Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The ruins of Behat

Listening to my husband talk about his family is like having someone recount the stories from some storybook that comes from the era of black and white films. His father was born in a haveli and his family till date boasts of a living Sufi saint who presides over the Kaliyar Sharif Dargah. They have had Sufis for generations. And I strongly suspect the Sufi gene in my husband for the dharamshala that our house turns out to be at times!

They are the Shahs of Behat and according to Wikipedia, "Behat is an ancient town and a nagar panchayat (municipality) in Saharanpur district on the northern tip of the state of Uttar PradeshIndia..." Wikipedia cites from A Gazetteer of Saharanpur District District Volume XIV: Gazetteers of the United Provinces edited by H. R Neville what is the origin of my husband's family - "During the reign of Bahlul Khan Lodi (1451–1489), a Muslim colony was founded at Behat by Shah Abdullah, who was a descendent of the Saint Sheikh Baha-ud-din Zakariya Suhrawardi. Western part of Behat along the Naugaon Rau is named after him as Abdullah Mazra." Thus, the Shahs of Behat are the direct descendants of Shah Abdullah which is why, I later understood, everybody in the family writes Shah before their names and not after their names. When I first met my husband years ago, I was curious about his name - Shah Nadeem. And "kahan ke Shah ho tum? (and you are the Shah/emperor of which place)"  used to be my favorite refrain. When I met the men of his family, I realised what the case was. And when I saw the shrine of Shah Abdullah in Behat, I must say I did get goose bumps.

Here, I seek to post some pictures of the ruins of Behat, the ancestral haveli of the Shah family which is in ruins. But there are portions of the haveli where the members of the family are still living. Partition marred the haveli and its residents. Most of the family members migrated to the haveli they were given in lieu of the one in Behat in Pakistan. But my husband's grandfather stayed back. And his stock now bears testimony to the life and times of Behat and its ruins.

  one of the entrances to the haveli

 the small charming lanes of Behat

 next to the main gate is this old 'kacheri' (court of justice) where the Shah family's grandfathers of several generations presided

 family members enjoy evening tea in the parts of the haveli which are still in use

 a well, covered, as old as the place

 the double-storied haveli in ruins now...

 ruins which have a lot of stories to tell

Saturday, 10 August 2013

celebrity makeover artists Trinny Woodall and Sussannah Constantine on fashion and Indian women (Deccan Herald, 11 Aug 2013)


All dressed up

Aug 11, 2013 : 
TLC’s style gurus Trinny & Sussannah hit the Indian shores to transform women into confident, stylish individuals. Juanita Kakoty talks to the duo about their experience in India.

Lifestyle channel TLC is all set to bring renowned makeover artists Trinny Woodall and Sussannah Constantine on Indian television for the first time ever with the new series Trinny and Sussannah’s Makeover Mission India. The series will start from August 12 and will showcase how the celebrity duo changes the way participants look and feel about themselves.

British fashion advisors, presenters and authors Trinny and Sussannah are best known for presenting the television series What Not to Wear that was launched by BBC in 2001. Their fashion advice books have become bestsellers in Britain and America and they have also launched their own clothing and underwear ranges.

On Indian women

On being asked how difficult or easy was it working with Indians, Trinny admits, “Indian women want to be polite. And whenever we put something together for them and they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t tell us out of politeness. So we changed the way we worked with them. Sussannah and I took a different approach and started asking them, ‘What is it that you don’t like in this?’ We tried to find out what was going on in the woman’s mind when we were giving her a makeover. We wanted to know about her life experiences, her choices, her tastes, her personality etc.”

Trinny and Sussannah have come to India after giving over 11 countries a makeover. The audience will see them giving a new set of women a complete makeover in their own inimitable and incredibly entertaining style in each episode. Their mission is to give style challenged-women a dramatic and glamorous makeover, women they have picked randomly while walking on the streets and these women come in all shapes, sizes, fashion preferences and personal backgrounds. The duo hunted for anyone in need of their help and expertise.

“The women on our show are from many different situations. There was someone whose husband was dead and found herself all alone. Then there was this girl who was embarking on a career and was in need of confidence. Our show has many such women from different walks of life, who were in need of fashion makeover and, most importantly, in need of confidence.” 

Trinny refers in particular to this woman who was working in a man’s world and thus dressed like a man. “Just to prove herself probably,” says Trinny, “She dressed like a tomboy — baggy pants, loose shirts, sport shoes. She never felt attractive as a woman. What Sussannah and I tried to do with her and all of the other women was to make them appreciate what they really have. And when these women walked the ramp for family and friends, the experience boosted their confidence to great levels.”

The rewards of their efforts have been immense. “Sussannah and I saw that most women went back home happy with their makeover. But there were some who had all their emotions written on their faces. It was like they have entered another stage in their life. That something has shifted within them.”

Fashion scene

Trinny says that she has been to India at least 10 times before and that she loves the country. Particularly of the fashion she gets to see on Indian streets, Trinny says, “It’s a mixture. In traditional dresses, I love the colour, the fabric, the texture. In western wear, I see them wearing neat but dull colours — black and white. Then some do use colours like orange and yellow, or neon with white — and then again, if you have the skin tone, why not!”

After having spent considerable time with Indian women for the series Trinny and Sussannah’s Makeover Mission India, Trinny has a pertinent fashion tip to share with all Indian women. “A good bra is really important. Probably about 90 per cent of the women Sussannah and I worked with for the series were not in a good bra. In India, women tend to go for the cheapest bras or bras on sale where three bras come at the price of two, etc., etc. What they don’t realise is that a good bra is very essential to look good. It is important to lift and separate your boobs because that will make your clothes hang well on you.” 

Then she speaks of the trend to wear skinny jeans. “We noticed tons of women wear skinny jeans here in India. But it is not for all body types. Depending on the body type, one can experiment with different styles of jeans. For instance, you need to know that a certain body type will never look good in skinny jeans, but would look amazing in jeans with flares.”

Trinny also has a thing or two to say about footwear. “One should wear great footwear. Sussanah and I saw, while doing the series in India, endless pairs of sandals on kitty heels. It’s cute and pretty, but slightly old-fashioned. We would say go for heels, go for flats, but go for great footwear! Your footwear can do interesting things to the dress you wear.”

Friday, 2 August 2013

Gender friendly JNU (The Thumb Print, 3 Aug 2013)


Gender friendly JNU

The recent case of a spurned lover hacking his female classmate before killing himself shocks former JNUite JUANITA KAKOTY

It is sickening to hear of a premiere institution like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) adding to women’s woes in the already traumatized capital city of New Delhi. More so because I was a student there during 2001-2007 and JNU has shaped me as a humane and social being much beyond what I could perhaps express in words. Coming from the frontiers, I was always an outsider in Delhi. I was made to feel like an outsider for almost three years because of the way I looked and spoke, especially Hindi. Till I came to JNU. For the first time, I felt at home in Delhi. There were many like me: from the frontiers, from India’s remotest corners who empathized with each other and helped each other to grow.

Coming to the recent case of murder where a spurned lover hacked his female classmate with an axe before taking his own life, I see it as a case of education and exposure gone waste on a university student. His inability to take no from his classmate had deeper moorings which obviously education could not mend. For most of us, the space JNU provided allowed a transition to maturity in understanding and action. Apart from interactions with the teaching faculty, frequent open debates through fliers, hand-made posters and lectures on burning social, political and moral issues educated and benefitted us. JNU transformed us and enlightened us. I, for one, would definitely want my children to go to JNU not for just getting a degree that will get them a job, but also to go through experiences in life that will make them stronger and richer.     

From what I remember from my days in the university, no one cared if you moved about the campus in chappals and pajamas. But yes, if anybody teased a girl or misbehaved with her, physically or verbally, god save you then! Student bodies and the Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) knocked the daylights out of these individuals. The campus was extremely women-friendly. I used to come back at about midnight all alone from the library to my hostel, which was a good ten-fifteen minutes walk, and in all those years never faced any untoward incident. Never did I ever hear my female friends complain of any undignified action towards them.

There used to be the age-old joke though how in the matrimonial advertisements from the prospective groom’s side there would be the occasional mention about “JNU girls need not apply”. A “JNU girl” was, I am not too sure if it still is (and I would like to believe that it is not), obviously seen as ultra-modern, fast, independent-thinking who moves about with men, chats with them, has no qualms about sharing tea and a drag with them. I understand these images jeopardize notions about how the Indian woman should be for some people. But these images don’t give anyone the right to misbehave with her.

In the recent murder case, the police recovered a four-page suicide note written by the assailant, where he mentioned feeling slighted by the girl’s indifference to him of late, that his "ego was hurt". In the past, there have been other such stories that have placed JNU in a precarious position, if not in the media then in people’s minds: The rape case of October 2012, the suspension of a professor for sexually harassing a female student, the MMS scandal in 2011. Sadly these are all cases of education and exposure gone waste. And it is disheartening because they mar the image of an institution like JNU which continues to produce some of the finest minds of the country.   

My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018

My short  story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018 Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaa...