Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Surviving male but(t)s

Vartanama, Oct '13
By Pawan Dhall

As we continue exploring stories around intimate dreams and diversity in sex, gender, love, sexual attraction, friendship, family structures, personal identity and life aspirations through each issue of Varta, the question that arises every time is what theme to focus on. From the collection of articles in this issue, it may seem like one without any specific theme. If so, why talk about ‘male buts’ or ‘male butts’, and why think about ‘surviving’ them?

First, about male butts – there are many sorts and for different people they may evoke different reactions – admiration, desire or lust, envy, derision and even humour. True, that this also applies to female butts, but then female butts have probably been more talked about and commented on than male ones, and isn’t it important to even out this difference?

Roop, Rudra, Rituparno: An intimate non-conversation

Insight, Oct '13
By Paramita Banerjee

Filmmaker, actor, writer Rituparno Ghosh decided to bid an unceremonious goodbye to this world just like that – leaving many of us with an acute sense of loss. S/he had just about started to blossom with her / his gender queer personality as an actor-director, and – gone! As far as serious queer representation is concerned, we are left with only one film directed by Rituparno: Chitrangada: the Crowning Wish. And, of course, there are Arekti Premer Galpo (Just another Love Story), directed by Kaushik Ganguly, where Rituparno played the central gender-queer character, and Sanjoy Nag's Memories in March.

‘Must Bol’ campaign reaches milestone

Happenings, Oct '13
Pawan Dhall reports on a closure event of the first phase of the West Bengal leg of the ‘Must Bol’ youth campaign against gender based violence.

Kolkata, September 19, 2013: “Success is difficult to define, but it is at least being able to do what you want to do, and this is true for women too,” Dr. Shashi Panja, medical practitioner and Trinamul Congress MLA from Kolkata North constituency. “Marriage can protect, but can also destroy. Unthinking parents force their wards into marriage in the name of samaj (society), but this gives nothing in return,” Manika Sarkar, anti-trafficking social activist. “Let’s not stereotype gender, violence or gender based violence,” Pallavi Paul, Kolkata-based entrepreneur.

A musical journey

My Story, Oct '13
Transgender activist Amrita Sarkar writes about her lifelong pursuit of music, leading to the Songs of the Caravan, the first musical album of its kind in India cut by nine trans women from different parts of the country; a joint initiative of Jeevan Trust, a Delhi-based NGO that works with art and media for social welfare; Abhivyakti Foundation, Delhi; and PlanetRomeo Foundation, The Netherlands.

Music is an eternal and universal medium that brings peace of mind. My journey with music started a long time ago when I was a child and my mother appointed a music teacher for me to learn Rabindra Sangeet. My mother had a great impact on my life. She used to tell me there were no human emotions or feelings that Rabindranath Tagore had not talked about. She could not complete her own music course because of higher studies and family responsibilities. But the values and love for music that she inculcated in me seemed to help her fulfill her dreams. I was also enthusiastic to know what music was all about and why Tagore was so important.

A queen's ghazal

Poetry, Oct '13
By Rajib Chakrabarti

A Queen's Ghazal is a rather unique experiment – suffering equally in bondage and soaring with a liberty that only a queen can know. Ghazal is an art form, which is as beautiful and lovable as it is difficult and limited. It is perhaps the structure inherent and the rich symbolism that is already available in Urdu, which makes the ghazal greatly easier to render in Urdu than in English. Despite breaking some of the bonds of ghazal-writing, the poet succeeds in expressing his deepest feelings beautifully and rhythmically, in this English ghazal – owais.

Letters of desire

Essay, From the Archives Oct '13
Zaid Al Baset pens the first essay in a series which intends to create an archive of the queer movement in Bengal and India. It is not a chronological narrative of the movement, rather anecdotal histories capturing the little voices that are often lost in general historical accounts – to begin with, voices from thousands of letters received by Counsel Club, one of India’s earliest queer support groups, in the period 1993 to 2002.

The third fold of the inland letter card states “From a friend to a very close friend”. He calls himself John and makes a sincere request at the end of his letter. He writes “I will ask the person involved to meet me at Cossipur Club Gate, a little away from Dum Dum Junction station at either 10:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon. There’s a cobbler’s shop near the gate. Please wait there with a coat in your left and an unlit cigarette in your right hand. My password will be ‘John’”. He initially writes the name ‘Jay’ then strikes it with three fine strokes of the pen. The last two lines on the aging blue paper with paler edges read, “NB: Please send my partner as quickly as possible, please”. It’s a delightful sentence expressing a yearning so urgent, so precisely. The letter was sent through the Quick Mail Service to P.O. Bag No. 10237 (now not functional) and was received on March 11, 1996.

'Kashish': Sparking off a queer cinema rush

Cinemascope, Oct '13
Nitin Karani and Pawan Dhall in conversation with Sridhar Rangayan, Festival Director of the four-year old ‘Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival’, which has pulled up several notches India’s fledgling queer film festival scene

Pawan: What is 'Kashish' all about?

Sridhar: 'Kashish' primarily is meant to mainstream lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (queer) visibility through cinema. For the Indian queer audiences, the festival offers a mirror to similar lives, struggles and victories in other parts of the world. For the ‘mainstream’ audiences (who comprise about 30%), it is an opportunity to form a better understanding of queer persons, their lives, hopes and aspirations.

Star quest - 1st encounter

Clickhappy! Star Quest, Oct '13
By Pawan Dhall

Beginning this issue of Varta, we bring you Star Quest, a series of photo-stories of individuals who may not be public figures like politicians, artistes, social activists or media persons, but have in their own way contributed to social equality and empowerment around gender, sexuality and related issues.

Their contribution may be in an intimate arena – among friends and neighbours, their local community, a village or slum school, their own work place and so on. It may not have attracted any media attention, yet the importance of their efforts cannot be underscored enough. Varta is happy to bring to light such hidden ‘stars’ and focus on endeavours that generate hope for a better present and future.

Varta welcomes its readers to contribute to Star Quest by sending information about individuals living anywhere in India who can be portrayed in the column. Please send a brief description of the individual and their work in about 100 words to vartablog@gmail.com, and also include 3 to 5 high quality photographs of the individual depicting their day-to-day life.

Please note that no individual will be portrayed in this column through text or photographs till the Varta team has interacted with them and obtained their informed consent. Therefore it is vital that readers also obtain the consent of the individuals concerned before sending information about them to Varta.

Star of the month: Surojit Mitra, 23, resident of Bow Bazar, Kolkata, is an unassuming youth development volunteer, currently associated with Prantakatha, Kolkata and pursuing distance education in the arts. His message to everyone is a simple one: “Don’t ignore anyone, whoever they are.” He is happy to have a diverse mix of friends from different backgrounds and walks of life, and that also includes his pet Goldie. 

Photos provided by Surojit Mitra

Surojit, or Bumba to his friends, is passionate about teaching children living in the Bow Bazar red light area. He started off with Sanlaap as a member of their ‘Youth Partnership Project’ supported by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, End Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). From 2008 to 2010, he was trained by Sanlaap to conduct teaching and activity classes for small children, and this has continued till date even after the project ended. Never one to be demoralized, he now conducts classes from his own home, and also encourages older children to continue their education.


Photos show Surojit conducting classes during his association with Sanlaap and drawings made by his students (photos provided by Surojit Mitra).


Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Recalling the initial struggle he had to undergo to convince his parents about his plans to teach children living in red light areas, he wishes that the ‘Youth Partnership Project’ had not ended. In his experience, these children need a lot of patience and long-term support to continue with their education. Many of the children have their mothers engaged in prostitution. It is difficult to win their trust in the face of other pulls like drug use and the challenges posed by their circumstances. Sometimes they take offence easily and one can expect a gradual change at best. Kudos therefore to Surojit for continuing with the teaching efforts on his own steam.

Busy also these days as a volunteer with his ‘Prantakatha family’, Surojit is part of the ‘Must Bol’ filmmaking-based youth campaign against gender based violence (see Happenings report ‘Must Bol’ Campaign Reaches Milestone in this issue of Varta).

Surojit is quite relaxed about his future plans. But his eyes brighten up when he says that the children he has taught remember him even after having grown up. That gives him a quiet satisfaction that he has been on the right track, and he is certain that he wants to become a professional social worker.

All strength to him says Varta.

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!

The male breast

Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Oct '13
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta

Breast /brest/ noun: Either of the two soft, protruding organs on the upper front of a woman’s body which secrete milk after childbirth.

As I was looking for the definition of ‘breast’ in some non-medical dictionary, the most popular dictionaries yielded something close to the one above. Evidently, the popular view of breasts is that of a female organ meant to secrete milk after childbirth.

Rights and wrongs

Advice - Rights and Laws, Oct '13
By Kaushik Gupta

Reader queries

What is a right and what are its different forms?
Kishore Kumar, Kolkata

A right can be defined as an interest protected by law or, in some cases, by social conventions. Now, definitions always seem more confusing to me. In trying to understand what a right is, I will have to first figure out what is an interest. I tell you, this is where the lawyers make all the money!

A right, in simple words, means something which I am permitted to do or not do and if any one tries to stop me from doing something or forces me to do something, such a person can be prevented from encroaching upon my rights and can also be punished by law. There are several forms of rights, namely, Fundamental, Constitutional and Legal.