Saturday, August 22, 2015

Of birthdays and bans

Vartanama, Aug '15
By Pawan Dhall

August is Varta’s birthday month. On the first day of the month, we turned two and celebrated the occasion both online and offline. Around the same date, the Government of India blocked 857 porn websites to protect ‘morality’ and ‘decency’. In effect, this proved to be an apt birthday gift for Varta as the ‘dialogue on gender, sexuality and intimacy’ shot up hundredfold on social media, in newspapers and on TV shows, and in drawing rooms across India. Radio jockeys, irrespective of gender, went to town cracking jokes, mostly inane but a shade better than their usual banter. For a while, no social visit was possible without the ban creeping into the conversation, sheepishly or accompanied with raucous laughter. It was almost as if the government had inadvertently brushed past the Indian social G-spot!

On wings of desire!

Insight, Happenings, Aug '15
Pawan Dhall, Kaustav Manna and Drake Fort take a look at some out-of-the-box initiatives to promote greater understanding of transgender identities and rights

An artist from Amitie' Trust interacts with children during the
art workshop in Peyarabagan. Photo credit: CWF
Kolkata / New Delhi, April-June 2015: Childhood is supposed to be full of happy, carefree moments. But most children in the Peyarabagan slums of northern Kolkata learn to deal with the harsh realities of earning their daily bread early on in life. The morning of April 25, 2015 though might have been pleasantly different for them, when NGOs Civilian Welfare Foundation (CWF) and Child Relief and You (CRY) joined hands with transgender members of Amitie’ Trust to organize an event called ‘Ichchedana – Wings of Desire’ in Peyarabagan. About 150 children participated in the event, many of them school drop-outs; also involved were 20 school teachers with whom CWF aimed to link up the drop-outs.

Qatha: Brother queer brother (part 1)

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

All photographs from the family albums of Sanjib Chakraborty
(left) and Rajib Chakrabarti
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 Rajib Chakrabarti, a teacher, 46 years old and a resident of Kolkata, and his brother Sanjib Chakraborty, 42, a health worker and queer activist based in Guwahati. The older brother a reticent speaker, the younger equally voluble, both are a picture of calm and patience and often speak to each other in Sylheti. They talk about the difficult times and small pleasures of life that have seen them through to self-discovery, self-acceptance and discovering each other as gay persons.

Doodle with dad

My Story, Aug '15
Debasmita Dasgupta’s artistic venture, mY FaTHer Illustrations, is a child rights campaign based on illustrated father-daughter stories. Started in 2014, it takes a fun step forward this month

Copyright for all artworks: mY FaTHer
 by Debasmita Dasgupta
It all started with one small step. One Sunday afternoon I came across a story of a father, who despite all odds never gave up the courage to defend the rights of his daughter. His story became the turning point in my life. I knew I wanted to do something but was caught between ‘what’ and ‘how’. That’s when my red sketchbook and pencil caught my eyes.

Before long I had taken the first step. I had illustrated my first father-daughter story and shared it online to spread some inspiration. The journey of mY FaTHer Illustrations continued as I kept looking for moving father-daughter stories from across the globe. Some I found; some found me. Platforms like Varta helped immensely to spread the word (click here).

To CC with love!

From the Archives, Aug '15
If Counsel Club were functioning today, it might have celebrated its 22nd birthday party this August 15. Pawan Dhall, one of the founder members, rummages through Counsel Club’s archival material and jogs his memory to look back at some of the ‘CC birthday parties’ through the 1990s and early 2000s. These series of articles intend to create an archive of the queer movement in Bengal and India – not a chronological narrative of the movement, rather anecdotal histories capturing the little voices that are often lost in general historical accounts – voices from thousands of letters received by Counsel Club, one of India’s earliest queer support groups (1993-2002), and from the group’s house journal Naya Pravartak.

Counsel Club logo
Ice cream, junk food and antakshari were the highlights and delights for around five Counsel Club members, who braved the rains and slush at Vivekananda Park in South Kolkata, to celebrate the group’s first birthday on August 15, 1994. This is from what I remember, as I did not find any reports or photographs of the occasion in the Counsel Club archives with me. But by the time the group turned two, its documentation had improved. The May to December 1995 issue of Naya Pravartak reported: “When only 11 of the invited 20 turned up for CC’s birthday party on September 3, it appeared that the event would be a damp squib . . . The party should have been on August 15, but had to be postponed for a number of reasons. Anyway, the merry-making by the 11 present surpassed all expectations. Games, discussions (even on that day!), singing, dancing and even a ‘gay quiz’ sent the hours flying.”

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Happy birthday 2 our friendship!

People, Aug '15
Birthday wishes from Varta readers . . . Facebook posts and messages, phone calls, WhatsApp messages. Thank you all!

Amitabha Sengupta: It's always been lovely to grow with u dear Varta . . .

Aparna Banerjee: Wish we can grow all together with Varta, wishes loads of love hugs.

Dhrubo Jyoti: Amazing stuff . . . more power to Varta.

Indrani Kar: Congratulations!! Keep up the good work! I suggest 2 things . . . Best of Varta Book or a reading session, film screening n interactive sessions . . . Or designing an online short certificate course on Gender and Sexuality (We don't have anything like that here, do we?) Congratulations once again and looking forward to all the new Varta ventures in d future!  

Souvik Ekamebadwitiyam: Congratulations and best wishes. Keep up the great job. More power to your keyboard!