Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How many gays do I know...or have in my life ?



A recent blog-post by my friend Raju N – the ‘Romantic Realist’ Ed of MINT – titled “How many Muslims do I have in your Newsroom…. ?” ( click here to read the full article) had got me going. Another e-mail forwarded by a respected elder – a former ambassador – ( see excerpt below) had me further worked up. So, this was meant to be my two-penny bit on secularism and minorities. But, half way down the piece, I was way-laid by the front page news item in today’s ToI – “Homosexuality a disease, says Government” (click here) and that set me thinking - how many gays do I really know ?

Dubbed in Kathmandu

Having studied in an all-boys missionary school – there were, of course, the odd brother or father, who were rumored to have been caught with their hands tucked under some junior’s ‘half-pants’. Though looking back, I can’t be certain they displayed pedophilic tendencies or just deviant expressions of pent up sexuality. To my mind, they were at best ( or worst) duo-sexual ( I think the commonly used term ‘bi-sexual’ is a misnomer). But, even denying them the benefit of doubt – I can’t think of any “declared” or “confirmed” gay or lesbian among my circle of friends and acquaintances – barring, perhaps, just two. One is a banker in London – cousin of a classmate and contemporary of some close friends with whom he studied engineering at IIT – Kanpur. The other is a well-known author – of Indian origin – who lives in Kathmandu – the “widowed” partner of a legendary artist and editor / author. Kathmandu is known to have a large gay population – though I have met a few of them socially can’t claim to know any of them well.

So, I have often wondered if it’s possible that there are some closet gays or lesbians I know – who are able to successfully hide their proclivities with a garb of hetro-sexual behaviour (in our society – even a lack of interest in women or vice-versa is often considered “normal”). I feel a little handicapped at not being endowed with my good “buddy” Farhad Wadia’s extra sensory powers of recognizing gays and ‘hookers’ in a crowd – ( who proudly claims that he has a "GAYDAR" - short for Gay RADAR, but he is not a HOMOphobe and has many gay friends - for the record!!). Now this inquiry in my mind is not arising – as you might suspect - out of any prurient interest but a genuine social ( if not sociological ) concern.

the 'unsuitable' question

The question that bothers me is – how would we deal with a gay in our midst, either in the family or at the work-place? Though today our newspapers have miles of column-centimeters on gay rights and TV channels are also airing shows on gay issues – I have seen from close quarters how journalist friends snigger and jibe at their allegedly gay colleagues on the editorial floor. Similarly, I have heard top artists make snide comments about their gay compatriots. Perhaps because of their ingrained diversity and sheer strength of numbers, the advertising agencies and other creative shops are probably a little more liberal (and, a wee-bit less judgemental)– but, still there is a very low level of acceptance even in the so-called enlightened circles. I believe it's not perchance, therefore, that - the known number of gays in Corporate India is extremely low.

We do have a Leila Seth writing in her autobiography about how she coped on coming to know that her son is gay. And, the other day I heard Vikram Seth talk about it openly in a Barkha Dutt show on NDTV ( Read: Morality cannot overshadow fundamental rights) . But, then every mother isn’t a former Chief Justice of High Court, just as every son isn’t an internationally acclaimed celebrity author. So, how do ordinary people in our societal context handle such a sensitive issue?

the 'Man of Steel' and his AK-47

I have heard parents joke as to how relieved they were – when their son actually proposed to a girl. Or, I remember a very senior bureaucrat telling us – how he had very gingerly broached to his rather reclusive musician son – confirming our stereotypical mindset – the question, if he was by any chance otherwise inclined and the young man shot back saying “ Dad, I don’t need your permission to be gay !!” And, there was this unkind corporate gossip doing the rounds some years back on how the ‘Czar of Steel’ lost his throne because of his excessive fondness for an AK-47, his protégé with the same initials whom he wanted to anoint as successor. (Much to the credit of the latter – he ‘moved in’ with his mentor and master, literally - lock, stock and barrel, when the former was forced to ‘move out’ and they lived happily together until his rather premature demise a couple of years ago. So much, for proverbial gay loyalty).

The bottom line being, according to me, why blame the government ? – as a society we still have a very long way to go before accepting persons of alternative sexual orientation and give them their rightful place in society. It will be a while before MSM and WSW become a part of our lexicon. Many who are crying hoarse on the subject – other than those who are directly affected – are at best doing a lip service to their cause. But, I guess we have to make a beginning somewhere. And, to that extent – I admire the very open-minded and bold stance taken by the judges of the Delhi High Court hearing the petition.

I can see some of you are convinced that, I must be in the throes of acute MLC (mid-life crisis) to take up such a topic for my blog. I admit that, so far I have steadfastly steered clear of issues of personal choice or preferences. But, I was emboldened after reading a blog of my young cousin on how to chose the perfect bra. Check-out: Rheality Check (click here)

Post Script:

Ambassador Deb Mukharji's Letter to the Secretary,
Vivekakanda International, New Delhi
**


Shri Mukul Kanitkar, Secretary
To: VK
International Delhi **


Dear Shri
Kanitkar

You may recall the invitation to me to speak at the
Vivekananda Kendra International in Chanakyapuri on July 2, 2008, on the current
developments in Nepal at your monthly Vimarsha programme. May I say that I
was greatly impressed by the courtesy and the efficiency of all
involved?

At the conclusion of my talk I was presented with a book
in gift wrapping which I was able to see only weeks later due to my absence from
Delhi and other pre-occupations. The book is titled 'Expressions of
Christianity:with a focus on India', published by Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan
Trust, Chennai.

The book is a compilation of articles which, in
short, viciously denigrates Christians and Christianity. The individual
pieces of information could be factually correct, as may have been the
information in Mother India of Katherine Mayo, described by Gandhiji as an
inspector of drains. While it is an unfortunate and inescapable fact that there
are people and organisations who may feel that the denigration of others
enhances themselves, I would like to place on record my deepest sense of shock
and humiliation that this kind of material is being published and distributed
under the banner of the name of one of the greatest sons of India.

May I add that such activity directly contravenes what you
mentioned to me in your introductory letter, and I quote, "In 1993 when this
precious plot of land was allotted to Kendra in the prime diplomatic area of
Chanakyapuri; the grand vision of a centre for inter-civilizational dialogue and
spreading of Sanatana thought to the humanity was envisaged." There cannot be
dialogue on the basis of denigration and hatred.

Needless to say,
such hate literature acquires some relevance in the context of what is happening
in Orissa and Karnataka today.

I would like to inform you that this
letter is being forwarded to other Indian citizens who may feel
concerned.

Deb Mukharji 15.10.2008.

** Vivekananda International Centre, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi is a branch of the Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari and is in no way connected to the Ramakrishna Mission and Math