Thursday, August 01, 2013

Intimate / Intimacy / Intimation

Insight, Aug '13
By Paramita Banerjee

Conjure up this image in your mind’s eye, dear readers: Three persons, two biological males and one biological female, each dressed in jeans and a t-shirt (though of varying hues as per individual preferences, for they are certainly not in uniform) are together rummaging garbage bins in an upmarket shopping mall. They talk in incredulous tones about their mysteriously vanished movie tickets as they continue their search. Now, what can be more intimate than searching garbage bins together with bare, un-gloved hands?

‘Intimate’, ‘intimacy’ and ‘intimation’ are interesting words in the English language. The word ‘intimate’ as an adjective with reference to relationships reflects a range of features that sometimes combine in a relationship, sometimes don’t. The scene described above, as it happens, combines at least two features – the three people in that episode are certainly ‘friendly’ enough to go for a movie together and going by their attire, they can afford to be ‘informal’ with each other. Are they ‘close’ beyond the casual camaraderie needed to go for a movie together? One doesn’t know. Is their friendship ‘cherished’ equally by all? Is there something ‘private’ and ‘confidential’ in their act? No way of knowing.

Jump cut to a 20-year old woman walking along the side of a road (since the privilege of a pavement was non-existent), when a bike swerves sharply to its left and the pillion rider’s hands stretch out to squeeze her boobs and speeds away, before the woman can even react. Quite a routine affair in most of our cities that women – biological or transgender – are forced to encounter. A very intimate act for sure, but certainly not ‘cherished’ in this case.

Then there was that one instance when four women, two of them middle-aged with streaks of silver in their hair, two young ones in their late 20s, were seen dancing together in a high-end discotheque in New Delhi. The women were certainly enjoying themselves enough to spurn offers from men around to partner one or all of them. There was a certain informal cosiness – an intimacy in that sense – in their movements as they effortlessly synced together. As it happened, these four women were suddenly hurled out of their rhythmic movements as it sank into their dance-busy minds that there was a complete lull around them. The music was blaring, but the entire din – including that of the dance steps of others thronging the space – had come to a complete halt.

Photo credit: Vahista Dastoor

Startled, they stopped and looked around to see all the others staring at them in an odd sort of way. And, there was a whisper doing the rounds: “They are lesbians; they are refusing to dance with any man!” It took mere seconds for the entire scenario to sink into the surprised four and they burst out into hearty chuckles reflecting a totally different kind of intimacy: They were intimate in the knowledge that none of them were lesbians, as it happened. Two of them were bisexual and in a same-sex relationship at that point and the other two were heterosexual in their preference, with one of them being married. Also intimate in their derision of the fancy, English-educated, urban youth of the capital of the country who could shake a leg in a high-class disco, but stared in disbelief at women of disparate ages who wanted nothing more than each other’s company – managing only to gawk at those supposed lesbians.

In my opinion, those other dancers in that New Delhi disco shared a degree of intimate understanding with a semi-literate security guard at the Taj Mahal in Agra, though there may have been no face-to-face meeting between the disco-dancers and the guard. Well, the guard had been caught up in a severe argument with yours truly and her then same-sex partner. His contention was that we were not Indians. (There’s a hefty difference between the ticket price for an Indian and a foreigner for entering Taj Mahal, in case you need to be reminded). By skin colour, there was no way he could prove us dusky beauties to be non-Indian. So, he tried using a load of arguments starting with Indian women with greying hair not wearing jeans and tops to the final one that he thought was irrefutable: “Indian women do not travel by themselves; they always travel with male relatives.” Now, wouldn’t you agree that the guard shared an intimacy with the disco-dancers of that Delhi evening in their understanding of ‘Indian womanhood’?

Intimacies thus span a wide spectrum – of acts, relationships, thoughts and perceptions. The intimacy shared by long-term partners snuggling up in each other’s arms on a lazy rainy Sunday afternoon is certainly different from the intense intimacy of a wild moment of love-making. There is more intimacy in the act of a married heterosexual couple checking bank statements together to work out where they can plan their seven-day winter trip, than in the moment when that same husband comes home drunk, maybe frustrated and angry because of his boss’s unjustified shouting at him at work, and takes it out on his wife through the brutal act of forced peno-vaginal intercourse.

I prefer to call that rape, of course, but our Indian laws do not accept any such possibility within the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. Presumably, our lawmakers, with the notable exception of the recently deceased Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, who played a key role in shaping a stronger anti-rape law in the country, are convinced that a relationship blessed by marriage leaves no room for forced sex; only for the intimate act of love-making! In reality, though, two men meeting each other at a public toilet and ending up having sex together share more of an intimate space than that husband and wife at that moment of non-consensual sex.

On that note of intimation about intimacies, I leave you to ponder. But not before making the happy announcement that now you have Varta, a newspaper that will provide you a platform to share, ask, debate and discuss issues on gender and sexuality – both of which influence, even determine in some ways, our lives on an everyday basis. Varta is the outcome of the experience of a group of people who have, and continue to, challenge fixed notions of gender and sexuality, and have strongly felt the need for a space that allows open dialogue among a large audience. This online version of the newspaper is only the first step, which we hope will facilitate the development of an intimacy between a wide spectrum of readers and the Varta team.

Paramita Banerjee is a black coffee-loving, living-in-the-moment, do-it-yourself social activist and writer.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Paramita di - I loved the rhythm !!! from the humorous start to the serious situation, to the statement, to the question and finally to the announcement. Regard. Anupam