Zika Virus Prevention in India : Are You Aware Of It?

In the past few years, India has been plagued with diseases that involve unique and less known viruses from around the world. We’ve always been wary of mosquitoes that are part and parcel of our sub-tropical climate. They are the carriers of most viruses and have been wreaking havoc since decades, mostly without being detected. Dengue, kala-azar, yellow fever, Malaria and the likes have taken away several lives when treatment was sparse in the early 20th century. Growing up in West Bengal, we have been using a mosquito net since forever and while it is irksome to manage, it has probably prevented quite a few diseases. But the usage is getting rare these days as it is an inconvenient and confined measure to prevent the mosquitoes and more families are opting for other convenient methods.

Zika virus : The rise and spread

I wasn’t aware of the Zika virus until a few years ago but now I know that it was discovered long ago in Africa, though it also has an Asian strain. It was limited to Africa until 2007 and began spreading in Asia post that. Zika virus is transmitted through the mosquito species Aedes aegypti that also carries deadly viruses of Dengue, Malaria and Chikun guniya. The mosquitoes bite an infected human and then a non-infected one to transmit the virus. While it has always been prevalent in Africa, only a few cases have been recorded in India yet. But don’t let that fact deter you from gathering prevention from Zika virus as there is no vaccine invented yet.

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Best Reads of 2017

The year has been tumultuous in terms of reading and writing. The first half of the year still presented itself wrapped in books as gifts, impulsive buys and planned purchases with the purpose of imminent reading. Then, a major movement happened, tectonic plates of our tiny family shifted and we moved up northwest to Belgium. Reading habits changed from cradling a book on bed to juggling the heavy e-reader with the blanket. And before I could acclimatise in a propah way, we’re left with two bloody cold days in the year! I’d agree that the weather is more conducive to cuddling a book but there’s more mundane chores cocooned in the warmth of the house that seems to gnaw at my reading. I could only complete half of my Goodreads reading challenge this year which is a total shame compared to what I’ve read in the last few years. And yet, e-reading is coming handy on the phone at the bus stops, metro rides and long queues in supermarkets with a bit of thanks to the locals here who seem so engrossed in reading even while walking on streets! It is both liberating and motivating. I will read more for sure in 2018 without any resolution to follow it up with. And here are what I loved this year, a mixed bag.

1. River of Smoke By Amitav Ghosh 

This one’s my favourite in 2017. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Ghosh’s books (loved The Glass Palace, hated Calcutta Chromosome) and picked up the middle one of the Ibis trilogy after I’d read the first book two years ago. Took me a while to resume the story from where it had been paused in the earlier book and then I fell in love with this one. The plot, the history, the backdrop, the ship named Anahita, the characters, the relationships – everything was resplendent. No wonder it took him a decade to write this trilogy, it is as vast as it seems to be. One can just sum it up as the story of Indian immigrant slaves in the opium trade to South East Asia, and yet, it expands to nooks of islands we haven’t even heard of. I think parts of Ghosh’s research would make a book in itself on ‘how to write novels with historical backdrop.’ An absolute favourite, I would recommend this entire trilogy to everyone who loves reading epics.

2. The Conspiracy at Meru By Shatrujeet Nath

Featured twice here in three years, let me clarify that Shatrujeet hasn’t paid me a dime (yet). It is his writing and content that has inched its way here over the year. The Conspirary at Meru is the second of the Vikramaditya Veergatha trilogy and I have already reviewed it.

I didn’t get boggled by the fact that I’m dealing with King Vikramaditya and the devas, asuras and super powers. Instead, I tried to ingest the story as a racy over the edge action-packed thriller. And it is safe to infer that the book met all the expectations.

There you go. If, like me, you too are not-so-interested in Indian mythology, give this one a try. It is a great thriller in itself with a good blend of mythology and loads of anecdotes. The third book is due to release soon.

3. The Cuckoo’s Calling By Robert Galbraith

First of a trilogy, for a change. I felt a bit FOMO not having read a single JKR book including Harry Potter. But this murder trilogy with an interesting and offbeat detective Cormoran Strike seemed more than worth a try. And the trilogy was more than rewarding in its own way. I loved JKR’s way of dealing social issues so pertinently and with ample wry humour. Honestly, I hadn’t known what to expect from her pen having written the magnanimous Harry Potter books. I’d safely say now that she’s one of my favourite contemporary crime writers and I’m truly hoping she would write 10 Cormoran Strike novels as she has promised recently.

4. Origin By Dan Brown

Ah, the most popular and controversial star of world literature! Dan Brown is like the Shahrukh Khan of thrillers – snubbed by critics, loved by thrill-junkies, and liked by millions of people (including me) who have read each book of his without being too judgmental. I don’t read him for the literary value of his books (as there is none claimed by International critics). I read him for the nuggets of knowledge on art and his backdrops of beautiful Europe. In Origin, it’s Spain with rich art and the usual chase sequences that are getting more suave with private helicopters and inside a cathedral designed by artists like Gaudi. Origin has a blend of science and art with religion the primary clash factor. I loved the plot with scientific experiments and those few chapters can be the main reason you should read the book. Dan Brown has raised a question that is lurking just around the horizon of our lives now – Where are we going? 

5. Home Fire By Kamila Shamsie

This has been my last read of the year, perhaps for its nomination in the Man Booker longlist. I love the writers from my neighbouring country and this is the first book by Kamila Shamsie that I chanced upon. I didn’t have an idea that it is an adaptation of a Greek tragedy Antigone until I read it. The fact that Home Fire stands out on its own is where it matters. I’d say the first half deals aptly with ‘Home’ and the second is truly ‘Fire’. Since Shamsie was raised in Pakistan, studied in the US and now lives in England, she has picked up bits of culture, society and life from each continent and created a bowl of steaming story related to her roots. Her writing made me smile, laugh (with the acquired British sarcasm), stiffen and finally shudder at the climax. I’m so glad I read this book at a point when I want to write about immigration and everything in its spectrum. What a way to end the year!

Have you read any of these in 2017? Let me know your thoughts and we’ll share our views. Have a great 2018! 

A Tribute to Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy

Today is Mahalaya, culmination of Pitripaksha and beginning of Devipaksha. It is customary to pay tribute to one’s forefathers by churning some mantras and offering food at the bank of a river. After I’ve been hearing stories all my life about a certain gentleman, it’s about time I pay a little tribute to him in my own way, letting the world know who he was and what he did.

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My great grandfather Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy was born in 1877 in Katunia, located in the Satkhira subdivision of Khulna District in Bangladesh. It was a Saturday night, dark and calm with no moon to shine on the newborn. The ominous darkness of the night and his birth on an Amavasya had impelled the zamindar family to believe that he might turn up to be a bandit. Such a disaster didn’t happen though. Jatindra Mohan is the eleventh generation of Raja Basanta Roy, whose nephew Raja Pratapaditya was in the Baro Bhnuiya (Twelve Kings) group that fought against the Mughal invasion in Bangladesh.

Image from family archives

Jatindra Mohan grew up and graduated from Scottish Church College, Calcutta not only once, but twice – in English and History. He wrote a book on the history of Raja Pratapaditya and his legacy in three parts. He was mighty influenced by the Indian independence movement, particularly the work and ideals of Bipin Chandra Pal, a famous freedom fighter. He went back to Khulna to look after his zamindari and participated actively in the Swadeshi movement as an assistant to Bipin Pal, managing the Sunderban area. Jatindra Mohan was a staunch believer of Swadeshi and dreamed that the British would be ousted. He married and fathered two sons, the younger of them was my grandfather, Nepal Chandra Roy. When grandfather grew up to be a teenager, Jatindra Mohan began training him on horse riding, sword fighting and Lathi Khela – a traditional stick fighting. A few years later, he transferred reigns of the zamindari to my grandfather Nepal Chandra and concentrated further on Swadeshi movement.

Image Courtesy: Abhyuday Roy

Japan had already begun working on various kinds of nuclear bombs in the initial decades of the 20th century and the news had spread till India. Bipin Pal had planned to acquire the formulae from his Japanese allies and try making a few to counter the British. He sent Jatindra Mohan to Japan on a journey via the sea, who copied the formulae on his body, hid himself and headed back. (This is a lore that my father had heard from grandfather, the incident is not documented in any text though). Jatindra Mohan arranged for boats and small ships to carry arms and weapons for the freedom fighters through the waters of Sunderbans. But somehow the British officials were aware of this plan and sabotaged it.

Jatindra Mohan had an untimely and ill fated death in 1939 when his boat was caught in a whirlpool and he drowned. My father has never seen his grandfather but he heard all about this gentleman zamindar who cared more about his people and country than his wealth and possessions. The books he had written have been lost in the black hole of India-Bangladesh partition and couldn’t be recovered by our family.

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All information source: Prabir Kumar Roy (my father)

Jukebox is here

Sometimes, it’s the journey which becomes more important than the destination. You begin at a point, pause for breath, lose your directions and embark on a different path altogether. Modified directions and better co-travellers make the new roadmap more interesting than your original itinerary.

I hadn’t imagined that a phone call in leisure with Priyanka Purkayastha, founder of Writersmelon, would result in me hopping on to the bandwagon and push more steam into the already running engine. 

That’s an excerpt from my Editor’s Note in Jukebox, presented by Writersmelon – a stellar collection of short stories by budding writers in India. Now available on Amazon.

Working as a pre-jury for our annual writing marathon Melonade for the past few years has been one of the best experiences I’ve gathered so far. There’s seldom a greater pleasure for me than to be lauded by young, creative minds for editing and polishing their already stellar stories. With hundreds of entries, Melonade has often drowned me with so much work that I’d forget I exist!

‘A short story creates an entire world in a few pages’ – Tejaswini Apte-Rahm

How often do we come across stories that have the ability to change our lives? Each story in Jukebox presents a choice – a choice from chaos to order, one that has life altering properties. Every track in this medley strikes a different chord at your heart with characters that speak up and stand alone for themselves and their choices. We, at Writersmelon, have handpicked, cut and polished each story till it emanates a beautiful message and stays forever with the reader.

As Preeti Shenoy said rightly in her foreword – ‘The stories had me enthralled, mesmerised and spellbound,’ – Jukebox is here to make an impact and linger in your mind for long. Published by Readomania, Jukebox is a venture by Writersmelon.com – a collection of selected short stories from the 5th edition of Melonade (a nationwide writing competition by Writersmelon).

The long wait is finally over, our path to publishing has been bumpy and came with lot of pleasant & difficult surprises. And now we are gearing up for the launch of this book in Bangalore. Yes, you heard it right. All those wonderful people decided to participate in Melonade – A nationwide writing competition, gave us their best short stories, highly acclaimed authors picked the ones they loved the most & we sprinkled some more magic along with our publisher Readomania.

If you are a book lover & live in Bangalore, don’t miss our first book launch celebration. Meet and chat with the best selling author Preeti Shenoy, the super talented authors of Jukebox and our some of our fabulous bloggers.

We’d love to see you in Bangalore on 8th July, 5-7 pm at Atta Galatta, Koramangala.

Wo(e)men’s Day

Disclaimer: This is just a cynical rant. Troll if you *don’t* like. 

Image courtesy: Womens Web

I haven’t written anything on Women’s Day in all these years of existence, probably for the simple reason that I’m thick enough in the head to believe that anything would change. So, after having frittered away three and a half decades, what did I realise about Women’s Day or International Women’s Day? That it’s mostly a day of SOC (Show Off Chutiyapa) from men and women alike in my country. Yes, women would love the cupcakes and roses any day at work but equal wages would be more welcome. The discounts and spa vouchers are awesome too, but what about freedom of choice?

I’ve spent most of my years in Bengal, surrounded by middle-class people, not financially but temperamentally. One of my acquaintances believes in getting his college-going daughter married right after graduation because they have labelled her as ‘mediocre’, not having the potential to make it to higher academics or land a good job. Since she has reached the capability of just providing basic education to her future kids, it’s time to get her married to a decent bloke so that her life is ‘set.’ What if she chooses to glide further in academics? What if she doesn’t want to get married? Well, that’s rarely a choice for women in our country. I know just a handful who chose not to get married and I don’t believe that their relatives fail to troll them offline. It has been a hellish journey for me having dropped a degree and deciding to choose an alternate career (read *doing nothing all day*). 7 years later, it’s still about ‘why doesn’t she have a kid, she’s not doing anything anyway.’ The peanuts from home-based freelance work don’t matter until you go out in the sun and still earn peanuts. Middle-class SOC, I’d say.

Take a look at the Bangla television serials and you’d know. It’s still all about shankha-sindoor-swami-songsar-pujo and domestic abuse, not in a way to inspire women to fight back, but airing such violence from women characters in the story. And these screenplays are mostly written by women. If you behave like crabs in a ship, how’d you expect your women folk to reach out and explore the world? This television industry has employed thousands of men and women and I wonder how each of them puts up with the atrocious scenes they have to present. I haven’t watched a single episode where women are encouraged to be financially independent but there’s at least a segment where they would don a saree and fast for their husbands while they bring the other woman home. This commoditisation has become a part of our integral lives and it is quite pukeworthy.

The day women will have a little more freedom of choice, we’ll celebrate every way you’d want to.

P.S. The television is airing Women’s Day wishes from the lady chief minister who had admonished a gruesome gangrape as ‘sajano ghotona’ (staged incident). Happy that.

Saraswati Pujo

Writing an article around Valentine’s Day invariably leads to the celebration of love and such stuff. With the advent of Spring comes Saraswati Pujo, technically on the fifth day of the season, called Basant Panchami. Saraswati, the goddess of Arts and Education is worshipped diligently across my part of the world. From miniature clay idols at home to medium sized idols at various schools and finally the larger versions at the barowari (public) pujo, the goddess is more revered than actually loved. I’ve often perceived Saraswati as the lonelier, geeky goddess among others, akin to the bespectacled girl in school, bypassed for prettier ones (like Lakshmi). My loyalties have been and will remain for the ivory goddess, who I believe has lent me the few words that I can write. Retracing to Valentine’s Day bit of the story – Saraswati Pujo is termed aptly as Bengali Valentine’s Day for the past half-a-century. I think it’s barely been 50 years that Saraswati Pujo began to be celebrated in schools around Bengal. The stern iron gates of each mono-gender school would be open to everyone only on this day, creating leeways for teenagers. Each teenage boy, clad in pressed and clean white or yellow Panjabi-Pajama would peer around Girls’ schools in the neighbourhood for saree clad beauties. Thus began an era of seeing each other, diligently asking for prasad, going out for a date in a group and stealing furtive glances.

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Four Years, 200 Posts Later..

It’s my fourth blog-versary with WordPress and well, it’s been a long journey. From book reviews to rants, poems to contests, I’ve written a few posts compared to well-maintained blogs. I know it’s not much, but there’s a sea of gratitude in me for every reader that ever stepped onto the page.

Keep reading, keep coming back and I promise to write more and better this year.

Cheers to writing!

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