The Perpetually Invisible Indian Lesbian — Where Is Miss Rich When You Need Her?

Author’s Note : Hello BLOG! reading people. I have a new post up at Womanist Musings.

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This might not surprise you so much if I announced that I’m going through a pre-quarter-life-life-crisis right now; caused essentially by my mum and her troupé of LadyFriends who have become a caricature of women fueled by patriarchy in my head. It’s really not my fault that I seem to be staring at the space above her head, imagining smoke coming out of her eyes when she’s yelling at me (again) for whatever mistake I’ve made in the past two minutes. She was ranting about the days gone by, the days to come, the unstable government, her ‘flabby’ thighs (in her opinion) and then ultimately how God should descend and intervene otherwise she would just lose it. I’ve heard this speech so many times, in perfect chronological order, that I know the track it’s going to go next : The State Of Our Daughters Today And What Should We Be Doing About Those Tights Wearing, Cigarette Smoking, Consensual Sex Having and Ignoring The Holy Duty Of Cooking Girls with infinite series of question marks. I fit in a few of these categories, as do most Ladies I know my age, the only varying factor is if they spray their lungs with DeathJuice or not. So predictably when she’s reached the point where she’s imploring Zee Gods to come down, I snuck out to write. This way I can momentarily preserve my LadyBrain as well as remember to talk about something über important as this.

Turns out, I’ve got quite a past. Last week my friend was teasing me of being “in love” with one of my girlfriends when I was about eight or nine. I remembered suddenly the kisses we’d shared, the secret we had to keep and how deliciously mischievous we felt when we used to go in that room, “role-play”, knowing full well that the grown-ups knew nothing on the other side of the wall. It ended quickly, I think I fell for a boy right after and I forgot all about my first love, kept it away in some unhinged part of my memory. No one noticed anything, I wasn’t ever questioned or even asked to explain just what did I do all those hours locked up in my room with her. I was shocked to see I’d forgotten completely about her and I never thought it was anything abnormal that my first love was a girl. When I teased mum days later that I had a lesbian encounter right under her nose, instead of the moral outrage and cultural shock I’d expected, she just laughed it out saying, “You both were just girls! What harm will come off of that“. These words may seem silly to you but I’ve heard them so many times, everywhere, it seems like a system for erasing lesbian existence.

In most weddings or cultural events, women are allotted a separate room to change clothes, do their make up etc and the men occupy another room. In “No Man’s Land” (literally) one would see women in various stages of undress, helping each other to wear sarees, pinning their hair up just right, laughing, exchanging lewd and bawdy jokes. The room is charged with completely homo-erotic vibes that every one ignores. No one makes a big deal out of seeing other women in their underclothes, or even naked (in extreme cases). After all, as one of my great aunt loved to say amid loud guffaws and chortles, “We’re all women here. Every one has the same parts! Nothing we haven’t seen before“. Now you should imagine a stadium of screeching fans when the Beatles played at Shea Stadium, take that intensity and double it to correctly arrive at the decibel of screaming in the room if a ManPerson (age doesn’t matter) entered the room. Because the only threat to out ‘chastity’ comes from the y-chromosome. Women pining over other women’s bodies only happens in that ‘vulgar western culture’, not here; we worship Radha and Sita remember? Probably the two most well known Goddesses of the Hindu culture, both tragic stories of stubbornly heterosexual love plots.

This isn’t to say that Indian lesbians don’t exist. That will be akin to asking the general public to stop making fun of Sonia Gandhi’s accent — impossible. There are a lot of writers who do speak of this ‘tenuously sweet’ nature of lesbian relationships, there is also a myth of two lesbians making a son out of the earth and bringing him to life out of their love in the ancient texts. There are carvings on various temples of South India that do depict homo-eroticism, always in the presence and benefit of a male voyeur. Poets and writers like Gauri Despande, Kamla Das, Ismat Chughtai, Sarojini Naidu do address these “urges” and feelings, always under the blanket of patriarchy, remaining frustratingly ambiguous and detached. Only when Deepa Mehta’s Fire was banned by annoying fascist groups the Shiv Sena, for the first time we could see Indian Lesbians out on the street, protesting and being out and there (the Indian Gay community is much more visible than their woman-queer-counterparts).  Leaving these brief snatches of history, Indian lesbians are pretty much invisible from the public eye.

We’re afraid of our bodies, we don’t explore our sexuality and we’re told that when we get married, we have to do our WomanlyDuties. Sounds a tad bit familiar to Victorian England doesn’t it? A complete antithesis to our sex-kittens of Bollywood cinema, we’re told to ‘cover’ our bodies, to be virtuous and ‘good girls’, asked to stay within our limits — all this is only in relation to how we behave around men. With women, one can be as free as she desires. There couldn’t be anything there, not even by remotest possibility, right? I’m allowed to sleep over at my girlfriend’s house as often as I want; the moment I bring a boy in the equation, suddenly I’m facing judgment from the DudeCouncil for being a two-bit whore who is desperate to “give it away”. The concept of “lesbian” is alien to us. We will however dissuade our sons from playing with “sissy” boys, otherwise they will all turn GAY! Gasp! Women, ladies, little girls walking hand in hand, being close, even intimate is them just “being girly”.

I want to believe this is co-incidental, that there is no agenda behind re-orienting women’s love as being “sisterly”. You and I both know, that isn’t true. It serves patriarchy’s purpose to ritually deny women agency and control of their bodies and sexuality by keeping them confined by  chronic heteronormativity, till they believe that is all they can be. This is why, we could have a blockbuster film like Dostana — regardless of how homophobic it was — where two straights Dudes could pretend to be gay to get the girl they wanted, but a film like Fire* was banned all over the country because two Hindu women choose to love each other. This is the reason my my mum and her friends think my “first love” was hilarious. This is why a part of my sexuality is negated.

* Fire isn’t the only film on lesbian existence in Bollywood. There are others like ‘Girlfriend’ etc that are made to cater to the omnipresent boner of the default human i.e. a man; which is why I refuse to acknowledge their existence.

[H/T] to Komal for the Default Human quip.

Je Suis La Vache Enragée Edition Of Repitition

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I live in two worlds. One exists solely in my LadyBrain, filled with my poems and words populating the world inside my head; another where I live with the rest of the world. The boundaries are set in stone and I prefer to keep it that way. Otherwise I’ll be one more step closer to insanity than I currently am. No matter how fun Mrs. Haversham made being gaga all the time, it’s not something I’d want to be right now. When I’m famous and annoyed at the world at large, it’ll be another story. These two worlds remain in their place, restore some semblance of order in my LadyBrain. Call me naïve or just plain stupid, I thought most people do keep such boundaries too. Last time I checked, mixing fictitious embellishments  with reality is still damaging to the self. This is precisely why I freaked out seeing this article and this one too. Or maybe I should just stop expecting people to give two sides of the story each time they post something potentially ‘simultaneous eyebrow raising’ for once and for all. These ritual deceptions hurt too much to let them remain festering by, unchecked.

I quote from the second article —

“The Naxalites appear to be attacking government schools because they are often the only government building in the remote rural areas where the Naxalites have their greatest influence and ease of movement. Moreover, undefended schools are a high-visibility, soft target-attacking them garners media attention and increases fear and intimidation among local communities. While the Naxalites do not appear to be targeting students directly, attacks on schools that are not being used for a military purpose are violations of both international humanitarian law and Indian criminal law.”

You might think, “She has finally lost it for I see nothing wrong with this article”. Or maybe snorting all that caffeine has finally made me Miss.  Bertha The Second. The truth is, there is a detectable bias here. I’m not accusing any one journalist or blog or one institution. This bias is rooted in our culture since the longest time. As old as the stereotypical dhoti, if you want a rough estimate.

I could talk about the Naxalbari Movement using voices from ‘below’ or ‘the Subaltern’ as Gayatri Spivak would say. I could talk about the years of suffering, damage and humiliation these ‘anti-state elements‘ have faced for centuries. I could talk about how firmly insipid our caste system is that any mobility that even after years of ‘abolishing the caste system’, there are strict social demarcations no one crosses. Or even thinks of crossing. I can only look at the men and women who sweep my street every morning as they stagger to work drunk and bumbling curses (explain to me how can anyone clear garbage year after year, barely surviving in a system where that is all they are allowed to do without succumbing to the “vices” of alcoholism?) I can look away when I see any ‘Dalit’ woman being harassed by the police in the trains and buses. Or we can do a round of “Guess who?” is always in the bottom stair of any Government scheme or program even though there are separate programs and departments made for these people as they are so fondly called. I can talk about how these children are given seats in most higher education universities but not the necessary education that will help them get there by merit. I can tell you about how most interviews are rigged (given that the Dalit gets hirself out of the shoddy system in one piece, without giving in to madness or despair) , so that other people are spared the ‘horror’ of working with them. Would you be interested in knowing the extent of abuse these women have to go through, doubly entangled in patriarchy, punished because of their caste and gender, becoming truly “third-grade” citizens? Would you believe me if I told you a vast majority of Dalits grow up in an environment of hatred and violence from outside and within? Maybe you’ll scoff at me when I cite scholars who point out how for the Dalits, the freedom movement made no change at all; considering before Independence they were exploited by the British, now it’s the zamindars? Or will you laugh when I say theirs is a history of silence and of silencing? Or maybe, you will join in your tears with mine (as I keep on hoping) as most of my words translate to White Noise, again.

I am not condoning either the Naxals or the Army’s violent methods of achieving what they each believe they are fighting for, but just imploring you to see there could be an underbelly to the flag of Indian nationalism we’re only too quick and happy to wear around. Either way, no one talks about why the Naxalites feel the need to take up arms but we will definitely demonise them as “mercenaries”. We will associate such terminology with them, systematically, ritually till this is the only reality we remember collectively. Till we have reached that point that we are completely capable of justifying the freaking army raping Dalit women, “making” them confess their “Maoist roots” using sexual assault. We will never even see their side of the story, try to gauge their anger or even their words;  robbing them of agency and power to tell their own stories. It is only when the Dalits set up independent presses of their own, they can put out their words; even then taking large economic risks.

To borrow and modify from Ms. Firestone, “These class structures are so deep, they are invisible“; such hazing over is reflected in the writings of Indian or International journalists who how hard they try, will continue to use the existing terminology. This prejudiced stance suddenly goes kaput when talking about the Shiv Sena antics where they burned down the only surviving  library of Indology Studies a few years ago because the institute had a few records that did not edify the Maratha hero as they clearly did for their personal, political reputation. We talk about how tyrannical the Shiv Senaiks are but we will not call them a “pan-Indian armed militant movement“. I’d say the same amount of psychopathy can be seen in such fascist ideology-driven parties as the Naxalbari movement is accused of having, but because the former is superior by caste, their acts are termed as “heretic acts of indignation” where as the latter will be termed as a “threat to National security”.

I am freaking tired of talking about the same thing every time I sit to write. I wish I could go give all the ignoramuses of the world a private tutorial of, “One sided views — BAD!”, “Acquire both sides of the story — GOOD!” till they understand, somehow understand to critically respond to the propaganda and gunk aimed at them from every direction. But sure as the mole on my upper lip, every post boils down to just this. Sure as Proust’s disdain for fullstops, Renee and I will get mail that will accuse us of racism because what we endorse isn’t that magical land of snake-charmers and kamasutra in these posts.

And now, for the first time, I lock myself in the world in my head, temporarily, out of harm’s way. For even one more attempt to sabotage the voices of my sisters and brothers is enough to send me over. I am ‘La Vache Enragée’ as well as ‘La Vache Qui Pleure Dans Sa Chambre Tous Les Jours’ when I see such blatant manipulation of minds. I seethe, I rant and finally I cry. Hopefully for the last time in a long time today.

Using The Oldest Excuse In The Book

Hello dear BLOG! reading person. As a few of you know, I’m recovering from double attack of flu and submitting-overdue-assignments. In this vicious circle, I seem to have lost all time to collect my thoughts and sit down to freaking write something. I could go on a long-winded explanation or I can just say, “Patience”. Meanwhile, I’m posting a poem from a while back. Be nice people; for it isn’t every day I feel foolish brave enough to put something like this up.  And a special shout out to Nina for writing to me and encouraging this one!

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Breathing Out.

Pity whispered in my ear,
“Dear girl, get out while you can.
This may be your last chance,
Don’t you just want to run?
It will be good for you, even fun.
You can still save yourself”, and left.

Anger raved in my head,
“If you don’t do something,
It’s the bastard’s mirth and glee,
Listen to pity, go flee.
If you stay where you are,
Then all you are is a farce”,
Then she left my boiling pit.

Scorn chuckled in my eyes,
“Do you see what you are?
A heartless doll, unsellable now,
Waiting to be pushed, pulled, shoved.
Molded, bent, ephemerally changeable
Are these the seeds you let them sow?”
Then they left, robbing me of sight.

Love stated in my mind,
“What is keeping you here
Are nothing but invisible shackles,
Just as hard to break as you fear.
We can help, if you let me.
We’ll do everything,
As long as you want it”
And departed before I could,
Shut my mind, boldly; tight.

I can muster my cowardice,
With more than a little effort,
Stand up from my crouch by the floor.
Clear my voice, ready, now
To show the hypocrites the door.
When I open my mouth,
Words fly out, run to my heart,
And the only thing I can say is now,
“O wise sages! Came hither to
Advice, force, help and change,
Can’t all of you see?
I am too fond of my cage”
As you form again a frown
I can do nothing but
Return to the ground.

P.S: Look out for a new feature on the BLOG! in a few days people who legally stalk follow me.

Re-enforcing The Single Story Again

Regardless of what people have to say, I think I’m quite an average person when it comes to using my GrayMatter for most purposes. It never really occurs to me how so many people treat me as a one would a baby by the sole virtue(s) that I have a LadyBrain, or failing that, the colour of my skin (which apparently declares my IQ). And even if it did strike me at some point that people really do speak from between their thighs with their heads jammed so far up their arses, I’ve become extremely adept at ignoring reality — a Lady doesn’t develop eight inches of thicker skin to fight trolls by just sitting around and dreaming about it, mind you.

Despite what Foucault had to say about exhibitionism and its polemics, I’m still going to go ahead and tip the contents of my inbox out so you can see for yourself what all my legitimate claims whining is all about. Now, most of my trolls in addition to never having met a dictionary or a proofreader also have never met logic or common sense. When I write about India or about my culture, a small flickering light seems to go off in their brains that say, “OOOOh I know Kamasutra! Snake-charmers! Slumdog Millionaire! Indian Porn! Elephants on the street! People riding on tigers to work! OOOOOh and little children going potty on the road!” and then the curtain falls, for a very, very long time. So when I’m talking about my own *subjective* reality that I live every freaking day of my life; something doesn’t sit quite right in the minds of TrollPeople. Just because they think of India as a congruent mass of puritanical Hindus (or not) or because the way it is portrayed in media, they make the tiniest of tiny boxes and squeeze us shut into it.

In conversation, whenever the term ‘India’ or ‘Indian culture’ comes up, more often than not, more people than I’d dare to acknowledge seem to be thinking, “Don’t our call centers always have some Indian thing talking in an American accent? And don’t they eat that pepper thing too?”. Laugh all you want, people have asked me quite a few times now that how come my ‘American’ is so fluent to which I always make monkey noises in fits of mildest irritation. At least in the version in my head I do. In reality, I’m too stumped to really say anything beyond, “Don’t you mean English?”. This is always invariably the exact moment Rex Harrison starts bleating in my head, “Why can’t the English teach learn to speak?” (don’t judge me. I’ll always have a soft spot for Shaw reproductions no matter how garish they are) meanwhile I may have possibly murmured something unintelligible to the annoying person in question. People are also very disappointed that I don’t have the exaggerated accent that most soaps mandate an Indian character to have. The most disappointing was when I helped a lady last week by speaking French as her English was horrendously poor she remarked, “Je savais pas qu’il y pourrait les indiens qui peuvent parler le français bien courrament plutôt quand vos langues sont même assez mal-développés”¹. Somehow that was supposed to make me smile. I’d like it if  I was allowed  to negotiate my stance about how I feel about living and grappling with the colonial identity instead of mocking it the next time. I’m not saying I blame people for being privileged or ignorant (let’s face it, some people just don’t want to care) but rather that I understand how this single set of images has been perpetuated by Western media and especially by Indian media. Take this recent ad film for example; this is proof of the colonised fervor that still runs amok in our veins.

[This add starts off with the woman speaking words in Hindi and English meshed up together  wherein she talks about how people used to make fun of her. Now that she knows ‘proper’ English, her pride and confidence is restored]

And in the rarest of rare conversations, when I seemed to have crossed the language barrier or rather fail to entertain them with gags of ill-pronounced English, the conversation then goes on to the “But-you-are-a-woman-therefore-you-infer-only-from-your-feelings debate”. By this time, I just want to smack the said Ignoramus with ‘A vindication of rights of woman’ by Wollstonecraft or ‘Sense and sensibility’ by Austen or with ‘Rudali’ by Mahashveta Devi that will end this ridiculous argument once and for all. I really have exhausted all options that I can do to make the person (most often a Dude) believe that what I’m saying can be backed with feelings as well as facts only to be ridiculed. The only thing left to do is completely stop talking. For a while anyway. And that’s in ReaLife! When I turn to my e-world, I see the same DudeCouncil silencing me and my voice.

If you think I’m over-reacting, let’s sort through all my sordid TrollMail together shall we?

  1. This is a special note from Jacqueline — Maybe when ur parents or som1 equally disillusioned told u that u were funny, u didn’t understand their sarcasm. Nothing that u write is funny. Also, u sound like either a lesbian or a tranie. Get spayed soon k?
  2. Ramma — Shame on you, you whore, c*nt of the highest order! Sullying our name like this. You shouldn’t live in India if you think it’s so bad. If I ever see you, I swear to God I will knock you down.
  3. A typical letter from the hordes of housewives I’ve seem to have angered — Is this what our values lead you to believe? Tainting the name of our culture! Chi Chi! Calling the Ramayan misogynist must make the devil in your heart very happy.
  4. Frosty — You do realise, nothing about yo is indiam? Indians aren;t like this at all. you are crazy and deluded.

All of these complaints and many, many more seem to be attacking the idea of the ‘one’ notion they had of India, Indian culture, what constitutes ‘humour’ or ‘ideal nationalism’. Who defines this ideal? And at whose cost? These questions echo in the air around me as they have and always go unanswered. People  just can’t seem to understand that multiple truths generally co-exist that eventually create history. And people say meta-narratives are dead. Or is this just me telling you to fuck off politely from my blog? YOU decide.

1- “I didn’t know that there could be Indians who could speak French so fluently when most of your languages are so poorly developed”. Exact quote. The only thing missing is my open mouth that wouldn’t shut for a whole hour after this.

The Wasteland Of Women Edition Of Madness

Like more than half the masses in Mumbai, I too use the trains on a more or daily basis; if I manage to drag my big small arse out of bed on time, that is. After a lot of grumbling, running around and emergency sessions of shooting coffee up my veins every freaking morning, I manage to somehow tumble into the train and join the WeAreSisterStrapHangers Association for the next forty-five minutes of the ride. ‘Tis a real art  — an extremely useful one at that — to balance books, umbrella and yourself as the train lurches, halts and picks up speed like I do under a caffeine rush. I’m not suggesting that every traveler should get, “I survived Mumbai trains” t-shirts as awards but even a little appreciation will do. It’s really not easy having women punch you in the gut just to get a seat and it’s time someone recognises that, yo. And that’s the as-old-as-time version of reality in the Ladies compartments,  I don’t know anything but stink and sweat in the MenPeople’s compartments; leaving aside the groping and touching that goes on if a Lady travels in their compartments. The WikiVersion of my whine is — Train travel is hard and tiring; precisely why I should not be blamed for anything that transpired yesterday, dear BLOG! reader.

As usual, I had my head stuck in a book to really notice what was happening on the other side of the compartment till someone rudely shoved themselves against my thighs, asking to make more space out of thin air to accommodate her and her bag the size of a whale when I could barely sit comfortably. Being the scatterbrained idiot I can very often be, I suggested her to go to the other side of the compartment — not as nearly fun as suggesting to go to the DarkSide — she gave me a look and said in no uncertain words that I needed to let go of my death-grip on my book and just see what was on the Other side. By the look on her face, I expected to see a dead rat or at least an obscene drawing of the female genitalia. Instead there was just a woman mumbling something to herself and staring nowhere into space. Before I could give WhaleBagLady a piece of my mind for touching me, I remembered who was that Lady. She’s MadWoman # 4 of the Trains (Jeez, I could make Bertrand Russel proud if I continue talking like this). As people keep track of exotic fruits, I too despicably remember all the six MadWomen I’ve seen in the trains.

Truer words have never been spoken

Truer words have never been spoken

These women are all characteristically thin, pretty and possibly extremely beautiful; by any norms. I’ve noticed most of them carrying a huge bag full of money, make-up and clothes — call it a getaway source, if you will. They speak fluent English (the symbol of education and good breeding in India) (whatever that means) and are always ranting about something or other. The woman in the train yesterday was talking about “cutting the bastard to pieces” and would go on to sob about her “empty sac” alternately; accompanied by many, many colourful embellishments and hand gestures. There was something so sad about the whole thing; no one could do anything or help her, stuck in a bell jar as she was. I wonder what led to her eventual madness, for there was trauma clearly etched on her face as well as in her words. Maybe she was forced into a bad marriage like my grandfather’s aunt was that drove her to madness or she was just born crazy like my grandfather’s sister was. Either way, she just roams around in the trains, scaring the living daylights out of people.

What is the most dangerous question is — who defines madness? Or what makes madness? I’m crying as I write this, it’s patriarchy who does both. This is a truth I really don’t want to acknowledge.

Madness is often synonymous to ‘witches’ and ‘defying the establishment’ here. The stigma associated with MadWomen in India is as political an issue as religion is — both bank on the fear of people to execute their own conniving objectives. It seems stupid maybe today to think of Witches, the way people in Salem did many, many years ago or the way Shakespeare wrote about the trio. Assuming these notions are dead would be stupid, rather. A few years ago, one woman who disobeyed patriarchal notions fell in love with another woman by choice was called a ‘witch’ and killed off in Calcutta, the maid in my house confirmed this story. Mahashveta Devi’s poignant portrayal of Chandidasi Gangadasi’s forced loss of motherhood and societal power in ‘Bayen’ stands out as one as one of the most transgressive narratives about this stigma of madness and by extension, dark magic ; as she  illustrates how Chandidasi is made into a ‘witch’ due to her larger economic-reality coupled with absolute absence of agency over her body (as is the case with most women; mad or otherwise). Common myths propound that “these things” only happen in the lower classes; whereas research has shown that ‘witch-hunting’ is very much a part of Upper Class Bengali and Gujarati Hindu culture too.

There are very few institutions for MadWomen, ones that won’t force them into the flesh trade that is. Like that ‘Mad Woman in the attic’, this one will be hidden from the public eye and life. Considering the fact that she is mad, she will also be considered a ‘shared’ body for many members of the family or the neighbours, for a price, of course. If these non-flesh-trade-forcing institutions do exist, they remain available only to the privileged few. More often than not, this MadWoman will be a servant of sorts to the household that is “generous” enough to keep her. And I’m talking about present day society; not something that transpired about 10,000 years ago. Indian MadWomen are virtually and systematically obliterated from the society, if my own family history serves as an example. My great-aunts were both ill-treated, insulted and possibly even abused by their in-laws before they were sent back, labeled as “half-women” or as “defective-women”.

For a woman to be born mad is worse than being born with a disfiguring scar, for this means she loses all chance of ever acquiring a husband (can you imagine the horror! Times Eleventy!) or ever being accepted in society. MadMen, however get wives who will ‘tame’ their madness, if popular culture is to be believed. ‘Koshish Ek Asha‘, a soap that has more twists and potholes than any clichéd Indian rural road, works on this basic premise; that the woman’s efforts will wash the ‘madness’ out of the man’s head.

One can argue, shouldn’t this madness be equally ‘washable’ for both sexes? Apparently since women are ‘worthless’ to begin with, no need to invest in selfless husbands that will do the said madness-washing. We just let them wander aimlessly in the city, leave them crazy in the trains. Can you blame me for crying for the remaining of the train ride with MadWoman # 4? And perhaps even entering the MadWomenCult in the eyes of my fellow passengers?

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