“Who is the brown woman? How does she live defined almost solely by her skin colour and all the history it carries? How do we carry racism deep within us even when we think we don’t? These are questions that require deep thought and reflection, and that’s what Otherness encourages us to do. In a world increasingly divided along the lines of colour, despite its apparent modernity, here’s a hard look at the realities that lurk within us, both as individuals and as a society.”
Thus goes the blurb of the recently released book ‘Othernees: Souls of Brown Women’ by author De. B. Dubois. In a brief chat via email, she explained to me the overarching theme of her book and also the social construct regarding skin color and a woman’s identity.
Lopa Banerjee: What, according to you, is ‘the woman of color’? How would you define it in terms of the societal construct, in terms of the realities we see around us? And most importantly, how did it affect you as the author of this book?
De. B. Dubois: According to me, and for the topic of the book “Otherness”, the (textbook) definition of “Women of color” (singular: woman of colour, sometimes abbreviated as WOC) is a phrase used to describe female persons of colour. The term is used to represent all women of non-white heritage, often with regard to oppression, systemic racism, or racial bias.
In the preface, I have mentioned that “Otherness” is an appropriation of William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois’: The Souls of Black Folk. This book “Otherness” is written from my perspective as a student of sociology, design culture, design research and art, during my Master thesis (research work done on “Perception of Beauty”), where I was examining Eastern and Western print advertisements and how these visuals sub-consciously constructs and constricts our perception of good and evil. For example, if you see a film – any given film – the protagonist is visually represented as someone beautiful compared to the antagonist. Often times, terms such as “ugly”, “dark”, “dirty” and “brown” are associated with either the way the antagonist looks like, or the way the antagonist behaves. Sub-consciously we are allowing visual media to tell us what is to be considered clean (white), dirty (brown), and evil (black). This colour signification is very complex and has been thrown at our sub-conscious through centuries of artwork, literature, religion et al. And the problem of colour is far more devastating in terms of iconoclasm than any other problem – to the point that it white washes any coloured existence. Shockingly, as coloured people, we tend to idolise whiteness at some point.
So, if I have to define the societal construct in terms of the realities we see around us, simply, it would be this: “They don’t like you. They don’t dislike you. You are different. Sooner or later the difference scares people.”
As an Indian Bengali, I am no white person. I might be tall, I might be “paler” than the average Indian, I might even speak three European languages – but visibly I am Brown. Therefore I stand with not just first hand experience of this:“They don’t like you. They don’t dislike you. You are different. Sooner or later the difference scares people.” but also as a witness to other brown-women around me. Especially the ones who were adopted as a baby, and only know the West as their home, and culture; when I get to hear these brown women (my friends who are perfectly integrated within these “white countries” – growing up as a western children with non-coloured parents), phrases such as: “I wish I was fair like you…” – it effects me on a level that simply cannot be expressed in words.
To find out more about author De. B. Dubois and her books, do visit her Goodreads page:
Back after a long time to the WordPress blogosphere, with a fresh new update for you all. Do you believe all ghost stories essentially need to have blood-dripping venomous vampires, blood-curdling ghostly shrieks and the deadliest of ghostly fangs? Do you also believe that some ghost stories can be emotionally gripping as well, to keep us at the edge of our seats while reading them? With this mission, me, along with my co-editor Dr. Santosh Bakaya, a prolific author and poet from India have come up with ‘Darkness There But Something More’, an anthology of 30 haunting, emotionally dense tales comprising of other-worldly beings, written by some very talented, seasoned as well as young authors dispersed all over the globe.
The blurb of the book in Amazon touches upon the essence of the stories in a succinct way.
“Who has not been intrigued and enthralled by the spirit world, ghosts, other-worldly beings, or in other words, the paranormal? Ambiguous presences around us, whether in the form of orally narrated stories by our grandparents, or in the form of haunting, riveting supernatural stories in books and movies have held us in their spell, engaging, alluring us even to this date.
In fact, the prominence of paranormal investigators, ghostbusters and others documenting the other-worldly in today’s age overpowered by science and technology only points to the fact that we crave to push our boundaries as rational beings and delve into the phenomena which we cannot define or explain tangibly.
This anthology of 30 selected ghost stories by authors dispersed all over the globe celebrates the spine-chilling thrills and sense of awe and bewilderment of this very inexplicable world inhabited by the other-worldly beings. Come, experience the cataclysmic, weird, and at times, benevolent spirit world and you will never have a dull moment in this roller-coaster ride!”
In the editor’s note, Dr. Santosh Bakaya writes:
“Some of us are wary of ghost stories, some are skeptical, scoffing at the very idea, and some prefer to ignore the topic with a supposedly wise shake of the head. Whether ghosts exist or don‘t, whether these spectral illusions are the result of an overworked imagination, whether they reflect our subconscious, the fact is, everyone likes a ghost story. It has never failed to enchant us with its eerie gothic ambience, of hooting owls, of bats hanging from cobwebbed ceilings, of terrifying screams, goose bumps, poltergeist activities, and also vulpine jackals howling, with their snouts raised to the moon! My mind is brimming with those horror stories of childhood, which have left an indelible impression.”
To which, I add, in my turn:
“The paranormal, ghostly, eerie world of spirits, witches, demons and other corporeal beings have been endearing, timeless entities in literature, films and other mediums of human communication ever since one can remember. As for myself, my early memories of encountering ghostly beings have been in the tales of the Arabian Nights, as I clearly remember the jinns and monsters, the impervious souls being invoked, or even coming out of bottles, casting magic spells, granting wishes, while even the seemingly benign narratives would be shaken and stirred by the thunderous gust of their sheer presence. The wondrous supernatural phenomena in Sinbad‘s tales that I read in school still lure me as magical memories with their gripping images; his fantastical adventures of encountering the monsters and other supernatural beings had me under their spell for quite a long time, when an indescribable chill ran down my spine, reading of the giants, monsters and the stories of entrapment during his vicarious voyages.
In my college years, my tryst with Victorian literature was embedded with the first memories of the spine-chilling image of Catherine‘s unquenched spirit roaming within the precincts of Wuthering Heights, the paranormal figure with icy hands that haunted her sadist lover Heathcliff. In fact, Heathcliff was steeped in her ghostly essence, and said: ―I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad.”
The cumulative passion of Dr. Santosh Bakaya to attempt to unravel this ambiguous terrain of the human experience has resulted in this anthology of fiction.
Do check it in Amazon Kindle:
Amazon India (paperback):
Amazon India (Kindle):
It gives me much happiness to share that my maiden poetry collection ‘Let The Night Sing’, an assortment of 70 various poetic musings on being a woman, a mother and a lunar soul has been published by respected poet laureate and veteran litterateur Madan Gandhi sir and Global Fraternity of Poets (India) and is now on Amazon India. Soon to be available in the US and worldwide.
I thank dear fellow poet, amazing artist and co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets, Sufia Khatoon for the brilliant cover illustration, Dr. Santosh Bakaya for the very in-depth and enriching foreword, Dr. AV Koshy for the kind and generous blurb encompassing the theme and the nuances of the poems.
Sharing the introduction page of the book, which speaks of the overarching theme of the poems. Hope some of you will like reading it.
‘Bodies are visible hieroglyphics. Everybody is an erotic metaphor and the meaning of all these metaphors is always the same; death.’
For those who are in love with the poetry of the body, continue to revel in it through its bruises and blood, continue to see the molecules of living glittering in darkness, for those who talk to the strained ribs of our Mother Earth, to the hollowness and inviting quiet of cities and landscapes in your dreams and waking, for those who see even in the body of death, a gorgeous, pitiless song in its smoky embers, here I present my lunar musings, springing up from the splinters and shards of my being. These broken pieces, these wayward poems have taken me to unexpected places, delving deep into my childhood and puberty. With them, I have seen my womanhood evolve, with them I have traveled to the long-forsaken terrains of my hometown in Kolkata, India, where I keep going back again and again. With them, I have recorded the phenomenon of death as I have seen it, a silent language of communion, as my voice flattened against its ethereal quiet.
Hope you will enjoy the ride, the bumps and bolts along the way.
The Amazon India link to buy the book:
Note: Written as a poetic tribute to Emma Bovary, the voluptuous, beautiful, forlorn heroine of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, also later adapted into an Indianized version in Ketan Mehta’s film ‘Maya Memsaab’.
A whiff of smoke brewing in her eyelashes,
A touch of the wet earth, her body, a failed, blurred mantra of desire.
Only in the dusk settling beneath the hills, she returns home
To the smothered fairy tales of her body, looking for the salt
When her husband might have kissed her many light years ago.
Her moon flesh, her pale, eager hands, the blood, coursing through her veins
Restless, settles in vain, in the familiar smells of a solicitous husband.
The homecoming, for a nomadic soul, is only true when she decodes herself
Undresses, flinging herself in her lovers’ arms, kisses their soft, velvet mouths
Turning as the slutty Madame in the amorous nights, a ripened woman
Pressing against the barbed wire fence of the provincial life, her marital gift.
In the opera, the fangs of her passion unfold, like birth pangs,
The smoked particles of lust, the perfumed ghosts of erotic cravings,
The gusty winds of music and the symphony,
Digging deep into her panting breath.
Is she a nymph, darting through the infinite darkness of a conjugal silence
That hangs around her neck like a noose, choking her voice,
The intent adrenaline rush that erupts in spurts?
Why does she need her giant share of lovers, long to be torn asunder
Dissolve in their wanton dreams in her dark luster, turning ashen, forlorn
With every lavish affair, with every adulterous escapade
That she thinks, would salvage her, giving wings to her romantic fancies?
Vain woman, adultery is the rain that bursts forth from a littered sky,
Don’t you know the sacrilege of baring open, elsewhere than your own home?
Didn’t you know, when you had waltzed, your sweet scent
Crushing against your partner’s musk, all this was a prelude to a glaring nemesis,
A nemesis where feeling embittered, lost was your only truth,
By all the men you had given yourself to?
In the burning fumes of death, her being dissolves, and resounds
Much like the lovelorn raindrops that would pelt on the precincts of the estate,
In the arms of death, her caramel being is tossed and turned,
Just as in the arms of life, she had craved to be caressed, blossoming,
Rising and ebbing in her blasphemous wants.
Note: Dedicated to the illustrious Jorasanko Thakurbari, the home of Bengal’s bard Rabindranath Tagore. Published in the very prestigious print anthology ‘Cologne of Heritage’ (Viswabharati Research Center, June 2017), celebrating the unique cultural heritage of Kolkata, the proverbial city of joy in India
The red brick building, jagged edges of lives lived,
Lives lost, stubborn with hope and shimmering poetry.
Songs tear me, lyrics scrape me, one by one,
Petal by petal, the coatings of aristocratic gentry
Fragmented letters scald, deep, fragile, the cloudburst,
Rain songs, Bhanusingha, the gossamer wings
Of death, the poison, the inevitable salvation.
Locked doors open wide, us prying
In the wet womb of Thakur bari,
Seeking songs, prayers, cadence, the blue sighs of loss.
Curious feet hopscotch through the sepia tiles.
The once home, a museum of memories
Handpicked, baked fresh for visitors sticking fingers
In the refurbished contours of the walls,
Portraits and memorabilia.
Multicoloured vintage adorning the black
And white of handwritten lyrics
And the mystery, bewilderment of the lines traced,
The images, illustrated. Kadambari, Mrinalini
Sing still, gazing from the white, lingering void.
[Inspired by the elemental image of Draupadi/Panchali, the undisputed heroine of the epic Mahabharata, depicted in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s masterpiece of a novel, ‘Palace of Illusions’.]
Panchali, I am, to you, my Partha, my love,
Painfully displaced in recycled domestic patterns
Circulated freely amid all your brothers and you.
The saint who determined my cycle between one coy bride
To the next had created enough music in my bones
To satiate all you Pandavas as equal husbands,
Though he never knew how trapped
My luminous smile had been,
My dark-skinned charm, colliding
with so much of your chivalrous cacophony.
Panchali, I am, to you, my valiant Bheemsen,
A luscious lilac that you craved to engrave
In your voluminous heart, never knowing
How the absence of light rustled in my bare form,
My deep, dark tresses, shedding its rhythmic dewdrops
Not in unconditioned love, but in stoic, formulaic surrender.
Panchali, my Dharmaraaj, I am to you,
The untamed fire that spread all over you, in spurts,
The easiest pawn you could have settled for,
Reckless, warped in a gambling spree
you could very well do without.
Did I burn you too, my cognac fire
Was it a bit too scalding, Nakul and Sahadev,
My youngest husbands, moving in the orbit
Of your elder brothers’ wants? Did you get
How my splinters and shards surrounded you
In a vain rapture in the palace of illusions
When all I waited for, perhaps, was the Mahaprasthan,
The final journey of my nemesis, with all five of you,
Following the slit throats and mashed up corpses
Of my sons, of our kith and kin?
Panchali, I am, to you, Karna, my all-pervading bruise.
For I had forgot, in spite of your irresistible musk
That you and me both were wiggling children
of the cracked earth. The fiery flashes of your pride
Matching my own insolence, had borne a cursed utterance,
‘Sutaputra’, my vanity had attested a lie, a lie that resounded
Every time we crossed paths, as a rhythmic reminder.
Panchali, I am, to you, my Sakha, Krishna,
The smoke and fury of my mind’s badland
Soothed from time to time, when your hands touched mine.
What magic did your words unfold
To this dark, forlorn child-woman,
As you hovered in my life, presiding over its queer equations?
Dream girl, I wasn’t for you, when disrobed,
shunned of my womanly honour, your drapes covered
my bruised, black moon. Your words revealed,
Like half-shining flashlights, draped my life
In the ambiguous sheen I myself couldn’t fathom well.
Here, you touch my hands yet again, for one last time,
Where I find myself beyond the rims of time, and tell me
I have played my part well in this chaotic and tumultuous play.
Is this a new beginning, where I dissolve and form anew?
Panchali, I am, look, the boundless sky, my new palace, engulfs us all.
Filled with vivid, veritable expressions, descriptions connoting the joie de vivre of life in its small, yet discerning moments, Santosh Bakaya’s treasure trove of 58 essays in ‘Flights From My terrace’ comes across as a remarkable odyssey of childhood memories, nostalgia, and a vivid internal journey capturing universal human feelings. The journey of these essays combined together in an unforgettable mosaic, in her own words, is “the outcome of my ruminations on my terrace” of her snug, cozy Jaipur home, a home which pulls her away to the other homes and their assorted images, homes and realms she has inhabited with her memories, opening the doors to her idyllic childhood, replete with delight, loss, wonder, and bewilderment cried to be put into words.
Bakaya, the amazing storyteller, essayist and poet extraordinaire attains catharsis and makes perfect sense of the hubris of her mind and the memory chaos by documenting and depicting a series of diverse complex emotions in the book, starting from the exuberance of flying kites to the reminiscence of the sweet nothings of an idyllic Kashmir of her childhood to being a mother to delving in the other metaphorical truths of her life. Hers is a Bedouwin (nomadic) heart inside which churns the quicksilver flash of memories, and splashes across the zigzag crannies of the terrains she touches now, hungering, wreaking havoc.
In spite of the deeply synesthetic appeal of the flow of her words, never once does her sea of thoughts from Kashmir to Bharatpur feel too exhausting for the readers to handle. She has them always in her stride as she is in complete grip of her narration, whether she is depicting the romancing of sacred whispers, the sweet resonance of birds chirping, the sudden burst of the cacophonous world, or her untiring, persistent interaction with strangers and serendipity. Like a true memoirist and a flawless essayist, she absorbs the readers full on in the immediacy of her subtle life experiences, eclipsing everything else with the earnestness and the lyrical candor of a loving heart.
Yes, undoubtedly memories and their essence form the core and crust of ‘Flights from My Terrace’. The fervor with she describes her journey from Bharatpur to Jaipur in the essay ‘The Persistence of Memory’ as “…a chunk of memory here, a sliver of memory there,” forming “a memory avalanche” is truly remarkable and unforgettable. Also, one cannot help but reminisce the beauty and power Bakaya inscribes to the seemingly inconsequential subjects, like the neem tree of her childhood, the family dog, Nipper, the cat, Lazy, among other things, and all of them are incorporated so endearingly into the narrative that they echo in the minds of the readers like a delightful, richly woven symphony, long after they finish reading the book.
“I did not have to make any conscious effort, these slivers of memory just erupted from the subterranean depths, fitting into the narrative smoothly.” She said in an interview where I had asked her about the effortlessness and ease of her narrative journey in the book. The passages about her scholar father, her loving grandmother and other members of her kith and kin come together as delightful chunks of the unforgettable mosaic of her narration, along with all her other lyrical encounters that form the crux of the book.
The takeaway from ‘Flights of Terrace’ to a discerning lover of literature is the use of language, tender, lyrical yet robust and poignant, the pervasive and spirited voice of Bakaya as the narrator, the crisp, almost meditative beauty of her prose. To all who love powerful stories centered on the meaning and essence of home and one’s memories and nostalgia that spills over, spreads around the idea of home, childhood and the engrossing facets of humanity, this book will remain a cherished, treasured read always.
My dedication poem for Catherine and her irresistible love for the dark and sinister Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, loosely based on the tideling form, invented by the talented Daipayan Nair.
We collide, burn
Our fire, and smoke
Did you die, unburied, Wuthering Heights?
Heathcliff, the dark-skinned gypsy
Nibbled on my being, me, a mist of his particles.
I died. Did you die, unburied, Wuthering Heights?
The landed gentry, my conceit, my injured vanity
Stabbing my singing throat. You owned me, smelled of me.
I died. Did you die, unburied, Wuthering Heights?
In the moors, we, the hot lilacs gathered and tore apart,
Our torrid air and salt rippled, in a point of no return, no start.
Did you die, unburied, Wuthering Heights?
Heathcliff, your demonic master usurps you, and my piteous clan.
I reach him, a cold ghost, crooning amid shattered glasses, and pregnant sighs.
All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. April 18, 2017
Feature Story: Lopamudra Banerjee
In the thriving, bustling LA Live complex in downtown Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Book Festival 2017, a division of JM Northern Media honored some deserving books representing world publishing of contemporary times and their authors in an informal award ceremony at Fleming’s restaurant on Saturday, April 1, 2017. The award ceremony, titled ‘The East Meets West’, was described as ‘an evening of creative excellence’, while some of the awardees of the Los Angeles Book Festival, Great Southeast, Great Southwest and also Great Northwest Book Festivals congregated at the award venue and talked about their books and the inspiration behind writing their books in front of the audience.
Steven Manchester’s “Ashes: A Novel” (The Story Plant) had been declared the Grand Prize Winner of the LA Book Festival, and there were also celebrated names like Neal Hall, the poet laureate whose poetry book ‘Where Do I Sit’ was a winner (category: poetry). Hence, the first thought that came to my mind when I was invited to the award ceremony in Los Angeles for my book ‘Thwarted Escape’ (Honorable Mention: memoir/autobiography) was that I would be a minuscule voice lost in a sea of illustrious voices.
However, when I found myself inside Fleming’s, it was rather a cozy, homely gathering of authors and some of the award committee members chatting over scrumptious dinner, drinks and mouth-watering desserts.
“So you came all the way from Texas to LA to receive your award certificate?” A couple of fellow authors whom I befriended right away asked.
“I had to come. How could I possibly ignore the allure of the Pacific ocean?” I joked, and then told them that the award ceremony was too good an opportunity for me to showcase my book to a greater, wider, appreciative audience.
A Table of Honor was prepared for the authors, a wonderful display of the books in a quiet corner with candles lit, honoring the authors, their publishing journey and their success, following years of hard work, motivation and perseverance. Being the only south-Asian present to take the Honorable Mention certificate for my book in this very close-knit and cozy gathering of authors was indeed a special moment for me. I had been expecting to see another South Asian, Niraj Srivastava to come for the event and receive Honorable Mention for his fiction ‘Daggers of Treason’. However, only a handful of the winners, runners-up and honorable mention candidates were present to take the awards physically. Overall, the experience was tremendously rewarding.
“Tonight’s winners truly represent the best of what current book publishing has to offer.” The blue, sparkling brochure of the event ‘The East Meets West’ specified, also reiterating the fact that with a discerning committee of judges including authors, publishers, journalists, agents, directors, such hard-earned recognition would greatly inspire the authors to keep up the momentum of their writing journey and certainly create greater impact in the already crowded publishing marketplace. Bruce Haring of J M Northern Media in his opening speech, emphasized on the relevance of publishing in today’s fast-paced world of technology, adding that despite the other overwhelming forms of entertainment, writing and publishing books continues to thrive because there is still a hungry audience who are constantly in search of content that is timeless and out of the ordinary.
“Without books there would be no movies…” he says, citing several instances where a number of memoirs and nonfiction books have been made into award-winning movies in recent times, a fact that deeply inspired many authors like myself present on the occasion, authors who have been told time and again that in today’s competitive marketplace, fiction and only fiction rules the roost.
The winners, previously been announced in their website http://www.losangelesbookfestival.com, were an eclectic mix of authors in diverse categories including, but not limited to general non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography, children’s books, young adult, poetry, romance, and regional literature published on or after January 1, 2012. These also included books published by major publisher, independent publisher and self-published works, so the scope and range of the award event was understandably quite huge. What also inspired me was the presence of other nonfiction authors in the award ceremony, authors whose memoirs, spiritual nonfiction works and other autobiographical narratives being awarded gave me a chance to know them, as I had been intrigued to know more about the subject matter of the books.
My recently published book ‘Thwarted Escape’, a poetic memoir about my inner sojourns as a woman, a mother, a writer and a wistful immigrant woman from Kolkata, India has been chosen/placed as Honorable Mention (category: memoir/autobiography). Undoubtedly, while it gave me goosebumps to stand in the podium and say a few words about how the book was conceived and how I trailed along in its arduous yet fulfilling journey, it was also tremendously satisfying to listen to my fellow authors Kevin Foster, Dr. Sam Alibrando, T.M. Morris, Madeline Morehouse and others whose memoirs/nonfiction were placed as winners and Honorable Mention. Their journeys with their books, shared in the podium resonated with my own, as we all were celebrating a worthwhile moment in our lives with our books bridging gaps, forging new friendships and pushing our boundaries as writers and artistes.
As the festivities ended and we, the authors lined up together to pose for group pictures with our individual award certificates, a special moment in our lives was born, a moment that whispered to us in unison that the journey with our books must never stop, that it is the journey and not the destination that would remain of utmost importance, always.