An oft repeated quote which a friend mentioned the other day -
"One in 40 American men like to wear Women's clothing"
Hmm. Thats a statistic all right. Especially when you think about the fact that the US has had more than 40 presidents, and going by the simplest laws of statistics, atleast ONE of them must've been sashaying down the oval office in a dress! Oh how easily one can make 2+2 equal 22 :) But the US has generally been liberal in its stance on transgender equality, and cross dressers - more so than India anyway. After all, the sheer number of gay/lesbian bars and drag queen outfits/parades - anyone heard of the San Francisco Rainbow parade? - can confirm this. In fact, an argument can be made about how its acceptance of this quirk in human nature is almost at the same level as it is in Iran.
Iran?! *gasp* Surely not that bastion of Islamic fundamentalists and religious intolerance?
Yes! Iran. Apparently, the country has a checkered history in the state of transgender affairs.
In the pre revolution era, the Ayatollah Khomeini wrote a book in which he argued how a gender/sex change operation was in fact NOT contrary to the teachings of the Koran. At that point however, he was nothing but a radical revolutionary and although this did gain traction amongst the masses, the government still did not have a policy regarding the entire issue. Post revolution though, Iran lived up to its image of irrational behavior by the ruling elite and declared gays, lesbians and transgender persons to be contrary to the tenets of Islam. They became subject to the harshest punishment, which could include Death by lashes under a newly enforced penal code. Oh, how convenient. Its almost reminds me of the witch hunts during the spanish inquisition where any person found acting against the rulers could be easily disposed off by citing him or her as a heretic and having them burned at the stake.
But I digress. An early campaigner for transsexual rights, Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who was formerly a man known as Fereydoon. (Doesn't that remind you of Prince and his nomenclatural escapades!) Anyway, (s)he was actually imprisoned, institutionalized and forcefully injected with hormones by the Iranian government, but kept at it - writing letters to the Ayatollah and using connections to support (his?)/her work. It all paid off when (s)he visited him at the palace - but not before being arrested and beaten by the guards - and was given a letter authorizing a sex change operation. An act in itself revolutionary because it became the fatwa which would open up the flood gates for other such operations in the country and finally give religious and legal status to people who underwent these. Of course, the social repercussions as in any other country are mercurial - some accept it, some don't - but thats humanity for you. All said and done, the level of acceptance of this in Iranian society today just goes to highlight that all is not dark in what is today considered one of the most authoritarian conservative societies in the world.
I am however guessing there won't be too many gay bars or parades in the streets of Teheran any time soon.
Oh, and I'm flabbergasted at the stance of the jewelers in Pune for refusing to allow Burqa clad women into their stores post New Years. The reason they cite is to increase security at their stores, since the latter can be posers with possibly big automatic machine guns under their robes. Which would of course not set off ANY sort of metal detectors or sophisticated door checks which they're sure to have. Duh. Right. What this highlights is not the paranoia of the jewelers at being robbed or worse, shot in such an event. Instead, it does so the dangerously increasing streak of religious intolerance in a country which prides itself at being secular. As some muslim clerics rightly argue, women under the purdah DO in fact show their faces for things like passport photographs. Would it be so much of a travesty to have them peer into a security camera manned by female security guards? Hmm, come to think of it - if you're covered head to toe in a black veil, how in the world do you show off any jewels you buy anyway?
Just came across this on Red's blog. Its a good take on the books which were never written - essentially alternate histories, which he eloquently defines thus -
"Alternate history remains one of my favourite genres of fiction, combining my interests in history, politics, literature and science fiction all at one go. Alternate history basically starts with the premise "What If". As wikipedia says " the subgenre comprises fiction in which a change or point of divergence occurs in the past that causes human society to develop in a way that is distinct from our own." So imagine a Britain ruled by Nazi Germany or an America where slavery is legal or a world where the Mansa Musa of Mali is a dominant power."
Indeed. The genre is something I'm attracted to instantaneously. Philip Roth seems to have a couple which I haven't read, and if I remember correctly, so does Spike Milligan. Can't remember what the book was called though. Google has failed me, for once. Or maybe I'm just being lazy and didn't look harder.
Looking around the discussion boards and things which he mentions, I found some interesting topics of discussion, the best one being suggestions for anti-books, as I'd like to call them. Titles well known today, but due to the vagaries of alternate history, they end up talking about something absolutely different. Red lists some interesting titles, and his own ideas to the pool -
A Passage to India
Military historians study how the Tehran-New Delhi secret railroad helped the Third Reich hoodwink the British Raj
Silence of the Lambs
An account of the trial and execution of noted royalist propagandists Charles and Mary Lamb.
Aadisht on one of his emails, discussed something on those lines a few weeks ago too -
"It makes me wish somebody would write an alternate history where Tipu won the battle of Seringapattam, and also makes me want to create a scifi alternate future where Temasek is the new East India Company, the Brahmins have been thrown out of India and are the new Parsis, Gujrat has practically seceded from India and is ruled by mad Gujju militias who run concentration camps for non vegetarians, and white people toil in inhuman conditions for below-minimum-wage to produce consumer goods for the Chinese. And I'm not even past the fifth chapter yet."
What I'd like to read?
A Clockwork Orange
How a smalltime clockmaker in Brussels converted a fascination for citrus fruits into a powerful dynasty.
The World *is* Flat
The story of Christopher Columbus as documented by the ship behind him as he fell off the planet's edge
Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back
On the insistence of Jen Aniston, Britain mounts attacks against all former colonies to reclaim lost glory and also make sure Brangelina are unable to adopt more children.
(So I had some more time to think about things - I came across the latest Time 100 top list books recently.. here :)
All the King's men
The sordid tales of England's closet homosexual monarchs.
An American Tragedy
The rise of George Bush in contemporary American politics, and a look at the post Iraq, North Korea war dysfunctional society that was once known as the oldest democracy in the world. or something
.. how you hardly hear about European student associations in most American universities? That an Indian student association is the first thing you hit when you land there? (I was never that lucky, since Yale doesn't have one - the closest we get to one of those is a South Asian thingie, which includes everyone from Afghanistan to Korea - yayy, we're broad minded!)
I put that question to a couple of people today, and they came up with rather weak arguments about the French not getting along with the Italians or the Spanish - and how Indians identify much better with fellow Indians. I call *BS* on that, because the points they mention about diversity in terms of culture, food, region, climate and language exists in India too - Kashmir and Kerala couldn't be more different.
So what is it that makes desis abroad flock together, sometimes to the extent of having a very limited set of views about the country they live in and the people therein? At times, I get phenomenally irritated at this attitude which unfortunately exists in most people - they won't even TRY to involve themselves with local festivities, expand their social circles to include the locals and give a damn about learning how a different culture exists. Do they REALLY identify with each other more than Europeans would? Given that there might be a certain nationalistic identity which we have that the europeans don't - not for lack of wanting it I guess, because thats what the EU is all about - does it really contribute this much?
Moving to extra academic stuff - how many European caucuses do you see in the American Senate? How many people - with the exception of possibly the Polish - try their hands at furthering their country's needs at the altar of what used to be the oldest democracy in the world? Even here, the Indian caucus and lobbyists for random causes or the other in India surprise me with their sheer numbers. From random web searches on the terms "European Student Club/Association", the only place I could come up with in about 5 minutes was MIT and Columbia. Searching for an "Indian Student Association" on the other hand brought up about a gazillion results from every part of the country.
and lots of
I often hear the argument about how new forms of media and communication slowly erode our social lives. Reliance on the Internet and phones, and a growing trend of web based community interactions replacing physical ones should make us sit up and take notice of the follies of it all.
Jack shit. Whoever argues in favor of these ideas is seriously underestimating the human spirit.
Over the past 10,000 years, humans have evolved into the social beings they are, for a reason. And mindsets that deep will take more than a couple of decades of technology invasion to irrevocably change. When cavemen sat down around campfires, huddling against beasts and the cold, the intent of conveying their innermost thoughts led to the birth of language. Story telling sessions even today, if you see tribes in India, Africa or wherever else they've managed to survive, continue in the same vein. In most modern cultures, pubs and cafes have taken over the campfire, but the setting is still the same - warmth, company and food. What the new media is doing is to get people closer to each other more than ever before - consider that in the span of one day, the average Internet user can talk to people sitting in any corner of the world, reinforcing ties, constructing new ones. If anything, that drive within all of us to interact with others for our own development is stronger than ever.
It also brings to light the fact that we haven't *stopped* caring for our fellow human being. Far from it. Constraints in time and space have but limited our abilities to do so - after all, lifestyles in the 21st century are agreeably different from what they were in the 15th.
Talking to a friend who does social work in India yesterday, I learned about the sudden suicide of a former prostitute diagnosed with AIDS who lived in a slum there. This was a person who my friend had conversed with, as part of the process initiated by certain NGOs to uplift them. Such nearness to death is never a good thing, but as we talked, we discussed her life of abuse and possible reasons for such a radical step. At one point, I thought it morbid of us to be analyzing such an event - but she retorted that we were merely being realistic. And thats true. Even ten years ago, not only would we not have conversed in such detail about something like this, but my own views on it would not have reached (what I hope is) a decent sized audience! :)
Recently, the top news in tech dominated silicon valley was the death of a popular c|net.com editor, James Kim, who died in the wilderness while on a mission to try and save his stranded family. After their car was snowed in, and conditions worsened, he left his family in cheerful spirits and tried to get help as quickly as possible. The fact that he and his wife did not respond to emails on a Monday morning started the alarm bells ringing. His wife and kids were rescued in good health, but James was tracked by rescuers for days, with live media coverage and instant reports of how the efforts were faring. Most people who talk about disproportionate attention to this process don't realize that every single person who read this piece of news somehow identified with the man, and wished him well, was concerned about him. The news about his fatal venture resulted in outpourings of grief by thousands who had never even met him or seen his work.
And if that isn't an example of how the web is bringing humanity closer to each other, I don't quite know what is.
What do *you* think?