Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fun Home- A Family Tragicomic [a book i enjoyed reading]

Akshara gave me a graphic novel Fun Home- A Family Tragicomic. A graphic novel, something I haven’t read for years, and I completed it in two days. Well, it’s a graphic novel, so if you actually sit and read it at a stretch, it should take you just about a couple of hours or slightly more.

The book is by Alison Bechdel (cartoonist, writer and archivist of her own life) and is highly autobiographical in nature. Quite interestingly, she does not even change any of the names of the characters. The book is about her entire life and her interaction with her father. More than her own coming to terms with being a lesbian, the book portrays an Alison who has to come to terms with various events in her life that culminate into a re-examination of all those proceedings when she finds out that her father has had relationships with young men throughout his life. The narrative threads through her father’s death (a suicide?) and keeps going back and forth into her past and she reviews her family life in the light of her father’s death and his (homo)sexuality.

The tone is funny, light, comic, and insightful, with regular references to Proust, Joyce, Camus and Colette amongst many others. With constant allusions to a wide range of authors, philosophers and with contemporary events of her youth as well, Bechdel actually goes back to the journal she’s been keeping since she was ten. Her memoir thus offers a graphic narrative of rare richness, psychological complexity and depth and literary resonance. The graphics and the narrative merge beautifully to allow enjoyment as well as deeper understanding of various nuances.

Quite interestingly, Alison Bechdel chronicles a comic strip named Dykes to Watch Out For!! (http://dykestowatchoutfor.com)

Monday, July 28, 2008

About Celebrities and Their Coming Out [queer news]

I woke up this morning reading about how US talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres is to marry her ‘partner’, actress Portia de Rossi. California’s Supreme Court has finally lifted the ban on same-sex marriages declaring that “the right to form a family relationship” applied to all Californians, regardless of their sexuality. So far, so good…

Our cultural and political agenda seems to be guided by notions of representation of the queer (and the black, and the Hispanic, and the fat woman etc.), the need for a “re”-presentation as it is, the need to find a voice, to develop a new form of epistemology that takes into account the (in)existence of minorities (subalterns?), an attempt to revolutionize cultural representations, retrieve lost histories and demonstrate that knowledge (social, political, and even philosophical) is not as universal as it claims to be. The problematization I’m looking at here occurs at the following levels:

1- What is the role of celebrities in the ‘queer’?

It is a great feeling to see that the good old Californian State has finally granted the right to form a family to all its citizens (though opponents still claim that they will seek amendment to this constitution in order to overrule it), and it is all the more heartening to see that Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, both ‘out’, will be amongst the first ones to take the vow. The question is, simply in terms of representation (and here see, the real, existing celebrity with a power of her/his own, and a possibility of political propaganda that has much more potential that it may seem to have) what is the role of celebrities in notions of the queer, or as an extension when it simply comes to any community on the margins? Do celebrities qualify as stronger agents capable of change if the lines between their public and private life seems to be rather blurred? Do they face the same forms of discrimination that a common wo/man may face? Should celebrities see it as a duty (and here I accentuate the word duty in its largest Kantian implications) to represent themselves and their ‘peripheral’ origins? In the case of the queer celebrity, should s/he see it as her/his duty to come out and assert her/himself?

Those questions nonetheless have wider implications that can’t be overlooked but need to be underlined here. As I mentioned before, the sphere of the public and the private for a celebrity differs from that of the common wo/man. We can define as public sphere, a part of the celebrity’s life that belongs to the rest of the world with the latter having a claim to it. Thus, thrown into an open agenda may be the art, political take, physical performance etc. of the celebrity as well as (let’s face it) her/his private space that seems to belong to a wider range of people. While the common wo/man claims the intimacy of her/his room for her/his own, this may not be the case for a celebrity, as reflected in the over-exposed private lives of be it Bill Clinton or David Beckham for instance.

2- Does the queer celebrity differ from the common queer person?

In order to grasp the full impact of the queer celebrity onto the socio-empirical sphere, it would be of utmost importance to consider whether celebrity lives differ from common lives. This question has to be tackled only in relation with the private. Whereas the public as a space differs radically when it comes to the two population categories, the private space is still one that demands attention as I have already pointed above.

3- What are the Stakes in the Process?

What is at stake for the eighteen year old boy who comes out to his family or his friends as opposed to the twenty year old actor who comes out to the world. Sure, in the process, the singer or actor is also facing a coming out to his family and friends (if this had not already been done before) and a coming out that not only him but his entire family should come to terms with, for how does it feel for a parent to know that ones son is exposing his sexual life to the entire world? But the real question I want to raise here is in the nature of the support that the two persons receive. Is the celebrity likely to receive more support? I admit that having celebrities coming out can be of significant help to the rest of the population in feeling that one is not alone, that there are other people who are the same as we are etc.

But then when I was fifteen may be, I remember Stephen Gately (one of the former singers of the band Boyzone) coming out, after which he was sent flowers by Elton John. The question is: why wasn’t I sent flowers by Elton John when I came out?!!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Once Knew a Man Called Raju Chacha [portrait of another weird creature]

I once you a man named Raju Chacha. Well I do wonder whether he was actually a man at all, for he had no balls. Well some men have no balls I guess. Raju Chacha, or Dr Raju Chacha (as he called himself), or Dr Raju Chacha the (in)famous writer, professor and activist (as he liked people to call him), was a being of the peculiar sorts.

It seems he took birth in the year of P, on a DO note, and his ancestors were from SEU, such that he wrongly combined the ingredients of life and became a PSEUDO. The year of P seemed to guide his entire life though, for he called himself Professor, Politically inclined, Passionate, Precious etc., but other people called him Pussy, Prat, Preposterous, Poker-faced, or simply Pseudo.

He was a thin tall man- so thin and so tall that he looked like (just ‘looked like’, he was not) one of those dried up trees in the midst of a desert; the kind of rebel trees that allow themselves to take root amidst sand dunes, and grow up with dried rigid dark branches and a solid trunk, and thus spend their life, without ever breaking, and without ever shedding a single leaf, like they would want to defy the laws of nature. But don’t think too nobly of Dr Raju Chacha, for he was not so much of an unconventional tree. It may have looked so on the outside, that he was the kinds that would not break, but the real reason behind it (and that few people knew) is that he bent like a blade of grass to the wind and to the forces of his life, and this is the only reason why he did not break!

People who knew him better thus called him pseudo, the farce, the projection of a fantasy thrice (or was it four times?) removed from the reality of being an unconventional tree (or anything unconventional for that matter) that wouldn’t bend (or break) to the wind.

I Once Knew A White Persian Bull [portrait of a weird creature]

I once knew a Persian bull… He was as white as a blank sheet of paper and his brain was as blank as that same white sheet. It was a weird bull, a strange creature that landed in my life out of the blue. Pop! It was just there, suddenly, without warning or notice, sitting on its vast cubical 3ft x 3ft carton-box behind (I said it was a strange creature), smiling stupidly to himself as if seeing me had provided him with a glimpse of the nirvana (may be it did!); and all I was doing was quietly having my chai, so I didn’t see the danger coming (tragic flaw that led to my downfall).

It seems the creature had obtained a two way ticket from Hell to come into my life -and a few other people’s- so as to act as a Prophet on a two-year contract. Well that’s what he said, though am rather convinced the Hellians (inhabitants of Hell) could not take the non-stop hmmmm-I-mean-hmmm-I-hmmm-bla-bla-bla-ing that sprouted through his vocal folds like greenish-maroon shit out of the behind of a grazing bull; and they decided to kick him out of Hell, which was a good thing for he would at a later point meet his soul mate, the man, the false-god whose monstrous ego he would feed but not tame, Dr Raju Chacha also known as “Dr-I-speak-a-lot-but-say-nothing-at-all”. But I shouldn’t jump from the bull to Raju Chacha for the latter has a chapter of his own fully devoted to his over-bloated ego: I Once Knew A Man Called Raju Chacha.

I should say a few words about Hell though. Hell is a country found somewhere in a mountainous icy desert it seems, and the Hellians are slowly spreading over the rest of the world so as to take over. Quite sadly they built their first international quarters in Pune, the city where I am presently living, which explains how the deadly curse of the white Persian bull fell on me. There are a lot of controversial rumors about Hell, all of which are true: Hell is a country where you do not have a bath in days: the more you stink the more patriotic you are; the unmarried women of Hell are all certified virgins (at least so say the certificates accredited to them by doctors before their wedding); the major industry in Hell is make-up, women are expected to hide themselves behind layers of make-up instead of a veil (that’s what I call emancipation); queer people are simply hanged in Hell, or their sex is forcefully changed by the Hellian Government who subsidies the operation (Does that mean Hell is a welfare state?); but the major peculiarity of Hell lies in its people. They are all weird creatures in their own way: you may think they are demons out of your most terrible night-mares, those that remain hidden in closets that you never dare open, creatures manufactured by the disintegration of humanity and the fornication between brothers and sisters, human beings and animals, but NO! That is not the case. WE (you and me, provided you are not from Hell) represent the disintegrative corruption of humanity, the Hellians are the pure beings, the very first race, the unbroken line started by the first powerful unadulterated beings and the line is still unsullied till now, or so they say. But again, as mentioned earlier, all the rumors about Hell are true.

Back to the white Persian bull. Strangest of all creatures I must say… It did not have horns to start with (Gosh! No horns and no brains, what a combo!) but a balding head instead. A round ball full of air- some said full of sultry liquids whereas others argued it was full of empty words- on the top of which were small cropping of black hair, trying hard to come out of the empty skull of his… but well, I guess where there is no fertility, nothing (except bad grass may be) will grow.

What a creature it was! Its white features were most remarkable and from all angles (one did not have to pay much attention to notice) it spelled only one word: S.T.U.P.I.D.I.T.Y. His bushy eyebrows formed only one S-snake-like line, going from the top on one eye, descending on his nose. The Bull’s nose looked like a reversed T, straight at the top with a split down where his two nostrils parted in hatred for each other and fiery hairs expelled themselves out of those nasal holes, terrified of the shit that may spurt at any point of time, for the bull did not only speak shit, he also breathed out shit. And the notorious eyebrow descended from the top of one eye like a sledge down to his nose and went on to the top of the other eye and merged with his hair at this point. I must mention here that the single bushy eyebrow of this rather strange bull is of further interest for it seemed at times to slither from the left eye down to the nose and up to the right eye, and at other times it seemed to do so from the right to the left. I’ve deduced based on pure empirical observation (I should have been a biologist) that the hairy snake moves from left to right when in awe of actual stupidity and bullshit which he mistakes for divine appearance or charisma (often the ‘charisma’ of Raju Chacha argues the bull); and the right to left movement happens when he actually faces anything coherently intellectual and mentally challenging.

I would rather not describe the other features that were characteristic of the bull’s facial physiognomy and spelled out loud and slow ‘stupidity’ for each time I attempt to do so, I have a very strong feeling of nausea, and I once even puked while trying. So my own sanity and for yours as well, I should retain myself from doing so.

Oh white bull! White bull with rosy lips! White bull with rosy lips that had never been kissed, without any surprise, since there was always huge amounts of shit-words that perennially came out of those lips. At times the shit entered people’s ears and deposited itself in their memory, the recall of which would cause them to wake up in the middle of the night drowning in the sweat of insignificant words of shit, and sometimes people puked as well (I am not the only one). Well the lips may not have kissed, but the tongue did lick, and where it distributed and deposited its saliva was in the ego-box of Raju Chacha, his alter-ego whom he felt the amorous compulsion to suck up to.

May be its high time for me to explain why I call the creature a bull. May be the creature is not a bull after all, may be it’s a machine, a shit converter that converts shit into words, or may be it’s a word generator that just generates bla-bla-blas non-stop. But I decided to call it a white bull, a white bull without horns, without brains and without balls either (can one’s life get more tragic than that?).

Oh yeah, I just remembered! The day I realized he was a bull was when I noticed how his love for Raju Chacha took over his entire being in an orgasmic manner, like an alpha particle in an electromagnetic field, he would charge upon him; a bull with fiery eyes in the face of a young matador provoking him with a red drape. And thus was the rage of the bull. It would speed up and knock everything and everybody down till it actually reached its savior, Raju Chacha, and there it would suddenly turn into a sheep gifting its wool (and its meat) to its new master.

Should I have called this piece the white Persian sheep instead?