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Will poets writing smut be jailed?

By Saeed Naqvi : The sports page of the Indian Express has a banner headline: "US Nominates Openly Gay King For Sochi." Below, is a photograph of former tennis champion, Billie Jean King, looking at the skies like a woman with a mission, like someone possessed.


She will be in the US delegation at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, not for having been a champion some decades ago but because she had the courage to announce her sexual orientation from that high point of eminence.

The US, which likes to send strong messages, will, by King's presence at Sochi, have exposed the Russians as spoilsports on gay rights, in full daylight, for the whole world to see.

King is not the only insult the US is heaping on the Russians. An openly gay athlete, an Olympic hockey player Caitlin Cahow, will represent the US during the closing ceremony.

So, the US has it sealed at both ends.

This is the first time in history that gays have been used to score diplomatic points. This gay discourse has surely reached a crescendo, atleast in my lifetime. How did it all begin?

It was a most confusing beginning. I first became aware of the girl-boy segregation in the course of being punished at junior school for having been found in the girl's toilet. What my friend Richard McAuliffe and I were doing in the girl's toilet, I cannot remember. We must have strayed as a prank.

We were escorted to the principal who, upon hearing of our crime, walked briskly in the direction of the Green Room behind the stage and emerged with two pink, crumpled frocks. We were to wear these at school all day. The Principal looked more amused than angry meting out this novel punishment.

If the idea was to make us feel like effeminate sissies, it did not work that way. We had a jolly time behaving like clowns and making the whole school laugh. That Richard looked rather nice in a pink frock is the only titillation I can take away from that episode.

By the time I reached the all boys school in standard IV, the boy-boy thing did surface but mostly as a joke.

The junior dormitory, at one end of the huge estate, was in the care of a burly Anglo Indian called Gibson, wearing canvas shoes and white trousers. He chewed gum all day or whistled and spoke like Mr. Doolittle. The senior dormitory, at the other end, was under the supervision of a master who waxed his moustache and we called him "Waxy". He spoke in accents exactly the opposite of Gibson. He spoke like Henry Higgins.

A rumour had reached the principal that some boys from Waxy's dormitory had made it a habit of prowling over to the junior dormitory with "suspicious intent". One night, Waxy, armed with binoculars, sneaked up behind the gang and caught the leader who was sent to the principal the next morning to be caned - "six of the best", they were called.

Hell hath no fury like a thwarted homosexual. The affected young man found the target for his revenge: Waxy's parrot in the verandah downstairs, settled in an iron cage so large that it would not dangle in the breeze.

Daily, at the crack of dawn, our thwarted friend would approach the parrot and teach him the chant: "Waxy's a bastard; Waxy's a bastard". In three months the parrot mastered the lesson.

One day when Waxy brought out his "talking" parrot to regale his friends, he was horrified. His favourite pet proceeded to heap choice abuse on him in an unstoppable barrage. "Waxy's a bastard; Waxy's a bastard......."

Next morning Waxy twisted its neck. The tragi-comic story receded into the background when adulthood exposed us to Lucknow's dazzling output of smut as a high literary form.
In this form of writing, gay love was neither elevated nor degraded but lampooned in a good natured way.

Images of sex were used for satire. When India's first family planning programme was announced, Abba Changezi sent a long poem, a tarana (or anthem) to Nehru. The nation should be advised to take the route of "Sodom and Gomorrah" because it was running out of grain to feed the future.

If you taught English literature in Lucknow University of the 30s and 40s you were good enough to teach at, say, Oxford. Rafi Ahmad Khan taught literature by day and entertained friends by night with his unsurpassable poetry on gay smut in exquisite Urdu. Ofcourse it was decadent - the slow decline of the feudal order. But it was quite as tolerable as Sir John Falstaff and Nell Quickly.

Other geniuses were dominating the putrid decay of sub cultures elsewhere. Urian (Disrobed) of Hyderabad was quite a favourite with the late Prof. A.M. Khusro, former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Mahshar Enayati took liberties even with the late Nawab of Rampur who, incidentally, enjoyed his verses.

This degenerate and very funny genre actually derives from the acceptance accorded to homosexual love in Persian and Urdu poetry. Tasawwuf or Sufism provides the opening: the object of spiritual love, the Divine, is male in most instances. The tavern, goblet and wine are all part of His seductive arrangement.

Love poetry, if it is good, will lend itself to two interpretations: the spiritual and the physical. Separate the physical and it will easily degenerate into the carnal. Place this material in the hands of Jafar Zatalli (he was executed by a later Moghul for sedition), Rafi, Uriyan, Mehshar, and Abba Changezi, and I will show you audiences who will be left in stitches.

These audiences, I am afraid, are now an endangered species. They will either be foul of the law against homosexuality or be lynched by mobs opposed to the law. I have decided to consign my small library of selected smut to the bonfire while ushering in the New Year. All are welcome - to drink a toast to Billie Jean King.

(20.12.2013 -- A senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached at saeed.naqvi@hotmail.com. The views expressed are personal.)

--IANS (Posted on 20-12-2013)

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