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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Those Unforgettable Homosexuals

Ever since I heard about Archie comics decision to include a gay character, Kevin, among their other characters, I have been forced to reflect on the state of homosexuality in our society. This thing has raised quite a few eyebrows among comic enthusiasts. I personally feel that it’s a very healthy step that Archie comics administration has taken. To keep up with the times that we are living with as of now, it is very important to include newer norms that are gaining more and more acceptance in society. Although homosexuality is not a new thing, its pattern as an accepted phase of human nature is something new. I still remember how shocked I was when I first learnt that Alexander the Great was a gay! Today, after living for six years in a students’ environment where free thinking is encouraged, I have become more comfortable with the fact that there can be a homosexual person in the neighborhood.

When I think about the possibilities of Kevin’s character, my mind also reflects back to my college years in Delhi University where being labeled as a homosexual was the cruelest joke that anyone could crack on you. Although in our hostel there existed a fabled gay society which was made up of guys who were single, it was all made in pure jest and there were no real gays in it. People used to furiously debate on these topics when among intellectual circles but in secret it was all blown out in pure jest! In the midst of this my mind revolves to those few self-confessed gay people that I came across during my college life. Even if they had been there rather for brief moments, they did succeed in putting a deep impression on my mind about such people who hide the most important thing about themselves purely out of fear of a society that refuses to accept it.

Whenever we think of gays, our mind immediately forms the image of an effeminate character with certain types of mannerisms (read Karan Joharesque). And if there is someone in the group who has such attributes, then he is condemned for good as he becomes the butt of all jokes after that. I have always come across such characters and I admit even I used to make fun of them. But that obviously doesn’t means they are all gays. In fact I have a good friend who has such mannerisms. But I can vouch for the fact he is not a gay as he has such a hot girlfriend! Woof! Well, anyways the fact remains that such mannerisms cannot under any circumstances make a person gay. Also, one tends to think about homosexual men only when this topic is raised up but they completely forget that there are lesbian women too. Infact the first real homosexual character I met in life was a lesbian girl. Although our interaction was rather brief, I must say that she did put a very deep impression on me which will last forever.

The first look at Jincy, and you simply couldn’t tell that she was a lesbian. Infact, she was rather attractive and any guy would love to flirt with her as I did for the first few moments. I met Jincy at her college fest and we hit off pretty well. As a group of boys who had entered the fest of a girls’ college, we were expected to hit gold somewhere in the crowd. And all of a sudden in the crowd, I caught sight of her. Nice chick, I thought. I tried to hit a conversation with her and it went off pretty well. She was a literature student and I, a history one. I tried everything to impress her about my knowledge of English literature and trying throw in historical perspectives wherever I could. I was particularly impressed with her level of knowledge and ways of perceptions about various things. We were going really fine when suddenly she took leave and went off to a girl and started chatting with her. I then started to talk to another female friend of mine who then joked as to what was wrong with my taste for girls. I was taken aback. It was then that my friend told me that Jincy was a lesbian and the girl she was talking with was her lover.

Sometime later Jincy came over to me and introduced me as an ‘intelligent guy’ to her girlfriend. I was at a loss of words as to how to carry on the conversation. She could read the awkward expression on my face which I so desperately tried to hide. And then she herself said, “So you found out that I’m a lesbian?” I went dumb for the moment. I really couldn’t think of what to say. She said that she had seen me chatting with my friend and so she could make out what she must have told me. She also said that she had come across guys with similar expressions when they found out that she was a lesbian. She knew I was trying to flirt with her. That embarrassed me even more and she could sense it. She said rather casually holding my hand, “It’s ok yaar. There’s no big deal if you flirted with me. You didn’t know. But I really like you. You’re a good-looking, funny and a very intelligent guy. Infact believe me, if it were not for guys like you all girls would have gone lesbian.” She could easily see the surprise on my face. No girl had ever said such nice words to me and she turned out to be a lesbian! In fact those words were the best compliments I have ever received from a girl! I was feeling both good and terrible at the same time. The only thing that managed to escape my lips was whether her parents knew about it. Her answer was no. Her face turned grave and she added that she didn’t know how she would break the news to them. Our meeting ended at that because I had to go and join my friends. Strangely, I met Jincy only one more time in the final year of my college and it was a very brief encounter in the Kamla Nagar market. It was a simple hello-hi stuff and nothing more. But I could never forget Jincy completely and for the first time I realized that there must be so many like her. Imagine the dilemma and the agony they all have to go through! I never knew what happened to Jincy and her girlfriend. Once again life seemed very unfair and the society seemed like a hideous monster!

Now when I come to homosexual men or gays to be more precise, the one memorable character that I had come across was one that we found in our nest of Hans Raj. We were in third year when in came a fresher named Sushant from Lucknow. Sushant was a very soft-spoken and shy guy and also one of the few freshers in the hostel who was really nice in showing courtesies to his seniors. So most of us took pity on him and didn’t rag him much. Sushant, an English literature student, had a very sensitive side to most things of life. Sushant was very fond of my batchmate Irfan and I remember how once me, Irfan and Sushant had an intense discussion on human behaviour way into the midnight. For the first time I realized the high level of intelligence that Sushant possessed. But then people had begun to suspect that he was a gay and there was also a rumour that he was in love with Irfan. Of course Irfan whisked it off as a silly joke.

But stories of Sushant’s alternate sexuality also began to circulate in the English department. Sushant had submitted a short story for the department magazine which was considered quite bold in its theme on homosexuality. The professor straightway asked him if he was gay and he boldly replied in the affirmative. After this we don’t what happened but after sometime Sushant’s father showed up and met the professor. The very next day he decided to take Sushant home and started taking out his luggage from the hostel. Here a little drama ensued. While his father tried to take him away, Sushant cried and pleaded to wait for sometime so that he could meet Irfan one last time. Most of the boys in the hostel came out to see this and were dumbstruck by what they saw. But his father took him away anyway. Irfan, who had been away to his department, came to have lunch in the hostel and heard the story. I don’t know how he felt but he kept silent for the rest of the day. Later we learnt that the professor had told Sushant’s father that his son was not mentally well and had developed alternate sexual feelings. Also, he had asked his father to take his son home so that he could be taken proper care of. While most guys made fun of the entire episode, Irfan remained silent. I on my part felt very angry on the professor. How could he do something like this to his own student? Such a narrow minded asshole! The last thing that is true about gays is there condition being a result of a mental disorder. Preposterous! I found it highly revolting. When I openly spoke against the professor in front of my other hostel mates, they made slight jokes about my intentions as well. But I didn’t give a hoot to that at all. But the fact remained that an intelligent and promising intellectual’s journey was halted because of his alternate sexuality. Life sure is unfair.

Ultimately, I don’t what became of Jincy and Sushant. But I know that there’s are not the only stories of this kind. There are many more. Although the Supreme Court has scrapped Article 377 and has made things easier for homosexuals in this country, they still fear the onslaught of the society. And they have their reasons. What can you expect out of a society to treat its homosexual citizens when it is itself guilty of crimes like honour killing, female infanticide and caste violence? Even as I conclude this article, I don’t know what the future holds for these people. The Archies may have introduced a gay character, but the questions on these people still remain uncertain.

*names have been changed to protect privacy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I will not wait for Kalki!

When I was a young boy, I would often listen to stories of the various avatars (incarnations) that Lord Vishnu had assumed over the ages to protect mankind from various perils. And I still remember how my overtly religious grandmother would tell us the stories in her own enthusiastic way so that someday we would grow up to be devout young Hindus. The ten avatars of Vishnu have always been an obsession with me. And as I grew up, I began to read more materials on them. In this I began to look for a more modernistic approach on them and so I always looked for works done by foreigners and contemporary historians, most of them being Britishers. So by the time I was giving my matriculation exams, I had fairly good materials on the topic and was decently informed on each of the avatars. But it was always the last one i.e. Kalki which intrigued me the most. Kalki as we know it is yet to come and he is supposed to be the one who will clean this world of all evils and will end this Kali Yug (Dark Age) and usher in the Satya Yug (Age of Truth).

Reflecting on Kalki also forces me to reflect on the other nine avatars as well. Historically none of these avatars can be proven to exist. It is all but a gameplay of faith and devotion. But what is more important for me is the way each of these avatars has been shaped up in the annals of Hindu mythology. Here we have some avatars which seem pure works of imagery and fiction while there are others which seem to have got lost in the dust of ancient history. The only avatar which has historical relevance is the ninth one i.e. Lord Buddha. But Buddha’s elevation to the position of an avatar of Vishnu seems to be a rather political step taken by the Hindu priestly class in a bygone era.

When I look back at avatars like Matsya (the giant fish), Kurma (the tortoise), Varaha (the wild boar) and Narasimha (half man-half lion); I have no option but to discard them as results of fanciful imaginations. All these avatars mentioned here are short-termed ones and have a rather abrupt ending. Matsya’s relevance is only on a particular point because it comes at a stage where the Hindu scriptures speak of a great flood or deluge akin to the one mentioned in the Old Testaments of the Bible. But obviously we as rational human beings cannot accept that a giant fish saved the world from a great deluge! The avatar of Kurma also has a similar story where it is taken up to save the world. The avatars of Varaha and Narasimha were taken in two different instances to kill demons. Even the avatar of the Bamun (the short heighted Brahmin) was only for a few moments taken to subdue the pride of a demon king who was out to conquer the world. Bamun’s avatar seems to me a classic case where the Brahmin class tried to assert their dominance by showing that the first human avatar that Vishnu took after assuming earlier animistic forms was that of a high class Brahmin.

All the avatars mentioned so far were the earliest ones and also on very short term basis. Also they were taken only on special occasions. Varaha is the only one among them which makes an appearance more than once. It is rather interesting that Mohini which is a female form of Vishnu is not regarded as an avatar although she makes quite a few appearances in Hindu mythology. She plays an important role in the episode of the churning of the ocean, she and Shiva also have a son in a story; and also she makes an appearance in the Aravan episode of the Mahabharata. Then why is she not in the list of the avatars? Maybe the concept of a female avatar by a male god wasn’t appealing enough for the priestly class of that era. This is a classic instance for me where sexism played a huge part in the non-elevation of a potential avatarial candidate. For me Mohini surely deserves a place among the avatars of Vishnu if the other short-termed ones mentioned above are to be regarded as avatars. I hope all my feminist friends take a note of this.

After these avatars, the rest which come have a proper lifespan and have a proper story to be told. Although they betray every historical fact imaginable, they do help us in understanding the philosophy and the patterns of society formations of the early Vedic period. These avatars also come in a particular era from where events and places mentioned in their stories have some historical relevance. The two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata also help us a great deal in chronicling the era and also we have a decent amount of information from that period thanks to the various archaeological findings. So I was greatly overjoyed when I first heard the news that Krishna’s Dwarka city had been discovered off the coast of Gujarat years ago. But obviously controversies and debates continue to haunt them. Krishna’s Dwarka is still under a lot of scrutiny as to its authenticity. Rama’s birthplace Ayodhya has been claimed up by as many as five different places including one in Afghanistan. And obviously one of these Ayodhyas led to the biggest communal carnage in independent India that our generation was unfortunate enough to witness.

Among these later avatars that have a more stable lifespan then their previous counterparts, Parashuram has got to be the most violent one. Right from the act where he chops off his mother’s head at the behest of his father to the later parts where he single-handedly carries out a mass murder program to kill every single Kshatriya on earth, Parashuram’s story is full of violence and bloodshed. Also if we analyse carefully, Parashuram is also perhaps the only avatar which is more human in its behaviour and outlook. Perhaps this avatar also shows how we humans in our want for revenge and justices totally throw off all logic to the winds and indulge in mindless violence that sucks the innocents in it as well. This imperfection is one important feature of the character of Parashuram which is not seen in the other avatars which are derived to be as perfect as the God who reside in them. It is one instance where even God, in the form of a human, becomes imperfect like him and commits acts of mass violence. Also Parashuram’s story also gives us a picture of the first instances of caste violence or to be more precise the rising of a person against a particular class in early Vedic times.

Next after Parashuram, comes Rama, the hero of the great Indian epic, the Ramayana. Rama is shown to be the embodiment of everything perfect. He is shown to be the perfect son, husband, brother, etc. Rama’s birth is mainly taken to kill the demon king Ravana, the ruler of Lanka. The Ramayana is a perfect example which shows the early struggle between the Aryans and the non-Aryans in India. The Aryans in this period were in an expansionist phase in India and were contending for power with the non-Aryans who were holding their grounds. Rama for me must have been a great warrior of that age who must have won great victories against the non-Aryans which probably resulted in his position being elevated to that of an avatar. His greatest victory must have been against Ravana which is the crux of the Ramayana. But then again I have serious problems with the way Rama treated his wife Sita after killing Ravana, when he made her go through the Agnipariksha; and also for the next time when he banished her to the forest after he became the king. Here we find that Rama is not a perfect character and he has to live up to the public image that he has built around himself. So even if Rama is considered to be a perfect character, he is in all practical sense, imperfect. So Rama in simple terms was a victim of image branding!

Next in line is Krishna. Krishna is a cunning, witty and extremely successful politician. Also when we read about this exploits in the Mahabharata, it becomes clear that he is an unparalleled master of jurisprudence. The way he leads the Pandavas to victory in the Kurukshetra War only shows his mastery in the fields of politics and strategy planning. Krishna’s forte lies in the fact that through the medium of logic and arguments, he converted most acts of cheating and treachery into acts of wisdom and common sense. For him victory was more important than upholding ethics in the battlefield. Krishna’s famous sermon to Arjuna which becomes the revered Bhagwad Gita, is a perfect example of how he treats duty above all ties and relations. And this simple philosophy is the pillar of strength behind all of Krishna’s politics and strategies. Krishna’s cunning ways make him more close to our dear politicians of today. Surely, it is no wonder that a character with such a successful career in politics was elevated to the position of an avatar.

Now when we come to the ninth avatar i.e. Lord Buddha, we must realize that the scene in the Indian scene had undergone a change. The Vedic period of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata had ended and now had come the age of the Mahajanapadas, which were the first great kingdoms to be recorded in the annals of Indian history. Buddha’s period coincided with a very important phase of history. This was the time when kingdoms like Magadha, Kosala and Kashi were vying with each other for political supremacy in Northern India. This was also the period where history actually began to be recorded in India. And in the midst of this came Buddha with his message of peace and non-violence. Buddha’s attempts, to me, were neither to form a new religion nor to claim godhood. His prime motive was to start a reformatory movement within Hinduism which had then become too complicated for the common masses. This reformatory movement which eventually evolved into a separate religion i.e. Buddhism, gave a jolt to the Hindu priestly classes when they saw the huge conversion to Buddhism as a potential threat to the very existence of Hinduism. It seemed but only a very appropriate step to declare Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu. This was a strategic move as far as religion is concerned. It definitely served as a counter step to the conversions to Buddhism and also by including Buddha in the Hindu pantheon of avatars, the concept of the ten avatars or incarnations of Vishnu drew to a prefect closing phase. Also, Buddha’s close relations with kings like Prasenjit and Bimbisara was a big factor for his consideration as an avatar.

Now, the question which arises is who is going to be the last avatar of Vishnu i.e. Kalki? What will be the considerations that will work to the forming of the Kalki avatar? Preists have over the ages given various premonitions of Kalki. The most obvious being that he will be born in a Brahmin family (again the Brahmin dominance!) and that he will usher in the new age of Satya Yug (Age of Truth). So far after analyzing all the avatars, one can wonder as to what will it take to find a Kalki from among us! So when will this Kalki come? Should we wait for him? Or is it that he has already taken birth and is waiting for his right time to come forth? My view on this is that I will not wait for any Kalki! The way the previous avatars were selected clearly makes it out that only a hero from among us will be elevated to the post of Kalki. The later avatars like Rama, Krishna and Buddha were given the status of avatars as late as the Gupta period. So most probably, in the future, some desperate priest in an attempt to save the last straw of Hinduism will declare some fairly successful personality to be Kalki who will obviously fit the bill of the avatar. So I say no point in waiting for Kalki. We should all strive to be what we expect of a Kalki to do for us. For the truth is that until and unless we ourselves do something to improve the prevailing situation of the world we live in, nobody will come to save our unfortunate arses. Who know? Kalki maybe none but one among us!

Or maybe Kalki is just a metaphor. And we all need to look for a Kalki in ourselves.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Burha Luit.

Ask a Guwahatian what would he miss the most outside Assam? You may get a myriad range of answers. But whenever, this question is asked to me, pat comes the reply. Brahmaputra or the Burha Luit (Grand Old River). There is something unbelievably mystical about this river. Starting from the Himalayas in Tibet, flowing through the heart of the great Assam valley, joined by the Ganges in Bangladesh and finally flowing into the Bay of Bengal... it has a journey which resembles any man's including mine. Although my journey has to go a long way still!

My earliest recollection about the river was as a child when I used to go to it's Ghat with my late grandfather to watch the fisherman go about their early morning catch of fish. The sight was magical! The sights of so many fish boats floating about on the river waters, which were again bathed in the blood red rays of the rising sun gave forth an unbelievable feeling to it. It was as if the river had come alive from a deep slumber. Watching the boats hold their own against the torrential waves of the merciless river was a sight in itself. My grandfather had once told me how he as a youth had a narrow escape from getting drowned in the river. The river, for him, was a merciless demon which took away more lives than it used to give to the Assamese people. For him, it was the Blood River! This I realise every year when the Brahmaputra's torrential floods cause havoc throughout the state. And watching the flood waters creep into my home as well every year made me aware of this.

The Old Blood River may have given many people jolting memories, but for me it was this river which taught me what being strong means! Ever since my childhood, I had always wanted to swim across this mighty river. But till date it has never happened because I know the Luit's strong currents are waiting to suck me into them. All my skills as a swimmer melt away the moment I realise this. Whenever I sit down by the river Ghat in Guwahati, I get the peaceful feel that I cannot get anywhere else on earth. But then again, I always feel that the merciless River God is laughing at me amd saying,"So chap! When are you going to conquer me after all?" This feeling of insignificance has always raged a storm inside that has actually made me overcome my other fears. Afterall, if I dont conquer my other fears, how will I ever face the merciless Luit when it challenges me the next time. In my quest to face the Luit boldly, I actually went ahead to conquer most of my fears, which in turn made me stronger from the inside.

But under all this cloak of ferocity, I know there is also a much calmer and sensitive side to this river. The sight to watch the sunset by the Brahmaputra is a sheer joy! It is during these moments that I feel the river whisper to me,"Hark you chap! Sometimes it pays to be ferocious. But never lose touch with the more calmer self in you. Afterall, that is what you really are." The Old River never lets me forget that under the wild insensitive creature that I portray before the world, there is a fellow who just loves his quiet moments and would not trade them for any strength in the world. Bloody old river! On one side it challenges the wild side of me to conquer it. And then again it keeps reminding me the virtues of patience and calmness.

Perhaps it is waiting to be conquered by me. It is only making me stronger with each encounter. Afterall, Brahma's son choses its challengers very cautiously. Just wait you old demon! I will get even with you someday...