Saturday, February 21, 2015

Qatha: Times and lives of girly boys from ‘60s Kolkata (part 1)

People, Feb '15
By Pawan Dhall and Soma Roy Karmakar

Varta brings you the ‘Queer Kolkata Oral History Project’, an initiative to document five decades of queer lives in Kolkata (1960-2000). Our aim in this project is to go back in time and bring forward diverse queer voices through a series of interviews, which will provide a landmark to Kolkata city's queer history. Typically, the focus will be on the queer scenario in Kolkata during the growing up years of each interviewee – how it was to be queer in Kolkata in different decades since the 1960s till more recent times. The effort will be to bring forward a mix of the well known and the lesser known voices. Apart from the excerpts published here, the project also aims to publish a collection of the interviews in different formats. All interviews are based on informed consent and where requested, all markers of identity have been removed for reasons of confidentiality.

In this issue we bring you the first part of an interview with SD, a journalist, 62 years old, who has clearly seen and experienced 50 shades of queer in Kolkata right since the 1950s till recent times!

The interview was conducted by Pawan Dhall on August 9, 2013, and transcribed by women’s and child rights activist Soma Roy Karmakar. It has been illustrated by artist Rudra Kishore Mandal.

Pawan: So will you tell us something about yourself? What do you do?

SD: What I do . . . well, I am a journalist, I always have been . . .

Pawan: You’ve always been in Kolkata?

SD: Yes, always . . . Calcutta.

Pawan: Okay, Calcutta. Right and how old are you?

SD: I will turn 62 in September.

Pawan: Okay, thanks. So what we are doing . . . trying to do with the book or anthology that we are working on is to record the stories of . . . queer people . . . queer as a umbrella term, in whichever way you identify yourself or not identify at all.

SD: Yeah, yeah . . .

Pawan: . . . the idea is to see, through the years, say beginning from ‘50s or the ‘60s, what was life like for queer people, especially during their years of growing up – during their teen years, during adolescence.

SD: The consciousness of being . . . about my sexuality . . . the realisation came quite early in life . . . and then . . . I was a child . . . I still remember in nursery . . . there was this girl . . . I still remember her name was XYZ . . . and then she asked very strangely for a little child . . . couldn’t have been more than two and a half to three and she asked if I want a (pauses, laughs) . . . I still remember, it was so funny . . . if I want a boy's jumble or a woman's . . . girl's jumble, not woman's . . . so I did not actually disclose what I . . . what I craved . . . and obviously . . . a boy's   . . . and then . . . in those days I was quite indiscriminating . . . irrespective of looks . . . it had to be a male genital, and then a body too did not matter . . . then I must have been very effeminate even as a child . . . because some of the boys in our class . . . they used to imitate me and then . . . well, throughout class 3, 4, 5 of course, it was quite smooth . . . then I wasn't too bad in studies and so the teachers never used to . . . I mean used to like me a lot . . . but then when I was in middle school that things started getting very rough you know . . . and then say when I was about 13 . . . 12, 13 . . .  

Pawan: What year would this be?

SD: I was born in 1951, so . . .

Pawan: Okay, so about early ‘60s?

SD: Yeah, early ‘60s, and then, because . . . there used to be these hulking Anglo-Indian boys, most of them were rugby players, and then . . .  and they were oversexed I think . . . and along with them there were a couple of other Indian boys too . . . and then there were plenty of foreigners in those days . . . we used to have a group of very girlish boys and . . . we definitely used to like men, there’s no doubt about that, and then . . . and then there were South Indian boys, Punjabis . . . don’t remember . . . so many years . . . Bengali boys, and then there used to be one particular South Indian boy . . . called . . . his name was ABC – he was a very good looking boy . . . well, we never used the word 'queer' those days.


Pawan: How many people were there, you said there was a group of girly boys?

SD: Yeah . . . yes . . . there was . . . one D, then B, A . . . there were plenty, about 10-12 boys . . . and then since we had . . . it was partly boarding, partly day scholar . . . and then many of them used to stay back in the boarding . . . in the hostel . . . and then they used to have orgies . . .

Pawan: Okay.

SD: I mean not 'orgy' orgies . . . I mean, like you know between three persons . . . and may be some of the boys used to force themselves on the weaker lot . . . and then well I used to find them, these hulks very attractive, but at the same time they used to be very brutal . . .

Pawan: Brutal?

SD: Very brutal . . . some times during break . . . during lunch . . . not lunch . . . we used to call it break . . . they used to really beat us up . . . and then it was very violent . . . and then often my mother had to go and . . .

Pawan: School authorities would not do anything about it?

SD: They’d do nothing about it . . . nothing about it . . . yeah, there were some . . . there was an Anglo-Indian teacher . . . lovely man . . . he used to sort of . . . and then there were many of these teachers who were that way also inclined . . . one of them was . . . violent . . .

SD: . . . and then we used to wear make-up . . . I used to love it . . . not any longer . . . no, I would love to but then . . . I would have reservations now . . . because of age, skin . . .  

Pawan: Practical reasons?

SD: Yeah, for practical reasons . . . well, at home . . . hmm . . . at home, yes, home was different, home . . . people knew that I was effeminate, but then not in the para (locality), I used to live in Howrah.

Pawan: Okay . . .

SD: But then, I used to get caught with make-up . . . and my mother used to be really worried about me . . . also my father would not like it at all, but then my mother always had an excuse for it. I used to learn painting . . . whenever it was pointed out that her son is very effeminate, her excuse was that creative people always are . . . perhaps like Rabindranath surely was . . . the legacy of effeminate Bengali men is . . . that was quite widely recognised as . . . especially those horrible dancers . . .

Pawan: (Laughs) Okay!

SD: I don’t think you are aware of it . . . Thomas Mann had described him as a . . . as a ‘polite English lady’ . . .

Pawan: (Laughs) . . . okay . . . are you okay with these being quoted?

SD: Yeah . . . Rabindranath was gay, that doesn't mean he wasn't a human being, come on!

Pawan: Yeah . . .

SD: . . . but then my father generally looked down on it, I mean, on the fact that I was effeminate, and then also I had gotten into trouble once in school . . . on one occasion, that sports day . . . then we all came from this boy's house on Theatre Road . . . of course, we were in school uniform . . . no, on that day because it was sports . . . then we were wearing those . . . buttons, you know what buttons are?


Pawan: They were like flowery, kind of . . .

SD: No no no no no, not flowery . . . they used to be like . . . pins . . . spherical pins . . . which you could affix to your shirt or . . .

Pawan: Okay.

SD: Even now they do and they put some kind of message . . . and then . . . of course, sports, athletics was very exciting (chuckles) . . . cheerleaders and all that.

Pawan: And you were one of the cheerleaders . . .

SD: No no no no! We used to imagine ourselves . . .

Pawan: Where did you get those buttons . . .?

SD: Oh, okay from this boy’s mother . . . I believe that she entertained a lot of men, including shippies – they were Anglo-Indians . . . and she was very attractive . . . she was an airhostess . . . so she used to have a lot of foreign make-up and she could wear . . . apply make-up very well – that's how I learnt how to do make-up . . . eye shadow . . . in those days . . . living in a middle class family – even in well-to-do, very highly westernised families – even they would think twice about wearing make-up, especially eye make-up, and it was not available in our country those days – imports had stopped and then, so when they used to go abroad . . . Anglo-Indians . . . somehow they used to get . . . with their foreign contacts and friends . . . and these buttons too were from this boy’s house . . .

SD: . . . and my first experience . . . in school they used to force themselves on us, in the sense that they would try to, well, molest us, and then . . . it was a very violent form of molestation . . . as I told you. As a matter of fact, just before leaving school, I almost had a nervous breakdown, you know, because it was so violent, and I used to wonder what college would be like . . . well, college was fine, college was lovely . . .

To be continued.

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!




Soma Roy Karmakar passionately believes in gender equality and women’s empowerment. She works on issues of child sexual abuse with RAHI Foundation, Kolkata.





Rudra Kishore Mandal is a painter and freelance graphic designer and calls his artistic quest Rudrascape (http://rudrascape.blogspot.in/).

1 comment:

  1. I congratulate Varta from the deepest core of my heart for such an intense and thoughtful work...The interview is not just helping one open up or share one's thoughts and expectations but also help create mass awareness... Regards..Amitabha Sengupta

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