Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The rainbow that was there (a very very short story)

Why are you so scornful of rainbow, they ask me. I tell them that I too had a rainbow sheltering me from heat and storm of the day, a beautiful face, some handsome men, some good men- two good men to be precise- no, one good man actually, and then he left, my father died along the road, my mother went away, and  I was with wine whole day. But it was an opportunist like you. It consumed me more than I consumed it. And now at the end of the road, I sit here before a mirror and talk to you about myself, about yourself. I wish I had talked to you at the other end. My rainbow would have still been there I guess.

-Ritesh Agarwal

email: ritzy182000@gmail.com

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Children don't climb trees anymore

These last few days I have been slowly soaking the quiet pages of Ruskin Bond. He is one of those few people who have remained unperturbed by the growing domination of internet. His stories therefore are very rooted to the past. Much like Tagore, in Bond too, nature is almost a living character; one character constant in almost all the stories. So it is no surprise to find greying trees and their old remembered branches feature in several of Bond's stories.

The ease with which these trees spring up in so many of his stories is alarming for a modern-day reader like me. The familiarity that Ruskin seems to share with his long-remembered trees has a disturbing quality about it. Disturbing because the same trees seem to bluntly remind us of our own unfamiliarity with them.

In some of his stories, a greying and mellowed Ruskin revisits his leafy childhood pals, lamenting with a stab of sweet pain that he cannot climb them anymore, now that he is old and frail. But Ruskin, after all, can take heart from the fact that he hasn't fallen out of the race. He isn't lagging behind the new-age children. They don't climb trees any more than he does. The only worrying question is that will he really take heart from this fact?

-Ritesh. A

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lady Chatterley’s Lover vs. Chokher Bali: A thematic comparison

Image Source: Flipkart 

It is enthralling to see how themes in different novels can often converge despite staying concealed from the eye of a casual observer. At times, the true theme of a tale is so deeply embedded that one has to dig out the superficial veneer to get to it.
'Lady Chatterley's Lover', a classic by DH Lawrence, perfectly exemplifies this view. Prima facie, it is a story about adultery though close reading of the text can throw up surprising epiphanies.

Penned and published in 1928, the highly controversial novel has had to endure the murderous gaze of prudish critics who lambasted the book severely at the time of its release. It was strongly condemned for its unapologetic sexual tone and graphic imagery which bordered on the taboo. But was there more to it than what met the eye of the immediate society?

The novel, sprawled over 300 pages, chronicles the story of Lady Constance Chatterley who is matrimonially chained to a man half-paralyzed. The lady's youthfulness is waning away behind the mundaneness of the usual chores of a life that is prosaic at its best. She is deprived and her body discovers redemption in the company of their keeper Oliver Mellors. What follows is social blasphemy, a torrid affair of adultery between a woman of higher stature and a man from the lower rung.

But though the woman's need for physical pleasure at the prime of her youth cannot be refuted, it is significant to discern the strong undertone of loneliness which is constant throughout the story. Lady Chatterley is not merely physically unsatisfied with her crippled husband but is also living in mental isolation. The disparate mindsets of the two people, with the man as a snooty high-nosed gentleman and the egalitarian woman bearing irrevocable sympathy towards the menial class, further distance her from Mr. Chatterley and intensify her loneliness. Her silent disapproval turns her away from him (even without her realizing so), makes her apathetic to his industrial ambitions and eventually makes her fully aloof, thus aggravating her solitariness.

So, should 'adultery' be labelled as the theme of the story, as has been done by generations of readers and critics? Or is 'loneliness' the underlying and the truer theme of the book?

Despite the above arguments which advocate for the permanence of loneliness, the question is debatable and cannot be put to rest easily. Theme is supposedly more concrete than motif and while the former is a constant, the latter is recurrent. There is a very thin line there as far as this novel is concerned, but probably it would be just to declare a woman's mental solitariness as the veritable theme, with the her recurrent sexual affairs as the motif.

“Lawrence was preaching sex as a kind of sacrament, and more than that, one that would save us all from the results of war and the nastinesses of our civilisation. …. ‘it is the crime of our times, because what we need is tenderness towards the body, towards sex, we need tender-hearted fucking.’”    [Doris Lessing's introduction to the new Penguin Classic edition]

On similar lines, one can put another classic on the table. Tagore's 'Chokher Bali' is similar in its theme even though here it is the man who goes out of his way to surrender to an extramarital fling. Mahendra, on finding no mental connection with his beautiful wife Ashalata, gets drawn towards Binodini, a widow who has come to stay at their home and with whom he is able to strike fascinating intellectual conversations.

 While Mahendra's attraction towards Binodini may be attributed to his need for a woman of his type, the imposing question that raises its fangs and demands to be answered is 'whether his felonious actions are governed by carnal desire or by the need for quenching a personal loneliness.' And once again, we find ourselves at a crossroad since the puzzling question can have multiple answers just the way this literary work can be interpreted in multiple ways.
It would appear that perhaps both are alone in their own rights (physically, mentally and figuratively) and they seek not merely sexual gratification but intellectual accompaniment. So, it wouldn't be wrong to call it a book dealing with loneliness rather than with adultery. Here too, we see aloneness as the theme and sex as the motif. But opinions will always be divided and many will see it the other way round (i.e. sex as the theme and aloneness as the motif).

Interestingly, both the pieces have been penned around the same time (1928 an 1903) and both project the woman in a negative light, without spraying much stain on the man's character. If Lady Chatterley and Binodini were wrong to tread on this path, then Oliver Mellors and Mahendra were equally wrong, if not more. But it is unfortunate that these stories are set in a patriarchal society which also hints at the underlying theme of male chauvinism; something which Lawrence and Tagore have masterfully expounded.

(Ritesh Agarwal,
CL-  Jadavpur University

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

55 word story: Chat room

Image source: Google images

“ASL,” I typed.

“22 f Kolkata,” she replied.

Yesss, she’s from my city! Emboldened, I typed back, “You have a boyfriend?”

“No. You have gf?”

“Na,” I lied. “Can I see you sweety,” I pushed.

“Sure, let me turn on my cam”

As a nude girl appeared live, I shrank back. It was my girlfriend.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hegemonic theme of To Kill a Mockingbird

Image source: Google images

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (by Harper Lee) has been tormenting the readers’ conscience for the past fifty years, drawing them into a world of racial bigotry and questioning our social and cultural values.

Narrated from the point of view of a girl-child, the novel explores the hegemonic white-black relationship in America, how a black is wrongly accused of molesting a white woman, and how a white lawyer fights for the accused and how the jury, despite its contrary personal beliefs, declares the accused guilty of felony.

Their action, quite in congruity to the existing American society’s bigoted mindset, confirms how racism is a hegemonic social state (it works in the human mind’s psyche).

Ritesh Agarwal
email: ritzy182000@gmail.com

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jadavpur University campus survival tips

t2 issue of 19th sep, 2015

Following are some survival tips for freshers (or veterans) at JU (Jadavpur University, Kolkata) campus:  

*Don't let AC canteen fool you by its name. It doesn't have AC. As the old bard said, "What's in a name"

*For cheap printouts @50p per page, head to the xerox centre situated shyly behind the capacious AC canteen

*Jheel is just a romantic red herring. For real mush-fest, go to Worldview's terrace.

*Cheapest and the most walk-worthy canteen is a remotely located jungle-wala canteen. Opens after 1.40 pm. On your way, you will pass through quarantined dogs.

*The corridor to Comparative Literature Departmental library will always have water over the floor. A Harry Potter connect, minus the Chamber of Secrets (but who knows). Dare not peep into the girl's bathroom, though ;)


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Arithmetic of Breasts Review: An intelligently philosophical erotica

Image source: Amazon

Book: The Arithmetic of Breasts and other stories
Author: Rochelle Potkar
Genre: Fiction, anthology
Publisher: Notebook Press
No. of pages: 115
Cover price: Rs 115
[Shortlisted for The Digital Book of the Year 2014]

It is a book that is brutal, realistic and an ironic amalgamation of anatomy and arithmetic. The book can be critiqued using feminist perspective too, though the element of storytelling, entertainment for mass readers and clever use of language make it impossible to club it as a purely feminist book.

Here is a story-by-story review of the entire anthology-

The Arithmetic of Breasts

An engaging story that matures as the protagonists mature and age. From lust to love, the transformation is life-like, seamless, riveting. That’s the arithmetic of human relationships. The use of mathematical terms to describe human anatomy is clever, and at certain places, metaphorical. The story, overall, stirs you up in bits but falls short of being a memorably great one.

The Room with a Sea-View

A very difficult read but an enlightening one. It tends to philosophize love. It has multiple layers to it, even a strong layer of originality. Some lines are quote-worthy and need to be penciled. Sample this:

His voice was soundless again today.

Sky Park

Use of geometry in this book is fascinating. Eg. The ‘springing buildings’ in this story described as an act by the Geometry God.
The story begins on a queer note, with a girl falling in love with a boy when he’s making out with another girl. There is powerful narration involving polyphony. Description of a suicide scene is so vivid that it is scary. The story is deeply psychological. Author takes you inside the mind of the character. To put it simply in the words of a character- “It is her mind talking to me.”

Dr. Love

A fresh story with a fresh plot. It highlights the importance of a face and how a surgical change in it is akin to a change of identity.

The Scent of a Conscience

It is an erotica; not a bland erotica but one that leaves you psychologically shaken. The story questions extramarital affairs but not in its puritan didactic form, rather in its visceral, hedonistic form.

A Place They Call Scary

A hard-hitting story that exposes the hypocrisy and sexual cravings of religious forces in the country, through the eyes of a young girl. The climax rattles you, leaving little difference between a young human girl and a Goddess.

Our Lovers

Crisp story. A two-page quick read that ends with a thundering jolt, not waking you out of your leisurely torpor with a shock but rattling your soul with an epiphanic hammer.

The Troll on Page 16

The story gives a peek into the psyche of a lecher. How he fakes complaints to a doctor and thus lives all his fantasies. An absorbing read that sets you up for a revelatory climax that unfortunately never comes.

What Men Want

A very engrossing story if one is wanting to get high. Conversations between old inebriated friends always give a voyeuristic pleasure to readers. But the story comes with no after-effect and, hence, pales in comparison to the other wonderful stories in the book.

As a bonus, the book ends with excerpts (full chapter 1) of Potkar’s debut novel Dreams of Déjà vu.

Should you buy this book? Yes, it is pretty hooking apart from being a highly intelligent book.

[The review was done on request by the author who was kind enough to send me a hard copy after listening patiently to my rants of anti-ebook theories.]

-Ritesh Agarwal
email: ritzy182000@gmail.com

Friday, March 6, 2015

Black is the colour of the rain

Black is the colour
Of the rain that falls today
Black is the farm
And the crop that grows on it
Black is the sown
Black is thy plough
Oh bygone William, black is now your reaper
Black is the bone and black is the eye
So which is the daisy, which one the dew?

On that land of ice
White melts in fear
Sun burns away
Moon no more there

The whole world burns
Even the flame’s colour is black
So why play Holi
Coal will always smile

Yet there’s a heart
That smears a crumb of hope
The moon may be whitewashed
The rainbow painted anew


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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sailing the sea

Poetry is the yacht on which I sail the sea
I fear the storm no more
I carry a storm within

Ritesh Agarwal


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Colour me not today

Colour me not today
I was black for a day
On the land
Where red and green bickered
Let the white now prevail


-Ritesh Agarwal

#‎JadavpurUniversity #‎Holi

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pray wake me not, desire

Pray wake me not, desire

The lightning that knocks is asking for me

-Ritesh Agarwal


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Poem: Aankhon mein

Dil toh ye toot gaya,

Aankhon mein hi dekh lo moorat uski

(Translation: The heart lies broken. But these eyes will show you her face)

-Ritesh Agarwal

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In the bazaars of Hyderabad-Sarojini Naidu (question-answers)

Q. How does Sarojini Naidu convey a message in the poem 'In the bazaars of Hyderabad'

A. Sarojini Naidu wrote this poem during the time of India's struggle for independence aiming to promote the boycott of foreign products.

      In this poem, Sarojini Naidu artfully describes the products made by the Indian craftsmen  and goldsmiths and myriad things sold by vendors, flowergirls, pedlars and fruitmen. Naidu wants people to boycott foreign products and provokes all Indians to consume indigenous products. She constructs a vivid, vivacious and colourful picture of the local bazaar of  Hyderabad in order to motivate her readers to visit indigenous markets. The hidden intent of the poem is not to give a visual description of the bazaars but to promote indigenous products amongst the citizens of the country. In context of the ongoing 'Swadeshi Movement', she suggests the boycott of British goods.

Instead of being preachy, direct and didactic, she simply presents a heart-rending portrait of Hyderabad's bazaars, showing its homeliness as opposed to the alienness of oversea goods.

-Ritesh Agarwal (for ICSE class 8)

email: ritzy182000@gmail.com

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Friday, February 27, 2015


A fire kissed a fire
And a fire burnt
Two flames charred together
One singed, burnt alone

 Like a tendril unashamed
The fire coiled itself over the other
Fluttered, defiantly in searing wind
Stroked a spine as it slithered up
Lipped the defenceless neck that quivered
Burnt the nape with its tapered tip.

One surrendered
The other devoured
Licking, flame by flame
The third watched
Like the cactus watched the rosemary and bee.

All three writhed
Their heart an inferno.

-Ritesh Agarwal


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Thursday, February 26, 2015

From My Heart to Yours- Review of a poetry book

Image source: Goodreads.com

Book: From My Heart To Yours
Author: M.A.Q. Rizvon
Genre: Poetry, poem
Publisher: Partridge (a Penguin Random House Company)

‘From My Heart to Yours’ is thin book with some heavy words that can stir you at times, move you on a few occasions or leave you impassive. The book is an anthology of poems thought and scribbled over a few decades by M.A.Q. Rizvon whose journey itself has been a poetry. A post master in the 1960s, an insurance agent in the 70s and a film journalist in the 80s, he has straddled disparate fields, garnering multiple memories on his way and picking up isolated threads that finally come together in the shape of this book.

So, it is not hard to make out that the poems in this book are mostly about people, about relationships, about faith, about God and about love and life in general.

To do justice to some of the wonderful lines, I would just present them here-

Great thoughts have spread the carpet of grass
For us to wallow in joy and roll on and on.”   (Great Thoughts)

I came to you on enfeebled feet
Heavy of heart downcast in eyes.
And, in a flash, you lifted me     (Reunion)

“… a moon
Comes on more often to share our sleepless nights.”   (Man barricades against himself)

The lighting that came was looking for me”  (Gratitude to the one who made me)

While I was really charmed by the metaphorical beauty in the above lines, here is an intelligent use of alliteration that I couldn’t fail to notice-

“In a verdant, vivid vale of Kashmir” (The song of a sixteen-year old)

A few other beautiful lines-

“She gave him a parting kiss of pain
She left him the memory of the life he lived”  (A dew drop on a rose in bloom)

And I would leave you with these angelic thoughts

“She rose like fragrance…
A fairy, …
High above a rainbow”    (A note of love)

-Ritesh Agarwal

Review done on request by Ayesha Rahman (the grandchild of M.A.Q. Rizvon) whose handwritten letter warmed my heart.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Love placates despair

Darkness goes yonder

Sky trembles in lurid hope

Moon takes off its clothes

-Ritesh Agarwal

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015


My eyes,

Saw yours,


What the sand feels for the cloud



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Sunday, February 22, 2015

One thousand rainbows later

One thousand rainbows later, time will pause for a moment
To turn around and look back across time,
Where it shall encounter me
In your past and in my present.

And I would greet it with joy
Of that imperishable kind with which past greets its future,
Laugh with it, the way I laugh with you
And I would tell it all about your ancient glory
And it would fill me in with your glory eternalized
And we would talk till the moon joins in
Croon till the cricket chants along
Till I run out of memories
Till it runs out of time,

Heavy with nostalgia, time would bid me bye
Slip back to where it came from
Not knowing that it never did leave me
Never could leave me
The wraith of my world will walk over your wall.


PS- This poem is addressed to JU

Friday, February 13, 2015


She stalked me

Like a wave does to the rock

Then receded in a smirk

Like a tide that devoured its desire

But a flame she left behind

Not of hope but of dishope

And the flame grew

Not in mass, but in fire

Until it charred me

And until I singed the moon

Whole night.

Only if I could burn the stars …

-Ritesh Agarwal
13th Feb, 2015

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Sonnet IV: On the way to love

Image source: FineArtAmerica.com via Google images

On the way to love,
I got stabbed by ice.
Dead was my crepuscule
As dawn had sealed the dice
Those eyes had me under their siege
And those lips that charmed
Entranced I was, I hopped in trance
And then behold, she stabbed by ice.

But hope sprouted, again, like a stray vine
Shamelessly, creeping into my heart, growing, spreading poison
Till it outgrew the love.

And now there is hope
More than there is love
But less than there is ice....



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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hermeneutics and diasporic novels

The Comparative Literature department of Jadavpur University played host to author Judy Fong Bates today and it was both gratifying and heartening for me to be a part of the audience. That is one good thing about being a student of JU. You get to meet, and even interact, with writers and poets from both Oriental and Occidental backgrounds.

The session introduced us to this woman-author who is Chinese by birth but has been living in Canada and hence her works are primarily diasporic, like those of Jhumpa Lahiri.
To be quite honest, I had had a heavy lunch that was having its soporific effect, making it difficult for me to direct my complete attention to what she was saying. On a couple of instances, I even dozed off, much to my chagrin and one Miss DDR will not be a happy person when she reads this.

But good ideas come to people either when they are in their bathtubs (please refer to Archimedes) or when they are just out of a nap. After failing to benefit much for the most part of the session (since I was groggy and also because the voice wasn't loud at the back bench where I was seated), I redeemed myself somewhat towards the final 5 minutes.
It was accidental, I would say in my defence, but the idea did fascinate me, and for a few moments, even I became my own fan.  *grins sheepishly*

Hans Robert Jauss' theory of hermeneutics erupted out of me all of a sudden (wish it had done so during the sem exam) and it struck me that a diasporic novel can have as many as four categories of readers who will receive the same piece of work with dissimilar emotions. In Judy's case (whose protagonist is Chinese living in Canada, like herself), these four kinds of readers will be:

1. A Chinese reader living in China and reading the story of a Chinese living in Canada.
2. A Chinese reader living in Canada and reading the story of a Chinese living in Canada.
3. A Canadian living in Canada (a local) and reading the story of a Chinese living in Canada, and
4. A neutral reader, say an Indian living in India and reading the story of a Chinese living in Canada.

Now, there is a good and subjective scope to analyse it, and this is where, I perceive, Jauss' Reception Theory springs into action.

The 1st kind of reader is a Chinese who presumably has never been to Canada. While reading the text, he will feel for the protagonist who shares his nationality but finds himself thrown into an alien world where he will be subjected to racial and cultural discrimination. The reader will undergo multiple emotions. He will be bemused at times, shocked on occasions, grieved and even disturbed in certain situations. He will feel the agony of the protagonist since there is a fraternal connect with him. However, he is an external reader who reads the story from the outside, knowing that it is not going to happen to him in his immediate surroundings. So, there is pity but not fear. (Like Ruskin Bond, at the recently held Kolkata Literary Meet 2015, had described reading a horror story as an experience of "safe fear"- you are scared for the protagonist, yet you feel safe, knowing that it is not going to happen to you).

But for the 2nd kind of reader, the reception of the text will be more personal. He is a Chinese living in Canada and thus shares the geography and associated circumstances of the protagonist. He will draw parallels with the journey of the protagonist and will often squeal, "oh yes, it happened to me too" or feel a jolt of fear, realizing that it may happen to him some day.

The 3rd kind of a reader is a Canadian and he will try to find himself not in the Chinese protagonist but in the authoritarian/discriminating/chauvinistic Canadian. He will either i) be quietly ashamed of the way outsiders are treated in his country or  ii) haughtily agree with the oppressor instead of pitying the protagonist (in this case, the reader is what I would call a 'passive racist'), or  iii) be indifferent, thereby playing a totally neutral reader (theoretically possible, though practically less probable).

So, for the 3rd kind of reader, we actually get three sub-categories, since individual readers will employ their personal subjectivity to arrive at three different viewpoints (and emotional response to the text) as expatiated above.

Then there is the 4th kind of a reader, the only kind that is totally unrelated to the protagonist and the anti-protagonist in terms of both nationality and immediate geography. He, therefore, has the liberty of reading the text for the purpose of pure pleasure and without undergoing the emotional burden of taking sides. However, complete neutrality is hard to achieve as it necessitates the reader to be completely isolated from such circumstances and also to employ an emotionless approach. So, he may get influenced disparately, depending on his background and cultural roots. For instance, an Indian reader, with a colonial past, is more likely to empathise with the Chinese protagonist in the book, while a European reader may not feel pity for the protagonist in the same degree and may even side with the anti-protagonist.

Coming back to the seminar at JU, perhaps I didn't frame my question to the best of my abilities but when I asked Judy as to "her target reader out of these four types", I couldn't extract out of her the answer I was looking for. Perhaps, she is herself unaware of the reader she is instinctively targeting (as she stated) but on my part, the profitable thing that came out of this session was my deeper understanding of hermeneutics.

-Ritesh Agarwal
Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University


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