Category Archives: Indian culture

UPDATE: Postponed to 11th Nov. Queer Reads Bangalore: THE PREGNANT KING by Devdutt Pattanaik

 So – we meet on the 11th of November, at 4 pm. I suggest Swabhava for our first meet, and after that we can shift venues to other places we can choose. 4 to 6 pm.

QUEER READS BANGALORE is a reading group, open to anyone, everyone, age, gender, race, orientation, class, caste no bar – and we shall focus on novels, shorts, novellas, plays, poems – all that is written, and written in the creative sphere – that are concerned with Queer and Questioning, Unidentified, Intersexed, Lesbian, Transgender and Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay and Genderqeer themes, people, communities and issues – no matter the orientation of the person who wrote them. On the other side of the coin, we shall read literature by Queer and Questioning, Unidentified, Intersexed, Lesbian, Transgender and Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay and Genderqeer writers irrespective of how non-heteronormative their literature may seem on the surface.

Think QUILTBAG literature. 🙂
To read:
THE PREGNANT KING is written by Devdutt Pattanaik. You can find it on Flipkart.

We’re still feeling our way through this, but come, bring friends. Come if you love the book, HATE the book, didn’t understand the book – disagreement is good, complete harmony is good, everything but you not saying anything is good.

From Devdutt Pattanaik’s website

“The Hindu epic, Mahabharata, written over 2000 years ago, narrates the tale of one Yuvanashva, a childless king, who accidentally drinks the magic potion meant to make his queens pregnant. The child thus conceived in and delivered from his body grows up to be Mandhata, a ruler of great repute.

What does the son call Yuvanashva? Father or mother? Can mothers be kings? Can kings be mothers? In the ancient epic, and the sacred chronicles known as the Puranas, which hurry through this slip of a tale, nobody raises these uncomfortable questions. They do so in this book.

And so a new narrative emerges: a fiction fashioned out of mythological and imaginary tales where lines are blurred between men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

There is Pruthalashva, who must be father because he is a man, and Shilavati, who cannot be king because she is a woman. There is Sthunakarna, a Yaksha, who forsakes his manhood to make Shikhandi a husband and then reclaims it to make Somavat a wife. There is Arjuna, a great warrior with many wives, who is forced to masquerade as a woman after being castrated by a nymph. There is Ileshwar Mahadev, god on full moon days and goddess of new moon nights and Adi-Natha, the teacher of teachers, worshipped as a hermit by Yaja and an enchantress by Upayaja. And finally there is Yuvanashva, the hero, king of Vallabhi, who after marrying three times to three very different women, creates a life within him, as mothers do, and then a life outside him, as fathers do, and wonders if he is either, neither or both.

If biology is destiny, if gender is a cornerstone of dharma, then how does Yuvanashva make room for such disruptions in order? For a good king, who wants to be great, must be fair to all: those here, those there and all those in between.”


Author Event: Minal Hajratwala at Swabhava

photo credit Bob Hsiang


Minal Hajratwala is in Bangalore for a few weeks – we mostly know her as the editor for Queer Ink‘s forthcoming 2012 Queer Ink Anthology (also here). I cannot currently remember who took dreadful advantage of whom, but Vinay (the guy who runs-manages-GrandViziers Swabhava/Good As You ) spread the word and a bunch of us gathered to meet her today (actually, by the time this gets posted, yesterday) at the Swabhava office.

Hajratwala’s Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents explores her family’s

Excerpts from *Leaving India*

multigenerational movement across the world, contextualising her self against this century of transplantation and settlement.  It’s won at least four awards (one of them a Lammy!). Hajratwala is currently in India for research for her next novel and for her poetry – more on those later.

It rained quite spitefully on the latecomers today, but we began (mostly) on time. Hajratwala read out an excerpt from Leaving India, a section pertaining to herself and her early adulthood – Feminism, Queerness (“Feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice.”) and the like. She’s not my favourite sort of reader – her tone remains too even – but she has a clear and soft voice. All in all, very pleasant.

Questions! Answers!    :

  • Hajratwala spent eight years (instead of the projected two) researching and writing this book. Her extended, very close-knit family is spread out over nine countries. She has thirty-five first cousins, and knows all their names – an impressive feat in and of itself. The book, in some senses, is her way of understanding the sheer scale of diaspora and finding a place for herself within it.
  •  Writing the novel changed her; it rebuilt her relationships with the family, allowed her time, conversation, communication with an older generation that would not necessarily spend time taking a young woman and her questions seriously. Diasporic narratives and histories have to encompass an extraordinary amount of movement: “It is the central trauma of our lives.” In some ways, it is the role of the queer family member, to have that displacement away and reconciliation back to the traditional family home – it gives the writer a dual, insider/outsider perspective.
  • The section in Leaving India which is about herself was written first, and partly as a response to the “naked honesty” she was getting from the people she talked to. She came out to her extended family on a case by case basis, and for the most part all is well. (She did remind us that it’s easier to be proud of a “famous lesbian” in the family rather than a boring old “regular lesbian”.)
  • Blogs! She likes blogs. (Who doesn’t?) They give you a personal space to write anything you choose, without an editor overseeing the process. You can control who sees your words and who doesn’t. It can be a space to have your private, intimate voice “connect to some bigger thing out there”. (She had contact with the damascusgaygirl hoaxer: See this and this.)
  • The Queer Ink Anthology! Queer Ink is going to be one of the first queer publishing houses in South Asia, and this anthology is going to give us stories that haven’t been heard before. About ten percent of the submissions were in vernacular languages. (Queer Ink is looking for people interested in editing, design, writing, the like. Contact them! Say you want in!)
After, there were cookies. After after, we went to Koshy’s. Life was good. 

Cultures that are not mine.

I read this little story by Neil Gaiman and spent most of my time reading it being annoyed by – oh, many, many things.

But it reminded me of this article by Lynne d Johnson that I had seen linked from wikipedia’s article on the Marvel superhero Storm. Why, I cannot say. (Asian) Indian people have their own history of representation and misrepresentation in Western/White/Male texts of various sorts, but that seems a flimsy piece of near-similarity to base an affinity upon.

I tend to be one of those people who thinks that the first Star Trek series was the best of the lot in terms of character potential. I also am one of those people that thinks that the original series wasted most of that potential. I would have loved for my strongest memory of Nichelle Nichols to not be her character Uhura screaming because a superbeing had made her old and ugly.

Writing this blog post was supposed to jumpstart my memory – and serve as procrastination for not writing something else which I need ready by 11 a.m. tomorrow, since simply watching Firefly would be too lazily unproductive to actually count as thinking-y.

But mentioning Firefly now brings me to one of my biggest problems with Firefly: Zoe Washburne (née Alleyne).

[I need, perhaps, to state this very clearly: Gina Torres is hot. She is very, very attractive. She has a lovely, deep voice. When I see Gina Torres, I want to see more Gina Torres. Possibly, if Zoe Washburne (formerly and perhaps even currently Alleyne) had been played by Lawrence Fishburne, this issue would not have bothered me and I would use the standard “Whedon only had 14 episodes and one movie to pack in all the characters and there were so many of them oodlelalay.” But Gina Torres played the role, I wanted more, and I got almost nothing. I have, in effect, shot this little post in the foot before it even began.)

Let’s see what we can dig up from the series, and the movie, about Zoe W/A’s character.
–> She is married, and seems to have a loving, if sometimes tense, relationship with her husband.
—-> The husband is
a) not as attractive as she is
b) not as “badass” as she is
c) very unlike her in general character, being more excitable (positively and negatively)
d) possessed of a different skill set, which means that she and he rarely go out on missions together
e) jealous of her relationship with her former (and current) commanding officer, which he attempts to fix by going on a mission with, not her, but the commander
—-> The first time she met the man whom she would eventually marry, she was “disturbed” by him. He bothered her.

–> At some point, Zoe would like to have children. As far as I can remember, the husband wants children too. But my memory on this is fuzzy. Someone help?

–> Zoe knows more than her husband does about the jobs the crew is contracted to do. She is smarter and calmer than her husband and her subordinate. She is calmer than her commander.

–> In the absence of the Courtesan, she is the character who must attempt to keep an overly violent commander in check. With little success, it must be granted.

–> She calls the commander “Sir”, even though they are no longer in the army. She displays a dignified subservience to his commands, wishes and whims. They appear to have laid to rest an old sexual camaraderie that no longer bothers them – though it does bother Zoe’s husband.

–> She has a gun. It makes her a warrior woman.

Her sexuality was so soldierified that she couldn’t identify romantic/sexual attraction. She is First Mate and subservient in manner to her captain. She responds to loss by withdrawing deeper into warrior mode. She’s a woman, an almost-mother, a soldier.

I wonder what d Johnson would say of her.