Being Proud, as quietly as possible

I only started attending Good As You meetings a few months ago, and I’m still jittery about it.  I know no one at the meetings well, and I do not feel comfortable with strangers, especially when the strangers seem to know each other and band together in comfortable friend-groups.

Actually, even when they don’t.

I don’t want to go into deep detail for the “reasons why you are like this”. Either I’m shy, or I’m still manifesting interpersonal rejection sensitivity from my over-medicated depression.

To be honest, I’m still a little surprised that there are so many LGBT  – well, not the T, I was at least aware, as one is of the margins without paying attention to them, that the hijra community exists – people in Bangalore. When the 377 repeal happened I remember looking at the papers of all the people celebrating, thinking, where the **** did all these people come from, and why am I not with them?

So. When I realised Pride was coming up, with attendant Queer Hubba (there’s something very lovely about the kannada word “hubba”. It sounds like the rich, noisy, fat thing it is supposed to be) I was tentatively gung-ho for going.


Bangalore Pride and Karnataka Queer Hubba 2010

If you’re celibate, and you’re a girl, and your style is mildly girly, being bisexual can be a thing you don’t “need” to be out about, or so I used to tell myself. It’s an inconvenient lie, and at some point I will stop falling back on it. Fingers crossed for how the parents take it, by the way! (maybe they’ll read this and save me the trouble? Not-so-much accidentally on purpose.)

Famila’s Remembrance, which I attended with equal parts sympathy and curiosity, was very moving – as all remembrances of the dearly missed are, I suppose. V, the Good As You guy (don’t even, just don’t) made sure I gave my contact details to WHAQ (We’re Here and Queer, with no real website save on Facebook), a fairly newish group for LBT women, so that I could be added to their mailing list. Right as I was added, the emails that flooded my inbox carried the middle stages of an incomprehensible bitch fight about inclusiveness and respect. Figuratively cowering from my screen, I didn’t post anything for a few days, until the furore has died down.

They seem nice.

At a march gear workshop, I met T, who is a tiny, tiny woman, as far as I can make out unaligned with any of the groups in Bangalore but networked with all of them, who told me I should give her a call if I wanted to volunteer. Lying my face off, I said I would.

Except, I did call her. And I did volunteer. Not for much – just to do write-ups for the Pride events I attended. It’s still more of a commitment than I’m used to making for complete strangers, however competent or tiny. (Sorry, T, but you are, and you are!) It means that I have to attend the events I want to attend, whether I want to attend them or not. (I do!)

(No one who is sane and/or socially secure will find me making any sense on this issue.)

After all this. I fall sick. Properly sick, fever past a hundred, headaches, body aches, coughs, colds, phlegms, the lot. I stay in bed for four days waited on hand and foot by my devoted, concerned parents (who were genuinely worried).

This is what I missed.

  1. Love Across Boundaries – A Panel Discussion
  2. Park Bench Stories – On Love, Relationships and Identities
  3. Transgender Day of Remembrance
  4. Pride Mela, or Diversity Fair, or Vaividhyateya Jathre

Today, I said, No More! Ignoring my minimal fever, my throat’s deep-seated desire to push itself out my mouth through force of gag, I packed my bag, called T to make sure I knew where the event was, and set off.

It was two events in one, actually. The Body Politics exhibition, which will run for three days, officially opened. The alternative/electric/psychedelic (does that mean “for when you are high”?) band Bicycle Days played a mini-concert on the premises. From the outside, it sounded all right. J, a guy whom I know from those good ol’ college days, described them to me as “post-rock”, which is apparently to music as “post-modern” is to – well, whatever.

After wandering around aimlessly for a while, being lick-attacked by a dog that J tells me was focussing only on the dudes until I came along (aren’t I special?), I remembered that I had a job to do! Responsible!Roh gets very little stage-time, but she grabbed hold of this opportunity and made T and random other people intro her to the photographers. She took notes!

A lot of the models for the photographs were wandering around the gallery – it’s a bit odd to see visually-stilled people as they breathe and move and talk. Some of them seem to be able to convey themselves in both media – of “real life” and photography – while others show you something different in each moment. Not sure how much of that is the artist’s work and how much the model’s.

I wasn’t able to speak to too many of the models – or rather, the people whose pictures were taken. This is partially because there wasn’t much time and I am not very good at this, and partially because I was too tired to chase them all down.

Arnab Banerjee is based in New York, where he is a photographer and runs a modelling agency. His portraits feature moods and emotions, highlighted when his subject turns away from the camera. Arnab wanted to show the LGBT person in his/her/hir beauty without flamboyance, since extravagance and brightness can be our courageous way of facing the world despite our self-perceived inadequacies – in body, in mind. His portraits show us beauty, passion and our eroticism without artifice, and are some of the most contemplative of the works shown here.

But I did get to speak to KRI, whose photograph by Arnab is somehow still the most memorable to me  this might of course be because I spoke to hir and liked hir (damn, I need to ask hir which pronoun s/he prefers). Visually at least s/he occupies, very stably, a space between the masculine and feminine that’s not necessarily “loud” but, especially in still photographs, very there. Apparently T asked her to do the shoot, which resulted in a diptych  – a shot in black and white, KRI contemplating a banana; a shot in colour, Arnab (the photographer) remarking that he was glad of the light, hitting hir obliquely, giving the portrait a quiet, serenity. KRI is a neuroscientist and ecologist. S/he works not with rats, but with crickets, and hopefully does not torture them either.

Arnab was very quiet, talking intensely about beauty, and how people in the LGBT community hide behind our bright flamboyance, our extravagantly visible courage. I found him a very interesting person to talk to, so much so that I did not take notes while we were speaking.

Shiva spent a day with Chandini, an M-to-F woman and her family, creating a set of photo graphs to show her life as she lives it, by her request. Shiva is a freelance photographer who focuses his lens only on people. “Everyone is human, everyone is the same.” Chandini and her family are seen in moments of abandon, putting on their eyeliner… they form a colourful, lively contrast to the individual shots of some Koshy’s regulars in their favourite haunts; this set of black-and-whites titled “some boys have cunts” is more self-conscious, more reserved.

Of the four photographers, Shiva seemed to be the most enthused, and very cheery – he laughed as he told me he loved how the hijras paid attention to makeup and presentation, more so than most women. He had a series of photographs of Chandini and her family. Most of the photographs remain in memory as showing Chandini and co. in motion – there was one lovely shot of Chandini swishing her hair, though Shiva himself prefers the close up along one eye as eyeliner is applied. The black-and-white individual shots stand well enough, but are not as vibrant. Collectively they seem more posed, more… deliberately cultured. “Look, Koshy’s LGBT does Bangalore! Do you recognise this venue?”

(individually, they’re lovely pictures, mind you.)

Nishant Ratnakar is engaged in a long-term project, documenting the life of his friend Romal. Nishant believes that the photographer and the subject can be – indeed, must be – intimate friends, so that the camera is not an intrusive presence throwing the subject out of her/his comfort zone. With the camera as confidant, photography can be an advocate for the individual; and from the other end, the photograph can tells its audience a deeper story, following its protagonist through his issues.

Nishant Ratnakar’s project felt the most delicate to me  – an extended photo-narrative of his friend Romal. Ratnakar’s philosophy that the camera needn’t be an intruder into the subject’s life really holds only so long as cabin fever doesn’t set in, or only so long as the friendship, trust and intimacy last, I would think. But – touch wood – better to trust the artist’s instincts than the pessimist’s.

“We think of hijras and we think of them in one way, always clapping, never as anything else.” Indu Anthony’s “Beauty in the Blur” takes the traditional figure of the hijra and transforms the transgendered person into a new aesthetic. This is an ongoing project – Indu hopes to have 100 portraits in time! These portraits are elegant, sometimes melancholy, sometimes delighted. My personal favourite is ‘Flying With Butterflies’, featuring Shalini, which seemed to me to place the delicate, the always-moving, into a moment of still where dignity and elegance took on a electric attraction.

The aforementioned dog was Indu’s, and she spent a lot of time fruitlessly searching or its leash. Her project seemed to be, geographically, the largest – she intends to extend the net of her search for models beyond Bangalore, to the rest of the country (my notes are a bit garbled, but that is what I think she meant). Her work was placed on the wall next to Arnab’s, which was a neat touch, I thought, since both artists approached the concept of beauty from such different angles. I liked Indu’s wall best in terms of sheer prettiness, and forgive her her attack!dog for it.

People did some impromptu singing after Bicycle Days packed up and left, but I paid very little mind except when S pointed out that someone was singing Bhimsen Joshi, and very well too.

S, by the way, seems to have a fairly well-sized library at home. I must now plot my way into his good graces. Then I may either steal the library, or be lent it!

At some point, my throat, nose and sinuses said, No more, Roh. We will make you Vewwy Vewwy Sowwy if you stay any longer. So I packed up and came home.

Note: Indented passages are taken verbatim from the short write-up I sent NMR – I hope he uses it, but even if he doesn’t, they’re here!


So I shall start blogging here.

Hopefully tomorrow. We shall see.