Below The Belt

Is Kolkata's first transgender Durga idol a farce?

Have we reduced gender parity to a brownie point winning symbolism?

 |  Below The Belt  |  4-minute read |   16-10-2015
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"Phot harami (get lost bitches!)," my mama’s driver screamed at garishly dressed, buxom, eunuchs who knocked on the car window, a few days ago in Kolkata. After he showed them the finger using choicest Bengali abuses to shoo them away, they began to blow a kiss and wink lustfully.

"Bloody, ever since this government has come to power, the hijras have increased in the city! They pretend to beg while they are actually part of an organised racket. Miscreants, always bringing ill luck..." he swore under his breath.

I stared on. "Hasn’t the West Bengal government recently decided to permit the employment of this community in the Civic Police Volunteer Force (CPVC) of Kolkata police? I think it’s a landmark decision in India. It’s great that they will now be part if the city," I wanted to say.

But the driver kept chuckling.

"There’s this Joy Mitra street in north Kolkata," the driver said. "The street will host India’s first transgender Durga idol... it’s being organised by some Kolkata-based sexual rights initiative, The Pratyay Gender Trust. It is the latest way to attract more crowd. As is the case, the puja is now more of a commercial competition. Now Ma Durga will be a chakka... shame!"

This time I couldn't hold back: "Even Lord Shiva is worshipped as ardhanarishvara (half man and half woman) – maybe this is on the same lines..."

One half of the idol is supposed to have a moustache, the other looks like Durga, the one seen at Puja pandals. It is conceptualised by the 55-year-old transgender, Bhanu Naskar, and crafted by China Pal, the only woman artisan of Kumortuli.

Even though the heated argument ended abruptly, a part of me couldn’t help questioning if we have reduced gender parity to a brownie point-winning symbolism. If even the biggest festival of my community, due to start in a couple of days, has covertly championed a skewed, singular sexism – a slanted sloganeering that venerates the mother goddess, but always under certain strict stipulations.

I remembered how a couple of years ago I was witness to the auspicious Kumari Puja at a friend’s residential puja in north Kolkata – in the kind of ancestral homes that make it to music videos and movies. The goddess invoked in her virginal avatar – validated in the ancient scriptures as the most potent interpretation of Mahashakti. The priests were reciting sacred chants before a prepubescent girl. She was made to look older than her biological age.

In Mahabharata, Arjun too performs the Kumari Puja. In ancient Indian scriptures like the Shakta text Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi proclaim to the devout that the goddess resides in all female living beings in this universe. The entire ritual of Kumari Puja is staunchly based on this verse. Hindu scriptures such as the Jñanarnava Rudrayamalatantra assign specific names to a "kumari" based on her age.

I found the whole fanfare confusing and convoluted – in terms of context and content.

In a country where women are treated no better than chattel; where satihood and suhaagnan are sexually loaded terms with cross references to the innate captivity of a woman’s body and soul; where males enjoy sexual sovereignty; where nearly, 40,000 children are abducted annually, of which 11,000 remain untraced; where virginity is the highest price of our sex; where infants are brutally gang-raped; where marital rape continues to be treated as a non-criminal offence by the Supreme Court... what is this "kahaani ghar ghar kii"?

Motherhood, motherhood, martyrdom?

Why can’t the Ma Durga of my childhood be a woman like me – single, non-virgin, independent, sans a large, copious family, sans her forehead smeared with deep red vermillion? Why can’t she be taking a vacation instead of coming back to her maika (natal place)? What if she has endometriosis, like me? Has trouble conceiving? Loves a woman? Or a man?

Or just like women form the untouchable community ("nishiddho palli") from whose doorstep, lumps of clay is collected by potters known as "punnya mati", from which the magnificent idols are sculpted by hand.

What if the message we're imparting is itself the problem? What if we had the liberty to choose the version of femininity we wanted to associate the sacred-most with? What if Ma Durga was one of us? Of flesh and blood... of bones and boundaries... of cartilage and cuts...

However, a transgender Durga Ma may not serve the purpose.

Writer

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu Sreemoyee Piu Kundu @sreemoyeekundu

The writer is an ex-lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist. She's the author of Faraway Music, the best-selling female erotica, Sita's Curse, You've Got The Wrong Girl! and Cut. Last year, she wrote the internationally acclaimed work of non-fiction on single women in India, Status Single. A leading columnist on sexuality and gender, Sreemoyee is also the recipient of NDTV L'oreal Women of Worth Award in the 'Literature' category.

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