Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Killer and The Killed

“A 30-year-old resident doctor at AIIMS allegedly killed herself… because her husband was gay.” And before I could read and re-read the article (link here), my heart sank. I knew what was coming, but somewhere in my heart, I also wished that may be, just maybe, it would be different narrative. But no, it wasn’t. Before I get into the discussion of how I see this news, let me make it clear, cheating by anyone, I think, is not okay. The husband cheated. Indeed. He tortured the wife, as reported in the newspaper. Indeed. And its quite sad the wife had to succumb to suicide. Very very sad. No one, absolutely no one should be brought to a point that he/she has to end his/her life like this.

Now let’s understand the narrative. The news report closes with, “‘Priya kept quite (quiet –spellcheck TOI!) about her husband because of social taboos but she was quite supportive. Her in-laws were torturing her to get a divorce but she wanted to accept him the way he was,’ Lokesh said.” I wonder why? Accept a gay man as husband, for what? Her in-laws wanted for her to get a divorce. Why was she hesitant then? In fact, I wonder, why was she not the one to ask for a divorce? Clearly, there is an attempt in the article to create a certain good versus evil image, where the victim, of course, is the good and the so-called perpetrator, the bad. I wonder how this narrative would have changed, if at all, if the husband was not gay in his orientation. Or maybe it would have remained similar. We have our senses of sympathy while we read such news items. The dead person calls for more sympathy than the person seen as the cause of death. And when it’s a woman who has died, in a country where India’s daughter is a fashion now, there cannot be any other narrative. Now, before you call me a male chauvinist or at least think of me as one, let me tell you, I am not.

Because, here my conversation is not about men or women. It’s about men and women and everyone on this spectrum of human diversity. Would I have written about it if the man was a straight man torturing the woman for, say, dowry? I don’t know. I might. I might not. However, here the news story presents itself an interesting and very important lesson on what happens when one oppressed group (woman – in male-female binary gender identity system) interacts with another oppressed group (homosexuals – in hetero-normalized sexuality of this world).

A gay man, to make his life look “normal”, marries a woman. Under his own ‘cowardice’ to come out, emotional blackmailing and pressure from family or not being sure of his own sexuality at the point of marriage; the reason no one would ever know, except the man himself. One Mr. Vikram Johri writes how this episode is a lesson for gay men.

The writer expects the gay men, and this husband in particular, to show empathy and not to screw up girls’ lives if they don’t have the courage to come out. Sure. What about practicing some empathy yourself and not generalizing for all gay men? Also, being able to put yourself in the other men’s shoes to understand that it’s not easy, not at all to come out and live by your own standards. And it’s not fun inside the closet.

He writes, “Coming out is not about courage. It is about finally ridding yourself of the miasma of incompleteness that you discover you have caged yourself in for no good reason. It is about realising your life's potential and leading a fuller existence. And it is about being humane. If you do not have the guts to come out, sure, stay in the closet.” In the same breath he says its not about courage and its about having the gut when one has to come out. Boy, you are confused. Because in between these two opposites, everything else you have written, demands courage beyond the mundane. And if it was that easy, people would have had good lives in general, not just gay people out of the closet.

Also, the wife writes, “I never wanted anything from you but due to your abnormal sexuality you thought I needed sex from you but that's wrong.” An AIIMS doctor calls a man’s homosexual orientation as abnormal. What kind of acceptance is that? That too coming from a doctor? The post only shows how she is playing “I am a victim” game. And sadly, that’s one game we love to play all the time. That makes our side more sympathetic. If you knew your husband is not sexually compatible, you need a divorce not a facebook outburst and suicide. But indeed, the wife needed courage too. For she was in her own closet. The closet of being a homo-wife. The parents and family were in the closet too. The closet of being parents and family of a homosexual man. As the man struggled his own coming out so did his wife and family. If there’s an expectation upon him to come out, so it is on the others too. ‘coz our stories are not isolated atoms. They are interlinked and survive on this relational spectrum of life.

Both of them, the husband and the wife, were in the closet. Closets suffocate. Suffocation kills. Either the closeted gay man would have died or the closeted wife of the gay man would have. In this case the wife did. I wonder if that husband would have killed himself, would it have been equally interesting news. Well, several reports say that many young boys and girls end their lives quite frequently because they can’t come out due to their heteronormative families. I wonder if someone would report someday, “a youth killed himself/herself because his/her parents were homophobic heterosexuals.” So every time a person of sexual minority commits suicide, is the heterosexual parent or the sibling or anyone who is blamed? In most such cases, they are not even reported .Once again, please note I am not say the death of wife is not sad or the acts of the husband is justified. My point is that we need to come out of the black and white, the wrong and the right, mindset. We need to stop seeing people as right or wrong. But their actions. Coz when we call an entire person wrong, we create stereotypes. And stereotypes kill.

You know, it’s not the ‘gay’ in the ‘gay man’ who killed. It’s the ‘man’ who did. Not because men are evil. But because men are taught, to the level of being indoctrinated, to be the stronger one. And to be a stronger, one needs the other to be weaker. To be survivor and not the killed, one has to kill, it seems. And this logic is what we need to challenge and change. No blaming, shaming and pushing the guilt will help. Because it never has. It’s not my versus yours war. This life is ours, intricately linked. And our solutions have to comprehensive and interlinked. If there’s an expectation from gay men and women to come out, there has to be an expectation from heterosexual man and women to accept alternate sexualities with as much respect as they accept their own. If there is an expectation upon a group of people to be courageous and compassionate, we will have to start from ourselves being the same.

The wife died. She has attained nirvana from all her pains. And she has left the husband behind with more than adequate punishment – a lifetime of violent prejudice and shame. So let’s deal with it in perspective, people. 'Coz the killer and the killed, is inside us... all of us. We have to decide, if we want to bury the killed and heal the killer, or victimize the killed and hide the killer.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Classroom Stories 'V'

The Other Side


As I switched the computer on for him, he stared at the screen for a while and almost announced in a solemn and detached voice, “Today is my badday (birthday).” I was like… ‘what?’ And before I could ask for any explanation, he informed me, “I just saw the date on the clock here,” pointing on the date on the screen. I asked, “You mean, you didn’t remember it’s your birthday?” 

He offered me his trademark smile, “Arre bhaiya, there’s no one at home na. So forgot.” His entire family has recently gone to the village for summer vacations. For the first time he was living on his own, without family. Being the youngest in the family, he was the most pampered one.

So this sixteen year old boy forgot his birthday because there was no one to wish him. Really? Well, I smiled, shook his hand and wished him. I knew that my parents never really remembered or celebrated their birthdays. But somehow I was not able to believe that someone in this generation could also forget his birthday. Well, was it a big deal? Yes and no.

I, then, ran to my team and informed my colleagues that it’s his birthday. I shared my amazement with this kid not remembering it as well. We planned a quick cake ceremony. We went out, and since we couldn’t really find a cake shop close by, we got some sweets arranged in a way that it looked like a cake. He was then asked to cut the ‘cake’ and we all sang Happy Birthday for him. We then called his mom in the village for him to speak to her.

For the first time in the last ten months that I know him, I saw him crying. Of course, not in the most open way. Of course he is a boy. But then, he is just a boy! And he cried. My colleague hugged him and we all joked about him crying. He, the naughtiest, bravest and most courageous kid in my class, was sobbing.

When we had our own little private moment, I asked him, “why did you cry, kid?” He didn’t respond. Just smiled. I waited and then added, “missing ammi?” He smiled and nodded in affirmation.

I wonder how we, at times, only engage with a single story of a person. For me, he was this naughty and carefree kid forever. And he had just cried. Why can he not, of course? It’s weird. Not that he had cried. But that, it had surprised me, even though only for a moment. Today I met with the little kid hiding inside this violently outspoken teenager. As he shared his birthday stories, I realized, as Chimamanda Adichie says, there’s never a single story of a person. We need to engage with multiple stories that present several other sides of a person to honour him or her in totality. This was my chance to engage with his other stories.

P.S. - And I still can’t forget his formal, impassive declaration, “Today is my badday.”


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Saturday, March 21, 2015

हवाएँ चली हैं।

This poem was written in 2000 as an ode to to my alma mater, Sainik School Ghodakhal, Nainital. I had just finished my school, and as with most boarders, I was extremely nostalgic about my life and story in that heavenly place, my school. Today, when the school celebrates it's raising day, and incidentally, it's World Poetry Day, I share this old poem, as is, with all of you, my readers :-)

हवाएँ चली हैं,
उड़ाती चली हैं
सड़क के किनारे पड़ी पत्तियों को
जो पतझड़ की रातों में यूँही गिरी थी;
महकती है
फिर से वही गंध, सूँघो
वो जब क्यारियों में उन, कलियाँ खिली थीं;
वही रास्ते हैं जहाँ हम सवेरे
कहीं दूर से दौड़ के लौट आएँ,
वही रास्ते हैं, वही शाम है
जिस पर चलते ही जाएँ, चलते ही जाएँ
वो पर्वत के पीछे से झाँके जो सूरज
तो उससे कहें, "छुप जा जाके तू पीछे!"
वही जो अगर चाँद आये तो बातें,
हो जैसे मुझे मिल गया कोई साथी,
करते ही जाएँ, करते ही जाएँ,
बारिश की रातों में,
गर्मी की शामों में,
सर्दी की धूपों में,
फिर से चली हैं,
हवाएँ चली हैं।

जो मैंने अधूरा सुनाया था तुमको
जुबाँ कह रही है वही गीत गाऊं
बे-होली के होली के रंगो में डूबूँ
बिना दीप के मैं दिवाली मनाऊँ
यादों के दीपक जलाये चली हैं,
हवाएँ चली हैं।

वो मंदिर की घण्टी की ध्वनि से सजी हैं
वो पेड़ो से होकर गुजरती हवाएँ
वो छत की बरफ (बर्फ) से जो होकर गुजरती हैं
खुद को ही ठण्डी बनाती हवाएँ
बंद कमरे के कोने में चादर को ओढ़े हूँ,
फिर  भी ये छूने को आती चली हैं,
हवाएँ चली हैं।

वही कुर्सियाँ हैं, जहाँ बैठकर
हर घडी खुशनुमां गीत गाये थे हमने,
वही मेज है, जिसपर हाथों को अपने
फिराकर के तबले बजाये थे हमने,
वही मंच है जिस पर बोला था मैंने
वही तालियाँ फिर से बजने लगी हैं,
वही घास है जिस पर लेते थे हम सब
वही गोलियाँ फिर से चलने लगी हैं,
वहीँ पर हूँ मैं और वहीँ पर हो तुम भी
वहीँ पर है सब कुछ, मगर ये हैं यादें
धूलों में लिपटी हैं, यादों में सिमटी हैं
मिलने की आशा जगाये चली हैं,
हवाएँ चली हैं।

हर दिन सोचता हूँ नहीं याद आओ
मगर हर शशी (शशि) में तुम्हें देखता हूँ
मेरी ज़िन्दगी में तुम्हारी कमी है
यादों में तुम हो, तुम्ही हो, तुम्ही हो,
तुम्हारे बिना याद आये न मुझको
जिसे याद करने को सोचा है मैंने
तुम्हारी ही यादें, हैं तुमसे ये यादें
तुम्हारे लिए ही ये यादें बनी हैं,
हवाएँ चली हैं।

इन्हे कह तो दूँ अपनी कमज़ोरियाँ
पर इन्ही के सहारे यहाँ मैं खड़ा हूँ
ये सबको डिगाती हैं, सबको हिलाती हैं
पर मेरे कदम को जमाये चली हैं,
हवाएँ चली हैं, चली हैं हवाएँ
हवाएँ चली हैं, हवाएँ चली हैं।

Monday, January 26, 2015

Happy Republic Day?

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC…” thus begins the preamble of the Constitution of India.

Last night, when I read the results of a survey (link here) recently conducted with high school and college students from 11 cities across India, I couldn’t figure out what exactly I felt – scared, angry, sad or guilty?

If we would want, we can always debate on the validity of the survey, the degree of scientific nature of the method, the political and economic will and intentions behind it and so on. However, my work with adolescents in last couple of years somehow brings me to believe in the results to an extent. And for once if we believe that the institution was fair and honest in conducting this research, let’s explore the findings a bit:

“about half of them would prefer military rule over a democracy”

“65 percent 'agree' that boys and girls from different religions should not mingle”

“more than half of the students surveyed believed that women 'provoke' men with the way they dress, close to half of them say women have no choice but to accept violence”

Today, when I asked my students that in face these results, what do they think is the future our country. There was a complete silence. Some were embarrassed as they represent this age group. And others were shocked as at SLP we have been talking about how the youth is going to change the face of India. Well indeed, the youth will change the face of India. But whether they are going make it look uglier or better, the survey gives us a hint.

Now, to feel scared, angry or sad is understandable. But guilty? Why?

Remember, the survey was conducted with high schoolers and college students. Which means a generation just after me. It clearly speaks of the aspirations, expectations and notions we have passed on to them as parents, teachers and society. We have given them a world of hopelessness. A world of ghettoised and fragmented communities. A world of disillusioned and corrupt power systems such as gender, religion, caste and class. A world where our children choose to be ruled over and given directives with rather than being part of a critical democratic process (I experience so many times in my class where my students hesitate from the ‘time-taking’ democratic decision making process and want me to decide for them). A world where we care to provide every child with a tablet or a laptop but not an experience where she/he could engage in critical and meaningful thinking process.

The results of this survey points at us on how well have we used last 68 years in building a country for whose freedom we so desperately fought for. And at that reflection I feel guilt and shame for what we have done to our children and generations to come. We have brought them to a point where as they celebrate their Republic Day, they have given up on appreciating what a democratic republic could mean. Today, as I read this, I seek forgiveness, for not doing something, not doing enough, as a teacher, a brother, an uncle or for that matter, just an adult in a young one’s life to show him/her that it was possible for us to create an India that the writers of our constitution envisioned.

I am sorry, children. I can only hope that some magic happens and you be able to fix your views - of self and the world - and be able to re-envision the hope for a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic that India, once upon a time, set out to be.

Happy Republic Day, anyway.