A day for making history in Delhi: bye bye, IPC 377!

My posts have become so infrequent that I imagine I am the only person reading them.  My laziness (busy-ness, you choose…) isinexcusable.

But folks, yesterday the Delhi High Court read down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the section used to harass, imprison, and blackmail (if usually not prosecute) the various members of India’s queer community: gays, lesbians, kothis, hijras….

You can read about it here  and here and here

The ruling was beautiful: all 105 pages of it.  In conclusion:

“We declare that Section 377 IPC, insofar it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution.  The provisions of Section 377 IPC will continue to govern non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex andpenile non-vaginal sex involving minors.  By ‘adult’ we mean everyone who is 18 years of age and above.  A person below 18 would be presumed not to be able to consent to a sexual act. This clarification will hold till, of course,  Parliament chooses toamend the law to effectuate the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report which we believe removes a great deal of confusion.  Secondly, we clarify that our judgment will not result in the re-opening of criminal cases involving Section 377 IPC that have already attained finality.”

I can’t even begin to understand what this must feel like.  Growing up in the US – the child of liberal hippie parents, white, middle class, a citizen – I have absolutely no idea what it feels like to be fundamentally “illegal,” to be seen as deviant, immoral…. I watched my friends scream, cry, hug, laugh, scream some more.  I hugged them and screamed with them.  It was beautiful to watch.  To participate in.  All the while knowing that I’m privileged enough to “not get it.” I can tell them how exciting this is (the lull before the backlash storm…).  I can say “congratulations” and smile when they say it back.  But I watch it all from outside andI feel deeply thankful to be excluded from this euphoria.  Even as I crave it.

Leaving…again.

So, I’m leaving tonight.  I’m heading to Amsterdam to see a certain sailor who just left on Sunday.  I realize that it’s been less then a week, but ze sails from Amsterdam to the ARCTIC next week for FOUR MONTHS, so it’s not looking like I will see hir after this.

The point is that we decided this a few hours ago.  So I ran home to find that the water in the building has been shut off (seriously), the internet kept going in and out, but then I FINALLY booked a ticket on KLM and began to pack.  Leaving tomorrow night.

But wait: then they call and tell me the flight is overbooked, so they are canceling my reservation.  Bastards.  I frantically try everything: Swiss Air, but it’s super expensive, Turkish Air, but do I want an 8 hour layover?  Not so much….Lufthansa, but it’s even more expensive.

But wait, I could fly TONIGHT on Swiss Air for less then I was paying on KLM.  Holy shit!

So I booked my ticket and called a cab and finished packing and sat down to realize….

Um, I have SO MUCH work to do! 

And I can’t even take a shower.

And I think I am truly insane.

This post has no point, other than the fact that I’m losing it and I can’t take a shower and I’m so very very excited to leave in a few short hours.

This does very little to improve my pathetic blog postings, but I’ll try to send stories from the ship.  I’ll be back in a week.

YAY!

I was hoping for a Marathi tutor, but….

…then I saw this sign and I realized I really need an ENGLISH tutor!

 

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Things are going to change for me….I can feel it!

“And I’m Feeling Good”

Yesterday was a huge success and I am feeling good (thanks, Ms. Simone) about my interpreter.  As an interpreter.

But I’m also feeling good about the ways in which she validated something for me: I don’t write about my work much, or tell people about it, because I’m afraid that it isn’t interesting and I don’t want to bore people.  
Cue Charlie Brown’s teacher…..

So I was worried that my interpreter would be just as disinterested as I assume most people are.

Yesterday, as S (interpreter) and I walked to the mill to meet P (informant),  I filled her in on my research and what I was focusing on and hoping to develop over the next few months.  I asked her if she thought it sounded intriguing to her.

“Well, yes, maybe, but you have to understand: I have another job [as a journalist] and this might not work out.  I mean, I can’t come meet you very often so I might have to find a replacement.  Sorry…”

(My interpretation: “this sounds fucking boring.  No way I’m dragging myself along for this.  I don’t care how good the money is….”)

‘Fine,’ I thought, ‘I’ll find someone else.  Who needs you, anyway?’
I just had to make it through the day.

One hour later,

S: “Wow, I should do a story on this…..”

Me: “Really?  This is interesting to you?”

S: “Are you kidding?!? Of course!”

(I beam)

At the end of the day, S asks me if I’m happy with her work.  I tell her I am, but am worried about her schedule.

“Oh that…, it’s no problem, I can work around it.  When do we meet next?”

S, P, and I decide on Sunday afternoon.  I couldn’t be more ecstatic. It’s one thing to talk with people directly involved in my project: activists, lawyers, architects, mill owners….. This is- in one way or another- their life.  Their own work.  But it was a bit of a thrill to convince (without too much work, mind you) someone completely unconnected to me and the project that this is something worth paying attention to.  A story worth telling and worth listening to.  It makes me excited again.  Maybe I don’t want to drop my baby in the dumpster after all….

Pornography as Interpretation

This is a post about fieldwork….seriously.  Just bear with me.

The thing about home-made porn that rattles me a little is the idea of a camera capturing what I cannot control: frames and distance and a perspective that I might not want to see or know actually exists.  Because I can be in the moment and I can analyze the moment later on, but do I really want a frame to challenge the experience I think I had?  And do I really want to see my ass from that angle? Not so much…

Last week I reached a research roadblock: my English and (pretend) Hindi have gotten me only so far (well, ten months of far, which ain’t nothin’) and I need to start seriously down the Marathi-road of project-land.  
Being that most of my informants are Marathi speakers, and all…

Now, I can pretend to speak Hindi real good (if “good” is a loose adjective actually meaning “shitty”), but I don’t understand a word of Marathi.  So I had to do what most Anthropologists must do at some point or another: hire an Interpreter.  Given the people I need to interview (primarily women), I felt a female interpreter would be best, especially because I’m still deluded enough to think my informants will feel instantly comfortable around me and disclose how one has sex when 15 members of your family lives in 200 square feet….

Hiring an interpreter is kind of like finding someone to hold the camera for that home-made smut film, or interviewing someone for a three-some: this woman will see the inter-workings of my methodology (gasp! Do I have methodology!?!) and control many of the ways I understand and am understood.  How intimate is that?  It’s research-sex!  I’m totally nervous!  

But the thing is, I find that I already distrust her, already feel protective of myself and my motivation, am fearful of what she will say to my informants in a language I cannot understand (“That crazy American asks the dumbest questions!”).

Yes yes, I know I’m being paranoid (we could become best friends and drink wine together and then have a real threesome….), but in the past I have had full control over the questions I ask and my ability to control the way I understand the answers (and I am prepared to record all of the Marathi stuff, so it’s not like I’m not covering my ass).  But it is weird to think about the ways in which I will now be watched by a third party previously unconnected to a project I have been working on for three years (gasp!). I mean, this research is my baby, even if I am often an apathetic mother who considers dropping said baby in the nearest dumpster and splitting town, free at last…

I am unnerved by the voyeurism I’ve asked (and offered good money) for her to participate in.  I can feel an added responsibility weighing me down because now I don’t just have to convince my informants that they have interesting stories (and yes: I convince them with money, let’s be honest here) I now have to convince my interpreter that I know what the hell I’m doing.

(Or maybe I have to convince myself, but let’s avoid the psychoanalysis for now, ok?)

Anyway, today is day one of research-with-interpreter.  I’m nervous, excited, anxious.  What will I wear?  Will she like me? Think I’m cool and smart?  Annoying and unprepared?  Will she be bored?  Does it really matter…..?

Deep breathe.  I can do this.  And if it doesn’t work out I will have another amusing story to write on this blog.  Silver lining?

James and the Giant Mansion in Chandor

Last weekend Bangalore had a two-day queer film festival (See how this “everything is fieldwork” mantra is really working for me?).  Having never been to Bangalore, wanting desperately to get out of Bombay, and imagining nothing better than watching 12 and a half hours of films for two days in a row, I talked Spider Pig into joining me for an adventure down south.  For the most part, it was a lot of fun.  We met some new queer folks, ate a lot of junk food, and strained our eyes to the point of excruciating absurdity.

Being that I’m such a logical girl, it seemed obviously necessary to stop in Goa on the way home.  No, really: this was not just another frivolous vacation for me.  I decided that it was essential to my development to stop in Goa in the way home.  Being that I’ve never been before….

Anyway, guilt aside, we had a blast (great food, great waves, great tans…I was getting too white, you see….)

But we needed a cultural break from the relaxing, so (following a tip from a friend) we headed to a tiny inland village called Chandor, home to old Portuguese mansion-museums, one of them being the Braganca Mansion, the largest house in Goa.

Welcome to the twilight zone…

We climbed the worn wooden staircase and were met by a portly Goan man named James, who smelled faintly like stale cabbage (is that a real smell?  I dunno…).  He ushered us inside to the blasting of phonographic-sounding scratchy Portuguese-Goan music, circa 1923 (I totally made up all those descriptors.  I have no idea what we were listening to but I swear the soundtrack touched upon such a genre…if it exists…).

Noticing the nearly dead mangy dog lounging in the sun by the window, we both entered the dusty hall with nothing but curiosity and enthusiasm until

BANG!!!!!! 

The door is slammed and bolted (YES! bolted!) behind us and we turn to see James grinning at us demonically and I swear we both turned to each other and flashed the “Holy fuck we’re going to be murdered!” look….

And then James gave us a tour of one floor of the enormous mansion and it was – for the most part – absolutely fine and we lived to tell the tale…

…but that five second moment is exactly why my mom told me to never talk to strangers: because some people are bat-shit crazy and it’s occasionally a bad idea to be locked inside a decaying palace of grandeur with the ones who recently snapped and became potential serial killers as you slowly climbed the creaking wooden staircase leading to their cavern of craziness.

Of course the crazy continued, just without violent repercussions.  James began rattling off his monologue, one scripted with such care and delivered with such speed that he could neither a) repeat any detail pertaining to the history of his antiques (I have the same relationship to Longfellows’ “Hiawatha”) nor b) be understood by either Spider Pig or myself.  I got about 10%….

After we toured the first grand hall, James turned to me and asked, “He is your son?”

This was not the first time such a question has been asked (the third, actually), but it was the first time we looked at each other, shrugged, and replied “Yes”.

To which he asked me, “And you are Parsi?” (score! I totally needed that tan!)

And I said “Yes.”

And he turned to Spider Pig and asked, “And where is your Daddy?” and I swear it was all we could do to keep it together, not to laugh (partially for the humor and partially for the sheer discomfort of such an interaction) and ze took a deep breath and said, “Bombay,” and we continued our tour.

I’ve mostly thought about the ways in which Spider Pig is mistaken as a teenaged boy and less about the ways in which I am mistaken for a woman old enough to have a teenaged son… But either way, I’m glad we are – at this point – laughing through the absurdity of it all.  Cheers, James.  And thanks for not killing us.

How I spend my days…

More and more, my days are about the time I spend waiting until I can see hir again.  Not that I’m not working…I am.  Not that I’m not busy and important and clutching my endless to-do list between sweaty palms as I run for the south-bound local train…

Ok, well, I’m not that busy…
…or important. 

Ze leaves in the morning and the day stretches out endlessly before me: I love how time moves here for me.  So much slower than it has the past few years.  It’s luxurious, almost.

Or chaotic, depending on what I need to do and where I need to go.  But even then I can look forward to those morning moments, reading the paper over coffee.  Or those few hours at dusk, spread out on my couch reading a novel.  They may not be entirely new and novel, but here they come without the baggage of the guilt I find so saturating when living in close proximity to the University.  And other graduate students.  

And I think about hir: those thoughts ever sitting – comfortably – at the corner of my mind.  I know ze is there and those thoughts add a lovely weight to my other fleeting concerns.  I feel stable through that presence.

So maybe it’s not that I’m waiting for hir… It’s more that I am thrilled by that reliability (for now – ze leaves again in a month) of seeing hir.  And the relief that something feels more important than the “work” I am doing.  Ze grounds me.  Ze keeps me from taking myself too seriously.  And then ze asks me about my day, and helps me take seriously the things I do, the fragments that form an incoherent shuffle through the sites and sounds of my eclectic interests in the city of hir birth.

And then ze looks at me like that and I forget what I did during the day, I lose my train of thought, I dismiss the memories of the day…

So now I’m thinking about work, I’m writing up fieldnotes…but ze is hovering here, as well.  And it’s only a few more hours until I can call it a day.