First Married Trans Woman to create platform for LGBTQ+ in Kolkata

“Some of us sing well, some can dance, some can act while others can paint. We face more social handicap than those from mainstream society. I am nobody. We are together Troyee,” Shree told me over phone. She used to be a dancer but had to quit dancing because of personal problems. She won’t let this happen to others from the community.

The LGBTQ+ community is going to get ‘Troyee’, a special platform in Kolkata to showcase their talents, thanks to 23-year-old Shree Ghatak Muhury, the first trans woman in Kolkata to socially marry her partner.

“We are trying to create a work environment for the community- an environment which we were not provided with,” said Shree, who is a thespian.

With the help of Titas Das and Shuchanda Lahiri, Shree aims to motivate LGBTQ+ people to earn a livelihood through exhibitions, theatre, film production and several other lines of work. Besides, Troyee will guide members to seek financial aid to pursue their dreams.

Shree, who has undergone sex reassignment surgery last month, wishes to get legally married in 2017.

I wanted to get this story published in the newspaper while interning with Hindustan Times. My colleagues helped me find Shree’s contact details.

This is a story- not the kind that you read and forget about.This is a revolution- not the kind where one disrupts the quotidian. This revolution does not yell; it silently adorns with stars the path for posterity.

MINGLE (Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment), a Mumbai-based LGBTQ advocacy organization revealed earlier this year that more than half of those surveyed from the community claimed that they were not covered by discrimination policies at workplace. Forty percent of them were often or sometimes subject to sexual harassment at workplace, simply owing to their sexualities.

Troyee will address such issues, as well as rescue those from the community who are compelled to become sex workers or beggars after being rejected by the society.

With some businesses like Bar Stock Exchange in Mumbai and New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village deciding to debar gay couples last week, this initiative of economic empowerment is expected to not just culturally, but also economically add value to India through the ‘Pink Rupee’ while the nation is still recovering from the adverse effects of demonetisation.

The team will seek government aid if required. It intends to approach for help West Bengal Transgender Welfare Board headed by Sashi Panja, minister of women and child welfare development.

If one follows the recent turn of events, it is not difficult to discern that ours is a society which still largely prefers to shut those like Shree, out of our civilised water-tight compartments. We need more Shree’s so that another Manabi in future would not have to quit what she deserves.

I have noticed even members of the educated elite being unable to discern the difference between a transgender and a transsexual. I shall explain this difference in as less didactic a manner as possible.

Transsexuals are people who transition from one sex to another. While sex has got to do with the body, gender is a social construction which develops in the mind. Transgender, unlike transsexual, is a term for people whose identity, expression, behavior, or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born in the place they were born.

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Two Odd Pages from a Journal

I performed this piece in my debut performance poetry event, Inbox by Saintbrush- the opening performance for ‘A History of Butchers’ by Mad About Drama (M.A.D) at Gyan Manch, Kolkata on 5th August, 2016.

The mailman delivered a box of clichés last night. It seems to have been sent by you. Wrapped in shining material with a perfectly colour-coordinated bow which reeks of courtships that have fossilised for eons in the soil of conventions, umm, the box looked somewhat appealing.

Turn to the bookmarked page

Ting! My cell-phone beeps every time you remember me. I cannot see your handwriting, but I’m sure if you grinned at my joke or blushed a little at the heart emoticon I had sent, because my screen can now emote or at least try to impersonate your emotions, thanks to the torchbearers of science. I have read blogs on texting etiquettes, I have memorized all the 8 ways of subtly indicating that I care for you; I have also…

Back to page ten

Yes, the box looked appealing. I opened it expecting you to surprise me. It had a letter with the smell of ink on it, smudged in some places with your messy fingers. A letter, it was, with minor spelling errors which I meticulously corrected. There was a mix-tape placed near it. I knew all the songs you would have compiled in it, yet played them to ensure I was right. While I was on my way from I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane to Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now

Turn to the bookmarked page again

I have also replied to all your messages instantly. A chatbox brimming with unread messages, to me, is a heap of potential typographical errors. I have rectified all your typos with clear asterisk signs since forever. But this time when I open your messages, it is not mere text or emoticons- it is a list of YouTube links. Not that I have not heard Thinking Out Loud and Yellow earlier, but your clichés don’t fail to amuse me.

To page ten again

Inside the box I see a perfume lying like the italicised alphabets in a page full of regular font. You always excelled at customisation, didn’t you? So you chose the very same apparel perfume from the exact brand I have always used. Despite knowing that you would send a handwritten letter, a mix-tape and my staple perfume, I feign surprise at your choice of gifts.

Back to the bookmarked page

I type out that I have heard both the songs and that my favourite singer is Ed Sh… I delete what I just typed, and send, “How did you come across these tracks? My gosh! They are lovely.”

Close the diary

Our transition from letterboxes to chatboxes has in it a series of infinities denying the ravages of the clock. The pages between my page ten and the one which is bookmarked are three hundred and sixty degrees apart. Three hundred and sixty degrees do not always imply a complete change. Just sometimes, it means that after oscillations between unexpected clichés and habitual surprises, you have returned to the starting point, unchanged.

Featured image by Anish Kayal

A Rainy Ride through Memories

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Raindrops accumulate on the surface of glass like metaphors abandoned by poets for eons- unwanted and intimidating because they disclose more about scattered pieces of miracles than you ever would want to let out. The little you can discern from among the raindrops is all that the city lets you see. The ellipses between parked yellow cabs really are the words that were shushed as soon as thought-parachutes were released up in the air. This city under its colourful everyday hides heaps of dusty grey rags in its drains and when it gets waterlogged, the freshwater and dirt, dirt and freshwater are hard to be distinguished from each other. It’s pretty much the same with memories.

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The rain-washed streets are testimony to all that you have shut out of your senses. The glass window of your car does not let the past drench you. As you traverse the city that you like to call your own, the air conditioning blows hard on the commonplace odour-remnants of your past, so as not to make you cringe anymore. What is the loud music that you are playing, but your desperate attempt to pick, choose and thrust memories into the trashcan of make-believe stories that you have been concocting ever since an undelivered letter was mashed in the heavy showers of what seems like a bygone era? You keep playing the song that has enmeshed itself to get trapped in a particular situation, merely relying on those poor auditory nerves to recreate the pathos of a past moment. You speed up your car more than ever, without realising that it is not the empty avenues you are crossing, but actually your past that is haunting you to pace up.

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You have been a conjunction amidst sentences that Eternity has been pronouncing since forever. These sentences have punished you enough for all the mistakes you are yet to commit. You have not felt a lot of emotions, just as you have felt a lot of them. Rewind a bit. Have you not waited as impatiently as a writer does for that one email from a publisher? Have you not, in the hopelessness of rejected fantasies, hovered like an aimless satellite in a galaxy of unicorns? Have you not felt that all the persons whom you have ever bumped into were cities- each having their most happening areas alongside the darkest of alleys which nobody prefers to inhabit; have you not wondered once they outgrew you as to where you did go wrong, and racked your brain in search of an answer later on? If you could embrace this series of infinity, you can combat all that lies ahead in this city which is nothing but a simile for change.

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Who ever loved that yearned not for miracles thinking of the sky as a wish-granting factory while sitting by the window during heavy showers? Get out of that comfort zone. Immerse yourself in the clichés that you have been hell-bent on avoiding. Go, get drenched in the rain. After that, as you gaze at the paper boats of childhood, the dream-loaded cargoes of the decades when they wanted you to be an adult, and the scattered mud pools of hope which nobody ever wished to take back home, let your past to the rain. You will know why this city never lets you die with dilemmas unresolved.

More Than Just a Flyover Collapsed

 

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Image courtesy: BBC India

We remember the anniversary of our first date. Nor do we fail to remember the number of times Shah Rukh Khan had The Black Lady in his hands. We remember the exact number of runs India would have required to win a particular match against one of her supposed arch-rivals in the game. Our minds are infested with too many things that can safely be discarded into oblivion at a time when it is of utmost necessity for public memory to get immune to the various kinds of eyewash aimed at ignoring events of major significance.

The visual quality of the image of debris of not brick and mortar, but of corpses mangled by the collapse of a flyover, no matter how haunting, is going to be obliterated from our memories, just as many such past events have been. Now as I am writing this article exactly five days after the incident took place, I am scared of traversing any flyover in the city. The quotient of intimidation and insecurity in our collective consciousness is extremely high at the moment, but ironically, it would not be long before newer data piles up on the memory of this incident and we stand in queues longer than ever in this nation of ever-growing population, to exercise our democratic rights. Democracy currently is a Sisyphian exercise of hope and disillusionment in quick succession. This is substantiated by the shameless dark history of massive architectural failures such as the collapse of a building near Mumbai last year, a similar tragedy in Chennai suburbs in June 2014 and many more in the past. How many died in such incidents is irrelevant because a loss is a loss- be it of one person, or many.

The ‘Calcuttan with a Mind’ reacted too much on social media to not make the #FlyoverCollapse a trending hash tag on the Black Thursday in Kolkata. She floated prayers in hash tag, compassion through constant status updates worth hundreds of likes and a piece of her mind by thoroughly criticising the present state government, following her age-old habit of politicising every kind of social pathology. The Calcuttan with a Heart and Mind, however, was not to be found shedding crocodile tears on social media while enjoying a decisive match of cricket of India contesting West Indies in the comfort of his home. He was seen at some blood bank sharing with his fellow citizen the hope to live on, by doing the best he could- donating blood. The believer was found lamenting the most unfortunate tragedy as “an act of God”, while the atheist from the party of opposition was seen vocally accusing the ruling party merely to expand its vote-bank in the upcoming state elections. Regardless of who feathered their own nest, who the good Samaritan was, and who was taken by surprise or pursued by anxiety, one thing stands certain- more than just a flyover collapsed on the last day of March, 2016.

On the day after the horrendous tragedy, I was informed by a friend about the demise of a classmate I had studied with in Montessori. The face of a dead classmate, with cotton balls shoved into his nostrils, flashed for the first (and the last) time on my phone screen right before I was about to go up on stage at a friendly debate in college. The debate had nothing to do with the tragedy. The time lapse between my seeing that terrifying picture and commencing the speech, I know, I shall recount as long as I live, for the simple reason that it made me realise how opaque to grief I had grown. In a jiffy I was The Stranger I could earlier, while reading Camus, never quite relate to. My conscience had finally found the chasm it inevitably would end up in.

The only bug I cannot get off my mind since that night is that I could as well have been in that boy’s place.

Ilhaam- Enlightenment on Stage

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Will Bhagwan acquiesce to the fierce storm that living a normal life unleashes? Will he go mad, or will he attain the enlightenment that has for long been eluding him? Ilhaam, the fourth production of The Nautanki Company, a theatre group founded by Xaverians Tejodipto Panda and Roshni Banerjee, answers some intriguing questions by universalising the inward journey of a middle-class man coping with the alienation from self which is so typical of a post-modern existence. Directed by Harsh Mahendru and written by Manav Kaul, this play was quite a challenge for the group which had never attempted to stage a script predominantly in Hindi. That they lived up to the challenge was substantiated by a mesmerised audience which offered a standing ovation to the production on the 23rd evening of February, 2016 at Gyan Manch, Kolkata.

We were thinking he was mad, and he was thinking the same about us.

The mood for the evening was set by Debayan Mondal, one of the most celebrated young faces of the beat-boxing scene in town, followed by which the plot unfolded in two spots on stage- a park bench and an Indian middle-class household. The stage was efficiently managed by Roshni Banerjee, while Calcutta Cacophony attributed to Ilhaam the right amount of publicity it deserves. Mrinmoy Chatterjee, a student of Biotechnology at Heritage Institute of Technology, Kolkata, did justice to the character of the protagonist Bhagwan, be it through his hair-raising performance or poetic monologues. Other scintillating performances were delivered by Tejodipto Panda (Mohan) and Rishi Raj Ghosh (Chacha). The supporting cast comprising Harsh Mahendru (Shukla), Julia Banerjee (Poonam), Sramana Ray (Pinky), Vishal Mudgal (Saurabh), Shubham Soni (Exorcist) enhanced the quality of the production with their soulful acting.

…and when there is no space for water in our well…. we say… this is quite normal!

Despite minor glitches in sound and pronunciation, The Nautanki Company outdid itself in terms of the content of play in its premiere of Ilhaam. Unlike their earlier productions such as ‘K?’, ‘Mind-Duck’ and Carcinogen’, the play at hand had a different director, and a philosophical theme that gave the audience much food for thought. The intermittent rounds of applause to the enthralling acting for a novice theatre group whose script was adorned with quotations ranging from Nietzsche (“Those who are dancing are always thought of as mad by those who can’t hear the music.”) to Ramana Maharishi (“Does the world ever come up to you and say- look here I am…”) stand for the fact that youth theatre in Kolkata is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Ilhaam-ed, as some theatre enthusiasts called their state of mind after having watched the play, aptly defines the contribution of The Nautanki Company to quality theatre in contemporary times.

Here are some visual remnants of the moments from Ilhaam as captured by Sourya Chakraborty.