Virtually friends

It used to require real effort to stay in touch with friends before the Internet.  Phone calls required you to talk (or at least, respond); meeting up requiredyou to be present; letters and postcards required finding a paper and a pen and a flat surface and scribbling.

And there was a limit to those interactions. You could only talk so long till your voice gave way or your phone bills took off into outer space, you could only (properly) interact with so many people when meeting them, you could only write so much before your fingers cramped and begged for mercy.

And those limits in turn limited the number of people you could interact with on a regular, and meaningful, basis.

But now, now it’s so easy to keep in touch.  Click a couple of buttons and update everybody on your life and follow somebody’s life.  Discuss new hairstyles, coo over babies, oooh over skiing video, keep tabs on each other’s movements and opinions, never miss out on the major life-events.  It’s all so easy, so quick.  And you think you’re in touch, you’re involved, you’re connected.

But as I send out yet another quick congratulation, I realise that for the most part, this is what most of my interactions have come down to – quick bursts of short messages that seek the path of least effort.  I realise that I’ve become so used to receiving nearly all the information about my friends via status updates that I haven’t spoken to them or written to them at length in aeons.  I realise that just because I ‘see’ them regularly on some social network, I’ve forgotten the fact that it’s been years since we actually met in person – even while living in the same city.  And worse, have not made the effort to do so, simply because it’s so much easier just to IM them.

Which is why I keep finding myself startled to learn that they’re getting married, that they’ve moved to another country, that they’ve stopped eating mangoes.   And it’s only when I learn of such events from mutual friends that I am again reminded that not everybody lives their lives out publicly.

And I realise it’s time to depend less on announcements and begin to communicate more often.

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Friendships

From the time you are born, you are encouraged to make friends with those around you. Well, with the right kind of people, of course.  Which means you are forced to try and get along with random individuals simply because you were born near them, or went to school with them, or were related to them.  No discussion, no compatibility tests, just a lot of “now dear, smile, and go say hello”.

So you sigh and go play with these people and very soon realise just how many ghelsappas you are surrounded by.  At which point, you either:
a) Tolerate their company (because we should be nice to the less fortunate);
b) Decide you’re going to sit with a book or a distant look (giving you the aura of being a Serious Thinker, which also makesg it more likely you will get away with not having done your homework, because hello, Major Philosophical Contemplation going on here);
c) Make such a nuisance of yourself that your parents are forced to relocate (without being such a nuisance that they pack you off to boarding school);

And this dreary business goes on until you’re old enough or confident enough to decide that you’re going to become friends only with people you want to be friends with.  A certitude that usually occurs to most of us when we get to college.  And it is there that you wander around and take part in all these events and become a member of all these clubs and sit and listen to random conversations, and find yourself and discover the kind of friends you want to have.

And you stick to that model – you decide which of your colleagues you want to go out hiking with, you decide which of your new neighbours you want to invite over for board-games on a Sunday afternoon, you decide which of the four gardening clubs you want to become a member of.  And so you find amazing people, and you learn so much and you give so much, and you share and you bond and you help out and you feel contented that there’s somebody you can call at 3am on a Wednesday simply because they get you.  And you think it’s all good.

Except.
You lose them.

You lose them to the growing complexity of life.
You lose them to education in new lands, jobs in other cities, new lives in other countries.
You lose them to relationships and babies and taking care of your family.
You lose them to all the new people you meet, and all the new friends you make.
You lose them to the increasingly narrow slivers of time we all seem to survive by.

You try and keep in touch, you really do, but it’s so hard because we forget that in this world where we can keep in touch so easily, we can keep in touch with everybody so easily.  And there are so many people to keep in touch with.  And so you all end up on some online network, posting pithy announcements of the mundane occurrences and thoughts in your life, trying hard to pretend that you’re still holding actual conversations.

You look at their photographs, and you realise you haven’t met them in a decade.  You haven’t heard their voice, haven’t felt their smile, haven’t hugged them or shared their laughter.  And you try hard to hold onto the memories that slowly seep away, always wondering how much you’ve forgotten.

And you mourn for them, these strangers who bear the names and faces of those you knew, and you wonder if they do too.

Rage, rage against the dying light

So the Supreme Court of India has suddenly decided to go all technical and has lobbed the ball on Section 377 to the Parliament, saying that only the legislature can rule on the constitutionality of the law in question.

You are not going to be alone in being angry and bewildered and disappointed with this decision.  But instead of hand-wringing and having endless arguments on social media, do something.  Because this judgement is now history, and we can only work to alter it.  This is not the time to give up, but to fight on.

So here’s six things you can do:

1) Contact your local MLA and MP. 
Ask them whether they will support the repeal of Section 377, and promise the legislator the loss of your vote if they don’t.  Convince as many people as you can to write in as well (or to sign your letter).  Write a letter every week till they answer you.  And keep reminding them about your lost votes.  There’s nothing a politician hates more than the potential loss of votes.  This country wants vote-bank politics, right? They can have it.

2) Grill prospective legislators.
Ask every candidate for any upcoming election (which you are eligible to vote for) whether they will support the repeal of Section 377.  And promise them the loss of your vote if they don’t.  Demand an answer and try and convince them if they say no.  Remember, you are a vote-bank.

3) Volunteer. 
Offer your support, your vote, your money, and any other sort of help to the Naz Foundation, the Alternative Law Forum, the Humsafar Trust, and other members of Voices Against 377.  Even if you do nothing but write to them and tell them you’re supporting them, it’ll matter.

4) Know the enemy.
The 2009 High Court ruling was opposed by a coalition of religious and community groups – Baba Ramdev.  Suresh Kumar Koushal.  The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board.  Trust Gods Ministry.   Apostolic Churches Alliance and Utkal Christian Foundation.  Krantikari Manuvadi Morcha.  The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (wtf?!).

Write to them repeatedly telling them how disgusted you are with their narrow-minded attitudes.  Tell them you will fight them and will support any review.  Tell everyone you know that these were the groups responsible, and warn them away.  Convince anyone you know who utilises their services or donates to them or watches their TV shows or buys their books to boycott them.  Hit them in their pocket, because that’s what they care about most.  If you know where their offices are, get a bunch of friend together and go protest outside them.  If you feature in any sort of publicity, denounce them again and again.  If you spot any of them on the road, shame them, provoke them into an argument, or just shout at them so that they listen to you and know people disagree with them.  Do NOT let them rest smugly and think they’ve won.


5) Create awareness.
If you know somebody who is happy with this ruling, and believes it’s all about gays, remind them that Section 377 applies to every single person living in India.  Highlight the fact that this law allows the government (and the police) to dictate what consenting adults in this country can or cannot do in private spaces.  Highlight that this could be used by future regimes to impose any law that they think is ‘morally right’.  And if they’re completely stubborn – and if they’re of an age where such things matter to them – be blunt enough to point out that they themselves now cannot legally indulge in oral or anal sex.  Since this law applies to every single person in this country (even if heterosexual).

6) Most importantly, support your gay friends.
Be aware that this ruling effectively is a call for open season on all gays in this country.  Corrupt cops, right-wing loonies, religious nutters, and conservative ‘sections of society’ will all be out to harass them and trouble them and terrorise them.  After all, it was one thing living with the threat of some arcane medieval law being invoked, but now that law has been ratified by the highest court in independent India.  It’s doubly official, and the anti-gay brigade know it, and will be out in force and more rabid than ever.

It’s going to be a scary, traumatic time for anybody who’s gay, thinks they’re gay but are not sure, or are just getting to the stage where they think about things like hetero or gay.  Offer your shoulder, your ear, your home, and any other support you can, because by heck, they’re going to need it.

If you have to fight your family over it, do it.  If you have to face down some right-wing goondas, do it.  If you have to argue with or pay off some trouble-making cop, do it.  If you’re asked to go to a protest to raise awareness and boost numbers, do it.  If they want to add your name and photo to a public list of people who support their rights, do it.  If you are asked if a secret gay party can be hosted in your house, say yes.

Whatever you have to do, be there for any gay person you know.

*   *   *   *  *   *   *   * *   *   *   * *   *   *   *

This is going to be long, hard, and often disheartening battle now.  But it’s more than just about LGBT rights.  It’s about what sort of country we want for the future.  And for the future of our future generations.  It’s about standing up against the unreasoning, uncompromising orthodoxy.  It’s about indirectly helping all the millions of people in other countries who look upto the ‘world’s largest democracy’ for guidance in matters of humans rights.  It’s about you and me and all of us.  Surely that’s worth fighting for?

Dilemmas with no win

Living in India can be relied upon to regularly dump upon you a barrelful of shittiness.

If you’re poor, you’re just screwed.  If you’re on the middle rungs, you’re miserable because you’re perpetually struggling not to become poor while dreaming of making it good. And if you are in money – and have a conscience – you’re surrounded by choices that never allow you to do enough.

Take this small instance.

You hire somebody to come clean, dust and tidy your house.  After a while, you realise they’re dependable and reliable and you can trust them with the house keys when you’re travelling. And because you don’t do things like dock them salary for days they’re ill (or can’t send a replacement), they hope and trust in you enough to start highlighting all their many many woes.

Unknown illnesses that require tests and medication equivalent to half a month’s salary.  The need for more than two pairs of uniforms for the kids they’re putting through school. The fact that they continue to work although they’ve been medically ordered not to, because of malnutrition and malfunctioning organs. How they have to queue up for water at 4am and make their teenage daugther bathe at that hour to avoid prying eyes.  Jealous relatives and neighbours who begrudge a small gift some employer may have passed on because it was unwanted.

So you help them. You help them with their paperwork, you apprise them of government schemes they can benefit from, you stand witness for them at banks and potential employers, you encourage them to get proper treatment with the extra money you’ve just handed them, you give them home remedies and buy them fruits so that they’re healthier.

Because you can. Because you want to. Because who else will do it. And you feel good about helping at least a few people, and you feel good about being able to help at least somebody directly and tangibly.  And you think it’s all straightforward.

But consider this.

You want to give them a treat.  You realise that with all their work and chores, they never get time to even go for a movie, and in any case, there are increasingly fewer places they can go to in our cities where they will not be turned away by the high prices and the security guards who are under instruction to let only a certain class of people in. You also know that they live near (and have to pass by) an area that hosts dozens of slightly upmarket restaurants where a single meal costs around a tenth of their monthly income – a meal you have about thrice a month.  A meal consisting of ingredients they have never even heard of, or contemplated, or if they have, can only have dreamt of.

So you think of taking their whole family out for a movie, followed by a nice meal at one of those restaurants. You imagine the sheer, unalloyed pleasue of them laughing and cheering and whistling at a paisa vasool Bollywood flick. And the delighted curiousity of tasting food that is new, that is filling, and that is bahut faaaancy.  It’s a small gesture for you, it would be something they would enjoy and remember, and everybody needs a respite from drudgery.

Simple, right?No.

Because you then suspect that they would prefer to have that money and use it to buy necessities they’ve been denying themselves, or buy some material for their farm back home, or put aside for emergencies, or even just treat themselves to an expensive ice cream. Because they could always do with a little more money.

And you wonder how much of this is your own selfishness talking, your own desire to have done good.  You consider whether they would be happy you got them into a posh restaurant with heavy cutlery and napkins and where obseqious waiters call them sir and madam, or whether they will resent you for taking them to a place where they clearly stand out as not belonging.  You realise it’s easy for you to not care about what others think, but it might only make them more ashamed of what they perceive as their inadequances and ignorance.

So here you are.

Torn between giving them the money which they could immediately use and make their lives a little more comfortable, or treating them to an experience they would never otherwise, and which you hope would make their lives just a tad more happier*.  Unable to even ask them to choose, because how can they judge what they haven’t experienced.  And because asking them simply shunts off the misery of second-guessing onto them.  And because offering them the choice only makes them more aware of what they’re missing.

And so here you are.  Trying to choose. Failing miserably to do so.

*Yes, you could do compromise and do both.  But the dilemma still applies – just doubles.