Monday, April 20, 2015

Qatha: Times and lives of girly boys from ‘60s Kolkata (part 3)

People, Apr '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.

We bring you the third and final part of an interview with journalist SD, 62, who shares 50 shades of queer in Kolkata since the 1950s. In the first two parts of the interview (published February and March 2015 issues of Varta), he spoke about life in school, his years in college, about his workplace and his understanding of the gender fluidity inherent in Indian traditions. In this part, we see a glimpse of sexual networking in Kolkata in the 1970s and 1980s, the interviewee’s love life and his take on the argument that homosexuality is a western import.

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: If you were to meet other people like you, were there . . . what was the social networking like? Was there some kind of a network . . . or were there cruising areas . . . or parties happening or any such thing?

SD: Well, I got to know . . . in the beginning we never used to meet . . . there was this friend of mine and I, we were too stuck (coughs) . . . we were far too la-di-da to go to the . . . with you know, the lower classes, and then . . . but then one friend of mine had seduced one of the drivers, and then, later on I got hold of him too, and then . . . we discovered C Park . . . I did not know that after evening, after dark, it used to become a totally different place  altogether . . . and then . . . before that we had already seduced one constable, Muslim constable, and then I had a Goan friend, and then he was very angry with me because I wouldn’t allow him to penetrate . . . and then I met up with a – with a class friend of mine from school, and then we used to go to C Park . . . it [became] so addictive that we used to go there practically every evening, and then there was this other friend of mine who used to live opposite C Park and . . . somebody used to come from north Calcutta . . . we would all get together, but then we were all from very good families who would come to my house, and . . . C Park was . . . in a lot of activity . . . there were prostitutes hanging around – I’m talking of male prostitutes as well as female ones, and . . . we were often mistaken for male prostitutes . . . and then the female prostitutes used to ask us why we were there for . . . but then somehow the other queens used to resent us because we used to stay together . . .

Pawan: Right . . .

SD: . . . and then, this friend of mine, who used to come from Sealdah . . . they used to call him Anglo Paglu . . .

Pawan and SD: (Laugh together).

SD: . . . and he used to have a great sense of humour, he used to dress horribly, he used to wear those . . . those very short kurti type kurtas, and all white, and then . . . he was quite rich, but then he used to wear old ‘60s clothes, including bell bottoms, it was like that and . . . he used to own a hotel, and then he used to take all kinds of people to the hotel, and then, they used to have orgies and . . . but yeah, and then there used to be police raids, and then those men used to come and policemen used to come and . . . and pick up any boys and . . . they happened to pick me up . . . one of them actually came up to me – very good looking man, I must say – he came up to me and asked me how much I charged.

Pawan: Okay . . .

SD: I said my god! And . . . so I said . . . what exactly he was looking for, he said just for a hand job . . . and then I sat down, the moment I sat down with him somebody came and stopped him . . . and then of course that man – later while he took me to the . . . to the van, he asked me what is a . . . a boy from a good family like you, what is he doing here? And then it was quite a terrifying event because my father had to come, and bail me out . . . of course the charge could never have been homosexuality or anything . . .

Pawan: Yeah. 

SD: . . . but one day my father knew, he may have guessed . . . my father knew definitely, not my mother, she was too . . . she would’ve killed herself, I’m sure . . . and then I had a small bit of struggle, when I was close to 30, when people in my family wanted me to . . . to get married, and then, of course . . . I told them I will never get married, my father actually asked me if there was something wrong with me . . . if it was some kind of illness, I said nothing, I’m perfectly normal, which is true – I was normal and still I’m normal – and . . . just because I am not that way inclined doesn’t mean that I am not normal. Any way it all depends on what you call normality . . .  and so . . . yeah, and later on I came to LMN [newspaper] . . . and apparently they already knew that I was a queen, and then all the girls, plenty of girls there, and then they really welcomed me and I became friends with them, because I have always have . . . more than the boy cousins, I used to be very friendly with my girl cousins, always, because we used to play with dolls and all that, and then . . . (laughs) don’t laugh!

Pawan: (Laughs) I am just appreciating whatever you are saying . . .

SD: And then (laughs) . . . we . . . I used to love playing with dolls, as a matter of fact I still have . . . my father, I wonder what he must have thought, and when I was . . . in class 5 when I did rather well in class, as a gift I demanded a doll, and then yeah, there’s this rather cute looking Japanese doll that I . . . that I got, in those days they used to come with blonde hair and I still have it, still a prized possession, and then I remember that my aunt and I . . . and the aunt used to knit sweaters for . . . for the child as well as all kinds of costumes for the doll . . .

Pawan: LMN, you came . . . joined them sometime in the ‘90s?

SD: Yeah, in 1994 . . . and then we used to have a group . . . it used to be a wonderful group, and then most of the other members . . . not most, all the other members of the group were youngsters, they were in their 20s, and then I was already  42, 43 at that time, but then we used to have a really great time because we used to go to each other's houses, stay the nights, and . . . we used to go out and eat, we used to come to my house, we used to have really great parties, and then there was nothing of personal sexual angle to that . . . and then they used to love to hear my stories . . . (laughs).

Pawan: I can . . . I am sure about that (laughs) . . .

SD: . . . and then most of them, they’re . . . they all live abroad, and then we have this, this something called the ‘link’, we exchange and stock stories. They don’t have much to share unfortunately, because they lead very staid lives, because they’re all married long and with kids . . . then I, I tell them outrageous stories, some of them made up (laughs) . . . and then they . . . they love to hear all those stories, so . . .

Pawan: In all . . . in all these cheerful times . . .

SD: (Interrupts) Gay times!

Pawan: Gay times . . . you never fell in love with anyone, never anything romantic?

SD: Ah yes . . . in school, in school I told you about this South Indian boy?

Pawan: Yeah.

SD: I had fallen in love with him, definitely, and then there was this, this other horrible . . . I realize now . . . boy from . . . who had studied in . . . with me in school from nursery, and then he turned out to be a horrible bloated queen (laughs), and I want to kill myself for ever having fallen in love with him . . .

Pawan: So, he was bloated right from the start or . . .?

SD: No, he was kind of plump and so was I, but then . . .

Pawan: So you think now that this is not something . . .

SD: No, no, no, not even then, later on I realized that . . . but then . . . the South Indian boy was very good looking . . . actually . . .

Pawan: And then later in life?

SD: Oh, then there was one . . . and then there was one fellow . . . among the queens, he asked me . . . he actually . . . and everybody used to rag him about that, and then he said that was it true love? (Laughs) . . . I don’t know of true love or false love, but I think I had fallen in love with him . . . and later in life (pauses) . . . no . . . I think, no, no no no no no . . .

Pawan: So, any other point or thought that comes to mind, which we haven’t touched upon?

SD: Hmm, well . . . I think that yeah . . . that gay activists in our country are far too influenced by . . . when the BJP says that . . . homosexuality is a foreign disease, it certainly isn’t, but then . . . I have this very clear . . . and this is something that I have shared with other homosexuals . . . and they say that you are absolutely right, that this . . . idea of homosexuality, that is definitely foreign. Of course, it’s being accepted in our, what they call, discourse but then . . . that word is, because that word never existed in our language . . .

Pawan: But, there’s just this thought that, I mean very often there are things happening, which are not visible.

SD: Yes.

Pawan: So, would it have been there without really being noticed?

SD: Sorry?

Pawan: Would it have really been there without being noticed? I mean you are talking about homosexuality in the sense of a masculine man in love with another masculine man, or . . . in that sense, or . . .

SD: No no no no no . . . the label, the label itself!

Pawan: The label, right . . . right. Because as you said it wasn't really needed . . . our sexualities were fluid and . . . much more . . .

SD: Yeah! Fluid any way, they’re fluid any way . . .

Pawan: So in that sense much more accepting.

SD: Yeah definitely, definitely! Even among Muslims – definitely, definitely . . . and look at people like that horrid Baba whatever.

Pawan: Ramdev? 

SD: Haan?

Pawan: Baba Ramdev?

SD: Yes . . . terrible chap he is . . . curing you of homosexuality! And then also these people in the West are also to blame for this. I mean (coughs) . . . they are the ones who condemned . . . they used to condemn homosexuality, and now they . . . they have made a volte-face, and . . . and they’re saying that no this is something that has . . . I mean, you can't change things like that overnight.

Pawan: Yeah . . . right. Thank you! That was . . . I’ve always known talking to you and listening to you would be very interesting . . .

SD: (Laughs).

Concluded.

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/).

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