I had started to write this post in a certain way. A visit to Facebook changed it completely though. And I am glad it did because this post is undeniably about Facebook and social media.

I chanced upon this picture of this lady in a golden gown, looking like she would pop any moment. There was her husband kneeling down and kissing her bulging tummy. The picture had been clicked by a professional photographer whose credit was also given there.

I should have gone, “Aww, how cute!” but I cringed instead. I somehow felt this was the most private moment of an expectant couple that they had not left any stones unturned to turn public. But that is what social media is all about isn’t it? Making the private public and ensuring the public desire that private.

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The other day I was talking to my friend and ex-colleague Subhomita Dhar. We started our careers in journalism in the same month in the same newspaper in Kolkata and then we both ended up in Dubai, although she first, me a few years later. She worked in the largest newspaper there and I worked in the biggest magazine house. We both became moms while balancing our jobs and then one fine day we decided to give it all up.

I remember it was my last day at work. I had finally taken the decision, something I felt I should have taken much earlier. Then I could have done away with developing cervical spondilosis, sitting with the baby on my lap all night and sitting at the desktop for 9-10 hours a day, that too exactly six weeks after I had given birth to my little boy.

My urge to hurry home as soon work got over to be with my son was not looked upon kindly by my boss. She always felt that sitting around longer meant more commitment and productivity and I on the contrary, felt that I was managing my time well enough to finish work in advance. The skirmishes became a daily affair and the issues remained perpetually unresolved.

I had always been an extremely career-oriented person and not having a full-time job was the last thing on my mind. I felt my job defined me. I loved my identity of a journalist, who had worked in the best newspapers in India. My pay pack gave me that financial freedom that I always enjoyed.

But the moment I came home my son clung to me in a way that would put an octopus to shame, stirring an emotion inside me that I never knew existed. When I had to carry him to the bathroom even to wash my face, that financial independence, that post I had acquired by sheer hard work, all started paling into insignificance. It took me 10 long months to finally decide that I wanted to be with him 24X7.

It was probably the hardest decision that I had ever taken in my life. Since the day I appeared for my MA exam I had never been jobless, and I was in office till 6pm on the night I went into labour. I was bordering on the workaholic, actually. But I guess my clingy son and an insensitive boss made me change my attitude to my job and life altogether.

But the day I put in my resignation I was determined about one thing that changing nappies and catching up on lost sleep was not the only thing I would be doing while at home.

Within two months I was sitting and writing the first draft of my book, freelancing a bit, I had started my own blog too and of course changing nappies. Little did I know then that I was also re-inventing myself.

So was Subhomita. She had continued in the job longer than I had done but as the days passed she felt her over-bearing nanny was taking over her home, taking decisions for her daughter and sometimes even for her. The final nail in the coffin was when one day Subhomita came home from a night shift and the next morning her nanny told her that she should have tiptoed and shut the door silently because she disturbed her sleep.

Subhomita Dhar gave up her full-time job to be with her daughter and today she is a fitness expert and runs her own fitness studio.

“But as I look back, probably the main reason I quit my job was to be at home when my daughter came back from school, I wanted to be there to hear her stories,” said Subhomita.

Subhomita decided it was time to take charge of her home. Like me it had never happened that she had not worked but she quickly settled into her at-home-mom role dropping and picking up her daughter from school, cooking and doing the housework but things didn’t end for her here either.

She had grappled with weight issues as a young woman and she was determined to change it all. She had been taking fitness classes earlier but now she had more time to devote to vigorous fitness training and learn the nuances of the training process. She started swimming and practicing healthy cooking and learning the virtue of a healthy diet.

We often met for kids’ play dates at the beach and at the coffee shop and we exchanged notes on our transformed lives and future dreams.

We both faced a lot of jibes and judgmental comments for our transformation into mushy moms from career women. But no one actually knew, probably not even us, that we were rediscovering our capabilities beyond our full-time jobs.

That was 2013.

I gave up my full-time job to be with my son and concentrated on writing and became an author.

In 2017 we are both back in India. She lives in Noida in NCR and runs a weightloss studio Dance to Fitness. I live in Kolkata now and I have two books to my credit, a novel Exit Interview published by Rupa Publications and another a collection of short stories Museum of Memories published recently by Readomania, both have been well read, critically reviewed and have been on the bestseller shelves for months. I am already on to my next. Blogging has allowed me to have a distinct voice of my own and I have managed to write some in-depth articles in international magazines and websites.

“I never thought I would run a business one day. I guess giving up my job motivated me to do different things. It’s a great feeling to make people feel good about themselves.”

Dance to Fitness (Crossing Republik) offers Aerobics, pilates, weight training and diet counseling only for women. It has been running successfully for close to two years now enriching the lives of hundreds of women.

This post is for all those who think that women are taking the easy way out by giving up their careers post childbirth.

You never know they might be just preparing to walk a tougher path and take up new challenges. It’s not being crazy to give up a job for your baby it’s actually, at times, an immensely sensible decision.

Indrani Ganguly is the Managing Editor at Readomania

On International Women’s Day I start a series of interviews of women who are fortunate and motivated to be doing what they like doing and what they have always wanted to do. I start the series with the interview of Indrani Ganguly, who was a journalist but editing books gives her the greatest happiness. She is the Managing Editor of the publishing house Readomania. She is a stickler for perfection but not one whose opinion would override others. She believes in her own independence and individuality and respects others’ individuality too. She is one gutsy lady with a great sense of humour, a devoted mother and someone who has the conviction to achieve her goals if she sets her sight on it.

In this interview Indrani talks about the hard work that goes into making a book and her positivity is something to learn from.

How was your experience of editing Onaatah, the National-award winning film converted into a book, which is being launched today?

Onaatah–daughter of the Earth‘ written by Paulami Dutta Gupta is one of the most relevant and sensitive stories that I have edited. Though the peg of the story is dark, the treatment is not. What starts on a poignant note turns into a story of hope. There is no feminist statement or activism in the book. It is a story about simple people and how they help rehabilitate a rape victim by treating her with love and compassion. We see that while the urban educated people treat a sexually assaulted woman as an untouchable and a pariah, the simple rural and uneducated people have better senses. There is a lot of class-based hypocrisy in our country when it comes to a sensitive topic like rape. This book addresses that.

The movie has won the National Award and been showcased in most important film festivals across the country. Rape is a life-altering event, but it is not the end of life. I sincerely hope ‘Onaatah‘ manages to sensitize people and make them treat a raped woman not as a victim but as a survivor.

From being a journalist to a books editor, how has your journey been?

Having done my post-graduation in Journalism specialising in Print media, I started my career in the newsroom. It is one of the most exciting places to be in. The energy is high octane and edition-time atmosphere is insane. Initially I was baffled but soon got sucked into the world of deadlines, minute-to-minute agency wire checking, staying around for run editions and working the graveyard shift. The transition from media to publishing was brought about by a location shift in 2005. Though the pace wasn’t as hysterical, I was doing one non-fiction book every five days. So I wouldn’t call it slow either. I had a very supportive senior editor who taught me the technical nuances and I took to manuscript editing like a fish takes to water. I started fiction editing from 2012 and realised how creative and fulfilling it is. A good editor can turn around a mediocre manuscript to a brilliant one by developing it. There has been no stopping since then. I continue doing academic and non-fiction editing but fiction is what I do every day.

What it is like to be the Managing Editor at Readomania?

Overwhelming actually! Readomania’s Director Dipankar Mukherjee has placed immense faith in me and I cannot let him down. The responsibilities have definitely increased as expected. We have some very interesting titles lined up this year. We also plan to build the children’s literature line. Dipankar wants me to be responsible for that. We are also going big on non-fiction and will also classify our fiction titles. I connect a lot with Dipankar’s vision and I want to stand by him and turn it into a reality. Also Readomania is like one big literary family with a young and dynamic team and some extremely talented authors.

MSQ is your first book as an editor of an anthology and it’s selling like hot cakes. Why do you think people are picking it up?

Technically Mock, Stalk & Quarrel is my second anthology, first as a solo editor though. I was the editorial mentor of Defiant Dreams–Tales of Everyday Divas. That was my first experience as an anthology editor. MSQ is definitely my baby. It is a collection of satirical tales, which emanated from a nationwide contest conducted by Readomania in the summer of 2016 to identify powerful voices that could wage an ideological war against issues that matter. It is an extremely relevant book especially in today’s socio-political milieu. This book takes on some serious issues that ail our country, in humorous, ironical stories. There is a lot of angst in people’s minds and we felt that could be channelled into hard-hitting satire which would not only force people to read but also discuss and debate.

What was the toughest part of editing 29 satires?

We at Readomania are very particular about the quality of our books. Each Readomania book goes through three editorial stages – development, copyediting and finally, at least three levels of proofreading. Things are easier and quicker when it comes to single-author books. Anthologies, however, take a little more time as I had to individually develop each of the 29 stories, send them back to the respective authors for rework and then copyedit the rewritten stories. The manuscript was proofread at four different levels by a team of editors and then finally me. The toughest part, I would say, was harmonising with 29 extremely sharp brains. An editor needs to be very tactful and also accommodating when dealing with so many creative people. She is after all the captain of the ship.

Heard MSQ could make it to the record books? Why is that?

Yes MSQ India’s first satire anthology. We not only created something relevant but also something unique. We will be approaching Limca Book of Records soon for the official endorsement.

You have a fantastic sense of humour and a way with punch lines; how good are you with writing satire yourself?

Ha ha, thanks. Not many appreciate my wry wit though but it is now an intrinsic part of me. If I didn’t have the essence of satire in me, I don’t think I would have been able to develop and edit this book. Satire exists as a way to ridicule and critique the follies of humanity. Through its heavy use of sarcasm and irony, contemporary satire is a sort of glass that reveals some of the silliness of modern life. However, one has to be careful that humour doesn’t become slapstick; irony doesn’t become pithy. I think I have that understanding and feel I can dish out satire too.

Coming to your personal life, you are a single mom with a lovely daughter. Have you ever thought about writing your personal journey?

My life has been quite eventful for sure. A dear friend of mine actually wrote a story on my life which garnered a lot of votes in a short story contest. I think in prose. I always pen down my feelings, although I never share those with anyone. There have been many ups and downs in my life since my preteen days, events which have shaped my personality. Maybe one day I will chronicle everything for my daughter and if she feels it is worth sharing, we can have a book out of it.

How difficult or manageable life has been as a single working mom?

Initially it was extremely tough but now I guess I have got used to it. Work for me was an escape. I used to work for very long hours and it was causing health issues. I still work long hours and most weekends too but I also keep some time for myself. Work no more is an escape; it is a source of tranquility. A child is ideally brought up by both parents, but not everyone is so lucky. I try to fill the gaps in my daughter’s life as much as possible. I don’t treat single parenthood as a handicap. It is in fact empowering. There are some challenges of course. I do wish I could travel a little more though, both for work and pleasure. It does become overwhelming when you have a deadline and also a PTM to attend. Most nights I am busy helping my daughter with her school project after 11pm. But at the end of the day I ask myself—would I have been happier if I had all the freedom in the world but not my daughter with me? Of course NOT! I have now learnt to balance everything in my life and am a happy person. And my happiness reflects in my daughter’s smile.

What would be your message on International Women’s Day?

Your life is your own story. People will come and go just like characters in a story. Do not let anyone’s presence or absence affect you so much that it alters the course of your journey. Stand up for your rights and do not let anyone take you for granted. Love your friends and stay connected with them. And ladies, education is your best friend!

 

 

Poster of the documentary Martyrs Of Marriage

Poster of the documentary Martyrs Of Marriage

Section 498A was introduced in the Indian Penal Code in the year 1983 to protect married women from the cruelty of husbands and their relatives. This was mainly done after a spate of protests by women’s organizations talking about the inability of Indian law to deal with cases where women were being tortured or killed for dowry.

Section 498A states:

Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty–Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

This is the only Indian law under which the perpetrator is assumed guilty unless proved innocent.

But in the last 23 years since 498A was introduced in the IPC the law has been used more often to harass husbands and their families than it has actually given justice to wronged women.

Martyrs of Marriage

The ground-breaking documentary Martyrs of Marriage, that has been made over four years by journalist and documentary film-maker Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, explores the other facet of this section.

  • Between 1998 and 2015 more than 2.7 million people have been arrested under 498A alone, higher than any other crime under IPC except theft, hurt and riots.
  • 650,000 women who were arrested were sisters, mothers and relatives of the man many of whom had never stayed with the couple sharing a domestic relationship.
  • Most of these people were arrested on mere allegations without investigations.
  • 7,700 minors were also arrested in 498A cases.
  • Convictions rate under 498A dropped down to 13.7% in 2014, making it one amongst few sections under IPC that have a poor conviction record.
  • Several families have been destroyed because of incarceration due to a false case or running around courts for years and years.
  • Most people choose to quietly give in to legal extortion under these cases to escape decades of trial and harassment for no fault of theirs.

The documentary starts with the spine-chilling story of Syed Ahmad Maqdhoom, who left a video minutes before he committed suicide, talking about his plight after his wife took away his child and made a case of 498A against him. He said he could not deal with the harassment and misery anymore and hence was ending his life.

Maqdhoom’s sister talks about how he met his wife on the internet and was in shock when post-marriage she told him she had been married a couple of times before. He got over it though and when he had a son he was the most involved and happy father. Till his wife and her family started extorting money from him and when he refused to give, they slapped a case of 498A against him.
The film is a revelation on how legal terrorism is thriving in India and destroying lives.If dowry is a common allegation brought forward by the wife another trend that has caught on is false cases of rape against the father-in-law. The documentary has phone conversations showing how lawyers guide their clients to frame the husbands and their families and get the maximum money out of them and how even a two-month old child or an 89-year-old woman is not spared from arrest by the cops because they have been named in the FIR.

Talking about her experiences when she approached the victims to talk on camera and tell their story Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj said: “People had hesitations predominantly with my intentions behind making this film and my credibility as a filmmaker to handle this subject. That part was more difficult to handle because some people had very bitter experiences of talking to media before. Their stories were misrepresented or their experiences belittled. Once they realized I was very serious about this, they opened up and spoke candidly on the camera. Some people hesitated to come on the camera because they feared that an appearance in the film may invite more litigations on them by their partners. I did miss out on some crucial evidences and sharings because of this reason.”

deepika-narayan-bhardwaj

Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj

Why this documentary

Talk to any Indian and ask them if they know anyone who has been a victim of Section 498A and the answer would be in the affirmative. For instance I have known at least two people very closely who have had to fight long-drawn battles in the court because they were arrested under Section 498A. One person I know was even given an extra beating during incarceration because his wife had bribed the police officers and he stayed in jail for a month and fought a court battle for 8 years travelling from Delhi to Kolkata often for court hearings. Finally he was penny less when his innocence was proved but he had the guts to pick up the pieces and start life all over again.
“I accompanied my cousin to meet a retired Judge. There had been no dowry demand and the girl was lying. As a husband you can do nothing to save you and your family if she wants to file a dowry case he told us. What she says is always right. We told him we had evidence against her. He laughed saying a woman isn’t punished for adultery in this country. However she can file endless false cases against you, get you arrested and make you run around courts for years unless you agree to pay,” said Deepika.In Deepika’s case also the desire to work on a documentary and delve into the issues came when she saw a cousin suffering after his wife filed an FIR under Section 498A when actually the truth was she was having an affair.

According to Section 498A arrests can be made without any investigation and based on the FIR lodged in the police station. In 2014 the Supreme Court came up with the guideline that police officers could not go ahead and arrest the accused automatically and some parameters had to be followed.

“Despite that 1,87,000 arrests were made in 2015,” Deepika said.

The idea behind the documentary was to make people think about an issue that they never thought about or were not aware that it existed. “It is initiating a much needed debate on gender neutral laws in the country. Now that Judges, Magistrates, Police officers are seeing the film, I am sure they will be more sensitive and justice-oriented in their approach rather than gender oriented. I am trying to do the best I can to change mindsets where we believe it is only a woman who can be wronged.”

The response

In a country where men’s issues are rarely talked about Martyrs of Marriage has stirred the hornet’s nest and brought an issue to the fore in the most hard-hitting exposition of one and a half hours screen time.

“People who are absolutely unrelated to the issue have come to me after the screenings and cried hugging me, saying they never knew that something like this is happening and it is just so painful. The film has received a standing ovation at each and every screening across cities. In Mumbai, we had about 700 people giving a standing ovation to the film. Hashtag #MartyrsofMarriage trended on twitter on the night the film was screened in Mumbai. Experienced filmmakers, writers, directors hailed the film and its powerful presentation. People have called the film an eye opener, a revolution, one that is voice of millions across the country, one that raises very strong questions. People from cities where the film has already been screened are tagging their friends on social media in other cities where screenings are being planned, urging them to watch the film. The film has got very positive response from judiciary also. Retired and serving judges have been a part of the screenings and appreciated the film immensely. We have screened the film at Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy and Maharashtra State Judicial Academy too. People who are a part of the film have also appreciated the documentary. It has been a very satisfying experience,” said Deepika.

The Kolkata premiere of the documentary had an involved audience throughout. And the question-answer session at the end of the screening was indeed interesting and enlightening.

This article was published in Asia Times on January 17, 2017.

surrogacy

Surrogacy in India has two sides to it. While thousands of couples (even gay couples) both from India and abroad have found immense happiness through surrogacy, the industry which stands at a value of Rs 400 million, has come under the scanner for its exploitative nature because the surrogate mother in most cases gets into the process because of her financial needs and ends up with very less even though the couple seeking surrogacy pay through their nose.

Without any proper rules and laws in place the surrogacy industry has grown by leaps and bounds, most often by flouting all possible norms.

This is why in August this year the Union Cabinet approved the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, which is aimed at curbing unethical and commercial practices and preventing the exploitation of poor women as substitute mothers.

Malini (Aparajita Addhy) and Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) in Praktan

Malini (Aparajita Addhy) and Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) in Praktan

As I emerged from the movie hall with my mother after watching Praktan, I heard her muttering, “What was Rituparna Sengupta (Sudipa in the film) thinking?

I was annoyed, more so because it came from my mom, who has always believed women should fly.

“Who do you think I am like?” I asked. “The independent, non-conformist career-minded Sudipa or the home-maker Malini (played by Aparajita Addhy)?”

“Of course, you are like Sudipa,” my mom said without batting an eyelid.

“Then why did you make the comment?” I persisted.

“It’s just that she is such a nag. And Ujaan (Prosenjit in the film) is such a chauvinist. The relationship was a recipe for disaster.”

My mother had just summed up the crux of the film in the most simple way possible. Praktan is a film based on the relationship between two flawed, egotistical people, both of whom believe they are always right.

It’s just by chance that Rituparna is shown to be a woman with a mind of her own who smokes, wears modern attire, is an architect and has financial independence.

Wouldn’t we have hated Ujaan as much had the roles been reversed?

Had his first wife been Malini, a homemaker and he had checked her messages, told her to take his permission before travelling to her parents’ home, had been frugal with his time with her and had told her to leave on a holiday without him and had not turned up as promised, would we have hated him any less?

Sudipa could have been the second wife, the independent, career woman who could have been equally diplomatic, keeping the mom-in-law happy by letting her take the decisions, making the customary phone calls to keep the family in the loop about her whereabouts and at the same time not demanding any time from her husband, but remaining immersed in her own career, then would that have been more acceptable?

Praktan is a film that mirrors reality to a great extent and sometimes reality is regressive. Ujaan tells Sudipa that if his mother never had a problem with the rules in the house, why was she making a hue and cry about it?

In this one liner the filmmakers very clearly show how most Indian men react to independence and women.

Most Indian men grow up seeing their mothers do something and believing that is right. Indian men, who have moms with a career, are often used to seeing them coming home cooking and cleaning and doing the double shift.  So for them, independence comes with the superhuman qualities of doing the balancing act and at the same time conforming to the social norms set aside for women.

There is a scene where after her miscarriage, Sudipa stays up and cries while Ujaan is blissfully asleep. That scene reminded me so much of my friend who had a very difficult pregnancy followed by an operation after the delivery. While she grappled with the pain from her stitches and a constantly crying newborn at night, her husband would simply keep sleeping, not stirring for once. She told me she felt so angry then, that she sometimes thought of walking out of the marriage.

Relationships transform as couples move from courtship to marriage, yet another reality that was shown in Praktan. Sudipa actually had no clue that the suave, smiling, knowledgeable heritage tour guide Ujaan could actually become such a perpetually angry and dominating man as soon his ego was bruised, his belief in his capabilities challenged.

The skirmishes over her paying for their holiday to Kashmir to the misunderstanding over the tags left in the clothes that she gifts him (he thinks it’s to show him the price, while she thinks it would help if there is any need to exchange) or her dream of having a home of her own, very realistically portray the unseen battles that often crop up in a marriage.

In order for a marriage to work there has to be an effort from both sides. While spending time together is a prerogative for a good marriage, but if you don’t understand each other nothing actually comes out of trips to Kashmir or coffee shops.

For instance Sudipa has little understanding of Ujaan’s pride in his work. The scene where she walks in with the news of her own promotion and fails to see the clippings from the newspapers that have featured him, very subtly shows Sudipa’s obsession with herself.

Throughout the film Sudipa keeps blaming Ujaan for prioritizing his career but she also, to some extent, fails to understand his attachment to his family, profession, friends (he does not turn up at a holiday with Sudipa because his friend lost his mother.)

For me Praktan is less about how a career woman is being portrayed. It’s more about two people not making any effort to understand each other, something Malini probably tried to do and Ujaan probably made the extra effort the second time. The reason, most often, second marriages are successful.

Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) and Ujaan (Prosenjit) in a scene from Praktan.

Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) and Ujaan (Prosenjit) in a scene from Praktan.

No matter how hard Malini tries to prove to Sudipa that she has found bliss with Ujaan and doesn’t mind if he is there for her only a single day in the year, that their marriage is not flawless is clear from a single dialogue from their daughter Uditaa who says: “When mom gets angry at dad saying I can’t take this anymore, he gives her a chocolate and a kiss to make up with her.”

So the fights that were an integral part of his first marriage continue in his second, but this time he makes an effort to bring peace, something he had not done before.

It will also be wrong to look at Malini’s character as a regressive one because she gave up her career post-childbirth, adjusted in an extended family and most importantly, “supposedly” adjusted with Ujaan. If we are doing that we are once again categorizing women with our perceptions.

She is a woman who has pushed Ujaan to start his own business and appreciates him for not asking any details about her past relationship as she has not dug into his.

In fact, as shown in the film, the daughter has played a vital role in transforming Ujaan into a more mellowed and loving man. And why am I not surprised? I have seen the most self-obsessed men becoming doting fathers. And I have also seen men refusing to go home after work because they hated their house stinking of soiled nappies and hated the baby getting all the attention from the wife. I have also seen men choosing not to have children and being perfectly happy with the choice.

It depends on a filmmaker what reality he wants to show. In Praktan they chose to show the first one.

One might wonder why Sudipa was so bothered about Ujaan when she had herself found a worthy life partner and especially after all the pain Ujaan had inflicted her with.

People in failed relationships usually look for closure, a re-inforcement that jumping off the sinking ship was the only way out. Sudipa probably looked for closure too. She started off hating Malini, but as the journey progressed, she couldn’t help but like her over-boisterous persona. She looked at life more simply, a quality that Sudipa appreciated.

In my interpretation, meeting Ujaan was not closure for Sudipa, meeting Malini was.

Praktan is not a film with the most flawless script, but it is a film that holds its own with the most flawed characters.

Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn't believe the NASA scholarship news

Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn’t believe the NASA scholarship news

Since Ayoti Patra wrote on her Facebook note that Sataparna Mukherjee, the girl from Kamduni in West Bengal, has possibly not got a NASA scholarship, she has been bombarded with abusive messages but at the same time she has shown the right path to the Indian media (here is the original story) who quickly took up her lead. But who is Ayoti Patra and what made her take this step?

Here she is in her own words:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a PhD student of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. I did my M.Sc from IIT Kanpur and B.Sc. (Honours) from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi. I have spent my entire childhood and did all my schooling from Hyderabad. Although I am a Bengali, I have been to West Bengal only to visit my relatives. I mainly spend my time on theoretical research on ‘Optimal Control of Quantum Systems’. Apart from that, I also listen to Hindustani Classical Music being trained in it.

Where did you first read about Sataparna Mukherjee and the NASA scholarship?

I subscribe to a couple of news channels on Facebook. I came across it in the Times of India, The Logical Indian, etc.

What made you doubt the credibility of the news?

The news article had not one but multiple flaws.

-Getting a single offer valid for graduation, post-graduation and PhD without even clearing the 12th boards is something that can NEVER happen in real life.

-One cannot get an offer for studying Aeronautical Engineering for a theory in black hole! To do research in black hole, you need to study Astrophysics which is unrelated to Aeronautical Engineering.

-She will simultaneously study English at Oxford University! This is impossible again.

-NASA, a federal agency of the US making an offer to an Indian for studying in UK! It has to be a big joke.*

* For the sake of completeness, I would like to mention that it is possible for an Indian citizen to work at NASA as a postdoctoral research fellow, as a contract worker or as a PhD student affiliated to a US university. My university is less than 10 miles away from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, where my husband works. He is a PhD student of Astronomy at my university and works on a project at NASA. This is the official page of the project he is working on (http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/bettii/index.html). If you click on the ‘People’ tab, you will find my husband Arnab Dhabal listed there.

 What did you do after that?

At first, I just commented on the news articles that this cannot be true. I did not use any foul language but I was abused by quite a few people. Without doing a basic search about NASA or about my background, they said things like “You are a fool”, “People like you who always find faults and cannot appreciate true achievements are a shame to the country”, “It is because you are so stupid that you are nothing today, and she will go to NASA in a few months”, etc. It frustrated me a little and I became curious to find out some more about the girl. I searched for her Facebook profile (https://www.facebook.com/sataparna.mukherjee.5), through which I got the links of the two videos. Once I watched them, I thought enough is enough. Being a physicist, I took the nonsense about black hole quite personally. I decided that I have enough evidence against this news and I must do something about it.

 Were you aware that you were actually taking on the entire Indian media when you wrote your facebook post? Did you think that your post might go viral?

Definitely not. I am very inactive on Facebook and have a dormant profile. I was not even sure if all my friends could see this post on their wall. I had no idea it would get noticed and have an impact.

Do you think Sataparna has been duped or is she lying?

When I posted the note, I believed it could be either of the two options. But since then, I am gradually inclined to believe that she is probably lying. Since the post went online, I got a few messages from people claiming that they know her and that she plans to file an FIR against me. Some also claimed that she was a poor student who does not have maths as a subject. I have no means to verify if these claims are true. But this morning I received a message (image attached in the email) from her friend (https://www.facebook.com/sangeeta.bauli?fref=ts) which was written in a very bad tone challenging me to meet them face to face if I have guts. If she was duped, she should have clarified that she made a mistake or in the least looked into it herself. Instead, I have seen news reports like this where she still maintains that she did indeed win some NASA fellowship: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-nasa-denies-selecting-18-year-old-west-bengal-girl-for-top-scholarship-2185132

 Does it make you happy that many people and a section of the media followed up your post?

Yes, certainly. I am glad I was able to make a difference.

 Does it bother you that many news agencies are not giving any credit to you but are going ahead with their own stories about the hoax?

My only intention while writing the post was to expose the hoax, not to gain fame. Since that has been achieved, my job is done. However, I did not expect to see my surname changed from Patra to Mitra as in this article: (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/science/science/030316/shocking-nasa-shrugs-off-west-bengal-teenager-s-gip-scholarship-claims.html)

 Have you done something like this before too? (getting to the bottom of a hoax that is)

I always do to the extent I can. The only thing I have done differently this time is to publish my findings, the response to which has been overwhelming. I would like to thank everyone who has appreciated my work. This has certainly motivated me to be more vocal and spread awareness. In fact, let me grab this opportunity to promote Bigyan – a Bengali science magazine for the general audience (https://www.facebook.com/bigyan.org.in/?fref=ts), which was started by some of my friends.

 Your message to the Indian media and young people…

The media is very powerful and should act responsibly. They should not indulge in the race of being the first to get a sensational news out. Proper verification of the authenticity of a piece of news should be done before publishing it. Readers should not blindly trust whatever they see on social media either. A simple internet search can go a long way.

Another matter that I would like to draw attention to is that in India, too much importance is given to personal achievements like getting admission into a top international college, getting a high rank in IIT etc. Even the highest salary package becomes news these days. These are definitely important for the person concerned, but should not be grounds of hero worship. I believe that instead of focusing on these type of achievements, young people should focus more on the actual impact that someone brings about, be it in art, science or industry. Invention of a new technology should be bigger news than someone getting a NASA internship. The reason we have Sataparnas and P.V. Aruns today is because of the glorification of the wrong kind of accomplishments by the Indian society.