Sunday, July 5, 2009

Gay is as gay does

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

-- Martin Luther King

(Picture courtesy: Reuters)

I have been meaning to write on the decriminalisation of homosexuality by the Delhi high court but never got the time to collect my thoughts. Lets see if I have this time round.

I have always thought that I have lucked it out having born in India at the time I did. I missed the stifling restrictions of a Hindu household guarding its women during British colonialism.

At the same time I managed to capitalize on a Bengali society slowly adjusting to women in loose baggy jeans, 'jeebonmukhi gaan' and the Back Street Boys.

I have always felt that in a strange way, we are a nation of extremely tolerant people, quick to slights yet ready to forgive and forget.

Perhaps I'm not doing a good job explaining the people I have grown up with and known all my life. Let me try.

I always found it hard to fathom the many dos and don'ts that are so drilled into our collective psyche from a very young age. These self-imposed perceptions of rights and wrongs remain with us for the rest of our lives and while we sometime struggle to unbend confronted with a crisis in our own homes, we nevertheless try to pass it on to our next generation without giving them a chance to make their own mistakes.

Take the example of marrying outside community, caste or status. A Bengali lass marrying a Punjabi or Gujarati in the 70s was unacceptable if not impossible. A girl in a family I knew ran away with the driver of the auto rickshaw that ferried her to her college. It was the scandal of the year. The broken parents put up a fierce resistance, tried to bring her back and in the end disowned her. Yet when she became pregnant with her first child they brought her home, cared for her and treated her uneducated husband quite decently.

Nothing has changed in society. Religion is still the great divider. Hindus and Muslims still wage wars and a sharply divided society wait and fume and do their part in spreading communal disharmony. Yet when children from the two religions get into a scuffle over a game of marbles on the streets, I have seen their respective parents dismiss it with "they're just kids" and chuckle about the scrapes they themselves would get into at that age.

I don't know how the theory of tolerance and acceptance works. But to me glossing over issues that have no bearing on our immediate lives or are not disruptive of our individual choices - is tolerance. Or maturity as I see it.

So why is homosexuality suddenly an issue?
We have always known of women in 'ladies hostel' who do "unspeakable stuff" with each other or of the weird elderly Mr. Das living down the road who never married having lost his heart to a young Sepoy in the 50s (as rumour goes, and "you are NEVER EVER to visit his home alone or talk to him unaccompanied by an elder. Do I make myself clear?")

Yet when the aged, friendless man one day on his way back from the market suffered a mild cardiac arrest and collapsed on the road, local boys from the 'Evergreen Club' who did nothing but lech at girls all day, raised money for his treatment, admitted him to a hospital and visited him with tiffin carriers packed with bland home-cooked food as advised by the doctor. The gesture of an unknown, prejudiced, but kindly mother or aunt.

This is our people. Don't let them tell you any different.

If we are repulsed and embarrassed by hijras clapping their hands and harassing us for money at street lights, we also invite them over and seek their blessing when a son is born. In no other country in the world are transgenders revered such.

Is all this debate about gay sex really necessary? We are a country where newly married couples sneak out to rented hotel rooms to consummate their marriage, driven to frustration by their extended family spread over two rooms.

We might take a while to get adjusted to seeing doting same sex parents at their child's birthday parties or women dropping off their kid at the bus stand, but it will happen.

A time will come when same sex couples will easily discuss their inflated electricity bills or their partners' annoying sexual habits during evening group walks and we would not bat an eyelid.

After all everything is mundane after a while. And we are a nation of causal easy-going people, subconsciously tolerant without making much of it. Aren't we?


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