Friday, April 23, 2010

My Interview by Ashley Tellis, in New Indian Express, 10th April, 2010

a) Would you like to tell us about how you came out to yourself and the world?

Accepting the truth of ones’ self and disclosing to the world is a continuous process. Each time one speaks, or does something else to that effect – painting or writing a story or an article or giving an interview like this surely are enabling acts. However, I was made acutely aware of the need for maintaining secrecy all through my growing-up years. There was fear, guilt and shame associated with the feelings I had towards men, and relationships I shared with them. In the 1970s through the larger part of 1980s there was a great sense bewilderment, dishonesty and confusion. Groping through all those one also committed blunders and irreversibly wronged ones’ self and others. As late as through the late 1990s I believed that I was a bisexual. My coming out was partly circumstantial (like the break-up of the marriage), partly through confessions in intimate friendships and partly self willed. But, mostly and throughout I tried to maintain discretion, considering the appropriateness and the feelings of concerned others. It is only in the past ten years or so that I am able to be truly realizing and accepting what I am.

b) Your recent work is on Bhupen Khakhar. Would you tell us a little about it?

Bhupen Khakhar’s paintings of mid 1980s at that point in time was shocking and at the same time liberating. Since then I followed his works closely, with great interest and spoke in the class rooms and outside with much enthusiasm, although I hardly published much then. The fact is that I had serious disagreements with the way he easily lent himself to the elite art circuits and establishments. It is after his passing away in 2003 that I have developed deeper interest in queer studies and I was very keen to understand the interrelation between activism and art. And, Khakhar was a good case to do so. Further, I also studied Khakhar’s art in depth to understand the affect of his disclosure upon his artistic expression; thematically and in terms of formal shifts. My concern grew in the direction of understanding how writers and artists have represented him, and certain aspects of these brought me to critique the structurally ingrained homophobia in framing and interpreting the life and works of Khakhar.

c) Is it difficult being an out gay academic in India?

Deep rooted homophobia is a fact of life, which one encounters on a day to day basis in almost all the situations one is located. Queerness of different kinds are associated with shame and one is all the time prompted to put it aside, or push it under the carpet. In the academic field the phobia works mostly in very subtle, subliminal ways. Mostly treated as inconsequential, the general perception is that queerness is something avoidable. Like the civil society academic world too hardly lent any empathy and as a result suffers from lack of knowledge, and prefers to maintain hypocrisy in the name of tradition, morality or whatever. I don’t allow myself suffer difficulties, but it had been tough to be oppressed by closet, which is a symptom arising from systemic phobia.

d) Would you like to talk about how it has been these years being suspended because of rightwing fascism in Baroda?

Life had been very tough since the suspension, that is to say the least. In actual terms I and several colleagues who supported the cause lost the platform of our work place; work had been the centre of my life all these past years. I lost access to the archive, library and the students, these are most essential to an academician. My research work got totally disrupted and lost, and still remains inaccessible. Large sums of hard earned funds for developmental activities of the institution got lost. All the time I am still confined to my home with no permission to enter the University premises and this had been absolutely absurd and demoralizing. The pain had been also of having been surveyed all the time, and having been dragged to the court rooms and police stations. Attempts at physical assault too had been traumatic. Personal humiliation and deprivation apart, it is terrible that the future of a well established and reputed institution has been jeopardized. At the end of it the only solace that remains is that one stood by ones’ principles and convictions and resisted the reactionary forces.

e) Would you tell us about your new project of queer archiving?

In the past one year I had been deliberating on the possibility of building an institution for preserving and promoting queer culture. The proposed national center - ARQ: Archive, Research and Queer Cultural Practice has three main aims in its purview; firstly it will document and archive histories of the Indian queer culture and practice, secondly it will enable queer creative person’s professional practices, and thirdly it would promote critical thinking and creative skills among the Indian queer community. In the past few months I had been able to put together a concept note with the help of many prominent persons in the community and I had several consultations in this regard. Everyone I have talked to feels strongly for the need of such an institution and so I am waiting for the appropriate time to register the institution and kick start the necessary work.