one fighting a battle for creating a new identity as an author. The least that a ‘well-wisher’ can do is acknowledge that writing is a real job.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  Stay tuned to read my fourth rant post in this series.

My Friend Alexa : Rant post 2 – Doctors are humans too

If you have read any of my posts, or follow me on any social media platform, you would know that I have a doctor for a husband. As batchmates from school, best friends, and eventually a married couple, we have explored the joys and sorrows of life for more than two decades now. Yet, nothing prepared us for the most difficult phase of our lives that began in March 2020.

After the pandemic hit, his posting took him to one of the Government hospitals in a faraway district of Bengal. My father, who travelled to our home town just before the pandemic struck, couldn’t return because of the lockdown. My in-laws, who had come for a month’s visit to Kolkata, had no option but to stay back. It was a tough time becoming the primary caregiver to a five-year-old son and ageing in-laws while balancing the MFA course.

As we grappled with the new normal, my husband’s work schedule went from bad to worse. They were working round the clock, without a break. The fraternity of doctors, nurses and primary healthcare workers were fighting like frontline warriors. Yet they also had another fight to get the requisite number of PPE kits, N95 masks, sanitizers and other essential items.

Doctors are humans too

Within a couple of weeks, I saw people banging utensils to show appreciation for the fraternity, helicopters showering flowers to show gratitude and a top Bollywood actor re-releasing a song comparing the dedication of doctors to men in uniform. Although I could never stop worrying about the risk his profession carried, I felt proud of his service in this crisis.

The facade was short-lived. A few days after the thali-banging ceremony, one of my husband’s seniors from college was asked to shift by their residential complex society because his duty exposed him to the deadly virus, making him a threat to other residents. They didn’t have the common sense to think that the same doctors would risk their lives to treat them from Corona. Thus began the discrimination against doctors.

Violence against doctors is on a rise. In Bengal and the rest of India, there are very few days when one doesn’t hear of friends/relatives of patients beating up doctors without any provocation or reason. Last year, one of the junior doctors in Kolkata was hit by a mob in such a brutal way that his skull cracked. Every profession has a few rotten apples that bring their line of work a bad name. Then why is it the doctors who are at the forefront of facing such violence and discrimination as they risk their lives to save that of others?

Despite their selfless service, there are instances where doctors haven’t received any payment for months, they were asked to vacate rented accommodation, and have faced the falsified allegations of medical negligence. They go through such trauma at a time when most of them haven’t even seen/met their families for months at a stretch. Even when they return home, they keep themselves isolated for days before embracing their child or hugging their loved ones.

I refuse to agree with the age-old belief that doctors are second to God. It puts them on a pedestal with an unnecessary pressure to be capable of performing miracles. What we need to understand is that doctors are humans too, battling health and wellness issues, as put their problems behind to cater to the needs of a patient. While they continue serving the citizens with care and compassion, the least that they deserve is our respect, kindness and gratitude.

For the last nine months, I had a tough time explaining to my son about why he gets to talk to his father mostly over video calls. I heard the panic in my in-laws’ voice whenever they called me to check on their son’s schedule. I saw the concern in my father’s eyes every time he hears about my husband skipping meals to attend to his duties. And I have been trying to push away every negative thought from my mind as I grapple to hold the family together. And, I am just one of the many families who have lent their unrelenting support to a doctor/doctors in the family.

As a doctor’s wife, I am proud of the way my husband and his fraternity has been on duty during this crisis period. As a thinking and opinionated individual, I also want to scream out at the apathy of those in power and the blood-thirsty mob culture that has become a threat to the sanctity of this profession. None of us signed up for this level of unnecessary tension and stress. So, please stop considering doctors equivalent to God and expect them to have magical healing powers. I would rather request you to treat them as a fellow human with the same dignity and compassion that an individual deserves.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  Stay tuned to read my third rant post in this series.



My Friend Alexa Rant Post 1 – No Country For Women

It is 2020; the world is grappling with a pandemic. But guess what we are busy doing in our country- adding on to the statistics of violence and crimes against women. I don’t have a theme for my blog posts this year, but what I have is a lot of anger and frustration to vent out. So, my 8 posts are going to be rant posts that will make you uncomfortable. And, I am not sorry to stir up the conscience of a sleeping nation.

Yesterday, I woke up to the news of the Hathras Dalit victim succumbing to death. The brutality of the crime managed to ‘shake’ up the nation again. I feel numb; I feel disgusted. The way her body was burned late in the night without her family’s consent proves my faith in #nocountryforwomen. All these PRs of saving the daughters are falsified narratives by the rich and the mighty. You and I have the battle to fight alone.

Before I could call it a day, I witnessed a senior DGP beating up his wife on video just because she objected to his extra-marital affair. Slow claps! A two-year-old baby girl stabbed 100 times by a screwdriver. Another Dalit rape victim dies at Balrampur in UP, 8-year-old raped and critical in Azamgarh in U.P., and a minor girl is raped by three men in M.P. Also, these are just a few of the national average of 87 rapes that get reported per day. Focus on the word ‘reported’; the actual number would be much higher.

The sheer brutality of the crimes makes me question the audacity of the criminals. Why isn’t there any fear in the mind of the predators? After the Hyderabad encounter, people had lauded the police about serving quick justice. Today I want to ask everyone if that incident was powerful enough to induce fear of the law in the minds of the criminals? Did it serve the purpose of stopping any such future heinous crimes? NO! All it did was to give a quick-fix cover-up to cater to the rising resentment in the country. 

What we need is a sustainable system that ensures a safe environment for women, an assurance of quick justice, and severe punishment for the guilty. Looking at the present scenario, where the media is filled with men barking for TRPs and self-declared feminists (read opportunists) are too busy in seeking fulfilment of their vendetta, the future looks bleak and dangerous.

Before I leave, let me tell you that women are at war in this country. And if it doesn’t bother you today because of your privileged status, remember “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are” – Benjamin Franklin.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter‘s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  Stay tuned to read my second rant post in this series.

 

SONIASMUSINGS.COM TURNS THREE

It feels like yesterday when I decided to quit my banking job and mustered the courage to follow my heart. On 13th September 2017, I let my intentions known to the world through the launch of my blog soniasmusings.com. From 2017 until now, it’s been a roller-coaster ride of blogging, writing articles on esteemed platforms, authoring a book, and eventually choosing to do my third masters program, an MFA in creative writing. It wasn’t easy to venture out in an unknown territory, yet it was more difficult to convey that writing wasn’t a passion anymore; it was going to be my third and full-time profession. If I have to pick a turning point in my life, I would always choose this phase of pursuing my dreams.

#soniasmusingsturnsthree Three years of blogging and writing. Thank you, for the support!

Thank you, dear readers and followers, for showering me with so much love, support and encouragement over the years. You motivated me to stay focused on my goals.

Hello September, the month of hope & joy!

I started the last trimester of the MFA course this month. For the past few months, I haven’t blogged much or written actively on any digital platform. Yet, I was writing a lot, mostly through my assignments. Amidst all this, the pandemic stuck. I have often spoken about how the Covid-19 crisis hit us as a family, with the medical professional husband away on duty for months.  His posting outside the city compelled us to mostly connect over video calls. It is still difficult to explain to the son why he gets to meet his father just once a month, for a couple of days. For three months, I felt stuck, frustrated, and annoyed. Almost everyone around me moved ahead, upgraded their skills, progressed in career, and did a great job of balancing their roles. And, I was struggling to stay afloat amidst this chaos. It was overwhelming.

Burning the midnight oil for MFA assignments
Burning the midnight oil for MFA assignments

Two months back, I decided to log out of social media, uninstall all apps except Twitter, quit 20+ groups on WhatsApp, block people I didn’t wish to stay in touch with any longer, and focus on the optimization of restrained circumstances. I spent two months nurturing the relationships I genuinely care about. I worked steadily for the MFA course and read books in genres I could never appreciate before. I finally made peace with my bushy eyebrows, shoulder-length hair, and supposed ‘laidback’ pace of publishing books.

Rediscovering A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Rediscovering A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

On Aug 22nd, I decided to return on social media, consciously restricting the time I spend on each platform. I wanted to share my journey of handling a difficult phase with a lot of people who were struggling too. But what primarily occupied my thoughts was the book that I am currently reading – ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth. I gave up reading it a couple of times in the past. But when I borrowed the book from the library last month, little did I know that this going to be a delightful reading journey of the literary world. It confirms my belief that there exists a suitable time and space for every book in our lives.

The boy and his superheroes
The boy and his ‘superheroes’ as birthday gifts

September is a very special month for me. Exactly 5 years ago, my son Tuneer was born on the 22nd of this month. Therein began our journey of parenthood. The lockdown introduced him to a bunch of superheroes. From Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, Avengers to Justice League, his love for these characters made us rename him as Tuneerman. We had plans to celebrate it with friends and family before Covid-19 brought life to a standstill. The family has come together to make it all about his favorite cartoons and superheroes. The tees are from his paternal grandparents, maternal grandfather, and his father. The ‘Othello’ game is from his best friend. I chose to gift the posters and a surprise puzzle set is on the way. He was so excited about the presents that we couldn’t coax him to wait until the 22nd to open them. That expression on his face after unwrapping the packages made every effort feel special.

I look forward to a kinder, safer, healthier, and fulfilling month. Stay safe and take care.

Happy Janmashtami 2020

Janmashtami is celebrated with elan in my marital home. Ever since we moved back to Kolkata, we ensured to make a trip to Berhampore to attend the festival. Unfortunately, the pandemic made it impossible to travel this year with our soon-to-turn-five-year-old.

The family deity of Lord Krishna
The family deity of Lord Krishna

The celebrations of our family deities, Shyam-Rai, were a low-key affair this year with only family members attending the rituals. Yet, we couldn’t help but feel sad at missing the happiness of the day. To cheer up the kid, I decided to have a small puja at home after dressing him up as little Krishna. The pictures of the deities and rituals from his paternal grandparents in the evening brought a big smile on his face.

Puja room in my marital home
Puja room in my marital home

Puja at our Kolkata home

May Lord Krishna help us overcome this crisis. Stay safe and take care.

A couple of more reviews of Deal of Death and an interview featuring my blogging journey

Thank you, for loving my book ‘Deal of Death.’ In the last couple of days, I have seen some more encouraging reviews from authors, who are also known for their literary skills. Sonia Dogra, Radhika Acharya, and Vartika Mehrotra rave about this past-faced detective thriller in their reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

Review by Vartika
Review by Vartika

If you have still not read the book, you can get a copy HERE.

On the personal front, I was interviewed by Naveen from blogabout.blog about my journey as a blogger/author and I had a great time answering his thought-provoking questions.

My blogging journey featured
Featuring my blogging journey

You might enjoy reading the interview here.

6 months of ‘Deal of Death’ on Amazon with a couple of new stellar reviews

My debut detective thriller ‘ Deal of Death’ completes 6 months of getting published on Amazon and it is a delight to discover two wonderful reviews by two writers par excellence, Piyusha Vir (who’s also a best-selling author) and Esha Chakraborty.

Review by Piyusha Vir

If you have not read this fast-paced detective thriller introducing private investigator Raya Ray, you must grab a copy HERE. It is sure to make your weekend more interesting.

Review by Esha Chakraborty
Review by Esha Chakraborty

The pandemic has become a difficult time for us as a family. I have a bunch of classes lined up in the MFA course this month, the kid is trying to cope up with the pace of the online classes while my husband is tied up in delivering his duties as a doctor. The situation makes it tough for me to balance blogging with mandatory writing and personal responsibilities. I haven’t been able to publish more than 2/3 posts after April  (my apologies for that!) but I am hoping for better progress in the coming months.

The copyright notice
The copyright notice

Last month, a fellow blogger brought to my notice that the site cryptocitynews.com has been blatantly republishing the same content as my website without seeking any permission from me. Despite the copyright notice clearly mentioned on my website and my warning comments on the posts there, they haven’t taken down my posts. So, if you see any of my posts on their site, please feel free to call them out. A lot of effort goes into creating, editing, and publishing posts on my site and it is unethical to republish my work for their vested interests.

I hope all of you are staying safe and following adequate precautions for us to collectively overcome this crisis. Take care and I will see you again with a new topic very soon.