Wednesday, April 23, 2008

India's Lonely Honeymooners

It kind of sounds crazy that a Bollywood film should inspire thoughts on alternate sexuality. But it happens. While watching the film, Honeymoon Travels late at night on a DVD, some thing resonated. Watching Vikram Chatwal, the suave NRI and Karan Khanna come to terms with their sexuality on their honey moon as they tell their aghast wives that they are gay; I could not help but remember the normal notions and stereotypes that we have created around them and how distanced they are from the real thing.

Vikram and Karan are fundamentally decent people and not some ogres; they in the movie sound genuinely bewildered, confused and perplexed by the deal that life(first) and society(subsequently) have dealt them and genuinely want to do the right thing by their wives, by their family and by the established norms of society, which is why they got into this jam of getting married to a woman when they are gay in their orientation. The pain and agony of Karan, the small town simpleton who does not even understand the concept of being gay but tries hard to understand and rationalize his attraction towards another man is heart wrenching.
And of course being gay and lesbian is a relatively straight forward thing ; sexuality after all is a many splendoured thing and the typical man and woman will live and die without knowing and seeing even the tip of the archetypal iceberg of this thing called alternate sexuality- so many are its manifestations and so complex its expression.

If there is an are where the media in the Western media in particular have muddied the waters for us in India real bad, it is in attempting to script only the titillating bits of the story – of chronicling celebrities who are gay – be it Alexander the Great or Oscar Wilde or many other contemporary figures. By trivializing alternate expressions of sexuality into the realm of speculation and spice, it has glossed over many other angles.

If the spot light is not on celebrities , it is on only particular kinds of behavior; the constant discussion on gay marriages and whether they should be permitted or not – which countries have permitted them and which have not have obfuscated the fact that marriage is in any case not only about sex and that their sex life is not the only thing on the mind of any one – be it straight or gay. The rampant stigmatization of any one even thought or perceived to be “different” in main stream society can lead to a situation where such men and women find companionship only among their own – a fact that is hardly discussed or talked about.

Those who are gay have some breathing space – at least in the cities , if you move in the right circles, you know the gay bars and that sort of thing, but for the others, the tunnel is darker. A cross dresser, a bi sexual – as most gays in India are, a eunuch or transgendered ( not necessarily the same), live on the edge of a more slippery and darker abyss. A picture of ridicule, abhorrence and disdain, they live not even on the fringes of society, but outside it – obscured by their own initiation rites, customs, hierarchy , festivals – a deeply rooted counter culture if there was one.

I wonder what the prescription is for a country of India’s complexity but I suppose it has to begin with a more cogent understanding that sex and sexuality are different things altogether and whereas sex will always be an explosive issue in a supposedly conservative society, expressions and articulations of alternate sexuality and its destigmtization are the sine qua non of a humane society. Funny is it not , that we are so busy ferreting out the minorities and the marginalized in our midst that we have ignored the most despised, the most stigmatized, the most marginalized of them all ? They may not be hankering for reservations and quotas but they unfailingly need and deserve our acceptance !

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