Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A short gastric story

Sometime in 2013, en route from Ranchi to Daltonganj

Journeys from Daltonganj, the district headquarter of the Palamau district to Ranchi, the State capital of Jharkhand, or the other way round were always full of once in a lifetime surprises. Either I would end up watching Govinda’s starrer “Partner” for the 5th consecutive time on the trip or I would meet someone who chose a newspaper business over joining the Maoists. Sometimes, there would be a government officer criticizing the ‘backward’ people of the region for its state and sometimes people would find me too fat to settle into the seat.

Some journeys are hilarious though.

One such journey made me experience the innocence in people about daily chores that people like me do not consider a very candid topic to converse about in public. 

I was travelling from Ranchi back to Daltonganj. The bus stopped at a lone place just after Manika, the town in Latehar district that you cross to reach into the administrative boundary of Palamau- the district where I spent two and half years of my life and the place that offered me my first job.

The trend in this region was that women would wait patiently for the bus to stop at some place offering a ladies toilet and men would ask for the bus to be stopped in the middle of the road whenever they felt like taking a leak. In winters, this happened more often. Men would just offer to pee as per the need and all the passengers would wait for the person to get done and the bus would then move. This kind of halt generally used to last not more than two to four minutes. Long enough for the men to get done, and short enough for everyone on the bus to not freak out impatiently.

This halt just after Manika in a deserted place was getting longer than usual. It was 8.30 in the night and people started getting restless. A man had got down to get lighter. You get it, right? He had gone to execute the process that allows the residue of digested food to be excreted out of the anus- the last point of the alimentary canal of the human digestive system.

The public found out that this can’t be a case of a man out to take a leak. It has to be the second possibility. The curiosity and the wait became just sufficient for people to start speaking up.
After a few murmurs about the man who was squatting somewhere in the dark, the person who was his companion spoke up.

Latrine kisi ko kabhi bhi lag sakta hai!” (Anyone can feel the need of shitting anytime. What is the person’s fault?)

The question in reply was beyond my wildest expectations.

“Kaise lag jayega kabhi bhi!” (How can someone feel like it, anytime?)

In came some sympathy to follow.

“Latrine kekro lag gaya to kaa kijiyega!” (If someone HAS to go, what will you do?)

However, the wait got a little too much and one frustrated passenger decided to find out the exact status of the process. He suggested a solution and volunteered to execute it himself.

“Ho gaya?? Light maar ke dekhiye to!” (Is it done? Can you put the torch light on and see? How much time do people take in shitting it out!)

What surprised me was that almost no one found it funny. Either it was understandable or something to be angry about. Something that had caused inconvenience to the public! I was the only one laughing my guts out. Probably it was the reaction of an urban bred person that does not find talking about daily chores like defecation normal. May be the western or elite culture that people like me have been taught to appreciate in our socialization since childhood does recommend too much of an emphasis on small talk like this. 

The ten minute long wait finally ended. The rockstar of the night jumped back on the bus and the driver stepped on gas with full thrust. People looked at him to know the face of a person who feels like it in the middle of the forest at 8.30 pm. But no one laughed. He only got stared back at. He did not wear a sheepish look- most men in this region wore their audacity at their waist- but found it intelligent to get dumped in his seat as quickly as possible.

After facing the kind of stares he was facing, he must have prayed that his digestive system could be selectively controlled during bus journeys.

Meanwhile, Palamau ended up giving me another lesson on the variety in cultural perceptions of daily chores. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hand in hand- death of the homophobic me!

In the journey of the discovery of the self, sexuality has captured most of my imagination. No other aspect of my consciousness has had such a deep effect as much it has. The attempt to understand sexuality- my own and others’- has given me the highest number of both eureka and clueless moments, than any other thought. 

Also, I have had the company of some great women to get inspired from, who have dared to get into the core and have thought and researched things like body hair and masculinity, compelling me to open my senses to minute things that I have been observing since some time but have somewhere avoided pondering over. 

The way we practice most of the postures in day to day life, like how do we greet each other, how to we sit in a group, how we walk, etc. shape the belief systems related to these postures. The control of these postures is the basis of controlling women’s and even men’s sexualities in most of the cultures.

Referring to many such postures and beliefs that I experienced, I shall talk about my homophobic self that used to be quite with me till some time back when introduction to some historical facts and the brilliant Queer March 2011 in Bombay made it a history. But the final nail in the coffin has been my tryst with Palamau. 

Let me begin with the main town of Palamau, Daltonganj. Daltonganj is now known as Medininagar, renamed after Raja Medini Ray, a Chero king who ruled here in the 17th Century.

The most striking thing after the strong smell of coal smoke everywhere- in Daltonganj, the main town of the Palamau district in Jharkhand- that I noticed, was the audacity with which men used to urinate in full public view on the main roads of the town. Though it didn’t seem to be much different from other towns in the country in the first look, the audacity was a little too audacious! 

Redma Chowk is one of the busiest crossroads in the town with buses plying towards Ranchi and Patna in two directions from the town and the movement of students (male and female) towards the GLA College in the third. Even at such a place, urinating for men in open wasn’t much of a task. Women of all ages- though very few in number and exceptionally low in percentage- frequent this area of the town. I regularly noticed them trying to avoid the penis flaunting with faces full of disgust. 

The Mohan Cinema is another frequented place, located right in front of the Daltonganj Bus Stand that adds to the crowd in this part of the town. People, who walk out of the cinema hall after a show ends, take the narrow street full of sweet shops and countless street vendors scattered around one of the entrances of the police station. There are at least 50 people walking on this narrow street at any given point. The number of people increases at the show end time. Men and boys would stand and urinate and the passersby, both men and women would try to ignore it. It is at this place that I was introduced to the Daltonganj version of perverted displays of masculinity. If there were a contest on where in the country would men appear to be doing it most overtly, Daltonganj would nail it with ease. Though my colleague Manojji jokes about issues relating to hygiene and sanitation, often repeating his phrase “Sala pehle khane ke bare me socho, fir hagne mootne ke bare me sochna! (First think about how people would manage to eat rather than thinking about how they would urinate or defecate!)”, I consider that infrastructure for public hygiene should be at the greatest priority at every MLA, MP and Administrator’s list for the Daltonganj town. Palamau, however, has other love interests in public administration and governance.

Married women, young or old, wear the deepest shade of red sindoor here. Red sarees with golden art work are a must at the events of religious significance or weddings. These are the necessary conditions to look like a perfect bride. 

On the bikes, even girls as young as 14 would sit on one side instead of wide-legged. Of the many things that have got me and my visiting friends blasphemous stares here, going out with a female friend who sits with legs opened wide on both the sides of the bike, tops the list. A female colleague, Indramani once told me that she cannot sit on the bike with me wide-legged (Ghoda chadh ke), as it would not send a good signal to the public, given the fact that we have the image of a social worker (Saamaajik Kajkarta) and we should not disturb the value framework of the people. I accepted her proposal on that occasion but kept my hobby on. Of committing blasphemous (anti-patriarchal) acts with pride and purpose. However, this gave me a lesson on the vitality in discouraging and encouraging certain postures for sexuality control. Some of the seductive dance moves that involve spreading the legs wide apart in an invitational posture must be such a liberatory feeling for women who would have gone through posture control in their lives. In Palamau, however, you must sit with thighs stuck to each other, perpendicular to the driver, in order to avoid the stares.

My colleagues told me that when they started working on building small earthen dams for water conservation in the Palamau Commissionaire, back in 1993, the challenge was to get women out of their homes. My colleagues were known by the name Pani Chetna Manch, who had gained popularity for making good dams that led to assured irrigation and better groundwater recharge. The dialogues for initiating the work at a potential location used to take place with the men as women weren’t allowed to come out of the house. Pani Chetna Manch kept a condition that the dam would be built and water would come to the village only if there was 50% representation of women in all the meetings and work. Everybody wanted water. The condition worked. The men used to pull out their women into the meetings despite reluctance from the women owing to their historical house arrests during public meetings. It was since then that the women started to form Self Help Groups and have bank accounts. They are now doing much better, though. One of them in Hutukdag village, Gulabiya devi, scolds me for being late for a meeting. 

At an evening while returning to Chhattarpur town from Khairadohar panchayat, I met a colleague on the way. He is from the Akuwaniya village- that hosts Kharwar tribes and Bhuiyans. Bhuiyans have traditionally been into agricultural labour. There was a death in the village on that day, which became a political matter as one group tried to establish it as murder-by-poisoning. The other group (which my colleague was a part of) cremated the dead body before the police arrived in the village, thus killing the possibility of a post-mortem. My colleague, Muneshwarji informed me that they did a quick Panchayati and decided to burn the body as it would’ve caused police harassment to innocent people. The Panchayati system is a traditional governance system that does not allow women to participate in the decision making process (that involves only speaking). Muneshwarji told me that women’s freedom and all that would take some more time here. 

Few days ago, that was reinforced in a Panchayati meeting that I attended that involved two brothers that were fighting as the first one accused the other of putting evil spirit on him and his family that led to the death of his goats and cattle. The accused brother, while narrating his tale in the meeting to the Panch log (the men who decide the fate of any case and charge a handsome amount from both the parties), was cursing his first wife (who died of  a disease few years back) of causing all this trouble by being an evil spirit. “I went to many Godmen and did many divine treatments (like burying a headless chicken in the paddy field, paying 1100 rupees to the Kuldevta in a pooja, sacrificing a goat, etc). But inauspicious events (like not getting good agricultural produce, death of cattle or goats, disease in children, etc) keep happening. I don’t know what to do now”, he said. His second wife, who was sitting at one corner in the meeting, tried to support his husband by saying that he was telling the truth. But was quickly silenced by loud and immediate shouting responses by the men present at the Panchayati. They asked her to shut up as there were men trying to resolve the problem. The system was clear: All the lovely ladies, need not speak.

In another village, Joura, a Panchayat Samiti (the Block level unit of the Panchayati Raj system) member is struggling to protect his wife from the villagers who believe that she is a dayan (witch). Panchayat Samiti members are generally highly respected in the village society but in this case while trying to save his wife from being an outcast, he is struggling for acceptance from his own villagers who voted him to power only 3 years back.

Men love the cheesy lyrics of the Bhojpuri songs that objectify the women’s body to no resort. The lyrics of one of the songs that I heard while returning from a field visit, said, “Nimbu bhayil tarbooj, madamji, tani dheere dheere chala! (Lemons have become watermelons, Madam, you better walk a little slow!)” pointing at a young girl growing up with changes in the breast size. Till some years back, I used to feel uncomfortable watching girls participate in sports as they would run or sprint and their breasts would move. I used to think, they should better not do all this, as all my friends used to pass lewd comments on the girls with bigger breasts and those who had smaller ones. Metaphors like carom board and football, indicating two extremes of the sizes, were common in the description of breasts. Some of the girls were good friends and I used to feel bad about them. Thankfully enough, I still feel disgusted about songs like Nimbu Bhayil Tarbooj.

A Colleague of mine, Bharat took me to his village along with his wife, Rekha and son, Deepu. Deepu was with me and Bharat was riding the other bike with Rekha sitting behind him. I noticed that well before we were in the 5 km radius of his village, she put her saree on her head as parda. When I asked her if she purposely did so, she said she and many other young women are still not allowed to go outside the house, even for agricultural work or shopping alone. Whenever she comes to Daltonganj to meet Bharat or goes anywhere outside her village, she wears Salwar Kurta. She says that Salwar Kurta is much comfortable than the polyester Sarees. 

My colleague Jawaharji informed me that, before the Maoists had turned the social relations characterized by utter feudalism upside down by targeting the Zamindars and tyrant upper castes in the 80’s, all the Dalits in Palamau used to take ‘blessings’ from the village Zamindar before taking the Baraat to the bride’s home and the bride had to spend the first night at the Zamindar’s place before going to her actual husband. Hence, the Bhuiyans and other small land holders including some tribes, joined the Maoists in huge numbers. 

Sunitaji belongs to a village in the Chiru Panchayat in Chhattarpur block in Palamau. She has been working with women since the past 12 years, has fought an Assembly election and District Panchayat election on the support from the women she has worked with. She was surveying a village in which she found out that there was a household with 12 children. Quite obviously, she felt the need of asking the woman about it. She asked, “Why don’t you stop producing children now? There are 12 already.” The woman replied, “Ka kari Didi, bhagwaan bachcha jamawe dewat ba har baar (What to do Didi, God keeps giving me babies every single time).” Sunitaji advised her to go for family planning measures to which she said, “Hamar parivar naikhe tor parivaar jaisan kamjor, didi (My husband isn’t weak as yours, Didi!)” She laughed about it graciously and left Sunitaji with nothing more to suggest. Nareshji, Sunitaji’s husband who’s a thin man (he lost considerable weight after a major accident in which his leg has been damaged and he walks with some limping), has proven thrice over that he is man enough; the couple have two sons and a daughter. But in the eyes of the mother of 12, her husband ought to be the most manly man ever!

All these incidences built an image of Palamau as a highly patriarchal society in my head. In such societies, men have to be as masculine as possible; even if that means being needlessly rude and violent, with fellow men, women and children alike. 

However, what I immediately noticed was that there were other things that indicated that some of the rituals of masculinity were quite different from the urban society. Male friends here hold their hands quite comfortably. Hand in hand, fingers in fingers. Of all ages. 

The first time I noticed it was when I saw my roommate, Bharat holding hands with another colleague, Jitendar with a noticeable coziness. What instantly clicked my mind was that in an urban environment, where it is more likely to find homosexual people, it is generally considered quite obvious to assume that the men showing too much coziness (like Jitendar and Bharat in this case) might be homosexual. A few days later, I saw my senior colleague, Jawaharji hold hands with Bharat during a field visit. Jawaharji is a powerful person in the organization, almost an institution. People respect him and also make sure that they act sane in front of him. People of this stature are expected to be even more masculine in general perception. But when even Jawaharji did it with ease, it was established for me that the male to male camaraderie that existed during my school days had withered because of a social phenomenon and my consciousness about it. 

I realized that the consciousness was a nothing but a fear type, which is generally known as homophobia. Post that, I enjoyed walking hand in hand with Bharat, Jawaharji, Umesh, Amardev Mukhiya and many others who became friends from colleagues. 

This realization of mine (and almost a discovery from an anthropological inquiry point of view) does no good to the patriarchal society that Palamau is. But amongst many other things that have happened to me during my stay (which include myth bursts and dismantled misconceptions) in Jharkhand, this has been one of the sweetest. 

The death of the homophobic me!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Childhood anthem! (Sometime in 2007)

शायद वही ज़माना अच्छा था,
जब साला मैं भी छोटा बच्चा था!
प्लेग्राउंड की धूल हुआ करती थी अपनी गर्लफ्रेंड,
अपने जैसे ही थे अपने सारे फ्रेंड्स!

शराफत से चिल्लर बचाता था मैं,
धूप में काला होकर घर आता था मैं!

हर सुबह दौड़ के बस पकड़ना अपना एडवेंचर था,
तब दिमाग में ना स्टॉक मार्केट
ना कोई जोइंट वेंचर था!

मैं भी था तब अपनी क्लास का टॉपर,
कहते थे सब, हाए स्मार्टी, हाए सिंगर!

मुझे भी पहला कृश स्कूल में ही आया था,
नन्हे बाईसेप्स पे मैंने टैटू छपवाया था!

गर्ल्स का अटेंशन पाना था अपना पहला मिशन,
किसे पता था क्या होता है डिप्रेशन!

हम बेक बेन्चर्स का हमेशा यही नारा था,
कि स्कूल का बेस्ट क्लास हमारा था!

स्पोर्ट्स डे पे होती थी लड़कियां इम्प्रेस,
रिजल्ट के दिन होती थी अपने को भी स्ट्रेस!

क्या पता जिंदगी बचपन वापस कब लाएगी,
कब मम्मी मेरे फटे पैंट सिलवाएगी!
सच ही कहा है किसी ने,
कि बचपन भोला होता है,
फिर तो सारी लाइफ झमेला होता है...

याद रहेगा मुझे मेरा बचपन हर दम,
यही है मेरा चाइल्डहुड एंथम!

Friday, April 20, 2012

सीमेंट की बोरियां

हमेशा महसूस नहीं होता है यूं, जो कि आजकल की दास्तान है. साला, मरे जाओ इस तरह जीने के लिए, पर ये मरी जिंदगी कंजूसी की कलम पकडे लिखते रहती है हमारे नसीब को. और जब ऐसा महसूस होता भी है तो लगता है कि कमबख्त जान ले लेगा ये सब.

जब लगता है कि जैसे सीमेंट की बोरियां लदी हुई हैं छाती पे! दिमाग में सल्फ्यूरिक एसिड जैसा उबाल, नसों में बर्फ सी ठंडक और ऐसे रोमांच का एहसास जो पथरीली नदियों के पागल बहाव को चीरने पर भी ना मिले. शब्द भी ऐसे निकलते हैं मन से, मानो बेलगाम हाथी गाँव में ग़दर मचा रहे हों. देखो ना, यहीं इतना बौखलाए हुए से लग रहे हैं. जैसे कि अपनी मर्ज़ी से उभर रहे हों कागज पे, और खुद ही दरवाज़ा खोल रहे हों पढ़ने वाले के दिल का.

कहाँ से आता है ये सब? किस मैदान को पार करना होता है यहाँ तक पहुँचने के लिए? आखिर कौन सी ऎसी चिंगारी है जिसकी चाह में जिंदगियां गुज़र जाती हैं, जिसके इंतज़ार में मौसम के चक्कर साले घूम घूम के बोर कर डालते हैं मन को! पर मिलता है तभी जब उस कंजूस कलम की स्याही तक को दया आ जाती है हम पे. उधेड़बुन तो इसे तब कहते, जब ऎसी कोई बात होती जिसके बारे में सोचने पर दोराहे, तिराहे, चौराहे निकल पड़ते मन की पगडंडियों से. पर मन तो सब जानता है, सब समझता है. और सब जानते हुए, सब समझते हुए इंतज़ार होता है उस पल का जब सब बेकाबू हो जाए. और ऐसे भटकने में मज़ा आने लगे.

कई बार दिल लगा किसी से. जितनों से भी लगा, सबके लिए क़द्र थी दिल में. और शरीर तो सबसे कमज़ोर कड़ी होता है, हमेशा फिसला. कई बार बिचारे ने मन के बवंडर की अगुआई भी की. पर ऐसा सीमेंट की बोरियों वाला हाल, ऐसा अनोखा एहसास कुछ एक बार ही हुआ. और इसी एहसास ने हमेशा जिंदगी में मज़े की उम्मीद जगाए रखी. कभी स्वार्थी बनाया, तो कभी सब कुछ लुटा देने की खुशी से मिलवाया.

आज इसका दिन है. नचा रहा है मुझे. लोहे की कील पर फिरकते लकड़ी के लट्टू की तरह. रस्सी भी इसी के हाथ में है. इतना कमीना है ये एहसास, कि उस इंसान से भी मेरे मन की लगाम छीन लेता है जिसने इसे मेरे मन में जन्म दिया है. दूर से ही सलाम है बॉस!

जिंदगी ने इतना तो समझा ही दिया है, कि उस पार बेटा कुच्छ नहीं है! जो है, सो ऐसे ही बाँवरे लम्हों में है. आज जो छाती पर रखी हैं, उन सीमेंट की बोरियों में.
-    घुमंतू पंछी.

मैं अपना यार

मैं बस अपना ही साथी हूँ
खुद ही में डूबा हुआ
दोस्त दिल और दारू मैं ही
जग मुझसे छूटा हुआ

बाँट चुका बहुत खुशियाँ
काट चुका कुछ अपनी दुनिया
अब तो आशिक भी मैं अपना, दलाल भी हूँ
माशुका भी मैं खुद की, रांड भी हूँ

किसी तो अड्डे पर पहुंचना चाहूँ
जाने किस नशे में डूबना
जिंदगी बोर मरती है आजकल
जाने कौन सा है रस चूसना

दोस्त दिल और दारू खुद ही
मैं अपना लंगोटिया यार भी हूँ
ढोलक ढफली तबला खुद ही
धडकन से बजती गिटार भी हूँ

पागलपन तो कबसे गुज़र गया मुझे छू के
खाई पे चलता राही
मौत सी मस्ती का यार भी हूँ

              -घुमंतू पंछी

Friday, January 27, 2012

तेरे मेरे बीच...

इक चिंगारी
शायद बरसों से दबी हुई आग से उठी
सही और गलत के धुंए को चीरती

कभी हाथ ना आने वाला धुआं
ज्यादा नज़दीक जाने पर जो जला देगा
मुट्ठी में घर नहीं है जिसका

होंठों से बस महसूस होता है जो
मोहताज नहीं जो रिश्ते का
क्योंकि जल के खाख ही होना है उसे

और फिर से जल जाना
और बस यूँ ही
बार बार जलना

जो भडकता है बार बार
पर वजूद की नहीं उसे ज़रूरत
हवा सा बेलगाम

छुओ तो आराम
बोलो तो बदनाम
दुनिया में अनजान
तेरी मेरी पहचान

ऐसा है ये
जो है हमारे बीच

नाम इसका जानते हैं बस
और तू

ऐसा है ये
जो है नींद सा मीठा
और गम सा गहरा

यही तो है बस
जो भी है ये

तेरे मेरे बीच
जिसे छूते हैं बस
और तू...

-घुमंतू पंछी

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

चमड़ी की चाह, प्यार का ढोंग!

स्पर्श के मोहताज हम तुम,
चमड़ी को चाहने वाले..
सुरंग तक की बस चाहें दौड,
या मांगे बांस की मार...

बीस मिनट का नाच,
फिर दस मिनट का जश्न.
दो पल का जादू,
फिर सुकून की लंबी सांस.

इसी मोह में,
सारे पहर,
दिन, दोपहर, शाम...

नस फाड़, कमर तोड़, छाती चीर,
खींचना है किसी तरह, कामना के कुए से,
सबको वही जाम.

बाज़ार से हो या व्यहवार से,
सोना चाहें बस किसी के साथ...

सारी दौड़, सारा पसीना,
आशिक और हसीना,
सब बिस्तर के नाम.

पर बोर्ड लटका है प्यार का,
सबके कमरों में,
अपने यार के नाम!

निकल आओ नकाबों से,
अश्लील कहलाती किताबों से,
उठा लो सत्य की ठेकेदारी,
समाज के ठेकेदारों के नाम!

शरीर जो कहता है
उसे भी पाक समझो
कम से कम अकेलेपन में,
खुद को बेनकाब समझो..

कम से कम अकेलेपन में,
खुद को बेनकाब समझो...

- घुमंतू पंछी