In Oscar Wilde’s birthday week, Ashok Row Kavi writes about the writer’s continuing relevance even within the Indian LGBT scene that continues to grapple with Section 377
Much though we linger with a litany of laments in these pathetic times, homosexuals in India have still to get back that black humour that was de rigueur while we were trapped in the grip of Victorian Britain.
But we do try. We do! My sista Cory Walia, diva divine of the mascara brigade and I were walking down the rough neighborhood of Mohammed Ali Road in south Mumbai followed by cat calls and invitations to all sorts of transgressions of the Sharia with the derisive words: “Ai gudh, ai gudh” (‘Gudh’ being the Urdu equivalent of ‘gay) when Cory, all six feet of him, turned around like a ballet dancer in his full glory and, not in the least bit hesitant, said: “Ai gudh, gudh, kya bol rahey ho? Bolo, bolo very, very gudh!” And with that both of us flounced down that road in all our flamboyant glory.
It’s that sort of black humour we need to exhibit as a tribute to Oscar Wilde, who showed us that even amidst tragedy, we ought to have no regrets “playing with panthers” – his term for London’s underbelly. We need that black humour to deal with the truth head on: in every city of India where the government is trumpeting that it has a successful HIV/AIDS prevention programme in place, nearly one out of 10 gay men is infected or dying. But not a word escapes our lips as we are sacrificed, as India’s glorious tradition of sati is resurrected on a new macabre mutant pyre. No! Not one gay man in India, except one, sees the black humour of it all.
Why are poor hijras being thrashed at traffic signals under the surreptitious Transgender Protection Bill that will forbid only them from begging at traffic signals while the Finance Minister goes a begging to the World Bank at the drop of a hat? Does anyone know that the new Transgender Law cunningly cooked up by the cabinet allows the government to arrest any hijra and admit her to a “rehabilitation home”? Yeah, like the ones they have near Tihar where all the bad boys get jailed and come out really hardboiled dakus. I just can’t imagine my elder sister Laxmi Narayan Tripathi being jailed without her makeup kit. But then she has become a Mahamandaleshwar courtesy of Praveen Togadia. Jai Bholenath black humour ka!
Why oh why is there even a discussion on this topic when it’s supposed to be a dark bedroom secret in the homes of various political worthies and of the Walrus in Nagpur? Can we not see the hilarity of it all; these people going up the ladder of political success “lad by lad” as Wilde said of some of his worthy opponents? It’s all I can see.
If the Right is humourless, well, so is the Left. Indeed, the chaddies of JNU’s stars have everything tucked to the left. Which is why they missed the chance of a lifetime when student leaders, of a different, ah, political persuasion, were caught giving each other oil massages with not even an Om Jagadish Hare on their lips. Instead of catching that fantastic skin show on their smart phones, they wailed about how the boys weren’t wearing red langots! The hostel wardens didn’t get the black humour either. I don’t know where it went. Most probably to Bihar with Kanhaiya where he spoilt it all by touching the Aaloo’s feet!
Just imagine, an astrologer taking us to court to be damned as criminals! The fellow actually said Section 377 was necessary because “otherwise our soldiers might start doing with each other such dirty things if such a law did not prevent them from straying at the border”. In all innocence, I had asked him on television if it wouldn’t be better for invaders to join our soldiers in one huge happy orgy on the borders and so keep our behenjis safe from rape. I also informed him that all the countries that Turkey invaded reported happy women because those horrid Turks were keener on the young men. I should relay this to Justice Verma too who thinks we men can’t be raped at all. Now that’s definitely black humour, especially when policemen bugger us at the drop of a hat!
Nobody, but nobody, gets the joke in all this. That is what saddens me. Ever since Justice Sanghvi, in his marvelous retirement speech, overturned the Delhi High Court judgment and condemned us as a “Miniscule Minority” (There is one MM around him too), every humourless homosexual has seen at least one proper lathi laid across his back in every state in India. The cops have finally discovered the virtues of Section 377. In fact, if you’ve read the papers lately, you’ll see they’ve even forgotten that a new child molestation law called POSCO (Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children) is around and have arrested children under Section 377. That’s humour blacker than ever.
The darkest bit though is Indo-Pakistan ties going into deep freeze thanks to Miss Karni Jherelee Devi (winking emoji) making a grab for cuties that side of the border angering our cricketing honchos. They, in turn, have, possibly, instigated the MNS-Sena surgical strikes intended to stop cross-border immorality.
Why can’t we homosexuals see the drollery of our wicked ways in the 377 follies we have committed? Why haven’t we adopted Oscar Wilde as our mascot? Why can’t Nash Nandini (You’ll have to guess the identity of this powerful political figure; more wink emojis) recognise her kin and send ALL of us to prison in one huge sweep?
Yes, all 30 million of us! Unlike Oscar Wilde none of us will go and die in France. That place is about to go under Sharia law within a decade if the Right wing there is to be believed. I take the Right wing very seriously; as seriously as Kafila.Comedy does. No evidence of humour of any shade whatsoever in that place for sure.
But even black humour has its limits. I’m beginning to think that in the Trumpistan of the future, I might have to steal one of Wilde’s best lines. “Nothing, Sir; nothing except my genius,” he said when he was asked if he had anything to declare at the US Immigration office. Oh, shudder!
Sadly, I don’t even have any genius to declare. Woe to my sense of black humour! Woe to Oscar Wilde and his Wilde, Wilde ways!
( Ashok Row Kavi is a prominent LGBT rights activist and a journalist.)