Friday, April 4, 2014

You and I


First, I loot your land,
Then, your voice.
Finally, 
I take away your sense of self.
I do charity.

First, I let you loot my land,
Then, my voice.
Finally, 
I give away my sense of self.
I receive charity.






Image source: http://merapoetics.com/tag/oppression/

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Desh Kya Hai?

देश क्या है?
कागज़ के टुकड़ो पर खिंची हुयी लकीरें ,
या उनकी चौकसी करते कुछ नौज़वान ?
तेरे -मेरे अधिकारों और जिम्मेदारियों की एक क़िताब ,
या उन अधिकारों और ज़िम्मेदारियों का आधार ?
क्या है ये चंद गिने-चुने लोगों की मिल्कियत,
या गणतंत्र के हर गण की है एक आवाज़?
देश क्या है? देश है क्या?

सिनेमाघरों में जन-गण-मन सुन,
खड़े हो जाना है ये देश?
या हर इक जन गण मन को
समझ पाना है ये देश?
तेरे-मेरे होने की वजह है ये देश?
या तेरे-मेरे होने की वजह से है ये देश?
देश है क्या? देश क्या है?

मेरे बिस्तर को सड़क पर उछाल
तमाशा करते लोग?
या मेरी मोहब्बत को अपराध
करार देता ये कानून?
मेरे होने को झुठलाता हुआ
मेरा परिवार, ये समाज़?
या आज तेरे-मेरे बीच
मेरे होने की हुंकार लगाता... मैं?
देश है क्या? देश क्या है?


Kaagaj ke tukado par khinchi huyi lakirein,
Ya unki chaukasi karte kuchh naujawaan?
Tere-mere adhikaro aur zimmedariyon ki ek kitaab,
Ya un adhikaro aur zimmedariyon ka aadhar?
Kya hai ye kuchh gine-chune logo ki ek milkiyat,
Ya gantantra ke har gan kihai ek aawaaz?
Desh kya hai? Desh hai kya?

Cinema-gharo me jan-gan-man sun
Khade ho jaana hai ye desh?
Ya har ek jan gan man ko
samajh paana hai ye desh?
Tere mere hone ki wajah hai ye desh?
Ya tere mere hone ki wajah se hai ye desh?
Desh hai kya? Desh kya hai?

Mere bistar ko sadak par uchhaal
Tamasha karte huye log?
Ya meri mohabbat ko aparadh
karaar deta ye kanoon?
Mere hone ko jhoothalata huya
Mera pariwaar, ye samaj?
Ya aaj tere-mere beech
Mere hone ki hunkaar lagata… main?
Desh hai kya? Desh kya hai?

 P.S.: A part of this poem was written to introduce The Republic Day Poetry Project for my students. While engaging with this theme, we realized how the idea of republic needs to be explored and understood better to fully realize our individual and collective potential. Often, I have found myself struggling to understand my political, social and personal spaces of freedom and this poem is a response to that struggle.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ubuntu



We recently mourned for Nelson Mandela, one of the biggest Human Rights champions of our times. Quoting Jonathan Capehart*, “he is heralded for doing something no other head of government has ever done. As the first president of post-apartheid South Africa in 1996, Mandela ushered in that nation’s new constitution, which included protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The first of its kind.” 

Six days later, on 11th December, 2013, Supreme Court of India recriminalized consensual same-sex relationships between adults, even if it is in private. In my country, it seems law is informed more by popular imagination and religious orthodoxy than scientific enquiry and philosophy of human rights. Today, I can’t choose whom to love and who do I have sex with. Forget about choice, in fact I am a criminal by my mere natural existence. But the law doesn’t really care about what is really natural. It only cares for what may feed to fancies of some people in this country. And maybe that is our understanding of democracy – a country for the majority, by the majority and of the majority. Otherwise how could a Supreme Court of any country so irresponsibly say that “Delhi High Court overlooked that a miniscule fraction of country’s population is LGBT”? How large should a population be in order to receive your justice, milord?

The question today is – Whether this is my battle or yours? Or ours? Do I have to stand up against this verdict only if I am a gay man? Or will I still stand up even if I assume other identities? Should I not participate in the battles that don’t really fall in the immediate realm of my identity and life issues – Battles that may be against the oppressiveness of caste, against the atrocities towards religious minorities, against the gender-based discrimination, against someone’s forced homelessness, against malnutrition of an entire population, against educational inequity in my country… and the list goes on? Tomorrow, if government takes away my right to my choice of food or shelter, will I stay quite? Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” Will justice denied to someone not diminish the justice for everyone?

Fighting for sexual liberation is not just an LGBT issue. It is a human rights issue and hence has to be fought at a larger canvas. Well, I shall fight my own battle and I shall join in yours too. Because if an act against human rights go uncared for somewhere; we dehumanize ourselves by being party to the act. I realize my humanization is linked to yours and yours with mine. To deserve my human rights, I shall first remain to be human. And hence I shall stand up, today, and each time any human being is treated any lesser than others. And no, not for charity towards those who may suffer from the said injustice, but for myself because if an act of injustice has happened, my silence has a role in it and I must speak up to voice my stand. If I have my biases I shall clear them up. If I am unaware or unsure of the facts, in this case the naturalness of homosexuality, I will educate myself. I would let my opinion be informed by knowledge and not by fear. Because my fear and misinformed opinion may lead to someone be denied of their basic human rights. And that is not okay.

For how long can we shove off the conversations around sex and sexuality in the name of public morality? Unless we move sex out of ethical and moral realm and view it as a basic human need, it would be difficult to have any meaningful discussion around it. We need to look at it beyond religious texts and engage with some objective scientific inquiry into this. That should then feed into the construction of our constitutional morality. And that should happen irrespective of how many citizens of this country identify themselves as homosexuals, even if the number is just one. 

It is some coincidence that I received a very thoughtful mail from our CEO, Ms. Vandana Goyal, reminding us the great legacy that Mr. Mandela has left for us on the same day as Supreme Court gave away its verdict. She posed these questions to us, “who is there to take his place? Who will we look to now, to fight the necessary battles for justice and equity? Who has not just the courage of conviction but the ability to speak to all of humankind -- to compel and convince even the most sceptical of us all?” And while reading this, I happened to listen to Mr. Gautam Bhan**, a Lawyer and activist who in response to SC’s verdict said, “If we can go and mourn for Mandela while insulting his legacy, then we have lost our way as a society…” 

I think to find our way back, we all will have to ponder over what Vandana has proposed, “There is not someone else there to take his place. It must be us.”


The title of this post is inspired by Vandana’s mail to us. Ubuntu# is a South African word that roughly translates into human-ness, to the idea that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. 

* http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2013/12/06/nelson-mandela-lgbt-rights-champion/
** http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqCfviKW1EQ

# http://mg.co.za/article/2013-12-10-obamas-tribute-to-mandela-the-full-speech

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Diwali

On Diwali, when I was a kid, Maa would ask me to keep my door and windows open as I sleep. She would say, “We should not miss any chance if Lakshmi plans to walk into our house.” Well I don’t really know if Lakshmi ever walked into my room in last so many Diwali nights. In fact I don’t even know or care if she exists. But what has remained with me is the idea of open doors and windows.

Today, as people around me prepare for the festival once again, I wonder what are we gonna open ourselves to? May be to a new understanding of gender and the concept of its fluidity? May be challenging the status quo of caste, religion, class or race? May be opening up to our dream career and saying no to oppressive nature of doing a job that others would want us to? May be the courage to say I-love-you to someone we are deeply in love with? May be to a little more care, a little more compassion and a little more respect for people around… and of course some for ourselves?

Today, Maa is not around to ask me to keep the door and the windows open. But I still do. I wish I could tell her, may be this was the only thing in the entire procession of Diwali that I loved the most. In all these years, laying on my bed, wide awake – who the hell can sleep anyways in the noise of endless crackers – I have been staring out into the space and have wondered of things as random as stars, people, rats, mosquitoes, sex, fantasies, food, the gods and the goddesses and everything in between. It has offered me an endless possibility of who I can become… and who others can be. A sense of vastness to this amazingly vast world we exist in that a closed room could have never offered to me. An open embrace to all that may happen… and may not happen. An acceptance to the fact that my son may be gay or my daughter may choose a different religion than mine or none at all and it’s okay. An acceptance to my failures, my experiments, my trials and errors… and of course my celebrations of my success and achievements.

As I retrospect today, I realize, besides everything else that could or could not, what certainly has walked into my life is a sense of wonder. And I have come to believe that more than most other things, it’s this sense of wonder that makes this life so intriguing and beautiful. With each person around us, there’s this amazing possibility of a whole new world… or a whole new understanding of our existing world. So this Diwali, what are you opening yourself to?

Happy Diwali!