Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PRIDE – Twice Over

Over the last week and a half, I attended two events linked with the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk. A fundraiser - and the actual walk. It took me many years to get up any sort of momentum to do this. I have been toying with the idea of immersing myself in the community again, of going back to outreach and activism in whatever small way, and of reaching out to make some friends. Yet, somehow, over the years, inertia has been difficult to get over. Getting more and more lonely and feeling more and more stagnated has not been enough of a goad somehow, and seemed to bring depression and listlessness and apathy rather than action. Until finally, June decided me. Shit happened, and it was either get out and do something, or start taking medication. So, I went to the Pride events.

 And I am glad, so glad I went. Having a huge circle in Pune, and being a part of many events there, I knew I was definitely interested in meeting the bunch here, had been in contact with a few of them online recently, but hadn’t yet met anyone, and basically just chickened out of walking in alone to a roomful of strangers. In fact, I dragged a friend of mine to the Pre-Pride Fundraiser party night, because I so badly wanted to go, but didn’t enjoy the thought of going alone, as I didn’t know anyone in the Kolkata community. By the end of the evening, both of us felt like we were among lifelong friends, and I ended up wondering what I was making such a fuss about.

No one who has not been to one of these events will be able to imagine the sheer exuberance and madness of it. And more than that, what I have always loved, from OLAVA to Larzish to every single event I have every attended, to the little get-together evenings, pot-lucks, and picnics, is the instant camaraderie. Just by virtue of the fact that you are there, that you turned up, you are instantly accepted and welcome. Maybe it is a reaction to all the othering, exclusion, and rejection each faces in society in general, in their “real” lives, that the minute they, or you, are in the safe space of a community event, everyone becomes family. Sure, not everyone is equally friendly, and some are more welcoming than others, but they are, overall, much friendlier and welcoming and accepting than any other kind of gathering I can think of.

Not for the first time in my life, I made more friends in roughly three hours at the party than I have ever made at ten non community events. My date/friend pointed this out… astonished at the warmth she was getting from total strangers. As a straight identified woman, who has never even met someone she knew to be LGBT, she had expected to feel like the outsider, like she didn’t belong, maybe even someone to be looked at with a little suspicion. Instead, she was instantly didi, and a part of the proceedings dispensing make-up advice to performers, helping pin the errant pallu or wig, laughing, chattering, and feeling very much at home. She asked me if these events were always like this. And I had to say yes.

Her questions made me think. What is it about being community or family that makes so many of these people so nice, so genuine? Maybe it is the fact that they are treated like non-persons on the outside. Maybe it is the relief at no longer having to hide who they really are and who they really love. Maybe it is the relief at finding others like themselves. Maybe it is the rare feeling of safety. Maybe it is the fact that a lot of the people at these events are activists, actively fighting to make the world a better, friendlier place. Maybe it is the basic layer of genuineness introduced by the act of coming out. Or maybe, as is likely, it is a combination of all or any of these things. Whatever it is, the evening was phenomenal.

This made me all the more determined to walk the Walk. There were some domestic skirmishes over it, the timing clashing with plans monkey and her father had made for our Sunday outing. However, this time, I wasn’t going to bend. I needed this. So, 2.30pm on Sunday 13th July, I stared horrified at the layer upon layer upon layer of charcoal clouds piling in and the heavy downpour beginning to set in, just as I left for the start point. The closer I got to Triangular park, the heavier it seemed to come down, and by Jadavpur crossing the roads were turning into rivers. Needless to say, I was not feeling great. When I got to the gathering point, it looked deserted. Not to mention the tons of water coming down from a sky that had remained perversely bone dry for two whole weeks previous to this very day!

Oh! And just to make things more interesting, on the very day when I needed to coordinate with facebook friends. and walk organizers, and parents, and partners, and offspring, I had managed to walk out the doors without my trusty phone. So, borrowing an phone, I finally managed to speak to someone and confirm that people were collecting and the walk would certainly take place although it might be a little delayed. And so, roughly an hour after the original scheduled time, we set off.

Festive is not even close to a description of the supercharged, pulsating atmosphere thrilling through the thousand odd participants. Costumes, masks, painted faces, and outlandish mannerisms were as much in evidence as the regular jeans and tee, and unassuming body language. Masks were fewer than I expected, though, and more people seemed comfortable showing their faces or talking to the press. Cameras everywhere, of which mine was one, and music, dancing, sloganeering! What an amazing atmosphere!

The distance from Triangular Park to South City Mall is definitely more than most people walk for fun. With my ex-broken left foot, and my suffering from plantars fasciitis right foot, it is practically impossible. I had my misgivings about walking the whole way and was ready to hop in a cab when my lower extremities gave out, and going and waiting for the walkers at the end point. Such is the power of a cocktail of enthusiasm, fellow feeling, and adrenaline, that I didn’t even feel tired and walked the whole way pretty easily. Looking at everyone, smiling at and being smiled at by random strangers just because both of us were at this together, talking to the press, talking to bystanders, listening to and chanting the slogans, and generally having a whale of a time, we were ready to disperse before I knew it.

Why are you here, the lady from the press had asked me, among other things. And I told her I was there to support the cause, which I was. I was there to put a face to this nameless things called a queer person. I was there to make someone feel less alone and to show the ones in the closets and the ones confused about who they are and whether it is normal/ok that they are not the only ones. I was there for the outreach value of the leaflets we distributed, or the answers we gave, or just the sheer presence of a thousand “other” people marching down the main streets of the city.

But more than any of that I was there for me. For that feeling of being among MY people, of belonging, of meeting so many fantastic human beings, strong women and sensitive men and every gender defying shade in between. 

I was there to find friends again … friends who understand what I am saying, where I am coming from, and who don’t think either is a waste of time. I was there to build coalitions which will facilitate future outreach and activism that I want to get back into. And … it was worth every minute. 

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