The ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ has been a topic of great excitement and interest always. Gender activist and social entrepreneur Amita Sahaya’s book ‘The Shadi Story’ brings forth the nuances and the modus operandi behind and around. Ehsaas Woman of Kolkata, Esha Dutta was delighted to welcome Amita to the virtual session of An Author’s Afternoon. Amita is the director and founder of three NGOs including the Women Work & Health Initiative. She has authored and edited seven books on women and gender issues and translated to English the Hindi classic Jhansi ki Rani, Lakshmibai written by her great- grandfather Vrindavanlal Verma. Engaging her in an engrossing session was eminent writer Kiran Manral. Kiran’s books Missing Presumed Dead, Saving Maya, The Face at the Window, Karmic Kids, Chicken soup for the Soul, to name a few has been ruling the stands and been nominated for prestigious awards internationally.
Weddings of any manner, culture or community brings with it happiness, commotion, chaos and joy, not to mention some turbulences going on to ultimately create some precious unfading memories in the lives of all involved. Amita’s book ‘The Shaadi Story’ is inspired by a childhood memory of a family wedding where her grandfather had to surrender his turban which defines one’s self-respect and prestige, at the feet of a cantankerous, drunk relative of the groom to pacify him as he felt he had not been attended to appropriately. Amidst all the wedding gaiety, the liveliness, the laughter, the mellifluous sound of the shehnai, fragrance of the flowers, the aroma of the widespread fare, this incident left a deep mark in her mind. The subservience and the helplessness of the bride’s side, the high-handedness of the groom’s side all seemed inappropriate but was so easily accepted by everyone at that point of time. Her book reflects and redefines across seven structured chapters, like the traditional ritual of the Saptapadi, this book illuminates the seven different aspects of the quintessential Indian wedding. Drawing on ancient Sanskrit scriptures, western philosophies, Bollywood movies and the voices of young Indians, this book is an in-depth examination of our evolving ideas of love and relationships through the prism of our society’s most elaborate celebration.
The divide in the societal role in ancient times delegated to men and women lies on the edge of misogyny and patriarchal supremacy laced in cultural prejudices where the women’s role was only to ‘bear progeny’ and as it enhanced silently support the men. Brahmacharya and Grihasta were held in equal significance as it signified male autonomy. However the image of Contemporary Women has undergone change. The number of women opting to remain single has increased. Marriages are being solemnised later on in age and is no longer an Institution of social acceptance, explained the author. She also stated that women are more vocal and aware of what they want from life.
Amita also inundates that the traditional weddings have gone through evolution as well. One stands to be bedazzled by the paraphernalia of modern Indian wedding which at most times resembles one straight out of a Bollywood film. There are some young people who prefer simple weddings while some give in to parental aspirations. Some basic rituals and traditions remain rooted while some are stealthily but significantly evolving. Amita divulged that there are many parents not willing to perform the ‘kanyadaan’ as they feel that their daughters are not meant to be surrendered while she stated the example of an Assamese Bengali girl who refused to touch her husband’s feet as part of the ritual. Concepts of ‘sangeeet’ or the exchange of the ‘varmala’ has undergone transformation as theme and destination weddings take precedence. She further elaborates that economic liberalisation too has played a key role in the ‘Quantam leap into world view.’ Spartan living ethos of the middle class made way for the aspirations saturated by the advent of social media and the silver screen. The angry young man phase gave way to the high budget over the top romantic flicks such as Hum Aapke Hain Kaun or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and both men and women were emulating the stars. Another thing that happened she feels that the bridge between North and South India seemed to close in also due to an increase in cross- cultural wedding and ecologically conscious young couples.
Throwing light on the present-day scenario with regard to the marriage as an institution, Amita was very candid about live in relationships which explains as domain that comes with its own limitations and benefits. “Women have more say over their destiny” she professed. Her book reflects on partnership as well as companionship. Financial autonomy and parental support has enabled women to pursue their dreams and aspiration. “Marriage is a part of adult destiny” is soon to become a myth. Existence as a single person is the new age revolution which is pushing both men and women alike to rethink about entering marital commitments. Young people are delaying marriage commitments to sort out their careers and financial independence. Amita reflected on the fact that Social Media has played a very important role in societal and individual mental metamorphosis.
The session redefined the concept of an Indian wedding and gave us an insight as to how much marriage as an Institution has evolved. Esha Dutta rendered the thank you note on behalf of the Foundation.
Singh’s book ‘Batla House’ is centred around the controversial and famous encounter that took place in Delhi at the Batla House. The book starts from the first bomb blast that took place on 13 th September 2008. The bomb blasts were simultaneous in many places at the same time and were done by a terrorist group called the Indian Mujahidin. The terrorist group had done serial bomb blasts in over 14 places in Delhi and the police had been trying to find them since a long time. When they got the news of the group hiding in Batla House they went there to investigate where the shootings happened. Media spun the news saying that it was a fake encounter and that it was just done under the pressure. The media and the people put out rumours saying that the police officer that died was killed by his own team, however, when the forensic report came it was clear that the police officer had been killed by the terrorist group, the dead terrorists also had residue of gun powder on them that indicated that the shots had been fired by them. The police officer that had died was one of the most decorated police officer, Mohan Chand Sharma, it was his discovery that had led the team to Batla House. He had in his lifetime neutralised around 35 terrorists, received numerous medals and was also awarded the Ashok Chakra for bravery in the battle field after he had died. He was knowledge of both the technical and the human skills.
He said that the media is like the 4 th pillar of democracy and has the responsibility to make sure that they do not put out fake news out in the public domain. When the police investigate and presents the facts, it does in front of the court where the defence also has the right to fight and present the facts to the court, a judiciary body that is independent of the other pillars of the democracy. Whereas the media just presents the facts that they think is correct and frames a side, the other side has no right to defend themselves. The party that is declared guilty by the media become guilty in the eyes of the people and has no chance of redemption. The media must understand that they have a greater responsibility to refrain from showing the news that can leak sensitive information about the case and hamper the investigation. Media is like the 4 th pillar of democracy and has the power to sway the people in whatever side that they want to. The investigation teams must also be trained in what information should be shared and what should not be, as that can make or break the case.
Singh then said that sometimes the clues can be found easily whereas many times when dealing with terrorists finding clues that connect and make sense are difficult. The investigation agencies have to look for clues both on the scene and off the scene. The area has to be extensively swept for any evidence and the dump data, like the phones connected to the nearby tower, same phone present at different locations of crime. The data has to be looked through carefully as the evidence is hidden in them to crack the case.
When talked about the investigation that followed the encounter Singh mentioned that the team that has done the encounter is never a part of the investigation team, however since there is not one agency for looking into the encounters, the media and the people still claim that the teams are the same and hide facts that do not show the police in good light.
The two roles that Singh played were both of important as one dealt with the physical and internal security of the country whereas the other with the economy and social security of the country. Both these roles are fulfilling in their own way and give an immense sense of satisfaction knowing that one is doing something that will help the country be a better place in all aspects.
The conversation ended with Esha thanking Singh and Bhatia on an insightful conversation on the encounter that happened in Batla House and how the media had twisted the facts that were presented.