The Other Woman

A friend is writing a book and was researching it. So she sent out an email asking us all to pass it on to any women we know who have been in a relationship with a married man. The questions were gentle and the motive was to understand, not judge.

I sent it on to two women I know who have been in relationships with much older, married men requesting them to help her if they could. And to send the responses back to me if they wanted it to be anonymous. The responses I got were both, of outrage. Now I am fairly close to both women and I was probably one of the few people they confided in. From late night breaking down to taking them out for cups of coffee and talking them through the angst and finally helping them find closure when the men refused to divorce their wives, I’d been the quiet, non-judgmental, always available friend. There were nights when I’d be feeding a two month old Bean, my eyes drooping with exhaustion and a cell phone glued to my ear, putting my own day’s exhaustion and problems aside to be there for them. So its fairly safe to say that they knew they had a friend in me.

Anyhow, I think what ticked them off, was the label – The Other Woman. No one likes to be labelled. But here’s the thing, how do you deny your status? I’m not taking sides here, just looking at it logically. The man already HAS a wife. You have entered the picture a little later – you ARE the second woman.

In my mother’s day it was looked down upon and these women were shunned. In my day we take them out for coffee and sympathise with their plight and threaten to go kick the man in the family jewels for hurting them. But in all this, I know the other woman will still get bad press. There was a post I once wrote on how no one talks about miscarriages. I understand that people are private and I understand that it hurts. But I also think that communities are built in sharing experiences. In this case, if more ‘other women’ spoke about their point of view, they’d be shunned less.

Any taboo topic needs to be aired simply because it brings about awareness, sensitivity, understanding and takes away the mystery and shame around it. Any women here who would have anything to add to the research? Do drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with the author. Else mail me or leave an anon comment and we’ll take it from there.



Press Release


Venue: Gulmohar Hall & Amphitheatre, India Habitat Centre,  Lodi Road, New Delhi

Dates: 28th and 29th January 2011

Organized by

Zubaan                        Heinrich Boll Foundation                 India Habitat Centre

The Concept:

To say that the northeastern states are different from the rest of India in almost every way is to state the obvious but it is important in that it requires us to recognize that these “differences” have created rifts, giving rise to local insurgencies, demands for secession from the Indian State and to years of internal conflict and simmering discontent. It is also important to recognize that this region is different from the rest of the country in a way that is inevitable in border areas taking one back to arguments made by scholars and academics, writers and activists alike—that locating a region by placing oneself at a point central to oneself is an arrogant and potentially dangerous stance which is what New Delhi has often been accused of doing. To the people of the Northeast their world is central to themselves, to “mainland India” it is a borderland but nevertheless the pattern of political violence in Northeast India cannot be seen as temporary or aberrant.

It is apparent that more and more creative writing is coming from the region and in many ways the conflicts and the impact of these informs the writings of poets, novelists, prose writers, storytellers from these states. Underlying all this is a desire for normalcy, whatever that may mean, and this finds expression in the richness and complexity of the writing as well as the beauty and poignancy of the art and music from the region. A notable feature of writing from the Northeast is that while the writers are of all ages and genders (and here is an instance where women do not follow but form the vanguard) there are many young writers and there is a vibrant dialogue between generations through well established sahitya sabhas and literary organizations, writers groups etc. It is these groups that have kept the lines of dialogue open in the northeast by channeling and giving space to creativity and works of the imagination. So we have a unique situation: a conflict torn region, creative cultural expression that takes this conflict as its base, is enriched by many genres of creative writing and driven by a deep concern and desire for peace and a love of the land. By sheer force this vibrant writing and cultural tradition has made its way beyond the Northeast and a key feature that has helped make it so accessible is the fact that much of it is written in English. A festival of peace would allow for the showcasing of this writing and also at the same time look at the whole question of whether or not culture can play a proactive role in bringing about peace, or at the very least, preparing the ground for it, and how this works. It will also allow for people, both from the Northeast and from outside to talk across borders and to learn from the experience of others, and will, we hope, open up a dialogue among people within the northeast.

Zubaan has long been involved in publishing writers from the Northeast.  The publication of their work fits in well with Zubaan’s own commitment to and concern for peace (Zubaan’s list includes books from other violence torn regions like Kashmir, Bangladesh, Pakistan and so on). A festival of peace would allow for the showcasing of this writing and also at the same time look at the whole question of whether or not culture can play a proactive role in bringing about peace, or at the very least, preparing the ground for it, and how this works. It will also allow for people, both from the Northeast and from outside to talk across borders and to learn from the experience of others. Zubaan has also been involved in solidarity activities with people in the northeast: our most recent publication is a collection of poems by Irom Sharmila, to mark the 10th anniversary of her fast.

The festival is envisaged as a series of workshops/seminars around the themes of Peace and how writing and culture contribute to creating an atmosphere that is conducive to peace. The role of the writer and the creative person in mitigating violence and conflict—something that has besieged the region for decades. It is envisaged as a platform where we can also initiate centre-periphery dialogues around peace and how culture can be central to this. There have been many discussions on the northeast but none that has attempted to bring people from the different states in the northeast, virtually none that has focused on literature as a vehicle for peace, and none that has combined academic work with creative writing as this one plans to do. In addition we will also have a music concert with musicians from the Northeast showcasing their talent and also a photo exhibition on young women from the Northeast who come away from their violence torn states to urban centres like Delhi and how the city treats them. This is called Seven Sisters and the City by Uzma Mohsin.

The Programme:

28th January:

Venue: Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi


9.30 am to 11.30 am


Subir Bhaumik,

Temsula Ao,

Arupa Kalita,

Ananya Guha,

Aruni Kashyap,

Pradip Panjoubam,

Indrani Raimedhi

Moderator: Nilanjana Roy

For the last six decades and more parts of the northeast have been caught in a spiral of political violence Without exception, writers and cultural activists have responded to the violence around with an extraordinary flowering of creativity. In this session writers, poets, journalists from the different northeastern states respond to the questions: Do situations of ongoing conflict motivate writers to write for peace? Can literature and culture play a proactive role in bringing about peace? Can they act as political tools to mitigate violence? What role, if any, do writers themselves play?  How do writers deal with the difficult issue of writing and representing violence without falling into the trap of creating a pornography of violence? How do they counter popular stereotypes presented in the media of the northeast to the mainland and of the ‘outsiders’ to the northeast?

Exhibition Opening: SEVEN SISTERS AND THE CITY, by Uzma Mohsin

11.30 am

Venue: Convention Hall Foyer, India Habitat Centre

Exhibition Inaugurated by (tbc)

Note from Uzma Mohsin

Over the last decade, women from the North-East have been increasingly making their way to Delhi either to study, work or live. The city gives them opportunities absent back home where political conflict and violence underpins everyday functioning. Seeking refuge they arrive in the Capital only to be faced by another kind of violence. A violence of a personal kind.

A big city usually provides possibilities of integration into modern society free of social structures and prejudices. The anonymity it offers not only empowers but also enables the evolution of one’s identity and dreams. But this is not true for the majority of the women from the North-East.

To come and live in the city is an ordeal that they say robs them of their ‘dignity’. Where belongingness to a metropolis is stolen by their distinct looks, always caught up in labels – ‘exotic’, ‘chinky’ or ‘available’. They live in constant fear of being targeted as the ‘other’. Lack of knowledge about their culture further compounds matters.

The following diptychs, “Seven Sisters and the City” tries to encapsulate the experiences of the city that the women you see here have shared with me. The photographs provide a glimpse into the spaces where they feel safe, free to be themselves and other spaces, where they feel threatened and trapped by their distinct looks.

11.30 am : Tea/coffee break


12.00 pm


Mamang Dai,

Mitra Phukan,

Bijoya Sawian,

Reeta Chowdhury,

Mona Zote,

Omar Sharif

Moderator: Preeti Gill

The different northeastern states have rich and multiple linguistic and cultural histories. As well, they have high levels of literacy, and, in many places, a familiarity with English as a language. This session asks how writers choose their various literary and cultural forms of expression – oral narratives, poetry, theatre, music.  Do they serve similar or different purposes? How and why has the English language become the dominant medium of expression? Do the local/indigenous languages still have a role to play? Is the younger generation experimenting with new form and content? What sorts of themes are younger writers and poets looking at? Is the old writing style relevant in the current context? Is there are a movement away from oral narratives? How are younger writers using, or are they using, the rich inheritance of myths and legends and folktales?

1.30 pm : Lunch


2.00 pm


Monalisa Changkija,

Uddippana Goswami

Aruni Kashyap

Triveni Mathur

Rajesh Dev

Rupa Chinai

Dhiren Sadokpam

Moderator: Uma Chakravarti

For many years, with the northeast, as with Kashmir, the media in what in the northeast is called ‘mainland’ India, have paid scant attention to the region, seeing it somehow as belonging to the periphery. Equally, northeastern writers have not figured much – until recently – in the literary world (more specifically the English literary world) of ‘mainland’ India. In recent years, this has begun to change. How successful has the effort to create space in ‘mainland’ India been for writing from the Northeast? Equally importantly, is this literature crossing state borders within the region itself? What has been the experience if this has already been done? How far can translations, literary fests and conferences contribute to this?

Another interesting question in this context might be: If the Northeast has been ‘relegated’ to the ‘periphery’ and the person from the northeast faces a sort of stereotyping (something that we read about in media reports, in conversations etc.) is there also a stereotyping of the ‘outsider’ in the literature of the region? How does the northeast perceive the immigrant outsider who has settled in the states of the northeast?

4.00 pm: Tea break


4.15 pm


Subir Bhaumik

Sanjoy Hazarika

Meenakshi Ganguly

Deepti Priya Mehrotra

Utpal Borpujari

Pradeep Panjoubam

Moderator: Urvashi Butalia

For several years, parts of the northeast have been under the infamous and draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The presence of the army is ubiquitous, and security forces are everywhere. Yet it is important to ask: What is security? Does the presence of weapons create a sense of safety? What purpose does the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act serve? What would repealing it mean? How does one work towards mitigating violence, both state-driven and due to factionalism? What does the prolonged presence of armed forces mean for the ordinary citizen? Does security get identified with what would normally be its opposite – the weapon, the soldier? In this session, writers present their views on this by speaking on the issue or reading from their works.

6 pm : End Day One

29th January:

Venue: Amphitheatre, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi


3.00 pm


Sanjoy Hazarika

Laxmi Murthy

This session focuses on the difficult question of looking at the past, and imagining the future. For the northeast, a region with enormous linguistic, ethnic and political diversity, and yet with many commonalities of geographies, of resources, of marginalization, what does, or what can, the future hold? Is it at all possible to imagine the region as a federation of states, given the geographical contiguity and the physical ‘separateness’ of the region? Or are the differences too wide and too deep? If one question is how the northeastern states may imagine themselves as a region, another is how the northeast sees its future vis a vis the ‘mainland’, i.e. India. Does the past have any lessons to offer in this respect?

Session Two: EXPRESSING THE NORTHEAST, Readings and Performances

4.00 pm

Readings from Irom Sharmila’s Fragrance of Peace by Haripriya Soibam

Performance by Rojio Usham based on Irom Sharmila’s poetry

Readings by creative writers and poets from the Northeast:

Mitra Phukan, Mona Zote, Aruni Kashyap, Monalisa Chagkiya, Uddipana Goswami, Nitoo Das, Anurag Rudra, Omar Sharif, Ananya Guha, Reeta Chonahay, Sabah al Ahmed, Haripriya Soibam

Music by Imphal Talkies led by Akhu

5.30 High Tea


6.30 pm

Soulmate needs no introduction, SOULMATE “The Band That Re-Ignited The Blues In India”. Inspired by the roots and groove sounds of the Blues, Blues-rock, Soul, Rock ‘n Roll, Funk and R&B, SOULMATE came together in Shillong, in February 2003 playing their first concert at the ‘Roots Festival’ at the Water Sports Complex in Umiam. Soulmate have played numerous gigs all over India as well as in Kathmandu, France, USA, Singapore, Bhutan and Indonesia. They will be representing India at the Massive India Festival, to be held at the Kennedy Center, in Washington DC on the 4th of March, 2011.

We request the media to support this festival by widely covering the festival. The Festival is open to ALL and there are no Entry Passes or invitations required for the events.

For more information please contact:

Preeti Gill, Editor, Zubaan

Landline: +91 11 26494617/ 18   Mobile:  +91 9810536512



Still talking Feminism

Anna Quindlen, the author I pretty much idolise, once said,

“It’s important to remember that feminism is no longer a group of organizations or leaders. It’s the expectations that parents have for their daughters, and their sons, too. It’s the way we talk about and treat one another. It’s who makes the money and who makes the compromises and who makes the dinner. It’s a state of mind. It’s the way we live now.”

And of course you nod, because you believe it and can’t imagine it being any other way. Until you come across something like this giving us strategy on branding (link via Sairee) for women executives. I was rather horrified, reading stuff like –

Do not drag your family to work. No family photos, no screensavers, no drawings. Yes, yes, I know men have all of these, but who said life is fair.

Really? Not even a screensaver?! Hello third wave feminism! Would you like to come over and meet this author?

And what is this about not informing a supervisor early about a pregnancy or marriage?  I would like to think of it as a matter of courtesy, not legalities. Just like my boss isn’t officially bound to let me come in 15 minutes later because of my physiotherapy, but does it out of consideration. An architect working on a 3 year project to build a hotel should give the company adequate notice to make alternate arrangements, right? Besides what is adequate notice? I don’t know. Some of us pop immediately and start throwing up, while others remain thin as a rake till we deliver and don’t have a day of anything wrong. What all of us do, is take time off after the baby and if you have an idea of it early enough, why not? This one however is just a judgment call so this isn’t a real quibble.

The  next – no discussion on ‘feminine problems’. We’re obviously going back to the day when you couldn’t say you are having your periods. Excuse me? I understand if this was a blanket rule of not giving out any medical details. But I absolutely object to the whole ‘feminine’ problems line. Is it okay to say you have a prostrate problem then?

As for PTA meetings and sick children – as I type this, the OA is holding a feverish Brat in his arms, having taken half a day off from work. I took the morning off. A week ago the Bean got heat stroke and we both split the time, the OA taking her for a throat swab and blood tests (the doctor suspected dengue).

Not only do I find this kind of post a bit of a blow to feminism. I find it a very regressive way of thinking and a blow to the family structure. World over, we’re making a move towards a work environment which respects the family and personal life. So it should be completely okay for a parent (be it a father or a mother) to say they’re taking the day off for a sick child or the morning off for a PTA meeting. This is the India of nuclear families. A sick child cannot be packed off to daycare and neither can the maid attend the PTA meeting in your stead.

When we talk of work life balance, we’re making an obvious statement. That work is not life. There is life beyond work and we’ve got to start respecting that. Start respecting that not just for parents who rush home to a sick child but single people who have responsibilities towards their parents, friends and even themselves. Who might want to travel, volunteer for a cause, pick up an instrument, or indulge in a hobby.

I am disappointed with the kind of thinking we’re encouraging, by asking women to literally neuter themselves professionally. If its okay for men to talk about a ball game at work, why not for a woman to talk about her child? Heck, I know the OA and his colleagues discuss schooling and children very often. (I once did a post on the OA and three of his colleagues eating Happy Meals at McDonalds during lunch hour, just to bring home the toys for their kids. I miss you Southways!)

I respect them all the more for it and their reward is children who literally worship the ground they walk on. It’s not really a favour they’re doing their kids. It’s a favour they’re doing themselves, by remaining human. And by not living up to male stereotypes – jocks, workaholics, casanovas.. everything, but family men. Men who care and aren’t afraid to say it. Not to sound like a Raymond’s advertisement here… but you get my point. At times I feel sorry for men having to live within society’s narrow constraints and high expectations too. Only when I am not feeling sorry for women and their plight 😉

I don’t deny the fact that women are judged on these issues. But they’re only judged because the men are conditioned to never mention home and family at work. But that is changing. From the senior management guy who sits across my cubicle, telling me that his wife has managed to conceive 8 years after their first child and he is worried about her health to the big guy down the row I sit in, who I bumped into at every school last year, taking an hour off, just like me, to pick up admission forms. We’re all in this together. So we’ve got to learn to integrate work and life. They can’t be separate and at times, contradictory entities. And we’ve got to respect men and women for what they choose to talk about or display – as long as its not inappropriate. Yes, the woman with a picture of her twins pinned up on her soft board as well as the man with a picture of his wife peeking cheekily out of a shop in a Bangkok market. An acquaintance recently had a bad motorcycle crash. With his family in another city it was friends who took the next few days off from work to nurse him, get his bike repaired and deal with the cops.

And employers and HR executives alike, are going to have to learn to change, unlearn, re-learn and accept this new India, these people who are not just automatons at machines, but are parents, children, siblings, friends, lovers too. Work is just a part of our life. It is NOT our life. And this can’t be an individual’s move. Because if I refuse to take work related calls on my sacrosanct Sundays, there are sure to be other younger, more ambitious people who will take that call and do that job, leaving me redundant. Which is fine. Because in about ten years they’ll want that Sunday off and they’ll regret having shut that window in their own faces. We aren’t there yet, but it takes baby steps. And eac h one of  us needs to walk that road. United we stand as the old saying goes. Otherwise its just the British divide and rule theory where they tell the single people that the marrieds/parents are taking a free ride… and the marrieds/parents are pushed into panic striken responses and longer working hours. Playing us off each other. Ensuring that none of us get a life. Giving us silly sops like TT tables and gyms in the office. Hello.. let us get out of work at 5 and go for a jog in the park, thank you very much.

It’s the rare person who stays young and single and free of responsibility for more than ten years of their working life. After that, whether you have kids or not, you yearn for a life beyond the Blackberry and the Q2 report. And if you don’t, heck, I don’t understand how you’re reading this blog! This is certainly not the place for you.  It’s about time we united in an effort to stop work from pushing life off the table, neutering us, turning us into genderless, humourless, witless people. Go on people. Pick life.  As for my sistahs – here’s to a table with a pretty coffee mug (no disposable plastic coffee machine cups!), pictures on the soft board, crisp cotton suits, floral shirts and bright handbags. We’re not men. We’ve never been men. We don’t aim on acting like men (perish the thought!).

I lead you back to the Anna Quindlen quote. This is the life we live. Men and women alike will earn, will cook dinner and will rock a puking child and soothe him. Telling us to camouflage that side is unfair and detrimental to us and to our society in the long run.

Disclaimer: I have not read this lady’s blog in entirety. I am only commenting on this piece. Because I am sure she is good at whatever job it is that she does – so no disrespect meant to her. But when a woman, and one who has risen to the top, tells other women to deny their femininity and that it is the only way to get to the top…. it is a sad, sad day.

Pleading depression, milord

I felt quite bad when the shoe was flung at Chidambaram. Simply because I felt that hitting one member of a political party in the face with a shoe, is no guarantee that you will get justice. Neither is it right to humiliate one person for an entire political party’s misdoings. And finally, I felt it was wrong for a member of the media to become activist. I’ve had this argument often. You can either be at a place as the journalist, the observer, or then as an activist. When you cross those lines and breach trust, you create problems. Mostly though, I don’t condone taking the law into your own hands.

And yet, inspite of the family rushing in to call their son depressive after his attack on Rathore, I can’t help but feel that this was in a weird way, justified. Don’t get me wrong – in my sane moments I go back to condemning violence.

But I also feel this sense of hopelessness. That no good is going to come of this case. That the poor girl’s soul will get no rest. And it’s somewhat better to see young men go attack molesters and rapists rather than waste their time storming pubs, molesting young women and being ridiculously xenophobic.

Funny thing though, I notice our ICICI ATMs in Delhi have instructions in Hindi, English and Marathi. It’s never really bothered me and it still doesn’t make a difference to my life – but I think its time to show the MNS and Sena guys a mirror by registering my protest here.

So – why Marathi in Delhi? Why not Punjabi or Bengali or Tamil?  Take your Marathi off my ATM and replace it with ANY of the other languages across the country before you send the poor taxi drivers packing. No, I really don’t care if you replace it with Bodo, Santali or Dogri – just replace it with any language from any state that doesn’t behave as though the rest of the country needs a visa for entry.

Is taking life your idea of entertainment?

In which case I finally understand why our newspapers only report on violence and death. Rarely any good news. I’ve written about abortion time and again. This time though, I am rather horrified. Here’s an online reality show that lets you decide if the contestants should keep their baby or abort. So yes, its fictitious, but really, why do we need others to vote in on a topic that isn’t any of their business?

I thought Rakhi Ka Swayamvar and Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayenge were bad enough, but this takes the cake. Marriage is an important enough decision to take without a bunch of idiotic, jobless strangers with no life of their own, voting on it. But to even let a bunch of strangers imagine that they have a right to vote about a right that involves taking innocent life, makes my blood curdle.  How is that pro-choice in anycase? Why exactly are we turning everything of any importance into something tasteless and puerile?

And while on the topic of taking your own child’s life, how about this one? A 16 year old Turkish girl buried alive for talking to boys. Now this is one kid they might as well have aborted if this is how much she mattered to them- apparently her lungs were full of soil when they dug out the body. I hope the family rots in hell. Even hell seems too good an option.

While on the abortion bit – another link sent by a reader on the connection between careers and abortion. I don’t know what to think. It seems to ridiculous and tenuous a connection to build. So all you worthies and my trolls, what do you have to say about this?