BOOK EXCERPT

Delhi: a forgotten history of same-sex love

To understand the lived experience of a literary culture, we need to know what we would describe as its seamy side as well.

Amir Khusrau and his spiritual master Nizamuddin were in love, many sources say…

… Delhi Metro: I recently saw two young men on the train, in their late teens or early twenties, with the good looks and innocence that might appeal to a casting director for a breakfast cereal commercial. They were smartly dressed but evidence of their profession, painting, was spattered in their hair and caked in their fingernails. They carried their paint-stiffened work clothes in plastic bags. What was notable but also perfectly mundane was that their hands were clasped around the same hold, as though a single person’s left and right hands.

In an Anglo-American context, the only explanation for this intimacy would be that the two men were lovers.

In India, it does not signal that at all. First-time visitors to Delhi from the West often declare to me wide-eyed that “India is really liberal when it comes to homosexuality”. They have this impression because male friendship, especially the further away from wealth and English-medium education one looks, tends to be much more physical in India than in the West.

Opinions on sexual morality in modern India, of course, run the gamut from urban swingers to renunciate sadhus, and they are far more complex and varied than what one sees in the West. For all anyone knows, the two men on the train might have been lovers, their secret protected by the very fact that no one would have suspected it.

We can trace some of the complexity in Indian sexual mores today into history. In Muslim-ruled, pre-modern South Asia, same-sex love as such was not forbidden – but it was feared by some because it could lead to certain kinds of sexual acts, which were at least technically forbidden.

The main benefit of a gay relationship was that, unlike a heterosexual one, it could be carried on publicly.

Women were excluded from most public gatherings, and in a society that treated female virginity as a commodity, there was no concept of marriage as a partnership. On the other hand, close male bonds had a long and storied history.

Perso-Islamic views on love are derived both from the Greek tradition and from ancient Iranian custom. The saqi, or wine cup-bearer at a party, had inevitably been portrayed as a handsome youth from the beginning of Persian poetry and there are many famous descriptions of saqis.

In the pre-colonial period, same-sex desire was not simply decadence. The mid-eighteenth century Muraqqa-i-Dihli (The Delhi Album) is a catalogue of not only great poets and men of taste but of rent-boys and dancing girls. This was a society obsessed with protocol, so the inclusion of such people meant they had a social role.

The dancing boys and girls play-acted at being sexually available and this was publicly sanctioned. However, for the physical act to be consummated and then discussed was no doubt a matter of concern. Even under the most liberal interpretations of Islamic law, sodomy is criminal. However, it is significant that the Hanafi school of the law, by far the most common interpretation of Islamic law in South and Central Asia, is unique among the four schools in not considering sodomy (liwatat) to be in the category of crimes requiring serious punishment (hadd). In any case, love was public and sex obviously was not. From our perspective, there seems to have been a naïve separation of the two.

Those who claim that “Western values” are destroying traditional morality in India would do everyone a favour if they learnt about the role of colonialism and the West in shaping those “traditional” values in the first place.

Sexuality in Indian literature, both from the Sanskrit tradition and the Persian-Urdu one, created deep discomfort in the West and resulted in ridiculous interpretations and mistranslations of texts. It was a common practice to translate racy passages into Latin instead of English so that only educated (and presumably serious-minded) people would be able to understand them. Very dirty passages were rendered into ancient Greek so that even fewer English readers would have understood.

More to the point, same-sex love was medicalised in the West during the nineteenth century. The term “homosexuality” was coined to categorise same-sex desire as a disease that could be treated, although few psychologists in the Western world still believe this. Such a dim view of sex was exported to the colonial empires and found expression in the Indian Penal Code’s section 377 on “crimes against the order of nature”.

The legacy of this Victorian attempt to stamp out sexuality everywhere presents obstacles to furthering the cause of human rights in India.

As the American essayist H. L. Mencken wrote, Puritanism is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Unfortunately, those who study Persian generally take our literature too seriously, and we often find our understanding of the texts shaped by editors who were more conservative than the writers themselves. For example, take Masud-i Sad-i Salman and his wonderful poem about a cross-eyed boy. It includes the line:

shudah bar-i digar kasi ham juft
kardah ba digari mara tu badal
(Once again you have coupled with another,
you mistook someone else for me.)



For Masud, love and sex could be comical. Also consider that Zikr-i-Mir (Speaking of Mir), a prose work by the Persian and Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir (1723 – 1810), generally thought to be a serious and spiritual man, ends with pages of jokes about sodomy, particularly involving Pathans. Ubaid Zakani is known as a competent ghazal poet and political satirist but many Persian scholars will admit a guilty pleasure in reading his other satires, which are full of jokes about sodomy, flatulence and other unmentionables.

Even Khusrau has some poems which we might describe as pornographic. The filtering effect of history makes it easy to forget that there was a whole range of poetic activities, some of them quite risqué, available to a living tradition. Prudish editors of every generation try to deny that our forebears had a bit of fun, but to understand the lived experience of a literary culture, we need to know what we would describe as its seamy side as well.

Excerpted with permission from Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History, Arthur Dudney, Hay House India.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Han Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.