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Songs my mother never taught me and how that became my meal ticket in 2018

On 4 February this year, when the 10th edition of the Mumbai Pride March was underway at the historic August Kranti Maidan, a central Mumbai park that derives its name from a Quit India speech Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had delivered on 8 August, 1942, I was in the suburbs, interviewing a popular filmmaker promoting his new film.

The filmmaker was colouring his own speech about the march in an indifferent tone. “Why should I go to the march?" he said when I asked him about his participation. “The organisers should call me as the chief guest,” he said.

Chief guest for an event that championed equality? It sounded pompous from a man who had for a number of years been speaking to the press as a filmmaker who also happens to be gay.

That night I went home certain that the director had never been to even one of the Pride marches held in the city since 2008. I have been to a few, to save face now that I am judging him. Perhaps it was not something he espoused. To give him credit, he did his charitable bit for the LGBT+ community. Every time Section 377 made headlines, he gave pithy sound bytes to the press, appointing himself as the LGBT voice from Bollywood.

I did not include his caustic remark in the interview. It was strictly off-the-record. His frankness did, however, make him sound duplicitous — which put me in a spot. I felt guilty about not showing up at the Pride march, and instead interviewing a man with such doublespeak.

 Songs my mother never taught me and how that became my meal ticket in 2018

Cover art for Manish Gaekwad's Lean Days

The same night, overcome with introspection as to what is it that gives me immense pride; I began to write a blog and posted it on my Facebook profile at 3.30 am. The blog went viral in a few hours. I was taken aback by the response, because it was not some awful emo poetry about dead pets or the changing seasons. It was about how I grew up in a kotha, where all my remorseless life-lessons were learnt from my mother, who used to work as a courtesan.

Until that night I had never before tried to put words to our story. And suddenly everyone I knew (and did not know) wanted a piece of that blog. I realised how speaking about my mother’s profession was something I should have done long ago.

Why had I never tom-tommed her tenacious courage, unassailable perseverance and middling culinary skills? It had never occurred to me that it was of any relevance to anyone.

I was wrong.

That blog landed me writing gigs for online publications, a production house bought a film script from me, a filmmaker included me in his writing team for his next project, another production paid me an advance to write a film for them. I was called to consult on a script for a production that has delivered one of the biggest and best films of the year, and I got a second book deal when my first book was not even published yet. The first book was released two months after the blog, and to be honest, detractors will say it was a shrewd publicity stunt, and one that paid some handsome dividends.

What an eventful year!

And all I had done to deserve this was that I had written some and not all about my mother (you will find a cheeky Almodovar nod in this sentence). On a side note, I must thank the grouchy filmmaker whose savior-faire (or the lack of it) propelled my literary pursuits.

That some is the all I intend to record from my mother’s first-person narrative in the second book, which will be about her life as a courtesan. Incidentally, the book went through a bidding process in an auction, much like the bidding my mother used to see in the kothas by miserly suitors demanding the best nautch girl be presented for an un-princely sum of money. The auction made her chuckle that the world is still a fool for drama when I had to gleefully decline a proposal from one of the biggest publishing houses in the country that was offering pittance for the book. I am because she is. I guess I take after her a lot.

The valuable lesson I learnt from the year was that we must always take pride in and talk about the great work women silently put into making us, and not just gastronomically. I am because she is. It might sound prosaic but it rings true for me each time I balk at the corny phrasing because I eschew sentimental approbation.

This year, when the #MeToo movement has empowered many a woman, it becomes imperative to not just talk about them, but also to hire them for a job. When the editor of a newspaper asked me to put my thoughts together for a think piece on the #MeToo movement, I let the opportunity pass, asking the editor to assign the job to a woman. If push comes to shove I should choose to wear a tee shirt that says Hire A Woman over another that says I Am A Feminist. The former slogan has a call-to-action directive, whereas the latter is still about me making only an announcement about myself, not putting action to words.

It is as much upon men to step forward and change the narrative. With Section 377 of the IPC being defeated this year, a year of victory is the cornerstone for what’s coming next – challenging the myopic Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 passed in the Lok Sabha on 17 December. That also means hiring a trans person to explain it, preferably, in a world where all of the sexes are allowed to speak for themselves.

Manish Gaekwad is a freelance writer and the author of Lean Days, a novel exploring a gay man’s identity in India.

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Updated Date: Dec 31, 2018 12:40:25 IST