THE POTRAIT OF A LADY

It is one hot sultry afternoon. She’s come back quite early from her workplace, tired, hungry and sweaty. She felt like collapsing on the floor but then remembers that there’s no one there at home to even serve her food. Her husband’s away on a business trip, her daughter is in her college. She freshens up and goes to the kitchen. The rice is cold and the curry is bland. Seems as if I have forgotten the spices today as well, she says, dipping her long finger into the bottle of homemade pickle, made with the age old recipe that her grandma used to follow. She finishes her lunch and decides to take a nap. She chooses her favourite spot-the sofa in the living room. She sits down, the cushion sagging behind her. Motherhood had burdened her with excessive weight.

There’s an unexpected guest: a shower in the middle of the summer. She rushes to get the clothes from the terrace. The staircases are steep and her energies low. All my hard work wasted, she mumbles. Finally, after all this running, she once again settles down in her cozy seat and closes her eyes.

A small girl is dashing across the courtyard, eyes shimmering with innocence and excitement. Suddenly she stumbles upon an object and falls down. She starts crying, seeing the blood on her bruised knee. Her mother comes outside and takes her in her lap, trying to soothe her. She wipes her tears, adding ” If you keep getting scars like these, then no one’ll marry you. You’re as such a dark girl.”The girl looks back at her mother, confused.

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“Is it wrong to be dark?”

The mother looks at her with hollow eyes.

And thus she starts her journey on a rocky path without a map, just following her conscience and goodwill. Her sober nature wins everyone’s hearts at a glance. She grows up fast, her childhood undeniably smaller, saddled with enormous responsibilities. Being the elder daughter, she is entrusted with the duties of scrubbing the floors and washing the clothes. Though never a star student, she takes her education very seriously, burning the midnight oil after putting her younger siblings to sleep. Her presence is limited to the walls of her home, her classrooms and the library. Sometimes she spends her leisure time knitting sweaters and cardigans or making dolls and bags from reeds.

She’s never allowed to forget that she’s dark. As if having a higher concentration of melanin is a sin. She later learnt that skin color is an example of polygenic inheritance, which means that multiple genes collectively influence phenotypic expression of the trait. Apart from that, environmental factors also play a role. “I walk to school and then back home every day. It is natural that I have got some extra protection from the sun. What can be wrong in that?  Lord Krishna and Goddess Kali are dark too. But they are worshipped despite of their color. Why am I not acceptable?” Still, like millions of Indian girls, she succumbs to the societal pressure and definition of beauty and starts using the iconic Fair and Lovely.

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Being a girl seems difficult in this country, she thinks while convincing her father to leave her for a study tour. All her friends wave at her and await the surprises they’re gonna enjoy, while all she does is look at the speeding bus with eyes, welled up with tears and biting her lips. She has to fight at her home to allow her to go outside her small township for higher studies. Fighting with your family is never easy, even if you’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s not safe for a girl to stay away from home, they say. It’s not safe for a girl to go out after dark, they say.

As she prepares herself  to leave her tiny nest to fly high, she understands that life comes with its share of troubles. The hardest part has just begun. Staying away from family in an unknown city is never easy. She battles her way through all her courage and determination, and completes her Masters in marketing. There’s always that financial crunch, but she never shows it. She starts her career with a multinational in a cosmopolitan city. Her first salary gets stolen in the local bus. She gets eve teased on the same streets that lead her to the working women’s hostel. All this for a job. For her self respect. For building up her identity.

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But there are beautiful moments too, like taking her parents on a tour and buying them stuff with her own money. For someone belonging to a lower income group family, this can seem as an achievement. Seeing the glow on your parents’ face because of your good deeds is indeed an achievement.

She’s called back home after 3 years. “You’re old enough to start a family now. When are you going to get married? You’re dark as such. And you know about the biological age for women………”

“But ma, there’s this guy……”

“Yes?”

“There’s this guy, whom I love very much. He also adores me a lot. He is a doctor. Remember I had told you about him while I had been to the hospital regarding those new tablets my company had launched?”

“Ah yes, I remember. So, what is his caste?”

She knew that this question would come up. He had said the same thing. ” I love you, but I won’t be able to marry you. We belong to different groups of societies. My parents will never agree to a match who’s dark, highly educated and of a separate caste.” She was shocked to hear all this from him, a doctor, one of the highly respected professionals in the society.

“I thought that you’re proud of me. And don’t tell me that I’m dark. You’re no whiter.”

“Yes, I am, but I believe you won’t make a good wife.”

“Why so?”

”Because you’re a working woman. Your marketing job will take you to places, while I’d be mostly staying in my state. I need my woman to stay with me, to do the household chores properly, to take care of my children, and to be a good wife. I have my own dreams and aspirations. How’ll they get fulfilled if my wife works? A working woman can never be a good housewife.”

“But we can manage everything. We live in a democratic country that believes in justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Everything is possible if we take a stand. We can at least try once. You talk at you home and I’ll talk at mine. I am sure that we can get positive results. Because we have got only one life and I have some dreams too………….”

“I am sorry, I don’t know about you, but I can’t go against my parents’ wishes. Nor my dreams.”

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Her mother nearly slapped her, tears in her eyes and anger in her throat.

“You wretched girl! You fell in love with a lower caste man and you expect us that we’ll marry you off with him! How dare you? Don’t you know that we are Brahmins? What’ll people say? That’s all we need now, to ruin our reputation! He left you for the sake of his parents….and you? You’re arguing with me? Wretched girl!”

She imagined herself on a boat stranded in the middle of an ocean, felt as if thousands of waves were hitting her, all at once, trying to knock her off and break her down into pieces. She felt as if she was drowning, the waves pushing her and the sharks pulling her underwater. She couldn’t exactly comprehend the aim of her struggle. Why was she fighting for that man who loved her but didn’t respect her emotions and treated women just as objects for work and recreation? Why was she fighting with her mother who had cared for her since childhood and whose hands were tied up with the patriarchal and orthodox ideas since generations? Why was she fighting with herself and ruining her state of mind? Sometimes she couldn’t understand why she behaved this way, let alone others.

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News was to relatives and friends that there’s this suitable Brahmin girl who’s 5’6” tall, highly educated, works for an MNC, skilled in household work and has good moral values. The compact ad was published in a local daily.

Prospective grooms visited her one by one, throwing occasional glances on her slender figure.  Prospective mothers in law checked her face complexion and her walking style. The families exchanged pleasantries, had chai samosas and then talked about dowry. Two lakhs, because, you know. She felt the jolts in her body every time someone demanded dowry or rejects her.

Finally, by the grace of God, she gets her husband who is equally qualified and is fair colored. “Girl, you have struck a gem”, her relatives said. “He’ s too good for you. You should be lucky that you got him, just for one lakh!”

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She’s quickly wedded off and then finds herself in another dimension of life. She’s now a married woman, and they say that it is the honor of her husband’s family that is now at her stake. So she now must learn to live like they decide. Marriage is all about adjustment, they say. New family, new relatives, new customs, new clothes and jewellery, new bedroom, and that too with a complete stranger………………

One year fast forward. She is returning from the doctor, her eyes shining with excitement and dull with tears at the same time. Her doctor is the same man with whom she had imagined her whole life. He was now married as well. Congratulations, he had said. You’re going to be a mother. She tightly clutched her husband’s hand, wiping her face, smiling. She questioned herself again. “Why haven’t I been able to forget this man who has given me the darkest years of my life? Am I not being a good wife?”

Nine months later, as she held up her daughter in her arms for the first time, she went wild with ecstasy. Her daughter had large black eyes and looked like a doll. She was so proud of herself. After all, her child was a part of her blood and bones. Her life had come to a full circle, she thought. After all, this is what a wife is supposed to do.

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Being the most beautiful period of a woman’s life, pregnancy gives her the most precious and powerful gift of mankind, the ability to create a new generation. But it comes with its perils. Her weight soared up like anything and her hair fall aggravated. She no longer looked young like before.

She was soon expecting her second child. Her mother in law prayed to Lord Krishna daily. ” A Bal Gopal, please God bless our home with a Bal Gopal this time.” But destiny had some other plans for her. A minor road accident while driving back home led to her miscarriage. Her doctor replied that she would never be able to become a mother again.

And it was then that her husband started going away on frequent business trips. He avoided her every time he could. His family believed that she had knowingly taken away the chirag of their home. They released their frustration on her every time they could. Her husband, for whom she had settled down with a low paying job so that she could manage his family well, was not in love with her anymore. Was it because of her failed pregnancy? Maybe he was not in love with her at all. Sometimes, people are in love and they can’t marry. Sometimes, people marry but they are not in love with each other.

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There had been a few times when she doubted that her husband was cheating on her.

One day, she broke down in front of her mother.

“Ma, I can’t go on like this anymore. I sacrificed my career for this man years older than me, and yet he can’t provide me solace. I have lost my child, yet I get no words to soothe my heartache. You know how it feels? It feels as if I’ve lost a limb and I am still experiencing the phantom pain, oh Ma!”

“That’s the life of a woman, dear. Women must endure all these sufferings. You need to be here and do your duties, whether you’re appreciated or not. This is your home till the end and you are the lady of this house. You should know the tricks to keep all the strings tight. Or else your shack will break down.”

“If I need to prove myself all the time, then why doesn’t he pass through the same litmus test? I have lost a lot in life. Am I here only to kill my hopes and aspirations? Even I am a human being and this is the only life I’ve got, Ma!”

“You ask too many questions!”

She’s suddenly woken up by a thunder loud enough to wake the dead. She realises that she had been dozing off with her head tilted towards the direction of the main entrance of the house. The heavy raindrops were still hitting the porch but she didn’t mind anymore. She opened the gate, took a few drops of the cold water into her cupped hands and splashed onto her face. She further moved towards the garden and got drenched in the newly found sparks of her old wounds.

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AN UNUSUAL GIFT

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To the guy lovingly called SSDPS by his best friends.

He had his birthday a few months ago. Usually guys ask for gifts or treats. Better, they don’t ask for anything from girls (how cute they are :P) But this man had something else in his mind.

One fine day, after a few days of his birthday that he celebrated by taking all his friends to a posh restaurant, he thought that he should give me a treat as well {let me tell you that last year too, he had taken me for a lovely treat :)} So after a delicious lunch, I asked him what gift he needs (because I am a dumb when it comes to gift, especially to guys :P) He posed a very strange request.

“I need a greeting card.”

So I took him to Archies and told him to pick one card. But he was adamant.

“No, I want a handmade greeting card.”

I looked at him. Never ever in my life had I heard of a 20 something guy asking for a card. Men love perfume, shaving kit and stuff like that, as per the websites disseminating knowledge on *top 101 gifts for men* ”

I thought about my last art and craft project at school back in 2006. It had been so terrific that I had been awarded a C grade.

“I need a handmade greeting card”, he continued, ” so that I can keep you alive in my memories forever. This is our last year in college, you know.”

Each and every word of his seemed legitimate to me. The word memory hung in the air.

I came back home and begged my sister to draw something exciting for him.

“I’m busy. And moreover, he’s your friend. You should put a personal touch in his gift.”

And hence started my epic journey towards the center of the DIY gifts on YouTube. Let me tell you that the journey is not easy. Channels of these Indian viners come in between and distract you from your main goal 😛 Anyways, I found an idea that looked easy and I started making it.

It has been more than a month but the craft’s still incomplete.

2013 was a year full of new experiences. It was a big change for me: getting out of DAV- my home for 14 straight years. I had got habituated with the same classrooms, same building, same teachers and friends. Even the barren school field reminded me of the infinite happy moments spent, sprouting from the gardens of friendship and innocence. It seemed as a big family: a home away from home.

My mind races back to my initial days at KIIT. August 2013. I had just got enrolled in the B.Tech course of Mechanical Engineering. New institution. New faces. One classroom. 70 hearts.  I had to quickly replace my Odia with Hindi: KIIT has students coming from all over the country. The campus is always over flooded with people,  bursting with excited talents , ever ready to showcase their best. A person coming from a limited sphere like me felt lost in the ocean. The once outspoken girl in me suddenly changed into a quiet person, quite often forgotten in the crowd. I always tried to mingle but then again stayed aloof from everyone. I was scared of the new surroundings. What if I said or did something wrong? Then people would laugh at me. Nuts. All screwed up.

One day while a professor was taking our introduction, SSDPS got up and said his name. Durgaprasad Sahoo. From West Bengal. DAVian.

Whoa! It struck a chord with me. Finally, an Odia guy! I had noticed him before, but he never spoke in his mother tongue.

I went to him to talk. And he was (and still is) a very shy guy. Would only answer to your questions. Didn’t blabber like me the whole day. Reserved kind of man, but very sweet, cute, knowledgeable and kind. Perfect person to make a friend!

Our interactions are always limited to library, classroom and WhatsApp. Our conversations are always related to assignments and exams. Durga never misses to notice and comment on my changed WhatsApp profile picture. While I keep on changing my status every now and then, his status reads “Patience is the key” since June’17. He truly lives up to his status. He’s a brilliant and a hardworking guy. He can always be seen inside the library, his nose buried in books. Whenever I need any help while solving assignments, he’s always there. Whenever I need to get any information from the notice board, he’s usually the first person to convey that message to me. When I go out of the line and I don’t feel like studying, he’s there to boost my morale and bring me back to the right track.

But sometimes we manage to have fun, like we went to watch Airlift last year with nearly 15 friends and had a lunch program afterwards. (we managed to achieve this after bunking K.C. Singh sir’s class…we should be given a medal for this magnanimous feat :P)

There must be zillions of moments like these, we have created a lot of happy moments that are gonna be cherished for a lifetime. Maybe we didn’t have much fun (I couldn’t join him for trips and photo shoots). But our extraordinary friendship that stemmed up from an ordinary conversation is unique and special, and I have loved and enjoyed every moment of it. I hope that you have enjoyed it as well.

Gifts might get broken, photos might get deleted, contacts might get lost, but the place reserved in your heart for a friend is never sold off to someone else. Sometimes it lies forgotten, but never lost.  I am freezing you in my memory with this blog post. Do remember the link 😛 Even if we stay across the globe, my wishes and prayers will reach out to you, no matter what. May you get the laurels and rewards that you deserve. You have done a lot of penance.  Now it’s time for the golden ripe harvest! I hope that you get success in each and every road you take.

Happy birthday, Durga, not only for this year but for all the good years that God has set for you in future.

Your crazy friend,

Debashrita

FOR ALL MY LITTLE SISTERS OUT THERE, THIS IS FOR YOU

I guess you must have heard the song Fifteen by Taylor Swift.
If not, then let me write down the lyrics here for you.
15 is just an ordinary number, without any Vedic significance. If sixteen is sweet, is fifteen sour?
Let’s find out.
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You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors
It’s the morning of your very first day
You say hi to your friends you ain’t seen in a while
Try and stay out of everybody’s’ way
It’s your freshman year and you gonna be here
For the next 4 years in this town
Hoping one of those senior boys will wink at you and say,
” You know I haven’t seen you around before.”
This is the first step towards your future. High school! All grown up kids teenagers 🙂
Teenage: the most rebellious phase of our lives. Back when I was 13, I used to throw tantrums like hell. There was no patient talking in the house. Every now and then, one could see me and mummy engaged in a typical family drama scene, fighting over silly stuff, arguing endlessly. We just do the opposite of whatever is expected of us (Like I still do) and often get into troubles. Now when I look back on the memories, I feel so guilty. Intense stupidity, and nothing else.
Moral of the story: Don’t fight with your parents, it is a battle with a predetermined winner.
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‘Cause when you’re Fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You’re gonna believe them
And when you’re Fifteen
Feeling like this three’s noting to figure out
Well, count to ten, take it in
This is life before you know who you are gonna be
Fifteen
You are now neither a kid, nor an adult, which makes it more hard to cope up with the parental, peer and societal pressures. You are expected to behave like a responsible grown up, but at the same time required to behave like a child!
*Stop irritating me*Shut up*Give me my phone back*Mum, what’s wrong with you*I am studying with my headphones, it is called multitasking*I need a break I can’t study all the time*Engineering? I wanna do photography*Why can’t I go for that movie? All my friends are going for it*Need some hard cash, lunch time with gang*Where’s my mascara*Retail therapy makes me calm*I am busy, I can’t do it*So what if I talk to that guy late in the night, he’s just a friend, don’t over react*OMG ITS A PIMPLE*It hurts, this damned thing, every month, I’m sick of it*He’s so cute wink*Why do you need to be on guard all the time*Please leave me alone*slangs*slangs*some more slangs*
If you are familiar with these phrases, then trust me, you are a teenager.
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You sit in class next to a red head named Abigail
And soon enough you are best friends
Laughing at other girls you think you’re so cool
We’ll be out of here as soon as we can
And then you are on your very first date and he’s got a car
And you feel like flying
And your mamma is waiting up and you’re thinking that he is the one
And you are dancing around the room when the night ends
When the night ends
While you are busy understanding why your body has started showing bizarre changes and you’ve suddenly become hyper emotional and super sensitive (It is not your fault that hormones screwed you up), you realise that your schoolwork has grown up with you, too. Did your life have less troubles that you needed to complete and submit lab records of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics every week? God, this is unfair! With your frequent mood swings, incessant tussles with your loved ones and tons of home assignments, competition also had to enter the scene. Now your existence is reduced to that of an amoeba, struggling for a personal air bubble in that dirty pond where no one likes to live but has to because that’s the right thing to do. Period. But you need to win, because survival of the fittest, right?
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‘Cause when you are Fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You are gonna believe them
When you re Fifteen
And our first kiss makes your head spin round
But in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team
But I didn’t know it at Fifteen
Moving on towards the latest advancements: You are getting adrenaline pump when you see *him* And its natural. No need to freak out. No need to go crazy about it. Don’t be insane, just be normal. He’s just a normal person like you and you need to focus on your schoolwork and this transitory phase shall pass away. You are not supposed to have a boyfriend just because everyone has one or it is a cool thing to do. Don’t break anyone’s heart or get yours broken. Be a sensible person. I know that you are. You have powers beyond imagination, them for your benefit. I am sure that you’d be amazed.
It is hard to resist, this temptation. It is a painful struggle between your mind and your heart. Long hours of chatting and what not. The pleasure is unmatched with all the riches of the world combined.
You’ll find the perfect person one day, don’t worry, but maybe this is not the right time for it. Distractions abound your mind but you have got so much to do. Many a times, the things that look promising may never work out. So, beware of the sugar coated sweet poisons lurking around. A backstabbing friend is more dangerous than an enemy, my dear.
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When all you wanted was to be wanted
Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you know now
You do what your heart wants. Illogical reasoning becomes your speciality. Long hours of sleep and daydreaming disorient your thinking processes. When you grow up, you realise that you could have done so much to enhance yourself, but you badly fell into the pit your heart had set for you.
Wisdom comes late. You feel like a philosopher when you complete this perilous phase of your life but by the time it’s too late. Shit.
I just wish I could have studied harder, slept less and become more cheerful 😦 So you better take my advice and start preparing for the entrance examinations from now on(Just kidding XD)
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Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday
But I realised some bigger dreams of mine
And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind
And we both cried
Stop dreaming of a future that’ll literally never exist. You believe that you have a worth only if you have a lot of people who give you attention? Only if someone loves you? Wanna hog the limelight by becoming the next happening thing at school? It is an illusion, this glamour and vanity. Never fall prey to it. Happiness might not be everything that you try to pursue or perceive.

How can you expect someone to love you when you can’t love yourself? How can you expect someone to be serious about you when you aren’t serious about yourself, your studies and your career? You are vulnerable and lonely. People take advantage of the situation. They make you feel loved, they might be doing that genuinely as well, but then they lose interest and walk away with unfaithful reasons. So don’t think that love is the biggest thing in life. It is not. By God, you are blessed with such a loving and caring family, mad friends, a sound health and tons of goodness and riches. Utilize it and become a good human being and give back to the society. That’s what life is for. I have wasted my time, energy and peace of mind on wrong people and I hope that you won’t do the same.

Sorry for this long speech, I know you must have got irritated by now, but please just bear a few more moments with me.
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‘Cause when you are Fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You are gonna believe them
And when you are Fifteen
Don’t forget to look before you fall
I have found time can heal most anything
And you just might find out who you’re supposed to be
I didn’t know it at Fifteen
If something or someone hurts you, just let them go. Throw them out of your life. Never become a second option for anyone. Always think that you are special. Never compete with others, just compete with yourself. So what if you scored 9.6 and she scored 9.8. So what if she got awarded and you didn’t. You are an individual and you have the potential to achieve everything you deserve and desire. Winning is not overcoming your competitors, it is overcoming your own faults and making great strides! Just go for it!
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Your very first day
Take a deep breath, girl
Take a deep breath as you walk through the doors.
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All the best, my dear young ladies! A perilous yet promising future awaits you out there! 🙂
Love, The Funky Writer

TO CROCS, WITH LOVE FROM ODISHA

Happy new year, my dear followers and my fellow bloggers!
We writers are fierce, brave and bold. We believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. Nothing deters us from exercising our freedom of expression. With Bangladeshi bloggers being killed, the Charlie Hebdo incident and Indian writers returning their awards, 2015 has been a tough year for the writer community. Nevertheless, we shall continue doing what we do the best: Writing. Let us promise to inspire people through our painstakingly handwritten texts. Let us bring out the brighter side of humanity. Let us spread happiness and awareness.
I have been reading your blogs religiously and I must say that everyone of you had something good to offer to the big World Wide Web. Well, here’s my share: my second travel journal.

Animals have always been associated with religion. Nature has inspired different faiths. Hence, my parents believed that there couldn’t be a better time than Durga Puja to visit Odisha’s very own biodiversity hotspot: Bhitarkanika. (thanks to my class mass bunk actually :p)
Bhitarkanika is a national park located at Rajnagar in Kendrapada district. What makes it special from other parks are its mangrove forests, spread across the Brahmani-Baitarini estuarial region. It is the second largest mangrove forest of India, just after the Sundarbans. Housing the saltwater crocodile, water monitor lizard, deer, migratory birds, turtles, and dozens of aquatic species, amongst others, Bhitarkanika is a treat for all the wildlife lovers.

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We started our journey at about 11.30 a.m. by road and reached at about 5.30 p.m. The long journey had tired us out. Sitting in the car the whole day with my cousin on my lap was fun, but exhausting as well. The countryside scenery was excellent. We crossed small ponds, gardens, paddy fields, rivers and saw the lovely sunset. After entering Rajkanika, we noticed fisheries on either side of the road, along with small huts surrounded by vegetation: the homes and the businesses of the local fishermen. We saw aerators in the pond to supply oxygen to the prawns.

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Our resort had a striking resemblance to that of a village: each cottage had been made in such a way so as to blend with the forest. Our rooms had all the basic facilities, though. There was a small pond, paddy cultivation, a small orchard and a flower garden inside our resort. No T.V, no internet. Most of the networks wouldn’t receive any signal except BSNL, so be ready to spend a day without social networking sites.

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The food tasted great, with sea food being obtained fresh. Most of the other food stuff, including packaged drinking water, is procured from outside, from a nearby village which is accessible only through boat. Every day, the staff resort toil hard and take dangers to ensure the perfect vacation for you. You can dine on big fish, crabs and prawns. Other veg and non veg delicacies are also available at special request.
The next day, we were up by 6 a.m. After taking bath and breakfast, we were ready to plunge into the wilderness. Our fellow tourists were mostly Bengalis, a few Odia people and two ladies from the Netherlands!
We hired a motor boat from Khola. The one room office was just next to the entry gate of Bhitarkanika, hence was being guarded. We had to give all our personal details which was necessary for the officials to initiate a search if we don’t come back (well that sounds terrifying :p)

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We saw what we were craving for: the mangrove forests. During the morning time, the water from the Bay of Bengal had pushed itself into the rivers, hence resulting in a high tide. When we returned back, the excess of water had already resided back into the sea.

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Our journey to see the crocodiles began. We had been warned not to dip our hands into the waters, as a hungry croc might be waiting inside to gobble you up. If your boat suddenly capsizes (not to worry as this usually never happens until and unless done on purpose), then you can see the heaven within minutes of touching the water surface. We had stretched our necks out in anticipation, to spot the oldest living reptiles on earth. I spotted a plastic water bottle as well. Trust the humans to dump plastic inside a national park!
And then, our motor boat suddenly stopped. As I was looking around in confusion, there it was! A saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus parosus) basking out! There was no turning back after that. We passed through various creeks and saw a lot of crocs: some big, some small. The scenery was pretty new, not of a regular kind. The mangrove forests are stretched across miles, with nothing but mud colored brackish water in between. The eerie silence of the vicinity can give you freaks, with occasional sounds of a bird or a croc diving underwater.

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Our excitement reached at a whole new level when we spotted deer! There were lots of deer by the riverside. But they weren’t drinking water. Perhaps they knew about the presence and timing of the crocodiles hence were taking precaution and waiting for the right moment to quench their thirst. We also saw a water monitor lizard and a white crocodile.
The riverside was muddy. So we could see fresh foot and body prints of crocodiles and the monitors, sliding into the water, which indicated their recent presence.
We reached a stop called as the Heronry. Migratory birds from foreign countries come during winter to breed here. We took a short walk in the forest. We reached a high tower and climbed on it so see the unseen: thousands of herons perched atop the tree canopies. The canopies looked white, with the birds building their nests on them.
While getting down from our boat, we noticed some small strange looking fishes on land. They were feeding outside water! Later I came to know that they are called mudskippers a kind of amphibious fish which can live both on land as well as water. Some have been reported to climb onto the mangrove trees as well!

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There was a board warning us to walk on the concrete path only, and not on bare land, as crocs might have sneaked into the small clearings present throughout the forest. Our walk was exhilarating, mostly mine as I spotted pneumatophores in large numbers, about which I had studied in Biology. They are also called as breathing roots and go deep into the soil before coming out of them and standing erect. Mangrove forests are present in brackish areas, which always have a lack of oxygen. Hence, to fulfil this need, the plants have devised this method of respiration. We also spotted tiny red crabs and eccentric looking insects on the mud.

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Our next stop was at Dangamal. Here too, we had to take a walk in the forest. We saw large tracts of ponds filled with algal bloom, with cacti along the concrete paths. We spotted two more towers, which were in use by the King of Kanika, during the Zamindari period, for hunting purposes. After independence, the Zamindari system was abolished and the responsibility of the sanctuary fell on the shoulders of the Odisha Govt. The towers have been repaired for the benefit of the tourists. There are two small temples, dating back to the time during the reign of kingdoms, where the deities are still being worshipped by the villagers. Walking on the plain grass spread out on the clearings, just below the blue sky made our trip all more enchanting.

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Our last stop was at the museum. Here, we saw fruit orchards and medicinal gardens being maintained by the forest officials. The collection of eggs, skin, embryos and skeletons of crocodiles, wild boar, deer, snake, turtles and other lizard species housed at the museum is fascinating. We saw the skeletons of 18-19 feet long crocodiles! Contrary to what I had seen in the zoo, I had thought that the length of the crocs must be about 10-12 feet at max, but this was shocking! Bhitarakanika has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest crocodile spotted of length 23 feet! That’s scary. It gets more scary: according to the 2015 census, Bhitarkanika has 1665 crocodiles teeming underwater. Hence, it comes as no surprise that during rainy seasons these crocs often wander into paddy fields and drag unsuspecting farmers to death. Some temporarily reside in the village ponds, killing cattle and sometimes humans.

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The singular attraction of this stop was:

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Gori tere pyaar main :p

The mangrove forest cover has increased, so has the number of crocodiles due to adequate protection towards the species, thanks to the tireless efforts of the State govt. towards the conservation of wildlife. The population estimation of the crocs takes place every January. The work being done towards the preservation of the biodiversity is remarkable, but the plight of the nearby villagers during rainy season is depressing as well. We educated people always preach to save wildlife but end up in killing the most indirectly. But the villagers are the true heroes who share their lives with these frightening creatures, without complain. They are dependent on fishing, agriculture and tourism to eke out a living. For this reason, the govt. needs to enhance their security so that it is possible to live harmoniously with nature.
FAST FACTS:
Where: Rajnagar, Kendrapada, Odisha
How: By road: Route: Bhubaneswar-Cuttack-Nischintkoili-Kendrapada-Salepur-a lot of the countryside-Kendrapada town area-Rajnagar. Can travel by bus/take help of Odisha Tourism
When: Can go starting from the month of Oct, but preferably during Dec-Feb to see the highest number of crocodiles and birds
What not to pack: Any kind of plastic/polythene which needs to be disposed off. There is no proper waste disposal unit out there, and the rules are even stricter as it is a national park. Therefore the waste is either dumped into the ground/burnt. So try to avoid polythene.
Travelling time: About five and a half hours by road, have lots of petrol saved up
Road condition: Fairly stable, some countryside roads need urgent government attention
Food: Local dhabas spread erratically across the region during travelling and resort buffets during the stay.
P.S. Kendrapada is famous for its sweets and if you are visiting during DP, do make a point to enjoy the Gajalakshmi Puja 🙂
People: Since you are a visitor and you are travelling by car(which is a luxury for most of the Indian people), some villagers might stop your vehicle from time to time, asking money on the occasion of the puja. Otherwise, the forest guards, the guides, the boat drivers and the staff at your resort are great folks, who shall make you feel at home with their warm hospitality.
Accommodation: Panthanivas, owned by the Odisha Govt. or private organizations offering cottages and food at expensive (read reasonable) prices, owing to the location of the park. Booking should be done in advance before 3-6 months, due to high demand of wildlife tourism.
Total cost of the trip (including stay, food, car travel and boat ride for 6 people for 24 hours): Nearly Rs 15000/-
During the trip: Do’s and don’ts
• Keep sufficient amount of drinking water
• The water might call you out to take a little feel of it, but you dare not to
• Stay close to people, specially your boatman and your guide
• Do not litter the forest
• Do not walk on bare mud
• Do not touch the trees as snakes and insects are abundant in that region

So this winter, come home to wilderness. Come home to nature!

P.S. For best results, do watch the Australian movie Black water :p

Debashrita 🙂

 

CLIMATE CHANGE IN INDIA: CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS

Climate change is a transformation in the distribution of weather patterns over long periods of time that range from decades to millions of years. Since the formation of the earth 4.54 billion years ago, the earth has undergone 5 major extinctions, mostly due to these climatic changes i.e. a cyclic pattern between the ice ages and the warmer ones. And we are heading on towards the current Holocene extinction event very fast. Most of us shoo off this topic as merely an exaggeration about global warming, but it is actually happening, and if we visualize the situation in the terms of a country like India, the situation is worsening with each passing day. It is indeed a shame for us that Chennai has overtaken Delhi as the most polluted city of the world.

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India puts a great pressure on its existing natural resources, even more profoundly than its counterparts because it is a developing nation. The water table is depleting fast, the summers are getting longer and hotter, and the rain spells are getting erratic. The sea levels are rising due to the polar ice caps and glaciers melting at a pace like never before.

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The biggest crisis of India is that its population is dwelling in ignorance. Most of the people have no idea about global warming, and even if they have, they are not bothered about it. And our nation has a plethora of other problems, which need greater attention than the climate. Illiteracy and lack of basic education and health facilities in many parts of rural India top the chart.

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Most of the people in our country do not have the purchasing power for food and fuel. Immigration to the cities in the search for a better life adds to the pressure on the existing limited drinking water and electricity. However, the pollution contributed by the richer nations should not be compared with the pollution coming from the poorer ones; the former use it for the increasing lifestyle of luxury and comfort, while the latter utilize it for their survival. Today, necessity has become a luxury, due to the ever increasing greed of humans. And global warming is the perfect example of this phenomenon, disrupting  forests, lives and livelihoods.

Nearly 60% of the population is agrarian in nature, and our country has more than a billion mouths to feed. Agriculture takes up nearly 90% of the fresh water resources of our country, and with depletion of the water table and with the increase in the production of water demanding crops like rice and wheat, the situation is getting grim. We are facing the aftermath of the Green Revolution. Frequent drought spells are getting common mainly in the central and the eastern parts of the nation. Denganmal, a village in Maharashtra, where people keep more than one wives just to fetch water from long distances should be an eye opener for all of us. Latest statistics report that India will run out of drinking water by the year 2040.  Farmer suicides are a reminder for us that the provider of food has himself no food security.

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The change in the sea levels is leading to powerful cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis every year.  Salt water intrusion in low lying agricultural plains could lead to food insecurity , spread of water related diseases and lack of fresh water.

India houses 3 biodiversity hotspots from 32 present: the Indo-Burma region, the Western Ghats and the Himalayas. The endemic amphibian species of the Western Ghats are fast dying out. The rare and exotic plants of the Himalayas are fast disappearing even before we get to know about their astounding medicinal properties. India has now only 23.07% of its forests left. Illegal logging for agriculture, grazing lands, urbanization and commercial plantation are the major causes of deforestation.

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Destruction of the wild habitats is leading to a more exposed interaction of humans and animals, and hence, strange and often incurable diseases are cropping up from the warmer parts of the planet. The maladies are spreading on to the colder regions too, due to the gradual increase in the average temperature of the earth, which has increased by 0.6 degrees in the last century.

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Greater political and bureaucratic attention is needed to diversify the livelihoods of the poor people to reduce their vulnerability. We need to have a significant increase of targeted investments in crop production and management e.g. crop rotation, mixed crop production and organic farming and advanced irrigation systems like drip irrigation and water sprinkler approaches, which should be given to smaller farmers at a subsidised rate. We need to utilise the maximum amount of our existing agricultural lands by using genetically hybrid crops which are more tolerant to the environmental stresses like droughts and floods. There is an immediate need for placing water meters in every Indian home for checking the water usage.

Afforestation will not only help in conserving forests and decreasing desertification, it will also help restoring the water table, in tackling natural disasters and in regaining the livelihoods of the people who are dependent on forestry. Crop pollination needs mutual coordination between the plants and the pollinators like honey bees. Hence, this would ensure maximum food production naturally.

It takes about 10 kgs of grain to produce 1 kg of meat. This contributes to the global warming and our failing health. Hence, people need to shift from a non vegetarian to a vegetarian diet. Buying fresh produce would lead to the practice of rooftop hydroponics, which is cheap and easy to produce, and would definitely act as a combat towards excess plastic packaging layers. Use of plastic bags need to be banned immediately. People need to use cloth/jute bags for getting their groceries.

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The good old 3Rs : Reduce, Reuse and Recycle still hold true. We need to reduce our usage of packaged materials. We need to buy less. We need to reuse old clothes, books, toys and stuff. And finally, newspapers, bottles and scrap should be recycled. Scrap materials from used automobiles and e wastes should be treated properly and can be re used. Instead of recycling, we can burn the waste materials in waste incinerators and can generate electricity.

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The development of a country largely depends upon the growth of the small scale industries. Amount of carbon produced is the benchmark of development. The small scale industries cannot cope up with the Clean Development Mechanisms initiated by the international communities. Hence, the laws enforced for the national and the international giants in the markets should not be imposed on these units. Rather, the government should bring on some innovative solutions in collaboration with the national leading institutions at a subsidised rate so that they can both thrive and prosper under the new laws, without compromising their income.

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More number of nuclear power plants need to be setup in our country. And most importantly, the myths associated with the nuclear effects need to be sorted out first. Solar based water pumps in certain areas of Sambalpur district in Odisha has led to the efficient utilisation of water with the demonstration of an excellent use of solar energy. The Canal Solar Power Project launched in Gujarat, uses 19,000 Kilometers long network of Narmada canals across the state for setting up solar panels to generate electricity. Energy efficient systems are the need of the hour. Our country is a fast growing economy, with a lot of business opportunities. Hence, alliances with powerhouses can serve as a blessing for those 400 million people who do not have a proper access to electricity. Biogas is being implemented by village people since long, and is a perfect example of utilisation of organic farming. Using natural products is only possible if sustainable development is undertaken hands on with technologically feasible solutions for the environment.

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India, being an affordable holiday destination for many, can serve as a heaven for ecotourism.  It leads to the preservation of the nature as well as works towards the protection and enhancement of job opportunities for the forest loving communities.

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When we consume less energy, we spend less on energy. Hence, it is cost effective. Thus, we need to create laws for automobile and aviation industries, furnaces and miscellaneous factories to keep a check on their emissions, as per the standard norms decided by the governing bodies. By purchasing energy efficient gadgets, we can reduce our carbon footprint.

Awareness is need to be created amongst people for safer practices for nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, so that people are alert towards their changing environmental conditions and get more health conscious. More number of nutrition programs and clinics need to be functional in the rural areas for the proper diagnosis and the treatment of the people in a short period of time. Telemedicine and Any Time Medicine technologies can bring radical changes in the history of treatment.

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There is a need for more number of people who can enhance sustainability development like agricultural scientists, ecologists and biotechnologists. People need to be more aware of their opportunities as scientists and the role they have to play in the society. Extra amount of the country’s budget needs to be spent on the research and development sectors to bring on more innovative and challenging solutions for tackling the environmental issues.

Keeping the frequent natural disasters in view, there is an urgent need for advanced weather forecasting systems and their timely broadcasting in our country to ensure minimum damage to lives and property.

We need to promote cities with excellent public transport facilities and need to encourage them to use ethanol and CNG. We need to convince our farmers to grow bio fuel crops like jatropha, camelina, switch grass and willows; along with normal food crops. These grow well in poor soil and use up less fertilizers. These are high in cellulose, and produce low carbonic fuels.

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The solutions to these challenges are definitely not simple, and are not at all possible if they are only implemented by the government. Participation of the common mass is equally important to make these projects a success. More awareness is needed to be created amongst the public about their role towards the environment and their future. There is so much of positivity around us. We just need to make them happen.

 

THE LAST LETTER

As we stand today, miles apart

I am beginning to miss your presence

Now, I realise, an important fragment of my life has been lost

Lost to the universe

I never had thought of you in such a manner, Aiee

It had never occurred to me that people depart

Such intensity of sadness, a void, has been created back here

I wish you could come back

Everything I do,  reminds me of you

The way you walked. The way you talked. The way you ate. The way you behaved funny.

The way you loved us more than we did.

My eyes, fighting back the tears,

While I see our selfies.

Were we destined to stay for such a short period together?

This cruel decision of fate has left me shattered

I have lost my faith

There are things which only grand moms can teach their grand kids

I could hardly learn any.

I wish I could see you laugh again

I wish to have spent more time with you

I wish to have been cuddled by you harder

Because the world would have been a better place for everyone;

Its true if everyone, everywhere had an aiee as nice as you.

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I still can’t believe that you have departed from the earth.

I couldn’t believe my ears the moment mummy broke out the news to us. I had my design paper the next day and was tensed about it as such. But when I saw her crying uncontrollably, bursting out speeches in between of her tearful episode, I felt terrible. I can never see my mum cry. Nor she could see her mum lying still.

I had never witnessed any deaths in the family before. You passed away first. I wish you hadn’t done this to me. I am a person who always took pride in saying that “Thank God I have my both sets of grandparents for me!” Not anymore.

You left me, just like everyone else does, but this time, you have moved on forever 😥

But you do remember the moments we have shared, don’t you?

You must have felt amazing when you’d have got the news about the arrival of your daughter’s daughter to this world; and would have held me in your arms for the first time. I hope that I would not have done anything stupid on you at that moment and if I had done, then I am sorry. Too late to beg apology but yes, I am sorry.

I take pride in saying that my aiee makes the best tomato chutney and fish curry. I would insist to eat the freshly caught fish from your backyard pond, and would set off with Aja to catch some small ones. When you fed me with your soft hands, the food became ambrosia. Summers were always fun with you. Our afternoon sessions of watching Odia movies were the best. When you used to come home, we used to savour on dried mango pieces with sugar. Our favourite meal was a yummy snack of chicken roll.  And you got all excited when you were left alone in the house. You got the freedom to eat anything sweet available in the kitchen; despite a hundred warnings from every one of us; despite of the knowledge that you had diabetes.

Ludo, ludo and ludo. More ludo, but not less. You must have been the undisputed champion of the indoor game of this century. You had a way of pulling the game in your favour every time. You always got the number you wanted on your die and if not, then you still would manage to put your token in the block you wanted. Awesome playing strategies. Our much-loved past time.

It seems that everyone except me has borrowed your genes for obsession with style. Nail and feet paint, powders, bangles, gorgeous saris…… all used to be your prized possessions. It is no wonder that you were so beautiful. A clear hearted soul, that’s what you were, Aiee.

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Paan used to be your greatest companion. When the shopkeepers used to ask me about the brands of various ingredients used in your paan while you sent me to buy some, confusion clearly showed up on my face. You always kept it within you, literally. Even though chewing paan was just a daily routine, It won’t be an exaggeration to say that it was your soul mate.

We used to sit on your tummy and play. Had there been a tummy contest, yours surely would have won a position for its absolute roundness, fairness, smoothness and size. The coinage of the term moti bou for you still holds relevant.

Nobody could match the humorous way in which you spewed angry words on us. It was a delight to trouble you and listen to all those Odia slangs. It never hurt. While I am writing this, your dialogue “tu kebe ama gharu jibu, tu kaha ghara bhangibu lo” is echoing in my mind.

Aiee, I loved to talk to you. During these informal talks I discovered a different person inside you, completely different from the funny and casual lady altogether: a small girl, who had lost both her parents when she was only four, and had since been raised by her step mother. You never showed pain in your eyes, nor grief in your words, Aiee, you were so strong. My mummy has derived all her strengths from you. You have never complained against your step mom. You had merely said “How harshly she might have treated us, she still loved us and gave us food. I am today alive only because of her.” No person can ever say this kind of statement. It takes huge courage and even a bigger heart to say so. You were hardworking and have raised five children who have grown up to be counted in the percentage of that few good people the world currently holds now. Thank you for taking care of all of us. We hope to inherit your potentials and make you proud.

One day we shall meet at the other side of the horizon. May your soul always be our guide and support us through the tough times.

Love,

Nickie and Nishi

 

THE WHITE MUGHALS

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The whole kingdom was waiting for the golden moment.
The queen was expecting a child.
The Emperor sat anxious, praying for his heir………………
On that bright morning, she was born
Much to the disgust of the Emperor. He sat forlorn,
With his head downcast,
Was there no one to rule his kingdom by caste?

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He barely looked at his daughter’s face
And not even at the mother. The queen was unconscious
In her pain, but not in her fate
Tears rolled down from her eyes
When her glances met that of her child.
The baby was cute, her face was radiant
She had features that would make any parent feel triumphant;
But not her father
Who was rather disgusted with the queen and left her side
Whilst all this, the queen did dutifully abide
Her Royal Husband, His Highness
Even though she had fallen from his grace
Still she adorned herself daily, with the choicest of garments,
Ornaments, lauded with precious stones and jewels,
His favorite scent, his favorite flower on her wetted hair;
To seek his attention, she did what
She did what not……….
But alas! The King, he forgot
That once upon a time he had a charisma towards his first consort……………..

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He was free to marry as many times as he chose
He loved many, he loved none
He wedded princesses one after the other
It was definitely not a happy family, together, forever!
The new queens and their sons, plotted continuously
To get the throne
The princess, however always remained behind her veil.

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She had no say in the stately matters
And was always compelled to remain in the women quarters.
Slowly and steadily, she grew up to become a breathtaking beauty
At the same time, lovely and pretty…….
The queen took great pride in the princess
Who was cheerful even at the time of distress
Her dainty feet never announced her presence at the fort
But her voice did.
Her songs, happy or tragic
Captured a great set of audience.
One day as she was sitting alone by the pond
Someone stopped by to hear her singing.

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He looked on, amazed
While she sat gazing him behind her shroud
Tall and handsome that he was
She had seen many like him before
But none of them had ever stolen her heart………….
She tried, with all her might
But could not stop thinking about him, day or night
Same was the case in the opposite side
Even though both of them knew the end of their story would be tragic
They secretly hoped for a magic
A magic, which would change their lives forever
Then they could stay forever, happily and ever after………….

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But alas, some dreams do never come true……
In the quest for supremacy
Her love was seized by her own brother
Who ruthlessly killed her lover
Her heart was ripped apart
“How could he do this to me?
My brother, my own brother?”
She realized her destiny
Was not all glittery as it looked to be
The thirst for power had surpassed all blood relations
Human beings killing God’s own creations!!!!
Her kohl rimmed eyes
No longer held the same gaze,
Her soul had been wrenched
Drenched, in blood
Her identity was lost amidst the crowd
She was now just a face of the Harem, as she used to be
She was a Mughal. A White Mughal.

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I was inspired to write this poem after reading about the Women of the Mughal Empire. The term ” White Mughals” symbolizes two things. First, white color is usually associated with beauty and purity. White is also the color of the dresses the widows wear. Sadly, the Mughal princesses were living in the biggest of the ironies of the world. Most of the Mughal princesses were unwed, and were living their lives in the darkness of the voids their destiny had created for them. To eliminate more people who were eligible to get the throne, the princesses were banned from entering into matrimonial alliances. Usually in the Mughal family, there used to be marriages inside the same family i.e. cousins marrying one another. But after Shah Jahan came to power, he had already killed his brothers and cousins so there was no one who could marry his sisters. And the trend continued down for Aurangzeb as well.

Read this beautiful blog piece about the Mughal princesses.