Archive for the ‘Random Rants’ Category


Why would anyone care about how I changed my views about homosexuality and what brought about that change? One would not – unless of course one would like to see how I caved into the traps of liberalism, or sold my soul to western values sacrificing traditional ones, or perhaps just curious about how the transformation happened.

Growing up…

I grew up in the 1980’s in a traditional Indian family –  a Bengali family. My father was a mid-level employee in a steel plant and my mother was a primary school teacher. My grandmother and my uncle (my dad’s younger brother) lived in the same two-bedroom house, not unusual in those days, and probably better off than the average Indian family.  I was never a witness to any display of affection inside or outside the house – even if I caught a glimpse it would be so outrageous a thing in my mind, I would dismiss it in a second as an aberration.   Most of my friends and I had our first lessons in love and sex and everything in between from older kids or books – and that was before we hit puberty. It was as if there was an underground network of rebels who were demystifying the secrets of life in a society where such discussions were taboo.

As I hit the teens, my aunts would sometimes discuss “love” in front of me while talking about the weekend movies on broadcast television. But sex was still a big “no-no”. Indian movies were centered around love and more often than not, love triangles. But even the concept of adultery was censored out [Those who are curious can research Libaas, a film that was never released because of this reason].  It was not surprising that the word “homosexuality” was foreign to me.

The first time I came across the phenomenon was when I was about 14. A friend brought it up. He had seen a movie (of western origin, in a “parlor” – where censored movies were illegally screened) where this “thing” was shown. Our first reaction was shock which was immediately followed by disgust. It was against against everything that we knew (albeit that knowledge was only about 6-8 years old).  My friend was absolutely shaken.  Soon after, I was reading a book by a well known Bengali author [Sunil Gangpadhyay, and the book was Purba Paschim] where I first came across the word “lesbian”. My Oxford School Dictionary was mum about the word.  When I asked my dad, his first question was where did I find the word! And, for obvious reasons, I had to lie that it was in the newspaper. He looked away when he said that he did not know what it was.

In the years that followed, our knowledge of homosexuality remained stagnant. However, we were used to seeing transgender individuals (hijra) while growing up. They lived in communes and appeared to earn their living from charitable donations. Bollywood films, an integral part of the popular culture of the 1980s, avoided references to homosexuality; but often portrayed transgender individuals in a disparaging way, as incidental comic relief.  The societal attitude was no different. As we were finishing high school and starting college, our go-to slur for anyone who was less than masculine in our eyes, was “hijra” or euphemistically “50-50”.  Early 1990s was the time when when homosexuality slowly made its way into our vernacular. It was often used to scare others off (“Beware of that guy, he is a…”), or express inability or improbability of a person to attract girls (“Oh him? He is a …”), and variations of that – more of  a handy adjective for ridicule than anything else.  Although, I hate to admit, I was no exception.

Deeper look…

When I came to the United States for my masters, I associated homosexuality with perversion and/or abnormality.  So it was not surprising that a few months into the course,  when I found out that one of my friends, a classmate, was gay, I pondered over it and thought it was “unfortunate”. Over the next few months, these issues were discussed more and more in and out of the classroom – I decided to listen to the other side.

I had many questions, but these were the first ones:

  1. What is it that is unsettling about homosexuality? That it is “not normal”? That it is “harmful”? That it breaks long accepted norms of the society? Or that “God never intended…”?
  2. Why is having an opinion or taking sides on all these aspects of the issue important?
  3. If, indeed it is important to take sides, which side and why?

Is it normal?

What is “normal”? I think “normal” can be interpreted as: usual or ordinary; or, mentally and physically healthy.

One cannot argue with the fact that even today (it was no different in the late 1990s and early 2000s) there are more heterosexuals than homosexuals – regardless of whether one judges by incidence or prevalence. Depending on the sources referred, the percentage of the population that are not heterosexual, in most countries, is less than 10.  Rates are typically higher in the west –  as an example, one study from as far back as 1995 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7611844) found percentages of individuals with homosexual behavior or homosexual attraction were higher than 10% in the United States, United Kingdom and France. But if one in 10 individuals in three major countries demonstrate homosexual behavior or homosexual attraction, it would be hard to consider it highly unusual or “not normal”

The psychological aspect, i.e. whether it is a mental disorder or not, is often argued. I found out that organizations of repute such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association,  and the World Health Organization ruled out homosexuality to be a mental disorder.

Is it harmful?

As long as it stays between two consenting adults, how could it harm me in any possible way? People might argue that some would find it distressing if an individual of one’s own sex approached in a romantic way. True. But that sort of distress is not uncommon. There are people who feel distressed when they are approached by little girls selling cookies or by the overtly aggressive salesman. The simple answer is that we learn to deal with it.

Its discussion or experience put pressure on parents and individuals whose religious beliefs are in the contrary. But so does other phenomena. Public display of affection, for example.  Or explaining hijabs or burquas to non-Muslims; or, their absence to observing Muslim children; all are as stressful. When my daughter was three, she asked me why we do not go to church while all her friends do or if Santa Claus was real,  it was not easy for me to explain, but I survived that without a nervous breakdown.

Does it break long accepted societal norms?

It does break long and widely accepted societal norms. But, if there is no truth to that accepted norm, we are probably better off breaking it. There was a time when people believed that the world was flat, and believing otherwise was blasphemy and people lost more than their religion and credibility arguing against that. It, however was and is true.

On the flip side, the same society might have marginalized one of its sections, perhaps for centuries, assuming that they were “not normal” and deserved to be ostracized.  I remember one of my friends (this was much later, though) mentioned she was afraid that the schools would not consider homosexuality a “sin” and she did not want her children to learning anything to the contrary. Many argue that way when it comes to creationism. But if there is overwhelming reasons against a long standing staunch belief, religious or otherwise, it will eventually have to make way for others.

But God never…

As far as God’s intention, I can write a book on that. To me, this was the least intriguing question. For starters, I did not get that memo on homosexuality (or anything else) from My God, so I guess S/He left it to my discretion. For those who had their epiphany, or consider their religious text to be that memo, I tell you in the words of Dave Allen (and David Shepherd) “May your God go with you”.  I can respect other people’s beliefs to the same extent they can respect mine.

Why form an opinion? Take sides? Justify one’s own beliefs?

Perhaps because our beliefs often trump our reasons in actions and responses. I think once we come to terms with our beliefs, we can rest assured that even in our subconscious, we will act or respond as we would in our full senses.  Belief is that one place in our minds where we are our most comfortable self. Reason comes second, at best. Beliefs, especially the ones that have stayed with us the longest, are also the hardest to alter for most of us. It takes a barrage of reason, experience and most importantly time to alter a long standing belief. With age, it becomes harder. Nevertheless, I believe, it is important to take sides especially if your reasons convince you to do so.

So, which side? 

I came to accept the fact that homosexuality was neither abnormal nor perversion.  It was not easy. For a long time, even after I was convinced that it was perfectly normal to be homosexual, I was not comfortable thinking that a close family member might come out of the closet. I kept thinking that it would break my heart if I found out my daughter grew up to be lesbian.  But I think, finally, I have come to terms with it.  I do not have any qualms before telling my daughter that it was perfectly fine for a man to marry another man, or a girl to be in love with another girl –  they are as much capable of a fulfilling life as any.

Conclusion

I understand that I may not have covered every angle or element on this issue –  just the key ones that helped me come to terms with this dilemma. Also, I can understand why many people find it hard to accept it (and that includes my own parents and some friends). But this is one of those issues that people need to figure out themselves whether they can accept it or not.

Advertisements

A momentary lapse of reason

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Random Rants
Tags: , , , , ,

Reason has its dimensions and shades. When it lapses, we try to find reasons for those lapses as well. I can claim that I am a reasonable person – to an extent; but, I cannot claim that I am not vulnerable to occasional lapses. Almost all instances of such lapses occur when I am experiencing an overbearing feeling of losing control over my life. The most recent and probably the most intense in many years of such lapses occurred this past August.

I have gone back and forth on whether to pen it – and then finally decided to take the leap. I have talked to some of friends about it – and they have agreed with my assessment. Although the reasons and the situation for the said stupidity were understandable, the actions were certainly not prudent, at least on hindsight.

The two trips to India this year were certainly not under the best of circumstances. My mother has been undergoing medical care since May end and she has been on my mind at all times; so has been my dad, who has been handling everything with so much poise that it is indeed inspirational. That inspiration has done little to help my frustration of not being able to be by their side (physically) when they need me the most.  I try to find consolation in the fact that my dad, and my mom, when she is in her senses, truly believe I should be where I am.

These thoughts have been rampant during my second trip to India. I was happy to see mom released from the hospital and back in the comfort and familiar environment of her home – although she was under constant care and supervision of a medical attendant. She was not mobile by any means – although the urge and the willingness to try to improve was there.

My daughter, my parents’ only grandchild, did help my mom cheer up – until the day of departure was imminent.  On the day I was about to leave for my mother-in-law’s place (close to the airport and hence the logical first and last stops for all our trips to India), it happened.

I was returning from the nearby Big Bazaar, the Indian version of Walmart, so to speak. My dad, soon to be an octogenarian, was behind the wheels. My mother always vouched that his love for his work, which has always centered around automobiles and heavy equipment, surpassed his responsibilities towards his family. His love for his automobile related work transcended to his driving abilities as well – he has unquestionably been an expert behind the wheels. Although his reflex and eyesight has been deteriorating, he is still 10 time sharper on the road (in Indian conditions) than anyone I know. We took the newly-constructed bypass, a two-lane road lined with occasional piles of stone aggregates and sand evident of the spike in real estate it has engendered. The setting sun shone on the windshield through the trees, flickering a blinding glare every now and then. The road is yet to become the quagmire that is its inevitable future – with few cars, trucks, rickshaws, and pedestrians at any given time.

As we were approaching the final stretch, I spotted a a group of four pedestrians strolling well ahead of us, with the swagger and negligence common across humans and animals on Indian roads. I cautioned dad of their presence, in case he hadn’t noticed. Just as we were about the pass them, one of them decided to stretch his on-road-callousness to new limits, moving towards the center of the road and narrowing (albeit unconsciously) the the available space for us to pass. It so happened that a motorcycle with a rider and pillion, decided to pass us at that very instant, with a hurry unbeknownst to everyone, save them. My dad, in his wisdom and quick calculation, decided to spare the life of the distracted pedestrians at the cost of preventing the motorcycle riders from passing us at that very instant. I saw the riders screeching to a halt behind us, and utter an expletive clearly directed to my dad.

Now, Indian Metro dwellers have developed an uncanny ability to be resilient to expletives – almost as much as sputtering them out at every opportunity without any discretion whatsoever. During every annual trip I would re-acquire the resilience in the first few days – starting with rage within the confines of the car for the first couple of days, reducing to whimpers in a weeks time and frustrated laughs or sighs thereon. But this turned out be an exception. Possibly my inability to control the events of my life – my mom’s sickness, my inability to be by their sides at the time when it matters most, my dad’s single handed fight to not let fate dominate, and the fact I am leaving things unresolved and returning to the States, was a recipe for disaster. The expletives directed to my dad, a person who I have always admired and aspired to become, was the final spark that was needed.

My rage was uncontrollable. Yet, with a calmness that was unusual to me as well, I alighted the car ignoring the soft requests from my dad (who appeared to be at ease and satisfied with saving two lives and apparently agreeable to dismissing the intransigence of the motorcyclists), to let it go. I walked to the riders who have then taken to pronouncing the incapability of my dad’s driving unabashedly and asked who spurted the expletives. The two riders, barely into their twenties, probably did not quite expect someone almost twice their age to confront them in such a manner. In their wisdom they decided to skirt the question and kept pointing out the error in my dad’s judgment that led to their harsh braking.  I ignored their contention and without raising my voice I reiterated my inquiry.  The pillion rider flinched, dropped his voice, still skirting the question and continuing his line of argument.  It was clear who the perpetrator was – so I asked him to get off the bike and apologize to my dad.   As this was happening, I noticed that there was another motorcycle, again with two riders that has also stopped, probably due to the same reason – being denied a safe passage by dad’s quick unanticipated maneuver.

What happened next was not something that I planned, nor anticipated – i.e. my lapse of reason. I dragged the pillion rider by his collars off the bike and threw a punch right to his face. His associate joined him to fight back. I was too angry to even take stock of the situation and gauge the possible consequences.  Thanks to my height and reach, a baseless confidence, and a foolish conviction of doing the right and needful, I somehow managed to tackle both the twenty-somes at the same time landing punches and pulling maneuvers that one can conjure up only under such bizarre circumstances. My last punch had an unintended consequence – it broke the band of my wrist watch, dislodged it, and and threw it to the nearby bushes.

By then, the two other riders had a chance to take stock of the situation. In an effort to prevent any further show down, they rushed to the middle. These new riders, who appeared to be in their late forties (in their infinite wisdom, and my luck) decided to reason with me. They contented that we (meaning my dad and I) were at fault as far as the maneuver was concerned; and it was utterly unfair that I took to manhandling the poor bikers! The expletives (that in my opinion superseded everything else), were conveniently ignored. My dad came out of the car, still trying to persuade me to let go. A few other onlookers were approaching me, while a few more decided to stay on the sidelines waiting for a clear direction on the flow of events.  These new riders strongly derided my action on the poor victims and demanded an explanation.

I had a split second to decide on a damage control strategy – after all I was well aware that the unwritten rule of the Indian road is that the larger vehicle is always at fault and,  destined for sacrifice (read deliberate vandalism). I decided to to take a chance at persuading these new riders who seemed to have assumed the role of arbiters. My argument was that they (these older riders) were also forced to brake harshly; yet they did not scream expletives at my 70 year old father like the other perpetrators. Wouldn’t they be mad if it was their dads on the receiving end and not mine? Wouldn’t they have reacted strongly? To my pleasant surprise, this line of argument resonated with the folks.  Although, they were not fully convinced that my manhandling commensurate the obnoxious behavior of the two young riders, they bought my reasoning. Dropping their initial aggression they asked others to help me find my watch, which was soon retrieved.

The sudden turn of events surprised the young riders.   They got up and declared (it was not directed to anyone else in particular) that the car (meaning our car) should be stopped. Fortunately for us, there were no takers and the gathered public simply ignored their presence. I walked slowly to the car, with a soreness on my right knuckles, which I haven’t felt until that instant.  I stole one last glance towards the young riders, who were still gathering themselves up. My dad did not waste another minute and hit the road before any further turn in events could occur .

It took a while for me to fully take stock of what happened – may be an hour, may be two; and, to this day, I keep thinking and reassessing my actions. Was my outrage justified? In a place where expletives are used by the old and young often directed to no one in particular, was it really necessary to act like I did? Taking a string stance like that – is it worth it? From a practical viewpoint, my action was purely stupidity.  In the current state of the Nation, and perhaps more so in West Bengal, where population is strongly partisan, any incident quickly escalate beyond control. Many youngsters are either goons themselves or are connected to some. Many carry concealed weapons. If these guys hit my dad, he could have been badly hurt.  But what could I have done different? Scream back at them and simply drive away, as is the norm?

I grew up in much nicer surroundings – where respect for the elderly was a given. Not any more. But old habits die hard – due to my self imposed 14 year exile to the US, I missed the boat of the “cope and change” phenomenon. Would I do it again? I think not – not because I don’t think it should be done, but because the repercussions might be more than I can handle. I will take pragmatism even if it is dished out with a healthy helping of cowardice – because it is not just about me and my morals and my convictions and such…  and, because, I realize that it is the new normal of “reason”.

The call

Posted: October 15, 2013 in Random Rants
Tags: , ,

In the last few years I have made an earnest effort to travel to India at least once a year. The gravity of my roots – the love for friends and family – has an uncanny ability to overpower the pragmatic aspects such as finances. Thankfully my soon-to-be-eight year old is as keen to travel as his dad.  However, this year was an exception – I had to make two back-to-back trips in June and July-August.

My mom has been fighting an early onset and steady progress of vascular dementia for three years and counting.  On top of that, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease last October. A sudden surge in symptoms towards the end of May required hospital admission. While the physiological reasons were multiple,  we suspected her breakdown was caused by the shock  from the worsening health and subsequent demise of her older brother who was very close to her, and possibly her favorite of eight siblings.

The fact that this brother was an octogenarian did not help her grief.  My mom, who is yet to be 70, was admitted to nearby medical college, with deteriorating mobility, speech and cognition. My dad, several years older to my mom, also showing signs of aging (all physical), maintained his rock solid composure and calmness as this happened. He called and apprised me of the situation. Thanks to his genes, I was able to take it without significant distress. He also called up my uncle (Kakumoni), his recently retired younger brother who lives about 100 miles away. Kakumoni, always ready to help out, took no time to pack his bags and come to my father’s help. My youngest aunt, dad’s little sister (Chhoto Pishi) and her family also stood by his side as he took to the matters. A week went by, Mom’s condition showed little improvement as the resident physicians attended to her physical ailments, postponing her neurological and psychological needs. (Although, to us, in our unqualified medical opinion, this approach was stupid at best; only, we were all proved wrong in the long run).

On the 10th day, during my morning update on my drive to work (which coincided with their evening visiting hours at the hospital) from my dad, I learned that mom was no longer communicating. Her discomfort, agitation, and frequent unsuccessful efforts to grieve her brother reduced to occasional moans and subsequently to a deep slumber.  Not agreeing with my dad’s assessment (which was influenced by his concern for my financial inconvenience and interruptions at work), I decided to take the next available flight home.

Her condition worsened the next day, and as I boarded my flight, I prayed for her – rather selfishly, as I wanted to see her at least one last time. My prayers were answered. I landed in the wee hours of dawn, red-eyed, sleepless for a day-and-a-half (I find it impossible to sleep in flights, and the situation at hand only made it worse).  My mother-in-law, who was waiting to pick me up at the airport confirmed that mom’s condition had remained unchanged. I spent the next couple of hours restless at my mother-in-law’s waiting for the morning visiting hours. My mother-in-law and my mom’ have been closest of friends since before I was born. Her unwavering belief that mom will surprise us with a comeback was heartening, but did little to comfort me.

I met Dad and Kakumoni at the hospital entrance and walked upstairs to the ward with an hour to go before the official visiting time. As I walked towards the doors to steal a glimpse ahead of the visit, I could feel the anxiety bouncing in my stomach. There she was, reclined, eyes closed, in pain yet calm, her hands restrained to the bed.  (Dad told me that she had accidentally dislodged her Ryle’s Tube a few days back and hence the restraint). A mix of emotions confused my thought process – happiness to see that she made sure that I got to see her, sadness to see her unresponsive, anger seeing her restrained and worried about the uncertainty of the near term future.

photo

I was the first to step into the ward as the doors opened with Dad by my side. I took her hands, bending down to get a closer look, rooting for her and hoping that she had a fighting chance to recognize me, perhaps even utter my name! Her eyes opened, her lips shivered for a fleeting moment and then tears rolled down her eyes. It took a few attempts, but she was finally able to utter her first words in days – “Babin”. I stood there –  bewildered, smiling, with moist eyes…my dad put a comforting hand on my shoulders, sharing the moment.

She improved over the next 10 days, gradually regaining her ability to turn her face and then, with a little bit of assistance her body. Words were few and far between, yet it was enough to make us hopeful. Her grief for my departed uncle was her first order of communication directed towards me. Once she got it out, she felt better. However, it did not take her long to realize that my visit was temporary and she would not be out of the hospital before I returned to the US.  Thankfully, ( for her sake as well as mine) I still had a card to play – I was going to be back in a month – and not alone! Her grandchild, her precious nugget, Shonai, would be accompanying me!

Why?

Posted: November 18, 2009 in Random Rants

How many times have I made a go at this? Countless. Why blog? Then again, why not?

Every weekday morning, the 15-minute drive to work interlaced with snippets of NPR, the good-morning conversation with the women in my life and the segway into the work-mode somehow brews this urge to write. And share. Me at my didactic best! Yet, so far I have controled this urge for no apparent reason. Shyness? I am not particularly coy. Lazy? Perhaps. But most of all I wanted to be certain that I am up for it – for the long haul.

This is not an exercise to empty my heart, but to free my mind. In many ways these vignettes will be my random acts of self-gratification.  My confessions at the virtual egotists-anonymous sessions. And I am unabashed. My days are too long and my life’s too short. So make the best out of it.

This rant is going to be hard to follow. So better end it and lighten up, so that I can get on with the stuff I really care for.