Friday, February 21, 2014

A mental boost!

Happenings, Feb '14 (update 1)
Drake Fort reports on an interactive event organized by the West Bengal chapter of the Indian Psychiatric Society to clarify their stand on homosexuality

Kolkata, February 9, 2014: As I write this article I hear the trumpets of a wedding ceremony from the TV in the next room. My parents are watching their favourite Bengali TV serial Ishti Kutum on Star Jalsha channel, and yes, it is the story of how two lovers eventually find their way through enormous struggles against family and society. But while their love had the ‘approval’ of society, I know my fight is far from over. Fortunately, despite enormous setbacks, some good things do happen, which bring relief and act like a soothing balm after horrible pain and mental torture endured for long. The pain doesn’t go away permanently, but the energy and vigour needed for survival receives a leg-up!

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Qatha: Of reel and real stories (part 1)

People, Feb '14
By Pawan Dhall and Sukanya Roy Ghose

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 Onir, an acclaimed filmmaker, 44 years old, now a resident of Mumbai but with an enduring Kolkata connection. Onir narrates a story of self-realization as a gay person and more that spans Bhutan, Kolkata and Mumbai.

The interview was conducted by Pawan Dhall on April 12, 2013, and transcribed by freelancer Sukanya Roy Ghose.

A rainbow in Hindi

Happenings, Feb '14
Dhrubo Jyoti writes about the launch of Gaylaxy Hindi, India's first Hindi queer webzine.

The last week of November 2013 brought an extraordinary e-mail to Sukhdeep Singh, Bangalore-based Editor of Gaylaxy, one of India’s leading online queer magazines ( In the heady months ripe with anticipation about the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a reader wrote in about the lack of queer reading material in Hindi and how the Hindi media often leant towards a negative portrayal of the queer community. Knowing, unfortunately, that there was no Hindi space, the reader requested the e-mail to be translated into English and printed in Gaylaxy. Sukhdeep Singh decided not to translate it, and instead published the piece in Hindi itself. This episode germinated the seed of a Hindi queer magazine.

Strength in adversity

Vartanama, Feb '14
By Pawan Dhall

A filmmaker speaks out about his self-realization as a gay person; an artist presents artwork that was part of his coming out process as a gay man; Gaylaxy, an English webzine on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer issues launches a Hindi version; mental health professionals strategize on how to take on social and legal stigma around homosexuality; the mother of a queer activist speaks out on the need for everyone to introspect on gender and sexual diversity . . . snapshots from the February 2014 issue of Varta . . . snapshots also of a larger reality.

Voices for queer love

Insight, Feb '14
By Pawan Dhall

Photo credit: Voices
Against 377
“I feel for all of you, for your struggle to establish your identity. It is never easy for parents – it was not easy for us to accept our only son as gay. But parents always want their children’s happiness and we have to make an effort, to re-examine our positions,” says 79 years old Vijaylakshmi Ray Chaudhuri. Four years her older, husband Pramathanath Ray Chaudhuri asks, “Why is it so difficult for the Supreme Court to admit that it could be wrong?” He was reacting to the Supreme Court’s rejection on January 28, 2014 of the review petitions filed against its recent verdict on Section 377, Indian Penal Code.

Private staircase

Poetry, Feb '14
By Shaleen Rakesh

A private staircase from the roof down to the hall

the space in which no one is seen
the timelessness of balconies

the closeness to an opening round the bend

here there are stairs on the air
here we should meet

I’ll bring the silence 

you bring the possibility.

Shaleen Rakesh is an author and activist based in New Delhi and has been at the forefront of the gender and sexuality movement in India for the last 20 years. He was the primary petitioner to challenge Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2001. He currently works as Director at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi, and is Editor with independent publishing house OpenWord in New Delhi.

Poem sourced from The Lion and the Antler, the first collection of poems by Shaleen Rakesh (World View Publications, 2013). Limited number of copies available with Varta – please write to

The art of coming out

Clickhappy! Feb '14
Vishal Tondon’s initial artworks were also expressions about his sexuality

The start of my career as a professional artist coincided, a decade ago, with the act of my coming out of the closet. I began my foray into the art world with religious-erotic art: homoerotic paintings inspired from the ‘male’ gods. Of course, this coming out did not happen dramatically over a couple of days; it took over a year as the artworks poured out and were exhibited in two shows across that year.

The 'dhat' syndrome

Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Feb '14
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta

When I was working as a junior resident in psychiatry at my mother institution in Kolkata, I had a chance to learn about a large number of interesting ‘cases’. One group of cases was related to nocturnal seminal discharge. Most such patients would say something like this: “Doctor, I am getting weaker day by day. I have lost my appetite, am losing weight, and my sleep is often disturbed. All this has started ever since I developed the bad habit of masturbation. Well, now I have stopped this bad habit. But a new problem has started ever since. My dhat (semen) is flowing out spontaneously, even without any sexual thoughts. Nightfalls have become more frequent. Even when I pass urine, dhat flows out. As a result I am losing weight and developing weakness. Please help.”

Legal reviews and cures

Advice - Rights and Laws, Feb '14
By Kaushik Gupta

In the furore caused by the Supreme Court reinstating Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code on December 11, 2013 and then rejecting all review petitions filed against its verdict on January 28, 2014, several legal terms have become almost common parlance. Here’s a closer look at some of them.