Tag Archives: Clinical Depression

I Vant Yourrr Buhlood!

It’s been three whole years since I was gone, almost a year since I came back. Bangalore (Bengaluru, gods, I am not sure how to spell it unless I check online, and I cannot be bothered. I like it Anglicised, I’ve always liked it Anglicised, a little unpatriotic betrayal I cling to, sometimes, because rebellion is fun [!]) is a warm blanket against my skin (on show because my Tesco-bought shirt, lovely as it is, is cut a bit deep for India, I’m going to be assaulted on the street and my mother will say I told you so dammit) as I walk into BKF, now renamed NU.

NU has been given a ruthless makeover, and if I ignore the tidy rows of seats for waiting patients (I don’t, I never do, they can’t see it but I’m just like them, only it’s me, not my kidneys) it’s like I’m walking into an office, for a job, maybe, that I’m definitely unqualified for professionally, academically and socially. The receptionist is seated behind thick glass that matches, in spirit if not in colour, the shiny antiseptic grey floors.

Six months, heavy sunlight, sleeping pills, a wedding, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a grandmother and a healthy diet have brought my weight up to forty-six kilograms. In Britain I would still be unable to donate blood (the only reason I would not go back to Britain, rebuild my life there), but here I am just about allowed.

The receptionist (so pretty, so adorably pretty and oh look she’s married, that mangal sutra looks shiny new against her smooth skin) smiles at me. “We’ve closed our blood bank,” she says.

What? “What?” I must look as stupid as I sound – the crippling humiliation of it! – because she smiles at me kindly, repeats, “We’ve closed our blood bank.”

“But why?” Surely a hospital that specialises in organ transplants should have a blood bank readily to hand? The receptionist doesn’t know, and why should she.

I walk back out into NU’s sketchy garden, walk out onto the street, staring somewhat gormlessly (I can see me, staring gormlessly while ignoring the hopeful auto-rickshaw driver who’s waiting for me to ask him to take me somewhere) at the shops opposite. They have nothing I want. The heavy meal I ate two hours earlier sits unhappily in my stomach.

Five, four, three years ago BKF’s blood bank, staffed by my dad’s colleagues, would fuss over me, make sure I was heavy enough to donate, bleed me, feed me excellent coffee and send me away with a few extra smiles and a certificate that said I was a noble person.

When I went abroad in 2006, I was, oh, around 48 kg. I’m five-three, and not at all muscular, so while I was definitely out of the running in the Fitness Olympics (or any Olympics!), I didn’t care much either way so long as someone somewhere still loved me. Lots.

While I was there, in foreign climes, far from home, the cold penetrating to my very soul, the clouds sinking closer to my unprotected head etc. et all, yaddi yadda – while I was there, I began a carefully unplanned campaign of avoiding people, falling ill every so often, being late to class, and trying to find out how I could donate blood.

Unfortunately, these specific Foreign People were built on a larger scale than the average Indian, and had a correspondingly higher minimum weight requirement. To Donate Blood Abroad, I would need to weigh more than fifty kg.

Fifty fucking kilograms? How was I supposed to gain that much weight without going through a light regimen of muscle building? Obviously, I was doomed to bleed only from naturally-constructed orifices for the rest of my natural life. Woe! Alack!

More seriously, I had been donating blood for around two to three years, and I had become accustomed to the idea that I was doing something useful, something valuable, something anonymous for society. I had spent the last two or so years not dieting, realising that I liked my body as-is, and most importantly, I had learned that sometimes good deeds were investment-light. Giving blood took somewhere around half an hour (it’s been a while, so give or take ten). I lay down for most of the procedure. I ate good food an hour or two beforehand, and the donation centre fed me coffee and biscuits after. They would also give me – I kid you not, it was awesome – a certificate, thanking me for my “Noble Gesture”. I might be a raving bitch most hours of the day and night, but for that half an hour, I was a Noble Girl, who made Noble Gestures.

Suddenly deprived of the quick fix-it to my many insecurities, I felt a bit adrift. I’m making neither correlation nor causation here, but two years passed, and then I went back home and was diagnosed with clinical depression.

This is not a post about clinical depression, so suffice it to say: while I was ill and as-yet undiagnosed, I lost a lot of weight. I looked terrible (yes, it matters) and I felt worse. I was way below the 45 kg minimum requirement for donating blood in India. Fortunately, my mum, dad and grandma made up an elite feeding force, and in time I was pushing 45 kg, give or take a kg depending on whatever it is that makes weight swing like that. While I found it difficult to eat in anything approximating to a schedule, or in amounts that would do anything but keep me alive at safe nutrition levels, I did fantasise about giving blood again. I thought: hey, it’ll be a good deed. I’ll be a good person if I bleed for strangers. I’ll get a certificate! And since only healthy people donate blood, if I donate blood, obviously I’ll be healthy!

That’s when I discovered that my old centre had closed.

My weight seems to swing around 44 kg these days, and I’ve not yet found a centre I feel quite comfortable with (yes, this matters too), so currently I’m somewhat like Lancelot on the quest for the Grail – no one, including myself, will let me in.

But I was thinking about it today, in a park of some description, instead of reading The Trotter-Nama like I’d planned. Over the next few months, I decided, I would:

  1. Look to gaining a little weight
  2. Find a place to go to regularly donate blood, assuming all else is well
  3. Repost here some old personal essays about donating blood.

The longish quote at the start of this post is an extract from a much longer (and much whinier) piece, written somewhere in 2009.




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!