Monday, December 30, 2013

The year that was 2013

Picture from the net

The BIGGEST success of 2013 was the whooping growth of Social Media, which increasingly is being accessed on handset, Tabs, or dear old, laptop.

For me, starting with my declaration (which was highly edited by partner!) Up Close: Another colour of the rainbow, did excellent and brought forth what I love most – lots of laughter and admiration. I received calls from friends saying how much they enjoyed the piece.

Soon , followed my first meeting and interview with my all time favourite, Sanjna Kapoor. Along with the photographers we stood below her house in Delhi on one wintry morning late December 2012, to do the interview. She was her classy best and the interview was warm and full of memories of the past, her father, mother, grandfather and her new baby, Junoon. Of course like all mothers, she did stop  by to talk only for a bit though, about her biggest joy, her son.

March 2013 was a winner!

My partner’s book, Transgressing Boundaries was released by Zubaan book.

The interview with one of the greatest writers of our times, Madhulika Liddle followed.

Then, what I would love the world to remember him for – the last interview Rituparno Ghosh did was with me at his residence in Kolkata where he spoke on many things which are close to him and most of all, about himself. Talking to him was easy, as we shared something(s) in common, Advertising & Media being one. I am sad he is no more with us, because, at least the world would have seen a film surely on what he thought of the Nirbhaya issue and the way Media handled it. His question was: had she not been a girl in her early twenties, and hence, within quotes, at the marriageable age, fertile with the ready mix of stats that collate with how patriarchy looks at women, would Media be interested in the case? Hence, is Media not patriarchal at core? We may say that again, in the recent Tarun Tejpal case as well. If the woman was past her 50s, would Media, care too hoot?

In September, my publishers Xynobooks LLC, released my second Book, Laughing Stock Productions. A bag of laughter, it is what I call my Govinda Film – paise wasul – Get your money’s worth!

Closely followed the death of our friend Betu Singh.

October brought with it, the publishing article on one of my most favourite academic person, who can laugh and be joyous as well. Uma Chakravarti, whose work on the 1984 riots in Delhi, was path breaking. As a feminist and a historian, she has many books to her credit, but what she is doing now, is going to leave a stamp on Visual Art and Film making.

In November, I completed the first draft of my third book. In a nutshell the how to, lies is a magic formula – become single for a month, if you are partnered, write, outsource everything else, dramatise and play out your book in front of the mirror, take short breaks, drive yourself with your deadline of 30 days to write the full novel. You might do it in 21 even with the breaks, as I did!

To take a break from the mundane, I did my first translation/transcreation of a Tamil song I so, love.

Come December, I have been partying and rejoicing! I am truly grateful to 2013, for all that it brought to me and I know in my heart as surely as one good day, gives birth to an excellent one the next, or what the sages have said: The future is what you make of the present, 2014 will bring to pass all I want in my heart and carry my passion of writing to another level.  And so, I sit with my arms open to what will be, will be!

Happy New Year 2014! May it bring all the goodness of life, joy and happiness!



Friday, December 20, 2013

Fake or feminist?

Amrita Dasgupta & Anjanava Maitra
Long absences make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes they provide the much needed respite from the monotony of things around you and thrust you to a world where, everything is different. For me, this time, both were true.

Whenever I am asked, where I am from, I find it difficult to answer the question. How do you explain to people you feel you belong to the world, when actually all they mean to ask is, where do you come from, now. To answer their question, a reluctant Delhi slips through my mouth. How do you explain where you feel closest to your heart to live in?  

On most days, I live in cyberspace and not in any terrestrial space, although I occupy one. My world consists of people, I may have never met in my life and yet, I am deeply connected with them. Also most of them are now in two distinct categories – writers and activists apart from clients on my list of Facebook friends and LinkedIn connects. Sadly, of these, there are a few I have given more of my heart to, than I have received in return. Yet, I know, that they are instrumental to keeping me in my heart space, one which we take for granted at most times. The heart sutra for me is distilled in a few words, loving, forgiving, accepting the other for what they are and expanding my horizon and inner space to receive. In that sense, they give and I take.

Taking a break from the mundane and leaving the cyber world for the territorial, is a welcome change, when one connects with the real.

Marriages, they say are made in heaven, but they happen in the world of matter. An elaborate Bengali marriage, running into days, of fun, food, laughter and joy of two persons and families coming together, can be a burst of many wonderful colours and hopes and blessings. It is in order – patriarchal, heterosexual and the union is expected to bring forth one or two off springs which will then bring forth more happiness and joy around the couple and their families.

We did not grow up together, her mother and I, although we were cousin sisters. We lived in two different places, she in Kolkata and I in Shillong. It was after almost sixteen years of not seeing each other, that I in 1996, took a break to visit Kolkata. It was truly like meeting my extended family for the first time. There I met my niece, the one who just got married, sitting between two of her cousin brothers, the now very tall and handsome, boys, Shiba and Trishul. They were huddled together watching TV, although I suspect they were watching me, the alien animal from some other planet, supposed to be their mothers’ sister!

It all began then! The childhood memories of playing house, hiding under the bed, all three of us, Didibhai, Dadabhai and I, came back to memory, like a fresh water bath under the spring. I remember spending long stretches of time at their home, playing doll, going to the pattshala (informal school) where Dadabhai and I always sat on the floor at the back and talked, and talked, and talked! It has never been the same after that visit, 17 years ago.

Kolkata dawned to me, when these emotions returned. I suspect my love for Kolkata has nothing to do with returning to my roots, for mine are really in Shillong, but the pure love of connecting to my beloveds, my brothers and sisters, my mamas (maternal uncles) and mashis (maternal aunts) and their progeny.

Isn't it strange that I may hold out against patriarchy, the institution of marriage and uphold the rights of an autonomous human being, but when it comes to those my emotions are invested in, I am rarely ever militant about it?

So am I a fake or a feminist? These lovely pictures of the marriage, should tell.


Sunday, December 01, 2013

From ‘We Exist’ to “Just Married”

Photo credit: Bally Rai, Delhi Pride March
The Delhi Pride March has come and gone. Much fanfare and happiness followed the event on the 24th November, 2013 and it took a day or two for all the photos to be up on Facebook. The reception on FB was however, lukewarm, for right at that moment, the Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal issue took centre-stage high jacking the otherwise, expected much hype on FB.

Correct me if I am wrong, but this time media was chasing another story, with all its much overused masala of rape, abuse and sexual harassment, of which the Tejpal story is rife. Thus, LGBTQ rights took back stage, in the list of priority. Given that media brings discussions to the forefront but only those that they think need to come into limelight, so that the TRP and burgeoning sales of news papers and magazines are ensured, a subject as Gay Rights certainly is of little importance now. LGBTQ issues may be outside normative rules laid out by society, and therefore problematic to patriarchal structure of society, but it is at least consensual sex between two/more individuals. Sadly, even on Social Media, the expected LIKE/SHARE from other Groups in the same category also failed to show support in the face of the Tejpal mega story burst over days and instead of sharing and liking the photos, they too did their rounds with Tejpal.

The Tejpal story had in it what it takes the media and those who consume it, like you, me, of whatever gender, the ‘dope’ that humans all over hunger for - ‘negative’ stories like harassment, rape, abuse and such stuff. In Social Media, the pattern is the same. Negative stories receive many LIKE and SHARE, retweet etc, creating viral/trend effect across. All and everyone, world over are engaged in consuming, sharing, retweeting and putting across their views.

If you are not aware of, though, it would do well to know it now, the stories on Social Media which do their maximum rounds, showing anger and opinion, causing the much desired viral effect are from people below the age of 18 and therefore not adult. Indeed, their opinion is important but cannot change the environment, and the politics that affect our lives. If you are seeing viral effect and LIKE and SHARE in your profile updates, it is only among your friends. And how does that affect us? Wah! Wah! Back scratching. LIKE and SHARE again among friends of friends!

Who is then bothered about your love story, your consensual sex, even if it be among same sex partners, lovers? No wonder then, to make matters worse the photos of the Gay Pride March in Delhi, shared by one Group on Facebook did not even get enough LIKE and SHARE from rival groups, thus bringing forth another factor, which has been swept under the carpet for too long, the old ill at ease rivalry that maligns the Gay Movement in India, the disease called in-fighting. Indeed, it is not too different from the political environment in the country, where five states going to polls are screaming and shouting about themselves. Of course, we know those who scream the loudest, hear their own selves first. Others choose to put their hands over their ears and block out the sound.

Can we then urge the soon to follow, Mumbai Pride March, to muster opinion, by being on that side of News, which the world loves – negative news which feed the negative minds, and evolve a sound strategy to get attention, given that in times where any incident in India, like even a sexual harassment one, is taking on the colours of the political parties, fighting tooth and nail, over each other, the movement may just be another colourful walk through the by lanes of Mumbai. Unless, one masters the media trends which have remained the same, because humans consuming the information are the same, one generation replacing another, a call for being noticed will go up in thin air, no matter which media you consume, the print, electronic or the new kid in town, called social media.

To remind ourselves once again, when Zee TV started its channel in Delhi, way back in the late 90s, we were told that hour after hour was devoted to rape stories; women faced the camera boldly relating how this one or that had ‘baladkar kiya’, raped them. The TRP said it all! It was so high that no other publicity was even needed to make Zee TV one of the most watched channels in the state of Delhi.

If truth be told, come December, the Nirbhaya story will highjack all other stories and Tejpal, Arushi, will recede to the dark deep crevices of the Newsroom and again rape, harassment, honour killing will take centre stage.

To impact and create a buzz, one needs to peg one’s cause to a theme.  Why not use politics itself and ask why the erstwhile Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, living with a woman for the last few decades has not worked towards rights of gay marriages so far?  In the event of her death, will her partner over decades be left high and dry or would she naturally inherit the entire property, movable and immovable left behind?

In the absence of proactive laws towards same sex partnerships, the Movement is toothless. For the vast majority of people who are part of heterosexual community, the key to acceptance is not whether one is gay or not, but whether the laws of the country accept the partnership/marriage between same sex persons as legitimate. A shift from ‘We Exist’ to “Just Married” would drive in the point harder and cause much flurry in media, than one more Gay Pride March across the country. A Movement pegged on marriage among same sex partnerships, would thrust the whole debate of acceptance of persons inclined towards same sex partnerships/friendships, redundant. If the law accepts the marriage, it accepts who you are.


More photos of Delhi Pride March, 24, November, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nee… / நீ…You...

Nee...lyrics by Aisoorya Vijayakumar


With your coming
the pain sleeping in my eyelids
has subsided.
The little plant hiding in the seed
has sprung up to meet the sky.
My heart has come alive
with our relationship.

My eyes have opened
with ecstasy
Surprise, shock
laughter, goose bumps
admiration sparkle
in these eyelids.

In the screaming mind
loneliness persisted
but emerging from behind the curtain today
the frozen, cold moments sped away
the heavy burden days disappeared.

Half comfort
half happiness
thus, surprise
In these eyelids

Rough translation/transcreation Julia Dutta & Kanchana Natarajan


More lyrical scribbles

I wish to thank Coffeebeanzone for the permission to reproduce the song here with its translation from Tamil to English for a wider audience. I would like to admit, that the song has haunted me for the last one month so much, and evoked the transcendental in me, so much so, I could have left the world and gone up to the Himalayas for good, if not for you, dear reader, who dwells in my heart and for whom, I write my blog. Thank you all for listening, reading and your silent appreciation, which continue to show in the stats :)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stop being so butch!

I am sure, you have by now, aligned yourself to the realities of the Susan chronicles. If not, after you have read this post, do please stop by and read. (See below).

There is absolutely no reason why anyone, worth their salt in terms of wanting to break out and form their own social group, should study Sociology in India. You may want to know the reason why.

After spending a lifetime fighting the system and trying to set sail on her own, our protagonist, Susan, highly empowered by Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and her well endowed Sociology teacher at college, she decided that if Dagny Taggart of Atlas Shrugged could do it, so could she. She broke all rules including the biggest one called family, and formed a single unit, all by herself, only to get lost in the maze of the family once again. When she went back to her teacher many years after, because she could not forget the impact her bosom made on her, and many of her friends lurking around in dark and dingy corridors, her teacher could not place her in her mind.

“But I was your favourite student, wasn’t I whom you pursued to do my Masters?” Susan interrogated feeling rather annoyed to have lost her place in her teacher’s mind.

“Oh of course,” her teacher quipped, ‘I have a favourite in every batch. Besides you went on to do your Masters in real life. That is real Sociology.’ Susan was dashed!

Imagine, dear reader, having come a long way, all Susan heard was a list of students who had married, had children and were one big family just like her teachers. Her teacher confessed she could not relate to the one Susan had been telling her about – the life of a single woman, singled out in society, living in a maze of other families, all going along as life should be, going with the flow! There was Sunita, getting married one day, and Krutika having a baby the next and Mala becoming a grandmother on yet another occasion, it was evident from the scene around her, that Susan had got it all wrong, in the first place. What made it worse is that the family of ‘singletons’ coming together to make one big family, all single, but not ‘paired and cohabitating’ in the real sense of the term, had also taken a nose dive somewhere and got all mixed up, in butch and femme talk and landed in the bed with dramatic consequences – Who is going to be the man? And if one was a ‘man’, was ‘he’ going to read the papers all day and not participate in household chores? The argument can go on and on, but in a nutshell, getting out of one accepted structure and evolving another often undergoes a ‘me too’ first, which is exactly where, Susan’s problem was. Clearly she had not got out of one, only to walk into the other, where the figures dominating the unit, were clearly butch and femme, with defined roles which sometimes went out of hand.

“Are you not supposed to be that docile doormat, lady in waiting? But you are showing me a side of yourself, you never displayed while we were courting? You are like a man!”

“I am not a man! You are the man, but you behave like a woman!”

Let us not go into the philosophical angle of such discussions. Suffice it to say that gender is fluid and what you might be and feel this moment, may not be the same the next. There is no argument on this. Did we not hear about this highly philosophical adage, change is the only reality and this too shall pass?

Susan is in a mess. The more she has tried to get out of the system, the more it has followed her. Breaking out has not been easy, but what is harder for her to accept is that the brand new ‘family’ she was planning to make, consisting of singles only, has eluded her so far and again and again, she is at crossroads, which one to negotiate is always a tough choice. Most often one that makes her bounce back to where she started from.

Needless to say, there is going to be much hullabaloo on the 24th in India’s capital New Delhi and many are going to walk the streets demanding, their place under the sun and rejoicing in it. Susan is contemplating joining them, but she is wary and wants to know, whether they have really broken the cast, really, or are they all going to scream and shout in broken voices like adolescent boys, the winter having caught their throats nicely.

There is a plus, in all this though, Susan has concluded. While the rest of Delhi is busy getting married, having children, grandchildren, and going with the flow, the Delhi Pride March may let out a big sneeze, and many of its traditional junta might catch the cold!

Even then, there is a disturbing voice nagging behind her.

“Don’t be so cock-sure and stop being so butch!”

Stop by to read: The Susan Chronicle I

  Video credit: Queer Ink

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Uma Chakravarti, a larger than life picture

Dr Uma Chakravarti at home
These days she sees the world through the lens of the camera, bringing to life, the larger picture behind a person. She evokes in the minds of the viewer, the memory of women, lost to history. 

When she was born, her grandfather, an astrologer by choice, had predicted that she would lecture a lot. 

“ this is interesting,” she laughs, ‘because all my life, I have done nothing but used words. I do a lot of lecturing, speaking when I have to at meetings and doing workshops.”

Professor Uma Chakravarti, is perhaps one of Delhi’s, indeed India and the world’s best known writer on feminists issues that cover a wide range of subjects. She has worked and written on issues of caste, labour and gender and is active in the democratic rights and women’s movements. 

Born, in Delhi, on August 20, 1941, Dr Uma Chakravarti, hails originally from Palghat, Kerala where her grandfather’s ancestors had been invited to come there by the maharaja of Kollengode. The maharaja had created many agraharams for Brahmins who had come from Tanjore district to Palghat district. They were given 108 villages in return for acknowledging his status as a maharaja, which the namboodiri Brahmins of Kerala had declined to do. 

“My grandfather was a reformist of sorts and wrote leaflets against the practice of kanyadaan (the giving away of daughters in marriage). He questioned the practice. He also questioned the virulence of the caste system not only in words but in action when he invited the entire village to his elder daughter’s wedding but fed the Dalits before he fed the Brahmins, causing the latter to walkout”. 

Uma Chakravarti’s father studied in Palghat and Madras and moved north in 1924, to join the bureaucracy at the bottom level but worked his way up, retiring as Under Secretary. During his years of Service, he was in Delhi and Shimla, the summer capital of the British. Professor Chakravarti, the third of seven children, studied in Delhi and Bangalore. Exposed from an early age to many people from different spheres of life, Uma Chakravarti’s mind grew into a liberal, secular one shaped by the tragedies of the partition and the assassination of Gandhiji by a Hindu fundamentalist, both of which she remembers fairly vividly. An early learning of sorts and observation helped Professor Chakravarti, shape her own way of life. 

Although her father was in the bureaucracy, theirs was hardly an elite upper class home, but could be identified as an upper caste, middle-middle class home with no money for the extras of life. “There was never any money”. Having seen his own mother and sister as widows and dependent on the family, her father was keen to give all his children a very good education and insisted that his daughters were not only well educated but had careers of their own. 

Both at school (Delhi Public School) and later in College (Mt Carmel College), Professor Chakravarti, was not particulary studious but worked hard when the exams came around when even her father would be pressed into service in making notes from the reference books! At home with many siblings, she learned to find her own space and to be independent and self-sufficient. The girls in the family went about freely, just like the boys on bicycles to school and later to college as well. Growing up in cosmopolitan schools, none of her siblings including herself ever saw themselves as marked by a strong regional identity.  Rather, they learned to live with a cross-section of people. Uma’s best friend at school was a Sikh girl Satinder Khurana who hailed from west Punjab at the time of partition. This early preparation, helped to understand, or reason out, some of Dr Uma Chakravarti’s work, in later life, especially her enormous contribution to the oral history of people who suffered the after math of the 1984 Sikh Riots, in Delhi. 

Professor Chakravarti, studied Law formally, but it is her love of history, which drove her to do two sets of exams simultaneously—she went to the College of Law in Bangalore as a regular student also enrolled as a private student in History at Banaras Hindu University for a Master’s degree. The exams were a nightmare shunted between two cities to appear for her exams one after another. 

Although Uma Chakravarti did not become a lawyer, she has engaged with law, reading judgments closely for her writings. It is history which she went on to teach throughout a long career at Miranda House, Delhi University. It was here that she ‘engaged’ with history, teaching it in class and along with a group of really creative teachers in other colleges in shaping the syllabi bringing a new kind of history with a focus on the margins. These were heady years in Delhi University which also was the place from where an engagement with feminist issues began as the women’s movement in the city had its reverberations in the university too. Students and teachers raised feminist slogans in the campus and began serious research in women’s studies inspired by issues that were thrown up from the ground. Uma Chakravarti herself began writing on gender when activists insisted in the early eighties that she use her understanding of history to examine the relationship of culture and tradition to women’s oppression. Her first piece from a feminist perspective was an essay on Sita in myth and literature. A second essay examined the place of women in Buddhism. This was followed by a sustained engagement with gender. The nineties were spent in researching on nineteenth century Maharashtra, especially on the life and times of Pandita Ramabai published as Rewriting History - The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai (1998). She co edited  From Myths to Markets: Essays on Gender (2000),which was  quickly followed by another co-edited volume Shadow Lives: Writings on Widowhood (2001). In 2004 Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens (2004), was published. All this was of course preceded by The Delhi Riots: Three Days in the Life of a Nation (co-authored) and her own Ph.D thesis Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism (1987)

You would imagine that such an active scholar would in fact be rather somber by nature. The surprise is, she is just the opposite. What drives people to her is her vivacious nature, her laughing face and the pure energy she exudes which is that of a very positive person, very active, both mentally and physically. She mixes the sophisticated intellectuals of our times who values her roots, albeit she may not exhibit it blatantly. Her home is an example of the openness of her mind; indeed as you enter, you encounter treasures from the past, in the paintings and the handicraft that greet you, but you don’t see any door that shuts the visitor away from the rest of the house. One room looks into another and even opens up the kitchen, as if the outer and the inner are one, open.  

Dr Uma Chakravarti can truly be called ‘midnight’s children’, when as a child of only 6 years, she witnessed the partition of India and Pakistan and the aftermath thereof. She has seen the days when, this major happening changed their lives completely. From bread man, to dhobi, to house help, maids, gardeners who came to work in their homes, to neighbours, all became divided into whom you could trust and whom you were told not to. The normal roads that took her to her school, or people to their work destinations changed overnight, to traumatic places, forever guarded and hounded by the Police force, the army and suspecting neighbours. 

“Even as a child, it was impossible to keep away from the trauma of the times; it was in the very air around you.” What as a child, she was an onlooker to, as an adult she became part of the tragedy that finally culminated in her historic co-authored book, The Delhi Riots: Three Days in the Life of a Nation. 

What attracted her to her husband Anand Chakravarti, who is a Sociologist? He was actually her brother’s friend, whose name too is Anand, and had been a visitor to their home in Bangalore.  Later Anand was in Benaras at the Gandhian Institute, at the time Uma went there for her exams so they took a boat ride down the Ganga which was a nice way of getting to know each other and their view of the world. 

“Probably it was the idealism. He was fixated on the idea that society needed to undergo change, structurally, economically, and politically; there was a lot that needed to be done. Although, he came from an affluent background, he was disturbed by poverty and deprivation, which you could see all around.” Straight after her marriage she joined him in Rajasthan where he was doing fieldwork for his Ph.D on social and political changes in the village. 

Anand and she spent one year in the village, studying political change on the ground. Very quickly though they became aware that there is no structural change that was happening at all; the state colluded with the dominant so there was little that changed for those who were at the bottom end of society. Both Uma and Anand have been part of many fact finding teams that have investigated communal riots, agrarian violence, and state repression. During one such investigation Uma describes what she saw:

“As we entered the village, we encountered the body of a young man, whom we assumed had been killed by the police force, but no! We were shocked to know, that he had died because, the family did not have the rupees two hundred that was required for the treatment of this man.”
The callousness of the state towards the poor has horrified them .

Together they have two children, a daughter, Upali who is a teacher and she along with her husband and son, live just above Uma’s own house. Siddhartha, Uma’s son, is older and lives in the US. 

Professor Uma Chakravarti’s contribution to feminist literature in India, is best found in her own works. Relentlessly, over the years she has been uprooting from the buried past the oppressive norms that work against the freedom of women. 

Where does Dr Uma Chakravarti find her relentless strength to write and put forth lives of women, who broke the cast? Perhaps the best summation of the above, is crystallized in her dedication, Rewriting History - The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai. 

“For my grandmothers Alamelu and Lakshmi, who experienced the routine humiliation of ‘adult’ widowhood, dependence, and a reluctant maintenance from their sons; my aunt Parvathi, who was married at twelve, mother at fifteen, deserted by her husband in her twenties, widowed at thirty-four, mortified eleven years later by the painful death from consumption by her eldest daughter, condemned to replace her as an unpaid domestic drudge for twenty-four remaining years of her life, my father, P.S Doraiswami, who even at the age of ninety, suffered the guilt that some sensitive men have felt at not being able to do enough to prevent the anguish caused to the widows in their families, my mother, Saraswathy, her sister Vijaylakshmi, and their father, P.V. Aghoram, who resisted and broke with the oppressive practices of Brahminical patriarchy so that I and my sisters and our daughters could have a better today…”

This dedication sums up the source of the fire in the belly, in a nutshell. That is also why, the unrest within to go out there, and listen, read, record, wherever, human torture and anguish is crying out loud.

“It was around 2.30 pm, when we heard on the BBC that Mrs Gandhi had been assassinated. The state was still waiting to make it public, as they waited for Rajiv Gandhi to return to India.” The rest is history, but what was not, till she along with her student from Miranda House, made it one, is the oral histories of Sikhs who underwent torture and killings in the hands of the state, in what finally came out as a 658 pages recorded transcription in the book, co-authored with Nandita Haskar, The Delhi Riots: Three Days in the Life of a Nation. 

Excerpts from the book:

“In the night the Pandit came back. He opened the door and told us to run away. But where could we go? There was danger everywhere. I went to my house – everything was looted and burnt. Opposite my house there was a jhuggi with a charpai. I went and hid under the charpai and remained there. In the morning again the mobs came. They were searching for the last Sikh still alive….They dragged me out and were going to attack me…” – Phanda Singh, pg 77.
“I think that T.V had an indirect role to play in creating a particular atmosphere in every drawing room in the city because of the single monotonous focus on the mourners filing past Mrs Gandhi’s body…Do you remember the slogan, “khoon ka badla khoon se” was first heard on T.V? And although we could see efforts being made to quell the slogan-shouters, we were allowed to hear the slogan. I think that was provocative and deliberate you might call it the official signal to go ahead.” – Rashmi Bhatnagar, pg 656

Today, she has changed her language of expression to the visual arts and has already produced two films, one on the life of a child bride who went on to participating in the national movement even though her husband was a salt inspector for the colonial government as depicted in a book, titled “Fragments of a life” by Mythili Sivaraman and the second, a documentary on the life of the author of the book herself, who is slowly losing her memory and struggles to remember her own past. Titled Fragments of a Past, the film is both touching and revealing as it covers the period from 1960s to the 1990s when Mythily worked relentlessly for labouring men and women, documenting their oppressions through her writings most of which she does not remember now.  

Dr Uma Chakravarti’s work as a film-maker, is of utmost importance, as she captures on screen, scenes of lives and happenings that cannot be ever lost to time, or moth eaten, as might be in the case of books. Working with an all women team, representing a wide section of women from all walks of life including the visual arts, her films, will outlive the shorter life of creative material, and stand as testimony of truth. 

Dr Chakravarti lives in Delhi with her husband and is surrounded by friends and family who have been with her, throughout her years. 

Her grandfather may have predicted that she would have a lot to do with ‘vac’- word and speech, but he would have never imagined his granddaughter to have used so many different forms of communication, the blessed spoken word, the written word and now the visual art. 

What a larger than life picture Uma Chakravarti is! 

References and Bibliography:  www.womenswritings .org, The Delhi Riots: Three Days in the Life of a Nation , Rewriting History - The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai. 

The author wishes to thank Dr Uma Chakravarti for giving her an opportunity to write about her and helping develop this article. Thanks is also due to Dr Kanchana Natarajan for lending books by Dr Chakravarti.

First published in Dignity Dialogue, November Issue, 2013

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Each one, teach one.

Come November, the Pride March in New Delhi will cause a flutter of the different colours of the rainbow, causing TV Channels and other media, hungry to fill up pages and news slots to run helter-skelter picking up news and views and flashing them across national and international channels. Major discussions will take place on Television and brick and bat will meet and strike in air and newspapers. Then, as suddenly and passionately as it came, it will die out leaving late comers to catch up on social media. Shortly following this Mumbai will catch the fire and will themselves walk the streets with Pride. In both cases, the state will take care to ensure that while trying to put up a face of acceptance and support of the movement, it will ensure that the Pride March does not pass through highly populated sections of the city or close to places where the government sits and allow the Pride walkers to March in what one may call, less than truly visible locations so that the rest of the population are not inconvenienced by the Pride March. 

We are a hypocritical society, down to the chaddi/underwear. What we appear outside is not what we practice inside. Showing the world that there is place for Pride in our society, we hide deep seated paranoia on the other.  

After living for over fifteen years with her partner in a live-in relationship, Susan, an anthropologist by profession, was literally asked to leave her life with her partner, because, her partner’s mother came to live with her. Even though, earlier, she had no qualms about her daughter’s live-in ‘friendship’, and often, in more than words, she confessed that she was quite satisfied that her daughter had a ‘friend’ to live with, now, that she actually confronted the relationship on a daily basis, she found it impossible to live with the reality. She began to talk in a language that was more often the language of action, than of words, in silent speech, pregnant and bursting in the seam with the evil power to cast out Susan’s presence and throw her to the swine. Mind you, deep seated venom and vengeance of patriarchy against any ‘unestablished’, unaccepted norm is stronger than the whole Indian army in action at the borders of the country. 

If Susan put her books in one place, she would find that the place was soon occupied by her partner’s mother’s library. If Susan hung her clothes in the cupboard she used, she found she was asked to vacate it for her partner’s mother. If Susan was in conversation with her partner, she found, that they were soon joined by her partner’s mother without an invitation to do so. If Susan was sitting with the family, the language of conversation, soon turned to one Susan could not understand. In a nutshell, the very presence of Susan had begun to cause an allergy to the mother. What was more; her partner would not voice her objection to her mother’s odd behavior causing Susan to believe that by maintaining a silence over the abuse of space, her partner had indeed become accomplice to the abuse dealt out towards Susan. This was unacceptable to Susan who decided then to tear away from this mess till her partner came to some understanding of what to put where and how to compartmentalize her relation with her mother as different from her relationship with Susan. After fifteen long years, their relationship went into hibernation.
This is not an extraordinary situation in our society. Decriminalization of homosexuality, accepting gay marriages, and maybe in time, even accepting gay quota in the parliament will not take a basic problem out from our society and that is, we are a nation of hypocrites and what we mouth, may not be what we believe in our hearts. And this is problematic!

Together with advocacy for gay rights, it is highly important that we talk about acceptance, within our families.  We can’t allow the Susan kind of episode to carry on, as if there is nothing to do, but accept the situation.  There is an urgent need to create space for many issues around gay rights. 

And really it should begin at home, with the family, first.  


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stay away, you prick!

I am quite sure you are aware of the story that is going around on the internet these days?



Well, it is an age old discussion: how do you tell men that women count. That women have desires that need to be addressed, and men can’t just turn their face the other way pretending that because they, gendered male, made sex with a woman, she is over the hill with joy!

The First Online Tamil Lifestyle Magazine called Tamil Culture ( See link below) has done it going way out to bring sense to the male (It’s just about the penis) mind, to consider women’s desires too, before they go the whole hog to say, that only men count.

The nicely done article by Niveda Anandan hits hard on men. “But we Tamil women get horny too. Contrary to popular belief, we have sexual urges as well. Just as you experience complete sexual liberation, we wish to have the same without being judged and ridiculed as “not marriage material”. We are not objects to be judged as “easy” or “used” and are disgusted that you would even use these terms to describe us.” Atta girl!

Now, what is marriageable, material you may ask?

Please note: virgins, women who have never touched a man or not been touched by one either, who have kept their bodies covered and not exposed it to public, who have not hungered for sex, in mind and body, these are your, yours truly virgins; woman who have not had sex, before marriage, in other words. The impossible, is hardly possible in these times!

In a culture that is schizophrenic, caught between the extreme conservative and traditional while at the same time modern, Indian society stands as a classic clash between the past and the present. Really there are no women out there who fear being ‘deflowered’ before marriage. They simply follow what they have been taught from childhood – virginity is paramount and must be a treasure to be offered only on the night of marital conjugation, that too with a man, of course. Many are bolder and don’t waste their youth on such rules. Behind the curtain, sab chalta hai, everything goes!  They simply hoodwink the parents/guardians and go ahead to take a “full body dip, in the well of passion”. Refreshing change!

I ask why is it important for a woman to be a virgin to be marriageable. And the answer is: it boils down to that absurd practice remember, patriarchy thy name is foul. Primitive, regressive and downright demeaning, patriarchy is about possession – the body of a woman, land, house, wealth, jewels, all and everything that must go to the child who is the ‘real’ inheritor of the wealth, which is the legitimate child of an unpolluted (read virgin) woman, who belongs to one man.  
There are other questions that come to mind. Why has the article not addressed the growing numbers of women who love woman? In a state where the Chief Minister herself has been living with a woman for decades, why has the author not addressed these desires as well and told the men off!

If desire for love and sex is not to be dominated by the penis, then, it certainly breaks the patriarchal norms, and finds its own shore in some other bed. And that discussion has been left out, sadly. So, really, while fighting the battle against capital ‘P’ – prick and/or patriarchy, has the author, sidelined same sex partnership as a valid and bold route to overthrow the ‘P’-factor that ails our society?

Tamil Culture Online Magazine:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

One step forward; two backward!
Earlier this year, in February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy because he is gay and "could no longer live a lie."

Quoting The Daily Currant, February 28, 2013, “In a statement released to Italian news media the 85-year-old departing pontiff says he is relieved to be coming out after eight decades in the closet and urged the Catholic Church and other faiths to accept homosexuality as a natural part of God's creation.

"Like many gay Catholics, I have been forced for too long to choose between my faith and my identity," the statement reads. "My profound love for my beloved church compelled me to lie to myself and to my fellow believers about a basic component of my humanity.

"I deeply regret that deception. I have not been honest with the Church, and for that reason I decided that I could not continue my role as leader of the world's one billion Catholics.

"Now that I have been liberated of this secret, I wish to express my belief that homosexuals are equal in the eyes of God. I beseech the Catholic Church to reconsider its ban on gay clergy and become a leading force in the struggle for gay rights."

Since then a whole lot of rumours which in any case float around almost all religious institutions went flying around the world. It is suspected that at the senior level homosexuality in the papacy exists. Indeed, many even have a secret conclave within the Vatican who visit the local brothels.  Not only that, people are shocked and the outrage that followed said, Pope Benedict ought to have remained in closet, which he had been doing for eight decades!

"Look everyone knows that the only people who sign up for a lifetime of living in all-male dormitories with no possibility of marriage are gay men," says Phyllis Gates, a conservative Catholic blogger. "But why did he have to actually say it? Denial was working so well for us."

Then, followed denial:  "I don't believe him," Santorum says from his home in Washington, D.C. "Homosexual activists have clearly compromised Pope Benedict through blackmail or brainwashing or some sort of queer subterfuge.

"He's not gay. He can't be gay. That's just not possible. He's just pretending for some reason. And it's my job to figure out what that reason is."

And finally some positive reactions were:

"It's heartening to see a leading person in the Catholic Church finally take a stand for equality," says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "The church has hitherto been one of the most powerful anti-gay rights organizations in the world.

"Although it's a shame that he was forced out because of his orientation, we're all hoping that Pope Benedict's words of tolerance will resonate with people of faith around the world."

Gay Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan, who speculated yesterday about a homosexual relationship between Pope Benedict XVI and his personal aide, was phlegmatic towards the news.

"I wish I could take some credit, but honestly anyone could have predicted this. No women, fabulous hats, and Prada shoes? This is the gayest institution in the world."

Nearly one year has passed and there are some points I want to bring forth to my readers:

(a)   Pope Benedict XVI ought not to have resigned because he is gay. He ought to have declared his sexual preference and continued as Pope giving out a strong statement to the world, loving/having same-sex partners, was a positive way to be.
(b)    What has religion got to do with one's sexual preference?
(c)    Why must the Pope remain in the closet, as some suggested? It has indeed taken him 8 decades to come to term with himself and his identity. Instead of celebrating his courage, why are we suggesting he remains lying about his preference?
(d)   Indeed, why is sexual preference, such a big issue in the first place? How does it really matter?
(e)   Coming out is not so much a declaration to the world as much as accepting oneself, in the first place.
(f)     Keeping it a secret/ in the closet, is the Pope’s choice, not anybody else’s choice, at all. There is no need to suggest anything either.

Read the full article
: Pope Benedict XVI comes out as gay. The Daily Currant, February 28, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ek-onkar satnam!

The moment I saw, Dr Daljit Singh’s Clinic, in Amritsar, I was elated. The name brought memories for the first Sikh sisters in my life, at the boarding school in Shillong. Daljit and Jyoti, were from Amritsar. Jyoti, who was in my class, gave me the first kada, in school and it was a steel one I remember. Ever since, I have worn a kada on my wrist, most of the time. In later years, I met many Punjabis, but the Sikh girls left a lasting impression in my mind.
There was Arvinder Kaur too, later in my life in Mumbai. She had once asked me, before she left to Amritsar – What shall I get for you? I said, get me the Golden Temple.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar, is one of the most profound experience I have had in this life. I arrived very tired from Jalandar to be at Amritsar for a night. I was sure, I wanted to stay at the temple premises and also eat at the langar. A comfortable room, just outside gate # 2 gave me a pillow and a bed to sleep the night. Before I had put my head down, I went to the temple to pay my homage to Guru Granth Sahib.
The golden temple premises and the temple itself are silent. The only sound you hear is the recitation of the Granth Sahib and the sound of the plates at the 24-hours langar. Thousands and millions of people visit every day, but, in groups, waiting and moving, all get to see the temple which houses the Guru Granth Sahib, the only text the Sikhs worship. There are no pandas, no one coming to disturb you with an offer to take you in, through the back door if you pay Rs 1001! Like the belief of the Sikhs, there is only one way that leads to the inside of the temple where the Guru Granth Sahib is worshiped. At every nook and corner, you will find, women and men, doing seva – giving you water to drink, keeping your shoes and luggage, allotting rooms and sleeping places for you to stay. There is no talk, no gibberish going on. Everyone is with the nam on their lips or on their mind. No wonder, for that night and two nights after, I heard only the nam, even in my sleep.
Wikipedia  says – “Satnam (Gurmukhi:ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ) is the main word that appears in the Sikh sacred scripture called the Guru Granth Sahib. It is part of the Gurbani shabad called Mool Mantra which is repeated daily by all Sikhs. This word succeeds the word "Ek-onkar" which means "There is only one constant" or commonly "There is one God". The words sat means "true/everlasting" and nam means "name".In this instance, this would mean, "whose name is truth". The word nam in Sikhism has two meanings. "It meant both an application and a symbol of the All-pervading Supreme Reality that sustained the universe. Guru Nanak in his teachings emphasized the need of repeating Sat-Nam to realize the All-pervading Supreme Reality.”
I did not find my friends, Daljit and Jyoti there. I did not find many other friends I have had from the same Sikh religion. I did not seek them too, even the next day, when under the sun of the everlasting sky, the temple, spoke the same language – here, within this hallowed shrine, is the only God and He has a name - Ek-onkar satnam!
Memories faded as I left, some of whom, made contribution to my life, people I have lost in time, but people, who were valuable to my experience of life and made it richer.

Happy Dussera, my dear readers, from across the globe, who have helped this blog to cross way above 100,000 readership. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Kurukshetra II: Dynasty VS Dalit power in UP

The stage is set. The battle of 2014 for UP is going to be one of the most spectacular sight ever seen in India politics. On the one hand, you have a puppet-down-the string, Akhilesh Yadav, a symbol of youth force, with his nada (string) tied to his father/uncles who are the players from behind the wings, although he vehemently denies it. His cabinet is full of criminals, inherited from his father’s times as CM of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh. He may be resisting the influx of goondas to his cabinet, but there is nothing he can do, about his lineage. Bare little, I would say, if they are his father’s best friends, trusted allies, even blood brothers, cousins and the like.

The Yadavs are from a place called Saifai, in the heartland of goondaland, Etawah. Ever since, his father entered politics, the goondas too followed to join public life, even reaching the Rajya Sabha! There they found others like them from Jharkhand, Bihar and other states, to make merry and rake hell with public funds. In UP, indeed, all the goondas are in some way or the other related to the Yadavs. Goondagiri, is their parampara, their inheritance and culture.

But Alkhilesh Yadav is made of different ether. He wanted to join corporate life, maybe, because, he did his Masters on Environmental Engineering from Australia. Throughout his life as a student, in Dholpur Military School, or Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering, Mysore, he kept a low profile and in fact, no one knew he was the son of Mulayam Singh, CM of Uttar Pradesh. It is while holidaying in Dehradun, when he received a call from his father saying, he had to return to file his nomination.

Akhilesh was never a disobedient child, not a rebellious one either. In fact, the real Akhilesh is demure and shy and if a goonda happens to be his uncle, he will touch his feet in public even.

Now, take his major opponent, Mayawati. Four times Chief Minister of UP, Mayawati is a phenomenon, few Indian politicians can match. Rising from a poor Chamar background, Mayawati, born on 15th January, 1956 in Delhi, is the daughter of Prabhu Das, a post office employee in Badalpur, Gautam Buddh Nagar. In 1975 she passed BA and went on to do LLB, at Kalini Women’s College, under Law campus (Delhi University). Her aim, like many from depressed classes in Delhi, was to join the IAS, because that was the ultimate seat of power, as perceived by most people. In 1976 having completed her B.ED, she joined Inderpuri JJ Colony as a teacher. In the following year, 1977, Dalit politician, Kanshi Ram visited their home and changed her destiny – "I can make you such a big leader one day that not one but a whole row of IAS officers will line up for your orders." Kanshi Ram included her as a member of his team when he founded the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984.

After that, the growth tangent has only gone up. She is the first female Dalit Chief Minister in India. In the true sense of the word, she is of the people, by the people and for the people. The Dalits love her, trust her and call her their Behenji. She has the unfailing support from Dalit women, across the country. And no matter what her report card may show vis-à-vis corruption and amassing wealth, it can’t be worse than what the goondas posing as politicians across India have managed to siphon off from public funds, in the numerous ‘deals’, scams, and what have you.

About Mayawati, one can say, that when she is in, the goondas are out; about Akhilesh Yadav one can definitely say, when he is in, goondas are in. As an administrator with a tough hand, he fails because, the inheritance from his birthplace, although his parentage was from farmers, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav being a Socialist even, highly influenced by Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. Yet, the ancestral homeland was plagued by men who lead a life by killing, snatching, threatening, in short, goondagiri. As long as Mayawati was in power the goondas were in hiding, as soon as the Yadav scion came in, so did the ruffians.
Faced with these facts, the real battle in UP, is not only about the Yadav dynasty, it is also about what is Akhilesh going to do with this khaandaan?

“Now Arjun saw stationed there in both the armies, his uncles, grand-uncles and teachers, even great grand-uncles, maternal uncles, brothers and cousins, sons and nephews, and grand-nephews, even so friends, farther-in-law, and well – wishers as well.” (Bhagavadgita: Verse 26 and first half of 27)

If the Arjun in Akhilesh Yadav trembles and he is not able to raise the bow to destroy the past which continue to rise its ugly head, then, it is better that the scepter is won by the first female Dalit Chief Minister of the country, who knows how to eradicate the ravanas from her Ministry and push Dalit issues to the forefront in UP. So the real battle, the Kurukshetra is between dynasty and Dalit power.

Even if her obsession with PMO, must wait in the wings, for only a few months post the 2014 elections, she can clean up her house in Uttar Pradesh, to be dirt-free, once again.

(1)There is no reference made of congress here, who in my opinion, have lost their pie in any case, in UP and no matter how many times, Rahul Baba, dines at Dalit homes or claims to adopt a Dalit girl child, the much enlightened and aware Dalit population of today can see through his guile.
(2) All thoughts presented here are my own.

Picture creditCourtsey:

Recommended readings: Behenji - the biography of Mayawati by Ajoy Bose and Akhilesh Yadav - Winds of Change by Sunita Aron

Vidya Subrahmaniam,Deputy Editor, The Hindu, 2008

Friday, October 04, 2013

Silent is the lamp...

At the break of dawn, a lamp went off!

The year was 1995. I travelled to Delhi with two people from a film production company called Mantra Magic Films, from Mumbai. We were to remain in Delhi for 4 days to attend a Week of Broadcasting at Pragati Maidan. While my colleagues put up with their cousin’s at Nizamuddin, I settled into the very clean, very white, very British YWCA Guest House in Delhi. The room felt very cold and distant and while I was in Delhi, I wanted some warmth and friends around. I did not know anyone in Delhi, at that time except that I had got an address and phone number of two people, who were part of the women who desire women community in Delhi. I called the number and talked to someone, who said that they had a guest room where they put up women who came from out of town.

I checked out of YWCA and moved in with them. The house belonged to Giti Thandani and the two girls I met there introduced themselves as Cath Stuggart and Betu (Anandita)Singh. While I was away all day, I liked the warmth of their presence in the evenings, the quick breakfast with them in the mornings, little chats and sharing. I liked my little room on the top with an electrical kettle, tea bags, milk sachets, books and magazines on same-sex love. The little room was a sheer delight, with a window that looked out at the world, from the top. And on the last day of stay, I enjoyed meeting other women who desired women, in a neatly arranged beer and chips party on the terrace of the house.

I struck an instant rapport with both girls but Betu is someone I spoke to from Mumbai too after I returned. There was something in that child-like face that attracted me a lot. Cath Stuggart was staying over from England and learning Hindi and together they were doing a great job of managing Giti Thadani’s Office-cum-residence in Delhi, while she herself was in Germany.

The first beginnings of Sangini, began in Delhi, supported by the well-known Naaz Foundation. Betu and Cath were instrumental in bringing this to life.

Today, at the break of dawn, the lamp went off. Betu (Anandita) Singh passed away, the immediate cause of death being, stage 3 of cirrhosis of the liver.

This brings me to the main subject I want to write about.

The LGBTQ community in India suffers extreme isolation, marginalization and hence is an extremely lonely community. While there is a lot of companionship and friendliness among people, the togetherness is absent. People meet for drinks, dating, parties, but that real family feeling and togetherness is hard to come by. In the earlier days, the in-fighting overtook the outward seemingly out and about façade.

It has taken many of us a huge amount of courage to come out to family about our sexual identity. Very few families accept and support people who are out. So there is already the family one is fighting to find approval in and then there is the society at large, which finds any woman who is single, not partnered with a man, two women living together, something they cannot make sense of. Even tolerate. And what they cannot make sense of they want to eradicate. Kill. Or forget about it. This gives rise to the well of loneliness that very often hound, the LGBTQ community.

It is surprising that even after the decriminalizing of homosexuality, multiple films supporting same sex partnerships, so much literature, society at large has not accepted us in their midst. Families continue to ostracize us, or treat us with shame. If this is the attitude with families, then the society at large will also follow suit.

For example, consider the coming apart of a heterosexual marriage. Friends, family, extended family, friends of friends and all and sundry will come together to keep the marriage going. It is the opposite in the case of LGBTQ couples. Even in the community, people turn their heads away, and of course, the family beats hell and fire to break the relationship – in most cases. The laws of the land do not protect us, nor help us in any way, so that we feel included in the overall society at large. Do you mean that there is only one way to relate to another human being and that is the heterosexual way?

The well of loneliness is often filled with insecurities, alcohol, drugs and behavior that cry for help. But no one hears these cries, until it is too late.

These forced silences speak louder than words. These dead moments of life, even in a living body, are what regressive societies perpetuate and promote.

We really must wake up to some glaring, disturbing, uncomfortable truths that surround the LGBTQ movement in India. For that we need to know, about struggle elsewhere in the world and how they overcame it.

Now, the question is - who is going to bell the cat and make the first move?

Also read: Film review: And you thought you knew me by Pramada Menon