Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Qatha: Brother queer brother (part 2)

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

All photographs from the family albums of Sanjib Chakraborty
(in the picture) 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.

This issue brings you the second and final 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. In the first part of the interview (published in the August 2015 issue of Varta), they talked about the difficult times and small pleasures of life that saw them through to self-discovery, self-acceptance and discovering each other as gay persons. In this part, they talk about coming out to their mother and sister, connecting with queer support forums in Kolkata, and their vision for the future.

The interview was conducted by Pawan Dhall on October 4, 2014, and transcribed by women’s and child rights activist Soma Roy Karmakar.

Pawan: So Sanjib, when did you first tell Rajib you knew that he too was gay?

Sanjib: Yes, at that point of time, actually since . . . ’87 . . . when I saw the writing over there [a note where Rajib had written “homosexual mentality” as one of the concerns to be discussed with a doctor], I had a question mark about his – Rajib Da's orientation, but he was bit more introvert than me, so . . . at that point of time, he wrote the term, I was, I really wanted to talk to him regarding it but I found it very difficult because at that point of time I was in my school and there were lot of other problems also inside our . . . so I, when I was in the college days, at that point of time, I first mentioned about myself, I found it that if I directly ask him, he might not be comfortable and he might not like to tell me and because he has never mentioned about his orientation, he was not very explicit, so, so at that point of time what I tried to, what I did . . . I directly spoke to him about myself and citing different instances whatever I came through the articles or whatever, I think in ‘89, ‘90, ‘91 we had Sunday, every Sunday, we two have Statesman in our house and ‘91, whatever articles I went through, it gave me lot of confidence, and after all the treatments failed, I got the confidence  that I am fine, and with the support of the articles that came out, it gave me lot of confidence that I am not abnormal . . . it’s completely fine with the orientation and I am happy with it.

So . . . and but another thing also regarding my voice, I went to Ramakrishna Mission, that hospital over here in Lansdowne, and I also consulted therapist for my voice and all, that really helped me . . . and another major thing that I would like to mention that . . . Taslima's [Taslima Nasrin] writing really helped me to come out, the gender that . . . the gender dichotomy which I had in my mind that men should be like this, and women should be like this, that dichotomy and that . . . my questions regarding my mother, my sister – why they should behave like this, they should do like this, all these things I really came out when ‘92, ‘93 I came to the readings of Taslima, and gave me a new, completely a new way of thinking and that period first I came out to Rajib Da about myself, then I asked him . . . after giving a pause one day I just spoke about me and next day again I started the discussion and asked him about him, then gradually I told I saw you that you wrote in a paper, these few points were there you noted before going to the doctor. So . . . do you, do you also have such . . . have you ever felt anything like that like me, so that was four-five years after the seeing that paper in ’87 . . . so that was the first thing, then he gradually came out [with] his likings and, but not so much explicit like me, but he told he felt attracted to some of the students of his college and all.

Pawan: So Rajib what was your reaction, just in brief to . . . when Sanjib, you know, brought up this subject?

Rajib: I can't remember exactly but I think I was somewhat concerned that . . . he’s also as unfortunate as me in this matter (laughs), that both of us are suffering from the same situation. Anyway we have some comfort that we could help and support one another.

Pawan: Right . . . okay, so when did this feeling, you know, that you are both quote unquote 'suffering' changed to something more positive, because today when I speak to both of you, you seem to be very happy with yourselves.

Sanjib Chakraborty
Sanjib: Yes, I am very much, I’m happy and gay (laughter) . . . so, and really speaking at that point of time that, when I came out to Rajib Da, when I knew about him, I . . . for me it was not . . . I didn't think at all I’m unfortunate, I rather thought that I am so fortunate (laughs) that I can share everything with my brother and gradually and slowly I started discussing everything about the orientation, about my likes, everything with him as a good friend, as a good brother and whom I can share as . . . and even I find that many of the things which we cannot share so many of the times, he gives me, he gives me like say elder brother, he’ll suggest me, don't do this, don’t do this (laughs) all that, so which in a heterosexual, in a straight family, people with straight orientation gets all the support in their family which we don’t get. In that way, I really felt that I was very fortunate that I could discuss everything with him, where he can also give his suggestions, opinions . . . and after a couple of months after coming out to my brother . . . I came out to my sister also Ranjana about my orientation, that was in . . . probably in that same period ’92-‘93, just a couple of months, I came out first to him in ‘92 probably, and then to her in the same year or the following year.

Pawan: What was her reaction?

Sanjib: She didn’t find it very . . . means for her she was from very young age I found her quite accepting, quite balanced . . . and she respects individuality quite a lot . . . for her as a human being, to be good human being was much better . . . and then later on, she also shared that I’m proud to be sister of brothers who are not so called straight and (laughs), or masculine but who are . . . by . . . as a human being who are . . . what to say, means she didn’t use the term ‘masculine’, but people who are more understanding of others as a humanity, as a human being, that is more important to her . . . Only one concern she had that . . . about my, our old age or companionship. This was her concern but never about regarding our orientation, she was quite accepting.

Pawan: What about your parents?

Sanjib: We never . . . for myself, I never came out to . . . my father, but to my mother I remember . . . in this same period I will tell you in ‘94, I came to know about the address of Pravartak . . . but . . . till that period of time I came out to my brother and then to my sister but never came out to my parents, because for them it would be . . . for my mother . . . I find [her] to be more scientific [in] thinking, my father was more . . . traditional, but more adjusted, but for my father will be . . . for him it will be shocking, for my mother she will not be able to digest it. So that's what I found and never thought of discussing with them at that point of time, and waiting, was waiting for the right opportunity, and thought . . . it’s not always prudent to come out to all the people at the same point of time and in . . . ‘94, when the Pravartak address came, I was very concerned because we were staying in a quarter, and my father's Life Insurance Corporation's quarter in . . . Tollygunge, I found it that there was only one post box, so I was thinking of writing to them at the post bag address of Counsel Club / Pravartak, but I didn’t have the courage to write in the Counsel Club address, because it was only one post box where all letters come and people distribute it, if someone opens and reads it what will happen? So address was there but I didn’t get the courage . . . ‘95-‘96 more articles I came through The Statesman and that’s a period of time that Pravartak was sold in Classic Books . . . and I initiated to go there once, I came out from outside, then second time I draw the courage and went inside, took some of the copies that gave me lot of more strength . . . and then I got the courage and talked to the persons over there, one lady and one man was there, Kushal Gupta and another lady was there who was looking after, then I asked about the people who were in the Counsel Club and then I came in contact with the Counsel Club and went to . . . ‘97 I came to the first Counsel Club meeting, in Holi . . .

Actually at that period of time, when I came close with Counsel Club, I came, I talk about myself and about other people around me to my mother, and she came to know that I’m associated and I took Rajib Da also along with me, my sister also to Counsel Club, whenever some small gatherings were there in . . . I remember taking to your house (laughs), so they were more comfortable but I never spoke about Rajib Da at that point of time. So Rajib Da's point came later, and for my mother, she was not very . . . for her, she told . . . that she was not at all, she accepted it that whatever we are, she accepted as a human being – from her heart but from her, not from her head, she could not, but from her heart she accepted whatever my son and as they are, as he is at that point of time and later, now she knows both of her [sons are] like that, from the heart she accepts but when she thinks from the head I think she cannot (laughs).

Pawan: Yeah, but when did she also come to know about Rajib?

Sanjib: Let him tell . . . (laughs)

Rajib: After my sister's marriage in 2000, my parents started to look for a bride for me . . .

Pawan: Okay . . .

Rajib Chakrabarti
Rajib: . . . and then, I think it was around 2003 that almost selected someone for me and my, they decided that I’d some . . . fix a date and go and meet her and see whether we are compatible. Then, at that time, I was forced (smiles and sighs) to tell my mother, I did not tell anything to my father but I told my mother that this is the thing, I can't do this; she was shocked . . . then she . . . she said that so I’ve given birth to two . . . defective boys. So that’s what she said, she had no idea about these things before that. I remember before that I think it was when we were still in Tollygunge . . . That was in the ‘90s, this incident was in 2003, in the ‘90s, my uncle, my mashi's husband, he had brought an issue of Sananda about . . . homosexuality Samakamita, and my brother, he insisted that, he asked my mesho to keep that . . . that he would read it, and my mother remarked that he has kept such a copy of a book which deals with such disgusting things (laughs), and I also read that issue and later on, some years after that, she found that thing about us, and really it was a very big shock to her. She took a long time to . . .

Pawan: What helped her to gradually come to terms?

Rajib: Well, after coming in touch with other Counsel Club members, she met Pawan, she met Rajarshi and she . . . their parents, she came to realise that there are many such people (pauses). Even now, her main concern is that since we are different, how . . . who’ll look after us when we grow old, that's . . .

Pawan: So what do you do? Do you say anything in response to her concern for your old age?

Rajib: Well, we . . . we try to console her as best as we can. We hardly can think of any solution.

Pawan: Maybe you can support each other.

Rajib: That, of course. She says that when I . . . we should once . . . that the three of us – me, my brother and my sister also to stay together when we grow old.

Pawan: (Laughs) That's a very nice thought . . . so we are running out of our time, so we should . . . one final question to both of you is . . . you have narrated about your growing up years and how you found out about yourself and then each other, and then sharing with your parents, and also coming to, coming in touch with the larger queer community or LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community. Any thoughts for the future . . . I mean the situations that you have been through in relation to that, do you have . . . any thoughts you would like to share for the future generations?

Sanjib: (Laughs) Yes, one good point that, one point that I realised through the years that I have already, always dreamt, when as soon as I started my journey with Counsel Club that if the LGBT community is more united, we all come under one umbrella that has been a dream. Even my first endeavour in the HIV programme was with an organisation where . . . which tried to . . . the dream was to bring all the . . . collect groups together with different philosophies, working with transgenders, working with gay, working with . . . even the dream was also to bring the LBT [lesbian, bisexual women, trans men] community within that . . . l look forward and I feel that in Calcutta also that, that is, ‘Rainbow Pride’ . . . what is that?

Sanjib: Yes, ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ is a collective of so many individuals which I came to know from you last time that . . . it’s a collective of so many individuals, young people, and all the LGBT community people are coming together, that’s a real dream . . . people from, with different sub-groups or sub-categories coming together under one head and going to, and reaching out to the different groups, different class, caste, culture (laughs) and rural areas, that’s a dream and definitely we have to work together for . . . and the last thing is also working for the old age. So we are also dreaming that, I have a dream that if we can come out with a concept where people don’t have to shift to their old age homes but they can stay in their individual homes and if there is some form of support system which can go to individual homes and cater services, in a subsidised rate, so which doesn’t take them out of their settings.

Pawan: Own homes . . .

Sanjib: Yes, so that is a dream, let's see and working out . . . presently working in the North-East. That’s a dream that I am trying to . . . in a few years, yes . . . thank you so much!

Pawan: Rajib, what are your dreams?

Rajib Chakrabarti with his mother Uma Chakraborty

Rajib: Well, I, I hope . . . before I breathe my last, I’ll . . . the situation in at least in our country will change so much that we won't have to conceal our orientation, we can share what we feel with everybody around us.

Pawan: When you say things will change, you also mean legally?

Rajib: Yes, of course, legally, socially, in every way.

Sanjib: One point just to add that . . . I also feel strongly that yes, legal thing is important; another thing is the mental health which I really feel that LGBT community mental health part is so much lacking because still now the whole India is in a nascent stage to accept mental health as an important part of life . . . my good friend Anushree, she is in the mental health area. So, I’m strongly . . . interacting with her. I came to know of so many areas which are unexplored. Human beings can be much better either straight or from the LGBT community if the mental health interventions are there, this is another dream to see forward.

Pawan: So, I think that is a very optimistic and realistic note to end on. So . . . thank you to both, I would like to say thank you to both the brothers and I really hope that your dreams come true because I know that they are somewhat my dreams as well, and the dreams of many other people in the queer communities in India. Thank you!


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.

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