Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One Life, Multiple Identities: A Study of Relationships, Context and Culture across the Lifespan of a Feminized Male


Areena Mirza , Shweta Sharma, & Chander Mahadev
ABSTRACT
This study attempts to track and unravel the inherent dichotomy between a feminized male, his sexual preferences and the inevitability of leading a fractured life, replete with multiple identities. It outlines and identifies different levels of inter-personal communication and cuts across the lifespan of a feminized male. The study is contextual to their relationships and the culture of Lucknow, the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, long considered the gay capital of India. Kothis, a community of self-identified feminized males, assume the role of passive partners in a homosexual relationship. With pre-conceived notions about the moral and behavioral reasons for their feminized mannerisms and choice of male partners, the larger heterosexual community has no place for any heart-to-heart communication, thus invoking distrust, shame, guilt, self-condemnation and self-abuse.
Introduction
India is a land of varied cultures, diversified values and multiple dialects, but the cultural contrast does not change the identity of a male in India. The ‘Man’ is assigned the role of bread-winner, in charge of the family who would carry the family name further. A person's position in a joint and extended family, marriage and children, are central to social definition and personal identity. Family, social and cultural pressures for marriage and children are intense. In that sense "procreative heterosexuality" can be seen as a social compulsion and as a familial and community duty. Where there may be men who would prefer to form sexual relationships and partnerships with other men they would still feel obliged to marry and produce children to honor family and community obligations. Such men will look outside the marriage for sexual and emotional fulfilment. Khan, S. (June 1996) Feminized behavior in men is a taboo and is considered a curse, More often than not, visible feminine qualities in men and interest of a male in another male, is ignominy for a lifetime. This leads to maintaining double or multiple identities in feminized males and involves complex inter-personal communication with conscious efforts. This is an interview-based study on various levels of communication, across the lifespan of a feminized male. The study is contextual to their relationships and the culture of Lucknow, the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. According to a report published in Outlookindia.com, Lucknow scores the highest, in the acceptance and prevalence of homosexuality. Outlook (September 1996). For many men who desire other men, where their sense of self is based on their sexual or gender orientation, the family and community demand for marriage places enormous emotional and psychological pressures on them. Do they disobey their parents and relatives demands, and if so what are the personal and social consequences for them? In a society where there is no social welfare system, the individual is strongly reliant on family support for educational, economic and social support; these pressures can override any sense of personal desire and sensibility even to that of ignoring the needs and issues of the prospective wife. Children, lineage, obedience, support for elders, economic survival, all take precedence. Khan, S. (August 2009) In a study conducted in Lucknow in 1998 by NFI and Bharosa amongst low-income men who have sex with other men, the finding of which are eye-openers. Marital status • Married: Frequency- 121, % of respondents- 30.25% • Unmarried: Frequency- 279, % of respondents- 69.75% • Intending to get married: Frequency- 247, % of respondents- 88.53% Khan, S. (August 2009) None of the married men in the NFI/Bharosa survey had informed their wives about their extra-marital behavior with other males. In the main, many believed that all they needed to do is to function adequately as husbands is in terms of economic support for their wives and engaging in sexual intercourse in order to have children. Marriage after all is considered a duty, sex as a means to have children. Khan, S. (August 2009) The wife is often seen as the bearer of children, not as a friend and lover. Most marriages are usually not seen as companionate and egalitarian. Khan, S. (August 2009) Kothis (sic) are biological males who engage in sexual relations with other men they call panthis (sic). Panthis (sic) can be one-night stands or life long partners for kothis (sic). Nagar, I. (July 2009) Kothis (sic) switch their identities between heterosexual males and kothis (sic) and this switch is most clearly manifest in their language choices. The two linguistic features that kothis (sic) use are Farasi and feminine gender markings. Kothis (sic) use a code language which they call Farasi, which is a mixture of Hindi grammar and vocabulary of an unknown source. Kothis (sic) also use feminine gender markings in their role as kothis (sic), when they assume their more feminine personae; the use of feminine gender marks them as different from other sexual identities. Nagar, I. (2008) The Socio-Cultural Context The background information from the NAZ Foundation suggests that Lucknow upholds a gendered framework with following characteristics – o This framework has jenanas/ kothis as men who perceive themselves as the female partners i.e. the “penetrated” and those who penetrate as panthis/ giriyas or the “real men” as perceived by kothis. o In this context these kothis/ zenanas are usually the visible MSM in a range of public environments and neighbourhoods, but panthis/ giriyas are not, for they could potentially be any “manly” male. o These “real” men do not see themselves as homosexuals or less masculine because of their sexual involvement with kothis/ zenanas. They penetrate kothis/ zenanas who are not “real men” – they are kothis/ zenanas. o Kothis/ zenanas see any male that is sexually penetrated as another kothi/ zenana, whether they identify as gay, bisexual or whatever. To kothi/ zenana-identified males such identities represent a form of “closetness”. o In other words there is a spectrum of masculinities. Khan, S. (April 2002) The in-depth interviews with 15 members from the kothi community further support the above. The interviews bring out their life history and also reveal the position of this community in the social and cultural fabric of Lucknow.
Childhood: Relationship with parents and siblings
All kothis we interviewed were a part of a large family with three - four siblings. Their conversation with father was generally restricted, while most of them were close to their mothers. They enjoyed the socially assigned feminine chores like cooking, playing with dolls, female dressing and shared most of their time with sisters or mother. Such behavior was dismissed by parents as frivolous. As children they had no inkling of their sexuality, and also do not remember much intervention on the issue. Apart from verbal abuse and comments on mannerisms and behavior sporadic incidents of physical and sexual abuse were faintly etched in their memories.
Adolescence: Relationship with peers, siblings, parents and extended family & neighbourhood
All kothis we interviewed discovered themselves to be different from their brothers and male friends between the ages of 12 – 15 years. They also experienced their first sexual encounter during this period which varied from exploitation from distant relatives or neighbours or strangers to innocent experiences with cousins and peers. Faheem (name changed) shared the shocking experience of rape by seniors in school at the age of 12. The impact was so severe that he was hospitalized for one month and had a tough time rejoining school. The memories are still painful but buried deep inside, as the parents were too busy sweeping it under the carpet to avoid harassment. For the vast majority of people, living with their parents there is no personal space. One or two room households, holding parents and several siblings are common. And within these household, there will be a male space and a female space, boundaries for sleeping. What privacy here? What confidentiality here? These crammed conditions of sharing male space in a culture with high levels of homosociability often create conditions of masti as a release of body tensions, these quick and furtive sexual gropings are maintained as invisible behaviors, behaviors of the dark, behaviors under the blanket and therefore not real. Khan, S. (September 1997) All-male settings are common in India and in its neighboring countries and include hostels, guest-houses, teashops, and sleeping quarters. Migrant men in cities frequently live in hostels or with other migrant men, and this provides the opportunity for sexual relations to occur. In addition, women are discouraged from visiting certain public places, including bars, in India, which effectively renders them all-male. Therefore, the issue raised here is not about sexual relations, but the very distinct social context in which men find themselves. Sexual relations between men in India need to be understood within this more general context of homosocial relations. Pappas, G., Khan, O., Taylor, W.J., Khan. S., Kumaramangalam, L., and O’Neill, J. Communication with parents during this period has the potential to shape an individual’s identity and personality as well. During this period all interviewees reported of noticing changes in their sexuality and interest in males, in contrast to their peers and brothers, who got attracted to females. By this time many had tried the clothes and cosmetics of their mothers or sisters, albeit secretively. As what was termed innocuous child’s behavior earlier, was now looked down upon by their parents and everyone around. Cross dressing is a shameful behavior in the Indian cultural context, and so are feminine mannerisms. By this age, a male is expected to behave in a certain manner, which is tough and ‘macho’. Strong punishments for behaving in a feminized way, evokes an immense feeling of guilt and shame for a lifetime, resulting in withdrawal from sharing any such feelings with anyone. Thus starts a journey of suffocation, guilt and self-condemnation, which takes several queer turns shaping interpersonal relationships in future. Adolescence is more of realization and confusion about the homosexual identity. The homosexual adolescent discovers sexual preferences and is shameful to admit or share the same with parents, peers, siblings or for that matter, anyone else. On the one hand peers make fun of the now visible feminized mannerisms and lack of interest in males, while parents and elders on the other hand are reproachful, thus strengthening the feelings of guilt and shame. The inability to conceal identity at this point results in exploitation from relatives, neighbours and strangers too. Such exploitations not only engrave bitter memories for a lifetime, but also tend to be a great blow to the self-esteem of the individual, and establish the need to conceal identity in order to live a dignified life. More often than not, the life of a homosexual in India is an everyday struggle to escape comments, harassments and humiliation from family, peers and society alike.
Adulthood: Education, career, social status and interaction within the community
On reaching adulthood, lack of social acceptance to homosexuality and the need to maintain double or multiple identities is clear. The success in maintaining these identities is a matter of individual capacity. It is more difficult for those having visible feminized behaviour and mannerisms to conceal their identity. More often than not they are forced to live a marginalized life. They often turn to be school drop-outs and cannot find any suitable job to survive; a dignified life is a distant dream. The need for money often leads to involvement in sex trade which further results in diminished self-esteem. Adulthood brings clarity in self-recognition and it is time when an individual decides as to how to deal with self and the society. Name is the first element of identity that undergoes a change. Barring one, all interviewees but one had two or more names, one given by their parents and others for their male partners and community friends. Either of the two ways of life is their fait accompli. 1. Clear double identities: This is the easy way out for those who do not have any visible feminine qualities. They complete their education, go for jobs, succumb to family and social pressures for marriage, have children and still have pronounced sexual preferences for men. They don a different mask and claim their sexuality in the kothi community. Some have regular male partners, whom they call panthi/ giriya. While some have many short-term relationships, they still carry out their responsibilities towards their family, wife and children but lack interest in this social set up. These are mere responsibilities while their innate nature brings them in regular contact with giriyas. Any kind of emotional bonding and sharing with the wife is missing. Children seem to be the basis of keeping the marriage alive. Feuds for not giving proper attention to the family are common. The fear of disclosure is dominant, and any kind of social outing with the family is avoided. Problems arise when they are committed to one giriya and are torn between their family and their love. As Amit (name changed) puts it, he was committed to one partner for three years, who got married recently. Amit had neglected his family for the three years that the relationship lasted. After considerable emotional investment, he has “nothing left” as neither the relationship exists, nor the support of the family. Other married kothis suffer from a predominant sense of guilt for cheating their wives, as they cannot curb their desire for a male partner, and do go out to fulfill their emotional and sexual needs. However, they want to unburden themselves but refrain from doing so since they do not wish to give a cultural shock to their wives and disturb the family equilibrium. 2. Multiple Identities: Life is more difficult for those with prominent feminine mannerisms and qualities. From school drop-outs to denial for jobs, survival is difficult. They try their best to look masculine in public to avoid harassment and humiliation. Even in the family there is no relationship as such where they can open up. In fact it is a necessity to avoid relatives, as otherwise it would be very difficult to hide their kothi identity. Within the Kothi community, they address each other as sister, mother or other feminine relationships, to the extent that they practice rituals prevalent among the females of this part of the country. One such ritual is fasting which is commonly known as kothi pinni among this community. Here females observe the fast for their husband’s long life, and Kothis adopt the same for their male partners (giriyas). Their relationship with other kothis involves some sharing, but it is every Kothi’s perception that none of them is reliable and trustworthy most likely because of the feelings of envy and insecurity that are preponderant. Parents and siblings might discover their traits on their own, but something like sharing is out of question. However, one interviewee had a very different version to share. Rajat (name changed) has very supportive parents and a very affectionate younger brother. Rajat has personal space for himself and the acceptance from his family members. He has always been his parent’s favourite child probably because of the identity problems he faced while growing up which was not in his control. He is from a well-to-do educated family. All his needs are always taken care of by his parents. Another story of family support reveals that life is easier with the acceptance from family, whether it is visible or tacit. Ajay (name changed) has visible feminine mannerisms and habits, still his parents do not harass him for such behavior. Though other family members in the joint family may make some comments, still he braves them with ease. Even the caustic comments from the roadside can be easily brushed aside, considering his strong parental stand. Interestingly, the support is passive and there are no discussions on the issue. Willingly or unwillingly, in an effort to keep their identity under wraps, Kothis give ample opportunity to policemen, people in power and others to exploit them sexually and hand over money in return. Thus starts a vicious circle of self-abuse and self-condemnation. This aspect of their lives is hidden from family, relatives and immediate neighbours, adding to their pressure of maintaining several identities. One of the reasons for getting into the sex trade is competition with other kothis. They feel that the more wanted they are, the more beautiful and ladylike they could feel, which they yearn for throughout their lives. Being penetrated by men gives them a feeling of accomplishment. At times they get into this trade for survival as they fail to secure a job either due to their identity or due to lack of educational qualification which is also a result of their identity that compels them to drop out from school in order to avoid harassment or exploitation. Transgender community identified as Hijras in Lucknow, live in secluded accommodations at the periphery known as ‘Dera’. Lucknow’s cultural context has a special place for Hijras, who cough up money from people in the name of ‘Badhai’ (a ritual to congratulate people by singing and dancing on the occasions of childbirth and marriages). Many a time when Kothis need money, they approach these Deras and join the Hijras temporarily. Such acts also expose them to the pressures of joining the Hijra community permanently, at the cost of castration.
Life Ahead: Dreams, Desires, Plans And Realities
We could not contact kothis in the autumn of their lives, so it is difficult to explain this last leg of life. “What happens to the kothis involved in sex trade when age is on the downslide?” is a question that lurks in the mind. Their only source of income is petty cash that they receive, which is not enough to save for old age. Socially excluded and marginalized homosexuals find it hard to plan their future life. Their reactions are particularly distressing when they are asked about their own future plans. “There is nothing left in living such a life, it is much better to commit suicide than live such a life; life can never be normal for us”. Low future prospects and pressure for survival leads some of the Kothis to join the Hijra community permanently. Many of them see themselves marrying and settling down with kids in the near future, but with a dual identity again, as they cannot imagine revealing their true identity to their wives, and at the same time can not even think about curbing their inclination and desire for men as their sexuality is not a behavioral problem, but is something that comes from within.
Conclusion
Life of a feminized male is much of an ordeal in a society that pushes them to become a marginalized sect. With pre-conceived notions about the moral and behavioral reasons for their feminized mannerisms and choice for male partners, the larger heterosexual community has no environment for any heart-to-heart communication, thus invoking distrust, shame, guilt, self-condemnation and self-abuse. This perhaps is the cause of tarnished relationships throughout their lifespan. However, during the study we have also noticed that a few of the kothis are fortunate enough to have some support from their parents, which eventually becomes their greatest strength. They tend to become path -breakers and torch-bearers for the inclusion of the diaspora of homosexuals into the mainstream of life.
Acknowledgement
We are sincerely grateful to Bharosa and Naz Foundation International for their unstinted support. Writing this research paper would not have been possible without the valuable inputs from Bharosa and Naz Foundation International, Lucknow staff. We are heartily thankful to our Head of the Department Mr. Sanjay Mohan Johri, whose encouragement, guidance and support from the initial to the final level enabled us to come up with this study.
Case studies
Case 1
Siddhartha is a feminized male, all of 28. Since childhood he felt attracted to boys. He always liked wearing female clothes. At the age of 11, he had a partner who was his father’s friend. Siddhartha was much attached to this man & felt so grieved that he tried to commit suicide when he was extricated from his partner since his father came to know about this relationship. After sometime he had another boyfriend who abandoned him for his girl friend. Now again he has a stable partner and he feels good about having someone who cares. He has learnt from his experiences that partnerships are ephemeral and that no one will stay with him throughout his life due to social factors. He has now accepted the fact that one day his new boyfriend will also leave him. He just wants him to be honest and not to get involved with somebody else till the time they are in a relationship. He expects his boyfriend to tell him clearly when he wants to quit so that he does not feel cheated and betrayed. He is mentally prepared to let him go and live his life. He is very attached with his family especially with his father. His marriage with a girl is fixed for next year and despite his feminine attributes and attraction for other men, he cannot deny marriage as he is afraid that his father might suffer a heart-attack if he denies marriage. He is in a dilemma because he does not want to deceive an innocent girl. At times he himself wants to get married to have his wife to take care of his father and at the same time he wants to reveal his identity to the girl before getting married. He feels that he will not be able to deal with the situation when his wife will come to know about his identity after marriage. People started commenting on him after he was featured in an article that appeared in a magazine. He feels very agitated with his state after listening to comments from people around and from his relatives. The only way he deals with his situation is by crying in solitude. While he feels that he will give maximum time to his family & his wife after marriage but knows well that he’ll keep a male partner too. He thinks that he’ll tell his wife about his sexual preference after assessing the situation at home. He lives a dual life much like the proverbial Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hide. He behaves in a socially acceptable manner when with the larger society and acts spontaneously when he is with the other Kothis or at the drop-in centre (DIC). He gets a sense of freedom at Bharosa as he can be himself at the DIC and does not have to wear a mask to conceal his identity. He hates the society and does not want to disclose his identity in front of them as he does not want to bring shame to his family. He avoids meeting people around his locality where he lives because of fear of exposure. Siddhartha maintains partners far from his place and judges people before revealing his identity. He also feels that people who know his real identity would try to exploit him. His father’s other friends also wanted to exploit him and even offered to pay for sexual intercourse when they came to know about him. Though he sleeps with men for money he has made a conscious decision to not indulge in his father’s friends in order to save him the hurt & humiliation that he will have to go through in case he comes to know about these sexual transgressions.
Case 2
Twenty-five-year-old Rajat is a sensitive and affable young man. He has supportive parents and a very affectionate younger brother. His elder brother is not very supportive but does not interfere much in his life. After a few times he tried to create problems for Rajat and tried to physically assault him but since his parents are quite protective, the elder brother was instructed to stay out his life. Rajat has personal space for himself and the acceptance from his family members. He has always been his parent’s favorite child probably because of the identity problems he faced while growing up which was not in his control. He is from a well to do educated family. All his needs were always taken care of by his parents. Despite all kind of emotional, psychological and moral support from the family, Rajat faced a lot of problems from the larger society. He was not treated well by his class mates, seniors & teachers in the school. He was always teased for mingling with girls and for his feminized behavior. He was made to sit in the last bench by the teachers and was given the most difficult task by the teachers to perform failing which he was punished and made to stand out of the classroom. This continued and Rajat decided to quit studies in order to avoid this mental harassment after completing his high school. Rajat had an innate talent for music & dance which was nurtured by his parents. He was sent to a dance school for learning Kathak dance where he completed his masters. He also faced harassment by relatives and friends. His servant sexually harassed him at the age of 8 because of his discernible feminized attributes. This was followed by sexual harassment by his elder brother’s friends and many more. His was not spared by his maternal grandfather (In relation) also. He was raped by his chacha (paternal uncle) and nana (maternal grandfather) at the age of 12 when he was studying in 6th standard. He was exploited by his friend’s (girl) acquaintance once when he was learning dance. He feels that most of the people around try to take advantage of the Kothi’s therefore he detests going to his relatives except for one or two who understand him and protect him from those who try to take advantage of his vulnerability. Rajat feels that Kothi’s are meant only for use and throw. Rajat had 8 years of stable relationship with his ex-boyfriend, who was accepted by Rajat’s family and who stayed with him in his parental house. But their relationship could not go further as the boyfriend was not loyal to him and had relationship with female sex workers and other women. Rajat never thought twice before doing things for his boy friend which were against Rajat’s values but in return what he got was only betrayal and allegations. Rajat decided to broke off as he was not able to take any more. The boyfriend got married and now has a girl child and Rajat is still trying to cope with his feeling of insecurity and loneliness. Though Rajat has a new boyfriend now who is quite loving and understanding and very patient with him but Rajat is everyday dealing with the feeling of insecurity. Despite of a very strong relationship with his new boyfriend Rajat knows that one day this will also come to an end as his boy friend will have to succumb to the social pressures and get married and he will again be left alone. He has come to terms with the fact that none of the boy friend’s can support him throughout life. He feels that he can only become a source of their entertainment or a small part of their lives but can never become the most important part of their lives or family. He believes that there are things which are beyond our control and we cannot do anything about it but there are things which are in our control and one of those things is the decision to get married. Rajat has decided never to get married as he does not want to ruin somebody’s life and dreams. He does not want the girl to face all the problems and harassment that he has faced throughout his life. If he ever marries, Rajat would never want his children to be like him. He has experienced the pain & the stigma attached to the kothi identity and he feels that this life has no worth. He perceives his life to be a burden and he also feels miserable for his parents for going through so much so pain and mental trauma because of him. Rajat is one of those very few feminized men who are accepted and treated well by their families and have the freedom to express themselves in whatever way they want to. He always had a support system and also personal space for himself. Despite being lucky among the unlucky lot, Rajat is not happy. He is living a life which is bereft of self-respect and always carries his feelings of guilt and self condemnation on his frail shoulders.
Case 3
Manoj has left home and has been on his own for the past five years. Since childhood he was aware of his sexual preferences and had attraction for boys. He got into a stable relationship at the age of 18 and his parents knew about it. His family started mounting pressure on him to get married but he has a very clear stand on this. He wants to stay with his three friends as a family under the same roof. He feels content within this male group and has maintained this for the past four years. More importantly, all four partners want to live together after retirement as all of them have their own business or job. His reprieve is because of the fact that his behavior is not feminized and therefore he is saved from harassment. He does not believe in having physical relation without emotional bonding. For him, an intimate relationship is more of an emotional union rather than a physical interaction. Though all four of them are staying in different cities but the bonding is very strong. They are always there for each other and act as buffers and lend as much support for each other. He has no attachment with his parents and siblings and has always loved to stay alone, even when he was with his parents. Manoj has very strained relations with his parents and the interpersonal communication within the family had been very weak. Manoj now lives inside a shell which he feels protects him from the outside world. He does not trust anybody and choose to live in his own world. He does not care for what people think about him or what the society thinks about him because he has wilfully abstained from dealing with the outside world.
Case 4
Lucknow-based Nishant completed his masters in ancient history but decided to work as a peer educator in a National Aids Control Organization (NACO) funded project for HIV prevention among high risk groups. He was afraid that if he opts to work somewhere else, his identity will be exposed and he will be subjected to immense humiliation from both his employer and colleagues. Delving into his past once again, it turned that at the tender age of 11 he realized that he is different from other boys his age. Very close to his mother and sister, he shares that his parents have some idea about his sexual preferences because of the kind of friends-circle he moved in. Time and again, he was made aware of his gay leanings and was constantly reprimanded for his feminine mannerisms. His mother too tried to reason out things to him so that he could conform to prevalent social norms & values. She believed that he behaved in this fashion because of the kind of company he kept. Deep inside he continued to suffer from guilt pangs for having overtly feminine traits. After a short time gap, he was introduced to other men having similar feelings & attributes by his friends and he joined them as he felt accepted in their company. He feels that once you identify yourself as kothi and become a part of this community, there is no going back. He confessed that because of this leaning he became completely detached from the mainstream. He feels that DIC is a hospice where he can come, relax, vent his feelings and be himself without the fear of exposure, mortification or abuse. He constantly feels this burden when he interacts with the larger society and systems. He still feels the pain and the trauma that was inflicted upon him by his peers and seniors in school after his identity was unveiled. As a result, he made extra efforts to conceal his identity and withdrew himself from social interactions. As of now his interaction with the outside world is very limited. He had a lot of pressure from his family to get married but he does not want a dual life. He knows that he’ll never be emotionally attached to his wife and therefore he doesn’t want to ruin a girl’s life who will come to his house with a lot of hope and expectations. He had a relationship with a man which could not continue for long. Today, he is of the view that it is difficult to maintain a long term relationship with a man (Giriya) because of lack of social acceptance and accountability. He feels that he might have to succumb to family pressure in order to save them from humiliation & shame because of his identity and sexual preferences.
Case 5
A sensitive young man aged 25, Ajay lives in a joint family setup and has four brothers and two sisters. Being the eldest in his generation, since childhood, he was deeply attached to his mother and helped her in her daily chores as also while cooking. He loved dressing up like a female and loved to put make-up on his face since childhood. His parents have always been supportive, even though other family members in the joint family do make snide comments sometimes; still he braves them with ease. Earlier, there were restrictions imposed on him; for example, he was not allowed to keep late hours or come home late in the night. However, ever since the time he started earning for the family, there were no more restrictions imposed on him and interestingly other family members too have stopped commenting. What worsened matters was the fact that he was sexually exploited in 10th standard. This was his first sexual encounter and it was at this time that his identity was revealed as a result of which he had to face a lot of problems in school. Soon after, his seniors’ gang-raped him in a goods train and he was hospitalized for over a month. In order to avoid further exploitation in school, Ajay sought admission in another college and consciously tried to conceal his identity but all his efforts went in vain. It was at this time that he got interested and attracted towards boys and struck a ‘meaningful’ friendship with another young man who had overt feminized behavior. It so transpired that Ajay had already shared a four-year live-in relationship with his tuition teacher who later got involved with a girl and could not continue the relationship. Further, Ajay had another relationship which only lasted nine months. Then, one year ago luck smiled on him as it were, and has a boyfriend to boot. Ajay now harbors desires to have a long-term relationship with him. At the same time, he is acutely aware of the fact that he might have to succumb to family pressures to get married to a girl but he intends to continue his relationship with his current boyfriend even after marriage. He confesses that at times he wants to share with his mother that he is a gay and will not be able to live with a female partner. But somewhere deep inside he also knows that his boyfriend will not be able to support him for life and there will be a time when his partner will not have this kind of time for him and will be willy-nilly be absorbed in his family life. He does not want to live a lonely life and therefore is confused & indecisive. But he is sure that he’ll disclose his identity to his wife gradually as he’ll not be able to bear the burden throughout his life.
References
Khan, S. (June 1996) Culture, Sexualities, and Identities men who have sex with men in South Asia Outlook (September 1996) “Homosexuality” cover story retrieved from http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?202086 Khan, S. (August 2009) Men who have sex with men and marriage Nagar, I. (July 2009) The kotis of Lucknow: an insider perspective, retrieved from Pukaar – The journal of Naz Foundation International http://www.nfi.net/July09Pukaar.pdf Nagar, I. (2008) Language, Gender and Identity: The Case of Kotis in Lucknow India Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of The Ohio State University Khan, S. (April 2002) MSM contexts in Lahore Extract from a Social Assessment Report for the World Bank produced by Naz Foundation International and Vision, Lahore, April 2002 Khan, S. (September 1997) Perspectives on males who have sex with males in Bangladesh and India Pappas, G., Khan, O., Taylor, W.J., Khan. S., Kumaramangalam, L., and O’Neill, J. Males Who Have Sex with Males (MSM) and HIV/AIDS in India: The Hidden Epidemic

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No Nose For News, No Ear To The Ground


As a senior journalist with over three decades of experience my standard refrain was that journalism is in your blood. I strongly believed in the cliché that if you are alert and alive and keep your ear to the ground, you are on your way to becoming a successful journo. The next salvo that was fired at me was that since you did not make the cut as a top-notch journalist in Delhi, you turned to the next best option of becoming a media teacher where you don’t have to practice what you preach. I recall even the first class I took I asked the wonder-filled students as to what was the difference between a normal person and a journalist. And then I went on to give my own answer saying: Everybody sees but the journalist notices. Elaborating to the newbies, I went on to point out in effect news was anything, people or place that went against the grain of normal life, positive or negative was news. The fact that all you bright scholars were in class in time do not make news, but just then a long-maned macho hunk (my hunch was that he was a probable back-bencher) had sauntered in with a dismissive nod of his head, seeking permission to enter the classroom, I shot back you are late but you already in. And as everyone in the class had their eyes riveted on him, as if in tacit approval, and I welcomed him in as Mr. News. I apologized that I did not have in place the hundred pipers and the red carpet to welcome him in; I clearly saw that the students were impressed and I had passed their acceptance test. Now how do you make an aspiring young journalist notice in the Y2K era? For us in the 80s and the 90’s in Indian media stood for snail-slow news, paucity and padding minimalist information oozing out from the dusty outbacks of Bihar, UP or for that matter any district else, newsgathering in the slo-mo era was an exercise even the best of watchdogs would do best to shun. Saddled with poverty and the tag of a third world country, basic amenities like bijli, pani and roads came in abundance only during thundering typhoons followed by untamed and wild rains. The roads were pitiable potholes ready recipes for death and disasters You could say continuous source for news. After all the power, airwaves, waterways, that included communication lines, postal department and surface transport as the staple disseminators of information and news. And when I appeared for the interview to make the cut as an assistant professor I was asked how many crises had I covered, I promptly shot back Turkman Gate massacre in the seventies, the Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Sikh Riots, Rajiv Gandhi assassination, the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya and so on, I was promptly told to join as soon as possible by the interview panel head. It then struck me that journalism was one profession which thrived if not flourished on death, devastation and decay. And now with technology making deep inroads into the business of media and the plethora of software like TV camera PD 170, QuarkXPress, Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver, becoming the need of the day, and the info-glut we faced with the liberalization of the Indian economy, journalism sooner than later became a profession and not a commitment as the veterans were wont to believe. And soon enough, when TV news became a daily staple diet for the common man, bytes, Voice-Overs, visual dumps and packages have become the electronic journalist’s tools to get his message across. Further, when the power of the internet was unleashed among the public we finally had a genuine two-way communication model. Streaming videos, buffering, piece-to-camera and trending stories going viral in the virtual world, became passé and the concept or journalism and dissemination of information became a participative tool in the hands of the public, we realized that the mobile generation had arrived. And for the mobile generation or the AG (After Google) generation news gathering has became a quick-fix, dynamic and versatile electronic sifting experience. Using different yardsticks for a mobile generation which seamlessly shifted to different media, news became a part of experiential learning. And the end result was that no more could you merely have a nose for news. Unless you were adept at using technological tools effectively to inform, persuade and entertain the tech-savvy public you needed to understand and study the hugely complex canvas of the business called news. Radio too had resurfaced in a more listener-friendly and chatty format, and the need to generate quality content has become the order of the day. And it is in this complex backdrop that media has slowly turned from a commitment to a hard-nosed profession. And after all, content is now king, whatever the medium. Every medium needs a different treatment of content and therein lies the challenge for media teachers and professionals. The trauma of the media teacher and the impetuosity of the ambitious tech-savvy trained media professional’s nonchalant if not avowed aversion to reading, not writing content is a paradox that is fast becoming an unbridgeable chasm. Mastering control over generating the written word as the basic building block to generate content and disseminate balanced and unbiased news for consumption on the public domain has become an abhorred activity. The general refrain is: ‘Come on now, you stupid old nerd, why should I write down words, learn the onerous task of generating archaic and long-winded sentences when I work for new media or spoken media; don’t I need to master the art of being a powerful Voice Over artist, a Piece-to-camera (PTC specialist) for a 24X7 Broadcast format rather then penning down grammatically embellished words when no one is interested in paying obeisance to the printed word. Agreed new-age journos, reading anything more than three lines of written text is like reading a PhD thesis. When you can skim the surface to sip the news why dig deep into the banalities of the daily drudgery of existence.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Archaic Reporters Dumb Down Mainstream Media:

Every Blog has its day, or like the stale cliche goes Every dog has his day. This just about sums up my rich media-related career span of over 30 years. As a media person, I was asked to be alert and alive and function like the watch dog that safeguards freedom of speech & expression. If that were not enough, I was further told to keep my nose to the ground to smell out news. Write about your most memorable experiences, challenges in your industry, or topics you're most passionate about. Editors pompously remarked that either you have it in you or you do not. Follow your heart or base your story on your gut instinct. In other words follow your intuition as you write about your most memorable experiences, challenges in your industry, or topics you're most passionate about, I was further cautioned. This key word, failed to pass muster because there are no tangible elements that define intuition. In other words, there is no scientific credibility to intuitive news as vocation. But with the spawning of the IT revolution, Print medium has witnessed drastic changes, --of course for the better--. in terms of news gathering, colour layouts,CAD software and accessibility to news at the click of a mouse. The quick-silver changes spelt doom for any newsperson who was not willing to adapt to the changing times. The Editors' focus shifted from checking an edited copy to riding on brilliant colour layouts, giving aesthetics the importance it deserved but at what price. So now when you enter a newspaper office, you are first asked whether you are adept at working on QuarkExpress, DreamWeaveror Adobe, according little importance to the embellished content. Technology was meant to bring about an error-free publication. But it has been at best a roller coaster ride since errors abound Let me share a laughable story filed by my Peer. Bloomers still abound and shabby editing is still the order of the day. The Principal Correspondent who had gone to cover a communal clash in Varanasi, entered the newsroom as though he had been bitten by a snake, and his face had turned a whiter shade of pale. The published story went something like this: "VARANASI:Around two dozen Bharat Yuva Janta Morcha (BYJM) were hiding in the bylanes with the aim to lie down in front of the car carrying former Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi. Just as the car fleet neared Madanpura crossing. The student activists disengorged themselves from the alley and slapped themselves on the road unwary of the black Kurtas and white pyjamas. When the Varanasi administration not willing to blink first, the students sensing fear jumped into the croppy field nearby where they were enlightened by the farmers' torches and soon found themselves in custody." This is just the beginning of a series of blog posts on the subject.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Should Indian media be regulated or should it be like an unbridled horse?

Chander Mahadev Katju is king or is content king? The raging debate over an incalcitrant media busy passing of news in the form of trivia and advertisement is a serious enough charge that needs to be discussed threadbare sooner than later. The rising decibel levels now find a booming echo in the corridors of power saying it has tipped the norms of decency and fairplay. The media’s role as that the ultimate whistle-blower has come under a cloud considering the increasing commodification of culture and values. Let me deal with the issue of media turning into a monster much like an unbridled horse that needs to be reigned in and blinkered. Allow me to deal with this issues from a journalist’s perspective. For a trained journalist like me authentication, attribution and credibility form the bedrock of media coverage. And self-regulation is the name of the game. What cannot be verified cannot be published or aired. That is why in journalistic parlance we say “when in doubt cut it out.” These in-built mechanisms are the bedrock of a fair and impartial media. Further, according to law, no one is guilty unless proven so by a court of law. Hence we journalists always feel the need to apply what I call legal cushions. Terms like reportedly, allegedly, charged with, accused of, are in-built terms that ensure fairplay and objectivity. After all, the journalist writes the first draft of history and hence has a huge sense of responsibility. And therein lies the charm of journalism as a profession. Keeping this premise in mind, we need to realize that the broadcast media in the country is still in its teenage years. And at such an age it is bound to make mistakes. Instead of condemning and condoning its role, at this point in time, the nation needs to introspect on the authenticity and ethical values that dog the media, more so the broadcast media. Tracing the legacy of Indian media’s hoary past, let us not forget the stellar role Indian print media played during the country’s independence struggle. It had the unique distinction of fostering the idea of India and ensuring its secular credentials. Luminaries of the freedom struggle—be it Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak or Gopalkrishna Gokhale – wielded the pen to mould and shape public opinion. The fact that a leading English daily showcasies its 175 years of existence as the unbiased conscience keeper of the nation maybe stretching the argument too hard to digest given its British vestiges . It would be pertinent to mention that the once staid and conservative DD that monopolized news on visual media, had to give way to a robust private media in the nineties. This paradigm shift changed the way news was presented in the country. The race for TRPs and Breaking News notwithstanding , Indian broadcast media has broken new grounds in journalism. In effect there are over 8 crore broadcasters in the form of micro-bloggers and individual users of social networks. According to the Information &Broadcasting Minister, Manish Tiwari "revenue models of Indian media organisations have not been well-constructed, leading in turn to issues of paid news, private treaties, tyranny of TRPs and sensationalism. In the same vein, we need to dwell upon issues like Trial by Media and the bane of plagiarism, which some media experts believe have become a malady afflicting the media. Let us take some important happenings where the more articulate and activist TV channels sought to dispense justice, at times even throwing caution to the winds. While in the case of the Jessica Lal murder case the broadcast media played the role of a whistle-blower, but in the Arushi murder case, or the Mumbai terror attack on 26/11as also the Nithari killings, fingers of bias & prejudices have been raised. On May 31, 2013, there was a pithy comment made by one of the experts discussing the IPL spot-fixing controversy anchored by Arnab Goswami on Times Now. He pointed out that the TV channel and its Chief Editor had made it into a prestige issue by seeking the immediate ouster of N. Srinivasan as the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) President. This comment in effect sums up the mood of the nation. Even as the boundaries of public domain and personal privacy get blurred, we need to take stock of this situation. Hence , it is time we ran a reality check on broadcast media since it has become the favourite whipping boy of the political class. By highlighting the IPL spot-fixing scandal, exposing coal block allocation better known as the Coalgate scam, 2G spectrum allocation scam, and Nira Radia tapes, it would seem Indian media is slowly but steadily coming of age. Or is it just a mirage? At the other end of the spectrum, let us look at one of the low points in recent media history. Last year’s high octave sting operation carried out by Congress businessman-politician Navin Jindal’s business house Jindal Steel & Power Limited (JSPL) on two senior journalists of Zee News reportedly seeking Rs 100 crore as ‘silence money’ for not carrying damaging stories on coal allocation, raised a stink and brought to the fore the seamy underbelly of Indian media. In its issue dated October 25, 2012, Firstpost.com reported: “Naveen Jindal’s press conference in the context of the allegations that Zee TV executives attempted to negotiate a deal—tantamount to blackmail—to back off on a story which, ostensibly, could damage Jindal Power and Steel Limited (JSPL), in exchange for increased advertising has done media—and society—yeoman service. What the Jindal-Zee TV controversy has done—whatever the final outcome—is to force a discussion on practices that are unquestionably reprehensible. Incidents in the recent past have exposed unhealthy and cosy relationships between media and corporate India, media and politicians, politicians and corporate India, the issue of paid news under the guise of editorial, and so on. The very next day, the two senior journalists countered Jindal’s charges stating: “We have been the forerunner in exposing Naveen Jindal’s double standard as a politician and industrialist in Coalgate scam. To suppress the coverage that Zee News was telecasting on Coalgate, Corporate Communications team from JSPL first tried to bribe Samir Ahluwalia with Rs 25 crore, which he declined straightway. This was an offer from JSPL to stop the coverage of Coalgate scam. Undeterred the JSPL team offered Zee News and Zee Business and advertising deal of Rs.100 crore, to somehow stop the coverage on air” Curbs On Social Media As for efforts to curb the effects of social media in the year 2011, the then Union telecom minister Kapil Sibal’s threatened to “discipline” social networking sites leading to a raging debate on the government’s intentions behind the move. If that was not reason enough, the courts too stepped in to regulate the internet. In yet another blow to 21 social networking sites including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and YouTube, a Delhi court issued summons to them for facing trial for allegedly Webcasting objectionable contents. Metropolitan Magistrate (MM) Mr. Sudesh Kumar took cognisance on a private criminal complaint and has directed the Centre for taking “immediate appropriate steps” and also file a report in the court. According to news reports, the court's order came three days after another court in a civil case had restrained these sites including Facebook, Google and YouTube from Webcasting any “anti-religious” or “anti-social” content promoting hatred or communal disharmony. In the fresh case, the Court said, “it appears from a bare perusal of the documents that prima facie the accused, in connivance with each other and other unknown persons, are selling, publicly exhibiting and have put into circulation obscene, lascivious content which also appears to the prurient interests and tends to deprave and corrupt the persons who are likely to read, see or hear the same.” “It is also evident that such contents are continuously openly and freely available to everyone who is using the said network irrespective of their age and even the persons under the age of 18 years have full and uncensored access to such obscene contents,” the Court said. This brings us back to the debate that should the media be regulated or should it be let loose like an unbridled horse. For instance, Print media which I call the mother of journalism, has by and large managed to adhere to the norms of fairplay, ethics and values. But in some sections of the print media, the get-rich-syndrome has taken its toll. During the last general elections in 2009, some prominent national Hindi & English dailies were charged with passing of paid news as news report in their main editions. The Election Commission swung into action to ostensibly stem the rot On the brighter side, during Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption (IAC) crusade against corruption, both broadcast media as well as social media donned the activists’ robe and mobilized public opinion in such a way that it became a national movement, albeit for a short time. In this complex media maze, despairing voices are being heard regarding the state of present-day media. According to the Press Council of India Chairman and former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju, three major defects hound Indian media. Making a strong case for reining in both print and broadcast media, the judge observed sometime in 2012: In an article published in The Hindu he spelled out the three issues that ailed the media. The media often diverts the attention of the people from the real issues to non issues. The real issues in India are socio-economic, the terrible poverty in which 80% of our people are living, the massive unemployment, the price rise, lack of medical care, education, and backward social practices like honour killing and caste oppression and religious fundamentalism etc. Instead of devoting most of its coverage to these issues the media focuses on non issues like film stars and their lives, fashion parades, pop music, disco dancing, astrology, cricket, reality shows, etc. The media often divides the people: Whenever a bomb blast takes place anywhere in India (whether in Bombay or Bangalore or Delhi or anywhere) within a few hours most T.V. channels start showing that an e-mail or SMS has been received from Indian Mujahideen or Jaish-e-Muhammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam claiming responsibility. The name will always be a Muslim name. …Why should they be shown on T.V. screens, and next day in print (the T.V. news at night often sets the agenda for the print media news next morning)? The subtle message being sent by showing this is that all Muslims are terrorists or bomb throwers. The media promotes superstitions. As I have already mentioned, in this transitional age, the media should help our people to move forward into the modern, scientific age. For this purpose the media should propagate rational and scientific ideas, but instead of doing so a large section of our media propagates superstitions of various kinds. While many prominent journalists largely accept that their industry’s standards are falling, they furiously refuse the idea of setting up any “outside regulatory body”. “Don’t shoot the messenger” “I am against external regulation. The media should regulate itself,” Outlook magazine’s former editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta said in a panel debate on media regulation aired by private news channel CNN-IBN on 1 May. Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of The Hindu, appeared on the same show, where he agreed with Mr. Mehta. He pointed out that external regulation may not be very useful in improving journalistic standards. . CNN-IBN’s National Bureau Chief Bhupendra Chaubey wrote on his Twitter page: “Me to Justice Katju: Guiding of editorial content shouldn’t necessarily be regulation”. Adding fuel to the debate, a constitutional panel of the Supreme Court recently invited suggestions regarding the framing of guidelines for media coverage of pending court cases. While legal experts clarified that the court is not trying to “gag” the media but is only setting up guidelines, this move by the Supreme Court has sparked fierce opposition from some senior journalists. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar said he would lead a movement against any guidelines for court reporting. Mr Katju may have drawn severe criticism for his comments, but he has managed to arouse a debate on journalistic standards. Mr Mehta acknowledged the scope for improvement, saying, “If we keep fudging the issue, then we are opening a window of opportunity for outside intervention.” MP Shashi Tharoor of the Congress party, speaking on the same show as Mr Mehta, said “the media has astonishing powers to make or unmake people’s lives and reputations”. Mr Tharoor also says that the government should not indulge in regulation and a media body should do the job.“If we speak of better-regulated journalism, we are speaking of better journalism,” he said. But we need to remind the critics that the time when the media was gagged and muzzled--depending on which side you are on-- during Ms Indira Gandhi’s Emergency era, the effects of this exercise were devastating to say the least. Even today the imposition of emergency on June 12, 1975 and the invocation of the dreaded Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) evokes sharp reactions. A blog post on the issue best summed up the mood of the nation then, and this is what veteran journalist, and Times of India Editor Mr. Inder Malhotra said: "There is no doubt whatsoever that the period of Emergency that began in June of 1975 and ended in March of 1977 has been one of the most squalid chapters in modern Indian history. For those of us who lived through it, it was a nineteen-month nightmare. It was terrible, a country's total ethos changed overnight. The world's largest democracy, with a single stroke of the President's pen becomes one of the numerous tin-pot dictatorships with which the third world was then infested. Hundred thousand people were arrested and jailed, this is the number, equal more or less to what the British arrested in the whole 1942 movement." Then there was unspeakable harassment of a much larger group of people. There were certain very strange phases of it. For one whole year India was reverberating with slogans of 'Indira must go'. "If it was the JP movement alone, Indira Gandhi would have fought it. It was the Allahabad High Court judgment that made her position totally untenable. If she had some sense she would have followed her initial impulse, which lasted no more than five minutes." Speaking about reactions of the press and judiciary he said, "My own community - Times of India at that time, was under the Government, they took the position that whatever was lawful will be obeyed. Indian Express and one or two others tried to place blank, some papers even quoted Rabindranath Tagore. Mr. Advani after the Emergency told the Indian press that -- 'you were asked only to bend, but you crawled'. Unfortunately, the institutions of democracy were damaged. But was Indira alone responsible for it? What about those whose job it was to protect the integrity and autonomy of those institutions. They were very happy to fall in line. Judiciary - the less said the better." On 25th June 1975,the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency in the country. Fundamental Rights stood suspended, censorship was imposed on the press and prominent political leaders were arrested. Keeping these issues in mind, freedom of the press does not mean throwing caution to the wind, it does not mean unbridled criticism, it does not mean that your criticism is not tempered with reason and rationality. It means acting responsibly, it means respecting the fundamental rights of an individual,. To conclude, we will do well to remember that there is no special statute that safeguards the role of the fourth pillar of democracy. The Indian Constitution does not provide freedom for media separately. But there is an indirect provision for media freedom. It gets derived from Article 19(1) (a). This Article guarantees freedom of speech and expression. The freedom of mass media is derived indirectly from this Article. Article 19 of our Constitution deals with the right to freedom and it enumerates certain rights regarding individual freedom of speech and expression etc. These provisions are important and vital, which lie at the very root of liberty.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Flute & The Falcon

This is my concept note on a film on India as a Soft Power. I have used the symbology of the flute to represent Indian mysticism and the falcon to symbolise Rumi's brand of Sufism that emanated in Konia in Asia Minor, now Turkey. Read on...
Like a bend in the flow of the Ganga cascading down Lord Shiva’s head, India has long been celebrated as the fountainhead of religious democracy, where a dialogue with the divine is a daily life-enriching experience. And the universal idea of God being a manifestation of unconditional love—beyond the shackles of rituals and rites—has been best reflected in the precepts of Vedanta soaked in the spirit of Sufism. The ethnicity of the Sufi Dargah and its universal appeal, cutting across religious lines is evident in the Sufi edifices that dot this proverbial land of milk and honey. God is one, concur both Vedanta and the Sufi Dervish. And, Sufism, in Persia and Turkey, was inspired by the tenets of Vedanta where the celebration of the Guru-shishya system and the concept of a higher self as a revered step towards self-realization are the underlying themes. The soul has been described as a bird caught in a cage and it is the release through music and bhakti that it finds salvation. The universal appeal of Lord Krishna, as the shepherd of the soul, the ultimate romantic ensconced in the unconditional love of the Gopis even as they sway to the sweet strains of his flue was a sight the Sufis too could not resist imbibing in their poems and spiritual experiences. Such is the universal appeal of Indian religious symbols and myths. Much in the same manner for the greatest of Sufi saints Rumi, India was both an inspiration and a fountainhead of diverse forms of religious beliefs and experiences -- where the celebration of God was best manifest by the flute of Lord Krishna, It is important to note that both the Sufi mendicant and the bhakti ras exponents like Narsi Bhagat and Surdas believed in the power of music to awaken the soul. According to Persian scholar Prof SMH Abdi, Rumi’s labour of love Mathnavi Khanas begins with the Song of the Reed wherein he states: ‘Listen to the reed how it tells a tale complaining of separation’. This universal appeal finds favour in the Skand Purana which tells us that “Brahma as the sound is the highest Brahma. According to Vedic text, “When a man enjoys grace, the flute is played on for him”. Suffice it to say Rumi’s Mathnavi is a collection of stories which are from and about India. Strongly influenced by India, Hindu and Buddhist tales and fables form the bedrock of his book of poems. Drawing extensively from Buddhist fables Rumi’s central anecdote was one where he talks of the elephant and the selected perception of the seven blind men. For this mystic seer, the symbol of the bird being caught in a cage was a recurrent them. He also talks of Kalila & Dimna, the Arabic and Persian names of The Panchatantra. Ruminating his experiences in Konia, Rumi imbibed Indian thinking and spiritual beliefs and his tumultuous meeting with his alter-ego and disciple Shams of Tabriz awakened the poet within the master thus reestablishing the guru-shisya concept. Figuratively speaking, Maulana Rumi was the nightingale who became a falcon -- a hunter of spiritual truth. –the baz as it finds constant reference and is echoed throughout his works. This baz embodying the sufi spirit winged its way back to India in myriad forms. Using the flute and the falcon as the central symbols we can pan Rumi, the seer, who, deeply influenced by India, in turn, inspired mystic movements for over a span of 700 years. His teachings and influences were factored in, in the cultural fabric of the area where such movements spawned. As a cultural melting pot, Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s perception of Rumi’s Sufi principles spawned the Brahmo Samaj movement. Roy, deeply influenced by the Vedanta and the mystic musings of Rumi made a thorough study of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Max Muller considered him the ‘the first man to effect a synthesis between East & West. Roy’s movement reached its climax in Guru Rabindranath Tagore. Tracing the flight of the Rumi falcon as it were, we next shift focus to Swamiji Maharaj, founder of the Radha Swami sect, who was deeply influenced by Sufism and Rumi and propounded the concept that if one met the perfect faqir, he has met Almighty God, as there is no difference between the two, To buttress his belief he quotes Rumi: ‘If you accept someone to be your spiritual guide, You will find him an embodiment of God and the prophet’ Finally, we close in on Allama Iqbal, the greatest secular symbol of 20th century India, The poet who prided himself on being the Indian disciple of Rumi, and distilled Sufism in the modern Indian context. According to Dr Abdi, Rumi was to Iqbal what Virgil was to Dante . This symbiotic relationship between Sufism and Vedanta, this ultimate and universal establishment of the guru-shisya parampara best reflects India as a soft power, For, India has long influenced and will continue to influence spiritual dialogue and evolution across the world in a technology-churned and stress-driven world

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Biju Breezes Into Bombay

Folks, this is the opening chapter of a proposed but imaginary book on a Mumbai-based entrepreneur who set foot in the city after completing his schooling in Allepey, Kerala, his hometown in 1953. Read on... Sweat trickled down his shiny back. With brows furrowed, hands clammy with sweat, he tried to ease his right hand into the fellow-traveller’s trouser pocket. His heart thudded against his chest as the sound of the train hurtling down the rail track rose to a screeching crescendo. For long, hunger pangs had been gnawing at his stomach and he stealthily moved in for the kill. He had made up his mind -- for hunger speaks its own language –that right now all he needed was money . Money to buy himself a hearty meal, money to buy himself a feeling of security even as the Madras-Bombay Dadar Express chugged along closer to its destination. For him, the Bombay of 1953,was his city of nascent dreams, his passport to success. Seventeen was not exactly the age to script a success story nor the fact that he had only recently cleared high school back home in Allepey in Kerala, a prescription to realize his dreams. By now his mouth had gone dry as he furtively glanced at the motley group of fellow passengers s who had boarded the train at Manmad station. The unreserved compartment he was travelling in was by now spilling over with commuters. Biju knew, it was now or never. He steeled his lightning reflexes, honed by three years of playing school football and his hand plunged into his unwitting victim’s back pocket. In a flash, the well-endowed wallet was in his hand. A sigh escaped his parched lips, and even as the wallet disappeared into the waistband of his mundu, Biju Warrier came into his own. No sooner had he moved into the safety of people huddled on in their seats, he began to breathe easy. He then realized he was feeling queasy for this was the first time he had indulged in an act of moral indiscretion. He recalled how his mother despite being thrashed by her husband for not bringing enough money home, would remonstrate him saying “Pray to God, for He will take care of your pains and hunger-pangs.” She would then turn to Biju and repeat her favourite line: “No gain without pain.” For Biju her word was God’s. In one fell swoop as it were, a strong pair of hands squeezed hard on his small shoulders from under Biju’s jibba ( a coarse kurta) and it seemed that his life had begun to curl up like smoke above his shoulder. Oh my, was it the burly constable whom he had seen climb up at Manmad station or was it another professional pick-pocket waiting for easier pickings, Biju was not sure. Like a chicken ready for the slaughter, he looked up resignedly, only to find the owner of the hands that were pushing him down --a handsome and swarthy man in his late thirties, dressed in a white pathan suit. In a flash his hands closed in on the wallet and in one motion he flung it out of the compartment window. “What you did just now, does not behove a Malayalee. We are not morally and culturally corrupt like what one Bombayite said to me one month ago. You see, I can read people’s minds and I can see the spark in your eyes and the dreams that you hide in your heart.” As Biju looked at the man questioningly, he seemed to have read his mind. “Varda, I am Vardararajan, and they call me the Textile Trade Union King of Dadar.” Biju started to tremble and his face turned a whiter shade of pale, but Vardarajan’s hands toussled the mop of curly hair that crowned his head. Biju was touched beyond words and his past came gurgling out like an unending stream of tears. He disclosed to the stranger that he had left for Madras from Moncompu by road five days ago, where his father, the village toddy-tapper spent the better part of the day in a state of inebriation. Chetan Warrier was so stoned all day that despite being a Thevar he could hardly make out the fresh morning neera from the heady brew of arrack it turned at sundown. No wonder then he was called Glass Onion and Biju revealed he would feel slighted every time he heard this unflattering sobriquet. He recalled that as the oldest among four siblings life was a daily grind and they would often go to sleep after taking measly helpings from an odd coconut or two. The coconuts, few and far between, would come as a gift from the Thalaivar’s (headman) wife where his mother Naraini Amma worked as a coconut plantation worker. She would be paid her wages if and when she had gathered more than 100 thengais (coconuts) , which was not very often. Biju recalled his dream of being a man of means and after school, would often lie under the coconut tree—better known as the Kalpa Vriksh or the wish-fulfilling tree. He marvelled at God for creating a tree of which every part and every shred could be used productively. He would often dream that he could make a living selling coconut products once he touched down in Bombay. Or better still, he recalled how his English teacher would ask him to repeat the tongue-twister: “She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore.” Biju told the stranger how he had gone to Cochin on a rare school trip where he saw an entrepreneur getting women workers to collect shells from the sea shore. He would then crush them to form lime and would then sell it to the construction industry. Biju revealed that he was hugely impressed by his spirit of enterprise. Biju would have gone on and on but just then Varda announced that the train had reached Dadar Central. Taking out five crisp hundred rupee notes and placing them on Biju’s hands he said: “Keep this. You will need it in this alien land. Also, here is a piece of paper with my Dadar address. Use this money judiciously and the day you make a man of yourself come back to me, for I know you will make me proud one day.” As the train pulled up on the platform, the Bombay evening sun spread its golden rays, and washed the platform afresh in its heady hues. “At long last, welcome to the city of dreams,” Biju told himself just as Varda disembarked and disappeared into the Dadar sunset.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

350 for 1 HOWZATT

This article appeared in BTWmag in V A R I E T Y - c h a n d e r m a h a d e

350/1 howzat!



Sachin Tendulkar is here. So is Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Padma Shri Kalimullah Khan has grafted and grown 350 varieties of mangoes on a single tree

Kalimullah Khan in his Mango orchard

Come summer and the mystic muse of Malihabad beckons the mango lover to soak in the distinct aromatic zing of the Dussehri aam. About 29kms from Lucknow on the Lucknow-Hardoi road resonates the mantra Go (man)go! This is not a prompt to egg on a marathon runner but a teaser to embark on a sojourn to experience the mango musings of Josh Malihabadi, the 18th century poet par excellence. And without further ado let us embark on a journey that would aptly sum up Avadh’s Dussehri spirit and how it transcends the persona of the aam aadmi.

A charming, almost endearing sight greets you as you drive along the Hardoi highway from Lucknow to Malihabad; innumerable orchards and nurseries lining both sides of the road, farmers lying on string cots in the shade, guarding their mango trees against the unwelcome attention of squirrels, parrots and naughty children.

Known as the home of poet Josh Malihabadi, Malihabad is a town in Lucknow district and it was in Malihabad’s palaces that Shyam Benegal shot his 1978 film, Junoon. Presently, Padma Shri Kalimullah Khan, who took to mango cultivation in 1957, shortly after failing his seventh standard, is the town’s most famous resident. His achievments include grafting and growing some 350 varieties of mango – from the bitter-gourd-shaped Karela to the heart-shaped Asroor Muqarar – on a single 100-year-old tree. “Mangoes are my passion,” he readily acknowledges. “They are more important to me than my children.” Despite his advancing years, Kalimullah glides swiftly, weaving his way amid the dense mango orchard and presto.

Avadh is not only about kite-flying, homing pigeons and courtroom trivia nor about the decadence captured in Shatranj ke Khilari, a la Satyajit Ray’s magnum opus. Instead, here you will get a taste of the perfect blend of Dussehri aam, the Kababi panache and Dhai Bhalle’s of Hazratganj. It’s also a city where Salam Alaikum merges so beautifully with Namaste.

The famous Malihabadi Dussehri mango bagged the prestigious Geographical Index (GI) status, bringing it international recognition and protection of its distinct identity.

Raising a toast to the king of fruits, local orchard owner, Naseeb Ahmed Khan says, “The GI status comes as a boon because it will allow us to market our produce at higher prices. However, with this, it will also mean that we must maintain uniform standards of quality across all orchards in the area.”

The thousands of mango orchards in Malihabad, Mal, Rahimabad and Kakori in Lucknow district and other parts of the state including Saharanpur and some other districts of western Uttar Pradesh have trees blooming at the onset of summer. The Dussehri is grown in other parts of the state but the Malihabadi mangoes are ‘special’ for its taste.

Most people know Kalimullah for his impassioned speeches about Dussehri mangoes. But there is a lesser-known side to him. Kalimullah loves cricket and is fascinated with Bollywood.

To celebrate the ‘goodness and sheer brilliance’ of cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar, the Udyan Pandit (he has been conferred the award generally reserved for those who excel in apple orchard farming) has named one variety of the fruit in his orchard after Tendulkar. Called ‘Sachin’, the mango is a unique cross between the Chausa and Amin Gudad Shah (a variety Kalimullah developed himself).

If Sachin has found space in his repertoire, Bollywood’s diva Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is the next to put her name to a mango. And this one is a cross between ‘Kacche Meethe’ and Dussehri. Where Sachin gets a mango to his credit, only a mango will not do for Aishwarya. Kalimullah explains, “I have also named a variety of guava after her. Both the fruits have a distinctly red hue that make it unmatched in beauty.”

Among his most precious creations is a tree in the Mughal Garden at the Rashtrapati Bhawan flowering 54 varieties. The craft developed by him has become a mystery for researchers and agriculturists among the country and abroad who have been left baffled by his work.

The sexagenarian who also finds mention in the Limca Book of Records has the support of his sons in keeping the tradition alive. He has also cultivated a new variety of an all season flowering guava, which on ripening grows as red as an apple.

On the global radar, the diminutive town of Malihabad is tickling the taste buds of people with a sweet tooth. For once at least, commoners can take pride in being addressed as mango people!