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Closet Diary of Richa Gupta (Founder – Zumbasa.com), New Delhi, India

She wanted to become a fashion designer back in 10th grade. Instead she studied Economics and then became a shoe designer. The designer aspirations didn’t work out too well but her love for fashion and shoes remained, finally finding expression in Zumbasa.com.

Closet Diaries: Style Secrets from Richa Gupta, Founder - Zumbasa.com

Richa Gupta, Founder – Zumbasa.com

Richa Gupta started her fashion website at the age of 25 (then under the name Du Couture, which eventually became Zumbasa), after completing an Entrepreneurship MBA course from NTU in Singapore.

Trying to find a footing in the big industry of women’s fashion, styling, apparel and accessories, Zumbasa focuses on bringing niche overseas brands to India, allowing women to dress up in their personal style rather than aping designer labels and by keeping customer needs in mind by reaching out to each one of them to ensure the right fit.

When she’s not brainstorming over the next collection to showcase, she loves traveling. One secret that most people don’t get to when they first meet Richa is that she’s a huge introvert. But today she’s shedding some of that and letting me raid her closet for style secrets, kicking off a new series on the blog ‘Closet Diaries’.

<Drumrolls>

Your fashion icon(s) and what do you like most about their style

I don’t have any fashion icons as such, because each person has an individual style and sense of fashion. But if I really had to name someone it would be Audrey Hepburn.

Your style mantra

My style mantra is comfortable and classy! Jeans, Top, Flip flops for the mall or a Midi fitted dress with short heels for a night out.

The biggest fashion faux pas according to you

What may suit me might not suit you and vice versa. Just wear what you want, whatever your heart pleases and never think about what’s right or wrong fashion wise. You make your own fashion and style.

Your favourite colour/print/patterns for this season

Pastels! Baby Blues, Mint Greens, Peaches and Pinks. Print wise I’m all for florals right now!

A designer you would love to be dressed by

Elie Saab. I’m quite jealous of Sonam Kapoor in this regard!

3 things every wardrobe should have

Nude pumps

Reliable pair of jeans that have lasted you or will for years

A knee length or midi dress

A fashion accessory you never leave home without

My bag and my nude lipstick. I feel incomplete without them.

You would pair Blue Suede Shoes with

Medium blue jeans and a white button down shirt.

If you had to burn all your clothes but one, it would be

This is what nightmares are made of! I would save my favourite pair of J-brand jeans.

Your wildest style experiment yet

This one really had me thinking hard and realising I’m a very boring person when it comes to fashion. But my wildest experiment has been with a short pair of shorts and a whole lot of people looking at me at the mall!

If you’d like to participate in this series or nominate a fashionista, holler on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll be saying ‘Hi’ very soon!

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Feasting on Friendship

Last Sunday, a dear friend and I met for lunch. Although we live less than ten kilometers from each other, we meet less than five times a year. Our last rendezvous was at a breakfast event earlier this year, which she was hosting. In between entertaining others and keeping things in check, we hardly got the time to ‘catch up’.

So this time, there was a lot we had to fill each other on, mostly her trials at running her own business, interpreting mixed signals from a certain gentleman of interest, dealing with her supportive but anxious parents with regard to her 30-year-old unmarried status and mutual exclamations at the horrors being inflicted by our ex-boss at a company we began working for right out of graduate school.

If I had to pick a best friend (among women), she would be it. In addition to being classmates at college, we had found a common interest, namely, commuting from the same location to our classroom nearly 20 kilometers away. When I wasn’t playing (and praying for) the empty bus lottery, I would hitch a ride in her cantankerous white car. Our adventures in that disheveled beast included water puddles at our feet from the leaky roof, lizards resting behind the steering wheel and a disruption in our philosophical ramblings by the sudden demise of the engine on a highway stretch with no help. The final straw was the shocking disappearance of that crippled metal mass from outside the office where we had begun our journey together into paid labor. The car was finally retrieved but by then my friend had fallen out of love with it. She gave it away to the plumber and got a swifter ride. And it has been so long since the fateful day that even the second car is being done in for a fancier ride this October.

Lunch at Cafe LotaShe and I were born in the same year, nineteen days apart. Being zodiac twins meant that over the years we had shared horoscope defined drivel that was supposed to explain our lives. To no one’s surprise, it never did. As we dug into a steaming Vegetable Stew with Appam and an aubergine curd dish with parathas, the conversation veered towards our present lives that couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Even though we spent two years at our first job together, the ensuing joys and sorrows have been uniquely our own. And yet we have been few dialed numbers away, hers being among the few that have been imprinted in my mind, unmarred by memories going digital.

Even though we haven’t been very regular with our correspondence, we ease into it when we do meet. There are no shields, pretenses or hidden cobwebs. It’s confession closet and more.

Nothing compares of course to the one time she called, nearly three years ago after a very long gap.

“Heyyyy (the long drawl is a must for our greeting)! How’ve you been? Lets meet soon. It’s been forever.”

The usual drill is for us to decide time and place, dependent mostly on which new restaurant we want to try, and then we meet soon after. This one time however, when she called I was lying flat on my back having given birth to my little girl a few hours before.

“Dude, you are not going to believe this, but I’ve just had a baby. So, yeah let’s meet soon. Come to the hospital maybe?”

And then we laughed and laughed.

Apple Jalebi at Cafe LotaSince then we’ve met several times, always with the little girl who addresses my friend as her own while distinct aromas pepper our ramblings. This time they posed and paired and shared a meal. And we parted having amassed stories until next time and after discovering that I could enjoy a sugary apple treat (with the right company) even if I’d never given it half a chance before.

For all our feelings of sisterhood, when we meet or call each other to spill all, there are portions of each other’s lives we’ve narrowly missed. That is the shape of things with us and this is how I know we’ll always be; without ceremonious chatter or forced smiles, but almost always with savory bites and hungry ears, waiting to devour the tales of lost time.

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Let Her Find Her Voice and Sing

“It’s a girl”.

Immediately after I heard her first cry the doctor informed me that I had given birth to a girl. Perhaps I was just imagining their lack of enthusiasm at the news, but while they ran customary checks on her, I wondered how people usually broke the news of a baby boy’s birth and whether it was as solemn. A little while later they handed her over saying “Here’s your daughter.” I had to stop smiling and purse my lips into a pout so that I could kiss her cheek. Truth be told, I followed the kiss with trying to check if she had my eyes. She didn’t, and I thought, “Ah well, perhaps it is better if she has her own version of everything.”

She was born in 2011, the year the Census in India came out with a grim statistic – the sex ratio in the country had declined to its lowest since Independence, at 914 females to 1000 males (the final population figures since put out by the Registrar General’s office have been significantly upwardly revised to 918). Infant mortality plays truant across the country but so does active silencing of the female voice before and after birth. Countless female foetuses do not get a chance to open their eyes and look at the world. Some who do grace the air with their first cry are forced into darkness, sometimes by helpless mothers but most often by ‘family’ who ask the mother to “look away” and forget all about it. And forget we do, because our collective consciousness has learnt to look the other way.

Nearly three decades before that census, an old woman drove through the summer night in an Ambassador car in central India. Her daughter-in-law was in labour after having laughed her heart out at a humour classic earlier that evening and had to be taken to the hospital. The father had not been granted leave by his (Government) employers. So the two women rode alone hoping to see a healthy, possibly laughter-loving baby soon.

The baby was born in the early afternoon the next day and was immediately diagnosed with infantile jaundice, which is a common ailment among newborns. However, this affliction was severe and the infant was placed in the nursery for nearly ten days with photo therapy that required the eyes to be shielded. The mother, a paediatrician, knew the range of symptoms and how bad things could get if the baby’s condition worsened. She may have cried thinking about all the bad things that could happen to the child. But ten days later, her little girl, was ready to see the world.

My early years were spent around the gorgeous hills in the north Indian state of Himachal. While I created childhood memories of river stream picnics, devoured years later through scenic photographs, my mother worried some more about her shy girl and how life would treat such a quiet child. It didn’t help that relatives did their bit comparing cousins and suggesting that the feisty tomboyish one would grow up to ride a bike and wipe the tears of the wailer. That image, like most other plans hatched too early, didn’t quite play out that way. But I found myself being encouraged to search for my voice, irrespective of the form it came through. Slowly I learnt that your voice that pushed forth your will was the strongest tool a person had, not by trampling on the sounds of others but by ensuring that you made yourself heard. Instead of looking the other way, I learnt that you had to jump right in the centre of the ring and fight; because there were things that needed to be verbalized and others that were waiting for just a little support. It also became amply clear that most people (women included) found nothing more fearsome than a woman with an opinion.

Under-graduate studies took me to an all-women’s college in Delhi, the nation’s capital, where I’ve been based ever since. During the daily commute by bus (living in the suburbs meant I needed to change two), I encountered molestation of the butt-pinching, breast-grabbing, hand-on-crotch variety, where only the degree varied over time. The more comfortable Delhi Metro had not begun then and there was no “women’s coach” to get pushed into. Like all other things a woman must “learn to live with”, we used elbows, safety pins and loudly shaming the culprit to get by.

This was also the time I was exposed to countless stories from around the world detailing the trials and triumphs of women through the ages. The suffrage movement in U.S. and Europe, the closeted yet brilliant lives of gifted women writers and harsher realities closer home that showed up in newspapers every day, and continue to, with increasing viciousness, today.

Rape, acid attacks, domestic violence, female foeticide, all stem from the base desire to silence and force into submission the valiant voice within a woman’s heart. This is the voice that often threatens established ‘norms’ and seeks an alternative life not crafted entirely by others. She questions, admonishes, refuses to accept all that women before her were ‘supposed to do’. This refusal to ‘conform’ and be ‘tamed’ creates conflicts, which unfortunately do not lead to questioning their relevance as much as it does to the silencing of the ‘aberrant’ voice of the woman.

~

Even as I write this piece, I receive a message from a female friend about having been accosted by two men on a bike at a crowded parking lot in Delhi in broad daylight. She was walking from the metro station, tagging along with the daily crowd, when these two men first started making lewd comments from a distance and then they pulled up closer. Before she had time to react, the rider pulled out a bottle and threw the contents on her face. In those fifteen minutes of chaos she was certain she had been attacked with acid. It turned out to be hot water. She lost her balance and collided with the pillion rider and they both fell. Her left arm was bruised and while she tried to get back up on her feet, the attackers had fled. The crowd that had by now gathered around her was full of people some of whom tried to help, while others simply stared or worse still, laughed at her. She could hear murmurs of “these things keep happening to girls”. Luckily a nearby vendor had noted the number on the bike and armed with that my friend went to the nearby police station to lodge a complaint. The officer on duty looked at her and said she probably invited the boys’ attention because of her clothes, which revealed her legs. He went on to suggest that since nothing was going to happen to the case anyway, she should just get out of the mess and FORGET ABOUT IT. She went on to lodge a complaint against the boys and the police officer. Based on the bike number plate, the boys were rounded up the next day and turned out to be local hawkers. My friend identified them and they were taken into custody.

I relate this incident here to remind us that it is not alright to find reasons for a crime against women in the clothes she wore, the things she said or how she behaved. And it is not alright to pretend like these things happen in a faraway universe outside of our lives. Or that these are everyday occurrences so we must all forget about it. For then we’re teaching our girls to ALWAYS BE AFRAID (or silent) and telling our boys that they can get away with ANYTHING. Neither of those reflects the true meaning of freedom.

Every year we proudly celebrate the decades since India became a free state. And yet it remains unfair to joyously proclaim this freedom when one half of the country’s citizens are denied the right to life with dignity. Why must a woman have to ‘fight’ to survive, thrive and lead a life on her own terms? Why doesn’t it bother enough people’s consciousness to do something about it, in their own, small way? Why must we close our eyes to the reality of discrimination, abuse and inequality and answer it not by punishing perpetrators but by forcing the female voice into submission or silence?

~

My life has had more in common with many women and most men from a similar socio-economic background than with countless other women across the country. This life has been unhindered by struggles that scores of women face everyday. My education, marriage, motherhood, profession have not been dictated by those around me. I continue to enjoy (or falter at!) the fruits of my labour, with support of those around me. This ‘privileged’ existence has come most significantly from the social milieu of the family I was born into, but it has also come from the uninhibited sky under which I was left free to dream.

As my daughter turns three, I continue to celebrate the things she says and does, to feed her curiosity of all the new things she encounters, to lead the way till she wants to walk alone. In all the things she and I will share over time, I wish we never have to talk about “learning to live with” being a woman in India. And when we do, I hope these words conjure up images of a carefree life, bound only by her will and not by externalities that force her actions.

~

Every child is born with a song in her heart, one that she polishes over time, humming and setting it to tune. It is for us to let her sing to her heart’s content, without erecting walls that trap her voice within.

—–

This article is part of the #BeingaModernIndianWoman archive, which is being launched on 15th August on Indian Independence Day. This storytelling initiative celebrates womanhood and freedom of (responsible) expression, and it’s a stepping stone to further economic opportunities for women in India. Please visit facebook.com/beingamodernindianwoman for more information.

#BeingAModernIndiaWoman

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Today I met the Queen…

…Not the octogenarian in England.

I’m referring to the Hindi film that has been receiving rave reviews since it released about two weeks ago.

Over the years most of my movie viewing experience has involved waiting for reviews (mostly from multiple ‘professional’ critics) before standing in line for a ticket. There was the sole instance of running across a deserted parking lot to catch a 10am first-day-first-show of ‘The Last Samurai’. But that was more about a Tom Cruise phase and mostly about the boy I was running with.

As it stands, I end up watching very few Hindi films in theatres. The industry produces an obscene number of very trashy material every year that I have no tolerance for. And when there is something interesting to watch there’s the challenge of finding a willing partner. One CAN watch a film alone, (It was just me at ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ for instance), but something about Hindi films makes them more family outing (adults only) friendly. As it turned out, all through dating years the boyfriend never wanted to step anywhere Hindi films. But now that he is the husband he has no choice.

So after the girls at work (and random people on twitter) were gushing over ‘Queen’ (“Every woman should watch this film”) I decided to force my man along and make a Sunday of it. Keeping clear of spoilers, I had been given to understand that this was going to be about a woman finding herself, in some form or another.

Having seen it and under no obligation to keep quiet, an elevator synopsis would explain it thus (SPOILER ALERT): Simple, sober, homely Delhi Girl gets stood up at the altar – decides to go on her honeymoon alone – Gets to Paris where she faces troubles at first but triumphs, meets French-Indian free-spirited woman who helps her loosen up (with ample alcohol) and widens her horizon (not ‘Mulholland Drive’ wide. That’s illegal here) – our Delhi girl then travels to Amsterdam where she continues her vacation at a hostel, sharing her room with three appropriately-ethnically-diverse men (French, Japanese, Russian) and finally finds herself.

I will give the film brownie points for not labouring on any matter endlessly and instead maintaining the feel of a holiday everyone is taking alongside the girl while she ‘discovers’ herself. But I will not call it a “path-breaking” film and am surprised so many people are labelling it that. It is peppered with several formulaic features like typical Delhi humour that has become quite common in recent films (Punjabi music, jokes, supporting actors and their quirks), cardboard characters she meets during her trip with their little background stories (Parisian girl with child out of wedlock because “that’s what people do here”, Muslim girl working at a strip club in Amsterdam to support her family, Japanese roommate who lost his parents in the Tsunami etc.). The only real departure it makes from the norm (of Hindi films) is side-lining the need for a male partner in the scheme of things.

It seems to me that the main reason everyone is applauding this film is the centrality of the female gaze and perspective and the fact that the film ends with a rejection of the reconciliatory advances of the fiancé who had left her at the altar. Perhaps the culmination with her walking out of his house after an honest hug is to complete the circle the film had begun with their cancelled wedding at the outset.

So riddle me this: Why is it that in coming-of-age films with central male characters, women are incidental to the story (usually only as sexual partners) and not linked to the man’s journey to self-discovery? And here everyone is rushing to applaud a film where a female character’s self-worth emanates most significantly from her rejection of a subscribed relationship?

Perhaps a truly “path-breaking” Hindi film that sets out to celebrate freedom would be one that does not need to establish a male character who must be rejected/accepted by the woman in order for her to discover herself.

And it should be family outing and popcorn-cola worthy. For all else there’s After Hours with Simone de Beauvoir.

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5 sure-fire ways to win an argument with your Man

Francis Picabia – Amorphis collection

1. At any point during the argument, throw him down. On the bed, floor, couch, grass. Maintain I-want-you eyes throughout.

2. Play the “You’re not getting any” card.

1 and 2 are polar opposites and can be used depending on which stage of the monthly horny-ness cycle (waxing/waning) you’re on. Yes, that’s a thing.

3. Start howling in a manner that is utterly disproportionate to the issue at hand. But use this sparingly. It gets old quick.

4. Stare at his crotch between sentences. Lick your lips, play with your hair. Distract him. You know how to work it girl.

5. And finally, when the argument is beginning to heat up, get quiet and mysterious and whisper that you’ve been meaning to talk to him about something. Then go around in circles. Remember, if you can’t convince, confuse.

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Raise the White Flag Oh Wild Locks!

It isn’t always a vain person who asks, “What must I do with my hair?” Decisions regarding the precious locks can have earth-shattering consequences. Whether you should wear them long/short, curvy/poker straight, black/burgundy are questions that can hardly be answered without trepidation.

Life was a lot less complicated when parents got done what they wanted on my head. I was too young to appreciate God’s gift to mankind in the form of countless strands that can be messed with any which way.

But this perfect-hair utopia didn’t last too long. Before I knew it, there were hair-styles to be experimented with, and I do emphasize the word ‘experiment’. The hair-scientist (read barber’s) scissors worked away with the promise of a solution to all hair woes. And just like any experiment the results over the years varied from the expected to the plain bizarre.

No matter what the experiments yielded, one thing was clear…there are primarily two kinds of people in this world (no not blondes and brunettes). There are those with great (by which I simply mean ‘manageable’) hair and those like yours truly. When I bargained for the wild quotient in my life I was certainly not talking about my hair.

Yes there are some near-perfect moments like shampooed-not-dry, just-had-a-hair-cut, combed-till-one-dropped. But these moments don’t make up for the countless others when directionless strands wage war against neighbours and refuse to live in the vicinity of each other.

There are products on shelves that promise hair-divinity. But a shampoo bottle that reads “For dry and damaged hair” on your personal shelf promises little that can be termed divine.

Perhaps self-help books on the subject (to the tune of ‘Count your strands while they’re still on your head’) may provide some form of solution. If positive reinforcement were a panacea for all hair woes I could’ve stood in front of the mirror everyday and said with conviction: “I have great hair”. This would’ve set off a chain reaction ultimately ending in belligerent strands raising the white flag. ‘Truce!’ they would’ve screamed and there would’ve been peace on my head.

Alas, head-peace oft appears a mirage in the desert. The search for the oasis continues while I save myself from sandstorms and sometimes contemplate going bold (read bald) in my approach.

If fate has it writ that I shall drink from the great-hair-all-day pool, so it shall be.

And until that day comes, the wild nature of a whole lot of keratin will keep the frizzy groove on.

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Love Song

There are three kinds of women in this world.

The ones I really like
the ones who make me yawn
and the ones I would not want to touch with a stick

Of course I would like to accumulate very many of the first kind in my life. But it often hands down the dreaded third sort.

An all girl’s school, a women’s college and an (almost) all women first job got me right at the heart of the matter…that the best friends and worst enemies are to be found on the female side of things (maybe because men are too busy imagining you naked…yes yes I’m stereotyping. Or am I?)

There have been many firsts with women-folk:

First friend-stealing affair. In sixth standard. At boarding school. Far far away from home. Tragic, lonely.

First knowledge-sharing seminar on prevalent sexual practices. During college. One night at a friend’s place, with semi-burnt pizzas and a cocker spaniel for company.

First unplanned trip. Free work weekend turned into what’re-you-doing-tomorrow madness. Slanting rooftop drinking, dreaming and star gazing packed into two super fun days with two super cool friends.

For all the inspiring, loving, merry-making ladies around, there are those who’re keen to suck the life blood out of you. I dedicate this verse to the very such:

Love Song_Darts

Beware mean queens, you’re all wrapped up
into senseless words that won’t amount to much
dress up, hold still, wait for the kill
derision laced darts are shooting down the hill

(Written with the heart of a five year old who wants to pick up a fight…you want a piece of me? Huh? Huh?)

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Newsflash: Witty repartee is the new Butter Chicken

reparteeA new revelation casts serious doubt on all previously held theories of male psychology. Recent conversations with members of the male species have brought up startling ideas, the central one being that sarcasm is the way to a man’s heart.

Until now it was a truth universally acknowledged that if you can please a bloke’s palate, everything else would fall into place. Mothers have tried to, sometimes even struggled to, pass on kitchen knowledge to their precocious daughters. But now if food has fallen from grace in the minds of men, kitchen knives might need to be replaced by sharp wit.

However, these revelations are based on certain assumptions that must be examined before we proceed any further. It has been empirically proven that to understand and appreciate sarcasm one must possess a nimble mind. But saying that all members of the male species are intelligent would amount to making a sweeping generalization. Therefore women must approach this subject with caution.

There are certain steps experts recommend to get the best results. First, women must ensure, after thorough examination, that the male-subject is more than a half-wit. Having satisfied themselves with that result, they must proceed to master the art of raillery. It would stand women in good stead to get in touch with their satiric side. A positive step in this direction would be to make contact with Mr. Wodehouse or Mr. Wilde. For a female perspective on the subject, Miss Austen would be a great help.

While borrowed wit can hardly be appreciated, originality will only come to the fore after diligent practice. It is advisable to continue the endeavors if the response is as desired. And if wit were reciprocated, be aware that you have greatness in your midst.

Practitioners of the art, both male and female, continue to vouch for its success. There have not been any reports of the mechanism failing at any stage. So perhaps it is time to reject old notions of seduction via Butter Chicken, and instead embrace the fine art of serving up delectable wit.