Bhopal

the city

I visited Bhopal for first time with a friend and I really loved that place, especially the way Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department has organized tourism in the state. There was problem with the hotel but it was okay. We stayed at the Ranjeet Hotel near the railway station. The hotel was nice for the amount I paid but when I tried to book it over phone from Varanasi, they said that there was no room available. We arrived in Bhopal around 10.30 PM and we did not have any hotel booked but we knew the name of Ranjeet Hotel so we just decided to show up there and check our luck. Although they had already told me over phone that there was no room available, when we arrived there they gave us a room. It was strange but good.

bara lake

We had one important work in Bhopal which was to visit Chingari Trust to learn about their work which we were able to do the very next day after we arrived in Bhopal. Now we had plenty of time to see the city. We took some suggestions from the people working at Chingari Trust and went to visit the two lakes of Bhopal named Bada Talab and Chota Talab. Both of the lakes were just awesome. They looked clean and there were several options of water sports. The Chota Lake is separated from the Bada lake by an over-bridge. We did not play any sports but we just walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere.

beautiful kids at the mosque

After visiting the lake we took an auto rickshaw back to the hotel. But on the way to the hotel I asked the driver if he knew any good place to visit nearby and he told me about a mosque called Darul Uloom Tajul Masjid. I had already read about this mosque and wanted to visit it for sure so we decided to visit the mosque before going to the hotel. The visit to the mosques was one of the best things I did in Bhopal. The mosque itself was beautiful and really huge. This mosque is one of the biggest mosques of Asia. This mosque was one of very few mosques of India where they allow women, non-Islamic people and foreigners to enter in the mosque.

hyena in the naitonal park

Darul Uloom Taju Masid has an Islamic school inside the mosque and I met a really nice student studying there. He showed me his school, told me about his life, took me to his room… He said that he had already studied up to class 12th in a regular school but after completing class 12th, he decided to study Islam hence he joined the mosque. He showed me his books but when I wanted to touch his Quran, he immediately asked not to do so. He told me that since Quran is the most holy book for Muslim there is a certain procedure of cleaning the body before even touching the Quran. I was really impressed to see his respect for holy Quran.

lion was also there

I talked with him for about two hours and to be honest it was one of the best conversations I have ever had. We talked about politics and HinduMuslim tension also. He said that the reason behind tension between Hindus and Muslims are completely prohibited in Islam hence the people who create tension are not real Muslims for sure and if they say they are real Muslims they are telling a lie. I had also heard about this thing before and I was really happy to meet a young Muslim believing in this idea. I see these kind of people as the real development of India. We shared our contact information and I would love to meet him again whenever I go to Bhopal again in future.

awesome place

The next day we went to visit a small national park called Van Vihar. Van Vihar was also awesome. It was situated near to the Bara lake. They had bicycles for rent, battery-run vehicles or walking was also an option. It was really quiet and nice place. There were so many animals such as lion, tiger, leopard, deer, bear, hyena, crocodile, monkeys… All the animals seemed to kept in a good condition. It was a 7 KMs ride from one end to the other end of the park. Plastic bags were not allowed and it was a no-horn zone which means you just don’t feel like in India. At the other end of the park there was a cafeteria serving snacks. We rented a bicycle and watched the animals and enjoyed the quiet place a lot. It was a really nice experience.

look at the right side ones

There was something very interesting at the park. They had arrange different kind of urinal for Muslims. Actually Muslims have to sit when urinating hence a different kind of urinal system was arranged for them just next to usual urinals that we see elsewhere. This urinal system was setup closer to the ground level so that they squat and pee. I have traveled to so many places in India, have a lot of Muslim friends and have been to their homes also but had never ever seen anything like that before. Awesome. Actually Bhopal has a huge Muslim population and this might be the reason why they arranged such thing.

wetland for birds and crocodiles

The next day we went to Bhimbetka and on the way back to our hotel we visited an ancient Shiva Temple called Bhojpur Shiva temple. The next day we went to Sanchi. All of these places were really nice and I loved being in Madhya Pradesh. The weather was nice, it was really green and a lot quieter than where I live. The sites were clean, I never met any tout and everything looked cool for the tourists. My state has thousand times better tourism opportunities than Madhya Pradesh but only because of politics and government ignoring tourism all the time, very soon Madhya Pradesh will lead Uttar Pradesh. It was a very nice place to visit.

Please click here to see more pics of Bhopal:

Mumbai Gay Pride 2009

I loved his costume

I loved his costume

I attended Mumbai gay pride on the 16th of August. It is celebrated on this particular date because the gay community organizing this event says that India got freedom on the 15th of August but gay community never got freedom so they decided to celebrate their freedom one day after the independence day of India. The event was basically organized by an NGO called Humsafar that works with the gay community in Mumbai. I had already contacted people at Humsafar about my project and they were very welcoming. I was in Gwalior doing my training but I took a leave of 4 days and flew to Mumbai. I arrived in Mumbai on the night of the 14th.

They were at Delhi pride also

They were at Delhi pride also

I had attended this year’s Delhi Pride on the 26th of June and I really missed a video camera but I had arranged a video camera to record Mumbai Gay Pride. I had asked my friend Yogesh, who works in Bollywood, to arrange a camera for me and he provided me everything I wanted. I went to Humsafar on the 16th with a camera person and a friend from the US named Ryan. We met in Benares and I invited him to attend Mumbai Pride with me. I wanted to cover the preparation for the parade, interview a few people at Humsafar, interview a few people at the parade, participate in it, enjoy the party and make some new contacts to work together in the future.

Preparation for the parade

Preparation for the parade

I was supposed to start interviews at Humsafar at 12 o’clock but when I reached there I found that there were already a few media people interviewing Humsafar guys but they arranged a guy to show me their office. The office was amazing; they had an HIV and AIDS testing center. I had already been to a few NGOs but I had never seen any NGO having an HIV and AIDS testing center before, so it was really impressive. The Humsafar guy took me to the second floor of the office where they were preparing for the next day’s parade. There were about 20 guys practicing dance. A few of them hijras also. They had a guy to play Punjabi dhol and a big music system. I was surprised to see that they were practicing some traditional dance of hijra culture.

A poster at Humsafar office

A poster at Humsafar office

I just spent sometime watching the people preparing for the parade; they were really working hard and seemed so excited for the parade. All of the performers were either homosexuals or hijras who come to Humsafar if they need any help. The guy showing us the office told me that the CEO of Humsafar, Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, had just arrived at office and he asked me if I would like to interview him and I really felt lucky that I got to interview him. He was really amazing, very well educated, had very good knowledge of the issue and he really knew what he was talking about. He did not have much time but I got 15 minutes and I think it was good enough to start.

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

I believe that the gay community has always been in existence in India but a lot of people see it as a disease which came from the West so whenever I interview someone about gay culture, I always ask them about the history of gay culture in India. I ask them to tell me about the presence of gay culture in Hindu religious books because I know that Indians do not want to compromise with the religion and once they know something is part of their religion and culture, they are always so welcoming to this idea. And I also wanted to do the same thing, because I believe that if people know that gay culture has always been part of our culture, the it would be easy to make them understand the issue.

A participant of the parade

A participant of the parade

My idea behind interviewing all these people was to interview them and put the interviews online. I had intentionally done the interviews in Hindi so that people living in India could understand them. The interviewee told me a few stories that came from Ramayana and other Hindu religious books which showed the presence of gay culture even during Ram’s time. He talked about what kind of problems he had to face in society, how people discriminated against him, how he came out of it and what is the hope for the future. It was really interesting to learn the history of gay culture in India. He had very good knowledge about history of gay culture in India, especially in Hinduism.

Its true

Posters at the parade

Mr. Anand asked me to work with the MSM community in Benares. He said that he could give me a project or he could get me one through the UP government which was something I really wanted to do. We talked about working together in Benares but he said that Humsafar doesn’t work out of Mumbai and Thane district. He said that he would help me with anything I wanted- funding, training or any other thing but they will not go out of Mumbai and Thane district officially to work. I think I will not be able to work with him soon as my NGO is not registered under section 12 A and any NGO can not get this registration until they are at least 1 year old. But now Sanjeevani Booti has completed its 1 year and now I can apply for this registration.

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Mr. Anand told me during his interview that he wants to thank Baba Ramdev on behalf of the whole gay community because Baba is the one who challenged the judgment of the high court of Delhi in the Supereme Court of India to revoke of section 377. He said that the Supereme Court of India would also give the judgment in favor of the gay community and this way they would have equal rights very soon. He said that there was no one who bothered coming against the judgment of Delhi high court but it was Ramdev Baba who brought this matter to the the Supereme Court of India so thanks to him. I would also like to thank Baba Ramdev for making the process faster.

Absolutely not

Absolutely not

I interviewed the Mr. Anand, the manager of Humsafar, one bisexual , two hijras, and few gays. It was really a nice experience interviewing them and listening to them and their stories. All of them were a little different from each other but they had the same issues. I think everybody whom I interviewed at Humsafar talked about discrimination the most. The manager of Humsafar told me that he wanted to get his passport with his gender showing either a girl or a hijra or a transgender but the government officials do not want to do it. Government officials tell him that they just do not know what a transgender is.

This was really interesting

She was really interesting

He said that he has gotten his name changed officially to a female’s name and now preparing for a gender change operation but still the government doesn’t want to issue him a passport showing his gender as a female or as a hijra or as a transgender. He has sued the government for this reason. He was saying that gender change operation facility is not very good in India and he wants to go abroad to get it done but since the government is not issuing his passport he is unable to do it. He said that he has decided that he will take his passport only if they issue the passport with his gender showing as a female or a hijra or a transgender.

The hijras I interviewed

The hijras I interviewed and I

He told me that he only looks like a man from his body but he is not a man, he is a woman. I interviewed one Muslim guy also who was with a group of two hijras. This interview was also very interesting. It was the first time when I interviewed any Muslim gay. He said that his family will never allow him to get married with a man, which is what he wanted, so he has decided to either escape from the home or just stay unmarried for his whole life. The hijras were also fantastic. They told me a lot of things about hijras that I did not know before.

Biggest attraction of the parade

Biggest attraction of the parade, for me:)

I never understood the difference between people’s use of the word “hijra” and a “gay” and when I asked him about it they said that educated people use the word gay and uneducated use the word hijra, that’s all. They also talked about the issues hijra community is facing in India and it was exactly as the issues of other people whom I had interviewed at Humsafar. Hijras told me something really interesting that there are two different kinds of hijras.

look at the costume, awesome

look at the costume, awesome

One of them is more respected in amongst hijras. They get married to the hijra goddess when they are so young. They have to wear a thread all the time which represents their marriage with their goddess. They can live with their family as well which doesn’t happen with the other kind of hijras. The hijras who bless and dance at the weddings are different than them; it was really interesting, and I need to do some research about it. I interviewed a bisexual who was in fact a male sex worker. It was the first time when I had ever met any male sex worker and it was amazing talking to him. He also had few issues likes discrimination because he was a bisexual guy.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He said that when he was 14 years old and would go out with his friends and his friends used to look at the girls but he never felt like he had any interest in girls. He said that when he turned a bit older, he met Mr. Anand who brought him to Humsafar and that was the time when he came to know why he did not have any interest in girls. He joined Humsafar and now he works there as a program manager. He said that he used to distribute condoms to the male sex workers at railway stations and once he gave a pack of condoms to a policeman thinking that this policeman was a male sex worker. The policeman slapped him and kicked him out of the railway station; it was a funny story.

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defection

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defect

The first day was all about watching people preparing for the event and interviewing a few people at Humsafar. After completing the interviews on the first day, we came out of the Humsafar office and we were standing on the road waiting for an auto-rickshaw and at the same time a 25-26 year old guy named Sourendra came to me and started talking about what we were doing in Humsafar office. I had already seen him in the office so I also didn’t hesitate telling him about my project. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing at Humsafar etc. and then he asked me about my project and said that he was also gay and visits Humsafar on regular basis.

Folk dance performers at the parade

Folk dance performers at the parade

He seemed to be an educated and interesting guy. He asked me where I was going and after my answer he said that he was also going to the same direction. He said that he also wanted to come with me. I asked him if he would like to be interviewed and he said- why not. We went together to my friend’s place and my friend drove us to somewhere where there was a litti-chokha (very famous Bihari food) party. We all went together and I interviewed him over the dinner at 1 o’clock night time.

377 out

377 out

Actually I regretted that I took him to that party because the guys over there at the party got too much interested in him after hearing that he was a gay. They would all come, look at him and laugh. I was really not comfortable there and I told my friend to change the place but since it was already 1 o’clock night time, we just decided to continue the interview at same party place. Sourendra was such an open and energetic and nice person. He talked about a lot of things that usually people do not want to talk about.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He talked about his sex practices and this conversation was really interesting. He talked about discrimination in the society, family, friends and discrimination at his job. He used to work at a call center and everything was fine for him. After a few months the call center in-charge changed and a new guy came who seemed like did not like gays. Sourendra’s voice was was sweet, like a girl, but this new in-charge wanted him to speak with a heavy voice which was something unnatural for him. He said that he pretended to speak with a heavy voice but it did not work and his performance level decreased and finally he had to leave the job only because he could not speak with a heavy voice.

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

When I asked him about the existence of gays and hijras in our religion and history, he told me something really interesting. He told me about the existence of gays and hijras during Krishna’s time. He said that once Krishna also wanted to sleep with a man. It was something that I had never ever heard before. I know that Ramayana in North India is different than Ramayana in South India. They have some difference between them like Ramayana in North India says that Hanuman was a celebate and South Indian Ramayan says that Hauman had more than one wife. People living in the North do not eat fish because it is meat for them and people living in West Bengal eat fish because it is sea food for them.

Bijay with his friend

Bijay with his friend

Different people have different beliefs about the same thing and maybe the case here was also the same: the Mahabharta Sourendra had read was a little bit different from the one I have read, not an issue at all. I liked interviewing Sourendra. After completing the interview we dropped Sourendra at the railway station. I was so excited for the next day’s parade. I was supposed to meet my friend Bijay, who lives in Chennai, at the parade. He was also gay and was in Mumbai to attend the parade.

Aadimanav

Aadimanav

We met at the Church Gate and headed together to the parade. I had two other guys to help me with the camera and other things. Mumbai Gay Pride seemed different than Delhi Gay Pride. I think the organizers had tried to give a cultural look to the parade. There were folk dance and song performers from South India and they were performing local dance of South India. I met Laxmi also at the parade. The parade was a little bit delayed as other things in India and started around 12 o’clock. I think the number of people at Delhi Gay Pride and the Mumbai one was same, something around 3000 people.

Youngest participant of the parade

Youngest participant of the parade

A group of people was carrying a huge rainbow flag. Mumbai seemed more respectful to the flag than Delhi. People at the Delhi parade were so excited that they started jumping with the flag and tore it off only few minutes after the parade had started. I saw a guy with his four or five year old daughter at the parade. She was sitting on her father’s shoulders and was holding the flag. A few of my foreign friends tell me that although they support gay rights they do not like gay pride parades as they are so vulgar but in India situation was the completely different- very cultural, good enough even for a five year old girl.

Laxmi and Celina

Laxmi and Celina

People were dancing, jumping and laughing so it seemed like a very happy event. I was also enjoying it. An hour after the parade started, a Bollywood actress named Celina Jaitely joined the parade. She has been involved with gay rights issue for a long time in India. I saw many Bollywood and TV stars at the parade. I think she was in the parade for more than an hour. There were a few guys with Celina and they had dressed amazingly. I had never ever seen anything like that before. Laxmi, Celina and everyone else at the parade were dancing and enjoying themselves.

bombay gay pride 194

look at the masks

I saw two Muslim girls also at the parade who were wearing Burka. They joined the parade an hour before its end but they also seemed to be enjoying it. They were also dancing with other people but most of the time they wanted to be under the gay pride flag. I think they were concerned about their identity. Many people seemed concerned about their identity like at Delhi Pride. They had covered their faces with clothes or some kind of masks. I just don’t understand why people come to the gay parade if they are so concerned about their identity? Better stay at home and watch it on TV if they can not support it openly.

Baba Ramdev would like it

Baba Ramdev would like it

Mumbai Gay Pride seemed more organized in some ways. They had a van stuffed with banners, posters, masks, t-shirts etc. But masks and t-shirts were the most demanded items. I also tried to get one t-shirt but could not because they ran out within few minutes. They were distributing bottled water also to the participants. They had few volunteers with big bags who were collecting all the garbage, poly bags and bottles used during the parade. They said that they did not want to leave anything as garbage on the road, so this was a very clean festival which usually doesn’t happen in India.

live and let live

live and let live

I saw many people looking through their balconies and windows of their houses. I am sure they were surprised. Many people just joined the parade serendipitously. I saw a few people who were standing somewhere along the road doing their business, and then they saw the parade and joined it. One thing was very sure that Mumbai pride had more transgenders and hijras than at Delhi parade. There was a group of hijras which was right behind the flag performing some traditional hijra dance but this dance was not something I had seen hijras doing where I live. This hijra dance seemed more organized and calm, but usually hijra dance is very energetic and loud.

Meeting after the parade

Meeting after the parade

The parade was moving and moving and I was just filming the parade, talking with participants and enjoying it. Finally the parade stopped at August Kranti Marg sometime around 4 o’clock where a few social workers and NGO members delivered a speech about gay rights and their future planning. I also took a break and went to the beach nearby. I did some filming there also and interviewed a gay couple whom I had seen at the parade. One other thing that was in my mind was the repeal of Section 377 and I wanted to talk about it with the participants of the parade and members of Humsafar.

They were so happy

They were so happy

I asked about repeal of Section 377 to almost everyone I talked with and everybody was so happy about it. There was a guy who told me that these kind of laws are very important for bringing change in the society. Section 377 did not affect gay culture very much in India, even when it was effected, because you never know who is doing what inside their room but the worst thing that happened because of implementation of 377 was that it changed the thinking of people over time. But now since 377 is repealed, it will take some time, maybe 50 or 100 years, but someday gays will have equal rights in India. I also believed what he said.

Hijras

Hijras

After the parade ended, my friend Bijay took me to a very famous and old restaurant near August Kranti Marg. After having a few bottles of beer, we headed to Bijay’s hotel. I spent some time at Bijay’s hotel and then we headed to the party place. The party was organized at a disco but the Mumbai party was different from Delhi one. The Delhi party was organized by the organizers of the parade whereas the Mumbai party was organized by the participants. Delhi party’s entry was free but Mumbai party’s entry was Rs. 500 but they gave me three free drinks.

I with my friends after the party

my friends and I after the party

The Mumbai party had more people than the Delhi one and it had more lesbian couples also. It was my second time at any disco after the Delhi pride party and I was so excited for it. I don’t know why but I drank a lot of beer that night at party and got completely drunk. I saw many gay couples kissing and hugging each other which was not new to me but my friends were so surprised to see it the way I was surprised at the Delhi party. The party was supposed to last for the whole night but I had to leave early as my flight back to Bhopal was at 6 o’clock morning time.

look at the costume

look at the costume

Ryan helped me by packing up my stuff and bringing me to the airport. Somehow I arrived safely in Gwalior but that I will not forget that party night, it was crazy, I loved it. This trip was very successful because I got to meet with a lot of new people, interviewed them, learnt a lot and built some business relationship with Humsafar. They have invited me again to the parade next year and I will try to attend it. I still think about the people I talked with, their issues, their stories… it was so nice talking with them.They are fighting for a issue which should just not be an issue.

very happy picture

very happy picture

My friend Sanjay, who helped me with camera, told me what I was doing was crazy when I explained him my reason for being in Mumbai but after listening to the people I interviewed, his mind also changed. He also told me that gays should also have equal rights in our society. Actually my question stories of gay culture in Hindu religion worked for him. All of the interviewees told me few stories and it changed Sanjay’s mind. I know it very well that if somehow people can come to know about the existence of gays in Hindu religion, then there will be less problem for gays to get acceptance in Hindu society.

rainbow flag

rainbow flag

I think the basic reason behind the discrimination against gays in India is the communication gap, especially about sex practices, between straights and gays and 150 years of section 377. Section 377 changed our society a lot; it changed the mind overtime. When I look at Hindu religious books and history I find that gay sex practices have always been part of Hindu culture. It was not any issue at all and we were the most liberal society on the planet but the British changed everything in India. Well, we are getting rid of the poverty given by them slowly and I hope to get rid of this crazy system also.

VIDEOS ARE COMING SOON

Sunita Williams missing

I lived in JNU for two days with my Muslim friend. His brother and cousin are also student at JNU and they also live here in the hostel. They told me a really crazy story. They said that when they were in Aligarh Muslim University a few years back, once all the students were called together to listen to a lecture which was going to be delivered by a mullah (a religious leader of Islam). They did not know what this mullah was supposed to talk about but what they heard in his lecture made them really angry. The lecture was supposed to be about Islam but in fact it was against America.

The mullah talked about the India-origin astronaut named Sunita Williams who went to space under a NASA program in the year 2006. The mullah said that when Sunita was in space and looked towards the earth, she found the whole earth dark but two places- Mecca and Medina ( two holiest cities of Islam). He said that everything looked dark to Sunita but Mekka and Madina were shining like a star. It was a miracle of Allah and it proved that Allah is the greatest one and Islam is the only true religion. After seeing this, Sunita with other six astronauts, who were working together in space, turned highly devoted to Islam.

And after coming back to earth they converted to Islam. But the American government did not like it and they did something and now Sunita and the other six astronauts were missing. The mullah did not say anything about what happened with them but it was a clear indication that something wrong had happened with them. He meant to say that Sunita and the other people were missing only because they converted to Islam and the American government did not like it. My friend told me that the mullahs were so angry and loud when they were telling this story.

The mullah was saying that Sunita was always on Indian TV before she went to space and even after coming from space for few days. But after a few days she never appeared on the TV again. The mullahs were asking to the students where was Sunita? Was this her fault that she found Mecca and Medina most shining cities on the planet and realized the truth that Islam was the real religion and Allah is the only God and finally they converted to Islam? After hearing this students were so angry. Even my friend who is doing a PhD also believed him. My friend is not an exception but I was shocked to see such an educated person believing this kind of crazy story.

I knew that this story was bullshit so I showed him some information online. I already knew that Las Vegas was the most shining city on the planet and I told him about it. He was pretending to be against that mullah’s story after reading the Las Vegas article on Wikipedia but still it seemed like he believed that mullah’s story more. I remember that once my friend had told me that it was his dream to see the complete destruction of America sometime before he dies. I asked him why and he told me several stories of America in Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq…

I do not understand why a few religious leaders do such things. What is the problem with them. They must understand that spreading wrong information and getting involved in politics is also one the reasons why Christians have stopped going to the Churches. I don’t think religion is bad but religion becomes really bad when such religious leaders become the leaders of the religion. A few of my Christan friends told me that churches in the West used to issue a certificate saying that the all the sins are forgiven and they charge money for it. People stop practicing religion when such things take place and when people come to know about the reality and these religious leaders must understand it.

They must know that they are not doing something good for the religion, in fact it will show a terribly negative impact in the future when people will have information and Internet is spreading fast and they should consider it as a alarm of danger for them. People will question them and they will have no answer.

Music in Islam

I made a lot of new friends while living in Gwalior for the tour guide training and two of them were Muslims. Actually I shared an apartment with one them. He is a doctoral student from JNU. Basically he is from a very small village in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district. He did his schooling from a village school in Sitamarhi and then moved to Aligarh Muslim University for his B.A. and now finally he is in JNU doing his PhD. He works as an Spanish escort so makes very good money also. He is in love with music. A good amount of his computer hard-disk is full of music.

He would play music most of the time. I saw a big music system at his hostel room in JNU. Now he is going to get married in the coming December. His brother also lives in JNU and once I saw them discussing how they will arrange the music for the wedding. They want to have a band party for the wedding parade and music for the wedding party but Islam doesn’t allow it and his family and neighbors are very strict Islam followers. He said that nobody can even listen to the radio, not even news on the radio.

If somebody is found playing any kind of music in his village, the other people living in the village yell at him and stop the music immediately. He said that if he is found playing music then people would say that even after being educated and doing PhD, he is doing such a bad thing. Music is really a serious issue in his village. I heard him and his brother discussing about this issue for at least an hour and finally they could not find any way to have music at the wedding. I told him that change always takes place sometime in the society and maybe this is the time for him to bring a change but he said that it is kind of impossible to bring this change in his society.

I have never been to any Muslim wedding but I have seen a few from the outside and I saw music going on in those weddings so I told him about it and he said that rules are made by big people and if they break it, then nobody cares. If the same rules are broken by general people, then it always creates problems. He said that everything is allowed among the rich Muslim community, they can play music, they can have dances and they can enjoy alcohol but it is not possible for the general Muslims. I asked him what the general people think of rich Muslims enjoying music and he said that general people think that big people are out of their community.

Music has always been respected amongst most of the societies of the world. In Hinduism there is a goddess Saraswati for music and people do rituals of their music instruments. It is really hard for me to believe that there could be any wedding without music. Hindu weddings are so fun and this is what I am used to. There is always a lot of music and people dancing in the wedding. I have heard that Christian weddings are also very boring but I am sure they must have music. Music is fun and even scientific researches have shown that there are certain kinds of music which are good even for our health.

I respect people’s feeling but this issue is something which is hard for me to understand. Most of the Mughal emperors were fond of music. Akbar is a very good example. Tansen was among the nine Jewels at his court. I have noticed that in all the religions there are certain rules and regulations that are people made; it is not written anywhere in any religious books but people still follow it and even if it is written, there is wrong interpretation and people follow the wrong idea. After listening to this issue, which is definitely not an issue for me, I still don’t understand if music is really that bad…

Guide training program – week 4

Nandan in Bramhi (the oldest script)

Nandan in Bramhi (the oldest script)

The fourth week of the training is completed now so only two weeks to go and then I will head for the one week of tour of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and then finally to Benares for my field work. This week was also very interesting as we had a few very nice lecturers and very interesting lectures about the travel industry in India, Indian art, Varanasi, temples, Indo-Islamic architecture, cultural difference, epigraphy and numismatics, temples of Bateshwar, Indian classical music and tourism in Himanchal Pradesh but I liked the epigraphy and numismatics, temples of Bateshwar and tourism in Himanchal Pradesh lectures best.

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Bateshwar before conservation

The lecture about Indian classical music was crazy. Nobody understood anything. The professor wanted us to sing. He was so similar to the professor who delivered the lecture about astrology last week. Astrology and Indian classical music, both subjects are kind of unknown to the participants. We know about them but we don’t have good knowledge about them and it would have been better if they would have taught us about the basics of these subjects but their lecture was for someone who already had at least basic knowledge of these subjects.

see the change

see the change

Mr. Mohammad K K, the lecturer who taught us about temples of Bateshwar was amazing. He is Superintendent Archaeologist of ASI. He showed us a slide show of his work in Muraina, MP. He said that Muraina had a group of over 200 temples but they were all destroyed during an earthquake about 1300 years ago. So these temples were underground for over a thousand year but nobody ever thought about them. This whole area was captured by really dangerous naxalites. They used to live in those temples so nobody ever dared to go there. Mr. Mohammad K K and other officers of ASI went there by taking help of the locals and met naxalites.

Naxalites also permitted them to work on the temples. They excavated that area and were shocked to see what appeared in front of them. The temples were completely broken. They collected all the materials and started reconstruction. They used the same material and built the temples again. They had to use new materials as well sometimes but most of the material is taken from the same place. It is hard to imagine how they did it. This presentation had not much to do with tour guiding profession because no tourist would go there in near future but I loved it. I loved the dedication of Mr. Mohammad K K towards his job. It was awesome.

The lecturer who taught us about Indo-Islamic architecture was an expert from ASI. He told something really strange. He said that foreign escorts who come to India with foreign tourist groups must be banned at the monuments. He asked all the candidates to write a letter to the Prime Minister of India demanding prohibition of foreign escorts at Indian monuments. I did not know anything about it so I asked my friends about it and they said that foreign escorts come to monuments, take a local guide but after the site seeing they pay to the local guide and that’s all.

Whatever they told me about the foreign escorts sounded fine to me so I asked them what was the problem and they said that the foreign escorts do not bring them with the group to the shops so no commission for them. It sounded like a genuine issue to me because a very important part of the tourism is to help the local community economically and the rate decided by the government for guides is not enough to support their livelihood, so they depend on the commission and tip given by the clients.

Guide training program – week 3

Finally half of the training is completed. Now three weeks of classroom teaching and one week of orientation tour are left and after that I will have to do my field work. I am so excited for my field work. I talked with the other participants of the program about my field work on LGBT tourism and all of them said that maybe the institute will not approve my subject. It’s disturbing but I will have to do something. I am trying to get some basic information about LGBT tourism so that I can talk with my professor and try to convince him to approve my subject.

In the case that they don’t allow me to work on LGBT tourism, I will go for either eco or rural tourism. I don’t want to do my field work on those traditional Indian tourism subjects like heritage or culture. I want to learn about heritage and culture as well and I will have to learn about it; I will have to mention the heritage and culture of Benares in my research even if I am permitted to do my research on LGBT tourism, but I would love to be specialized in LGBT tourism. Nobody has ever done it in India before and nobody else is going to do it in the present batch so it will be very good for me if they approve my subject.

If my subject is not approved, then I would like to do my field work in Mirzapur district about eco-tourism becuase Mirzapur district is only 75 kms from Benares and is full of beautiful nature. The professors taught us about caves, cave temples and rock painting of Mirzapur which is very interesting to me. Mirzapur is not a touristic place because government never promoted Mirzapur as a tourist destination but I would like to do it because there are lots of opportunities there. Mirzapur has a lot of waterfalls, dams, rivers, lakes, hills… Maybe I can start trekking and camping tours in Mirzapur.

Even if my LGBT subject is approved, I would still like to promote and work in Mirzapur. Mirzapur is basically rural area so I can promote Mirzapur as a rural tourism site as well. I am so excited for this project. This week we had very interesting lectures. One of our guest lectures was Mr. Pandya who won the best tour guide award for the year 2008. He works in Agra. He was telling that he is the highest paid tour guide of India. When a tour guide is giving tour to some tourist, the client stays in a fancy hotel and the tour guide stays in a budget class hotel. But Mr. Pandya has his own rules and he stays in the same five start hotels where his clients stay.

He was telling that because of his own rules and high charges he doesn’t get much work. He hardly does five or six assignments in a year. He charges $100 per day which doesn’t seem too much, but I don’t know why he was describing this amount as too much. Sometimes I make that much money by working with students as their translator. He had amazing knowledge of the golden triangle. He was advising us about improving our accent. He said that Indians have their own English but since we work with tourists and we get paid for it, we should try to learn their English.

This week I was taught about a word called ” Chabbi” which I had never heard before. It is a tourist sector Hindi word which means commission. We had a Muslim professor who was an expert on tourism in Jammu & Kashmir and he said that he did not want to take commission by the shop keepers by making his clients shop at their shops in the beginning of his career because Islam did not allow commission but now he also enjoys it. He said that this is what the system is and this system is popular all over the world. He said that tour guides all over the world are doing same thing.

In a few countries they call it profit sharing which sounds better, and specially for Muslims it is good word. He said that if he doesn’t bring the clients to the travel agency stores, he will be kicked out of the job. We had few very interesting lectures about India tourism offices working in India and abroad, Islam, female foreign tourists in India, condition of women in medieval Indian history, eco tourism, water tourism, adventure tourism, architectural heritage of India, Kamasutra, Khajuraho sculptures…

I asked the professor who was giving lecture about Kamasutra if Kamasutra talks about homosexuality or not and he said that homosexuality is in existence for the long time, even Babar was fond of males. He said that Afghanistan seems to have the most strong gay culture in the world at present time. It was a really interesting answer. Something else very interesting thing happened while one of our classes about Islam. We had a professor from Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi to deliver a lecturer about Islam. One of the participants asked him about the condition of women in Islam and his answer was the condition of women is terrible in all the religions.

He did not say anything in particular about the condition of women in Islam. Then one other participant told him about how liberal Hindi society was in terms of condition of women, and then the professor just smiled and said why Sita had to give Agni Pariksha . The participant wanted to say something but the professor did not want to hear him. He just left the classroom saying that he was getting late.The program is very nice and I am loving it. I am looking forward to the next four weeks of the training.

Bakrid

Animal waste on road

Animal waste on road

I have been watching something everyday which nobody would ever liketo see. Its blood and meat everywhere in my city. There is a Muslim festival called Bakrid. Each and every Muslim family is supposed to slaughter on male goat. Sometimes they buy one for each member of the family. They slaughter the animal and throw all the waste on road. It takes at least four-five days for municipality to clean this up. There is a Discovery TV show called dirty jobs. I have watched that show sometimes but honestly the job they show is nothing in comparison with our municipality workers.

What part of body is this?

What part of body is this?

For these four-five days all the animal waste stays on road. People stop going to Muslim neighborhoods during these four-five days. I had seen it once about ten years ago and could not dare to go again towards Muslim neighborhoods during this festival. But this year I went specially to see it again with Nadia, a researcher from Singapore. First of all we decided to walk but right after crossing one neighborhood we decided to take a rickshaw because it was overwhelming to walk. There was goat skin, meat and other wastes all over the road. I wondered how other people were standing near all these wastes and talking to each other. It was just like daily routine for them.

It was also on the road

It was also on the road

We took a rickshaw and passed by all the major Muslim neighborhoods in Varanasi. I saw the same thing everywhere- meat, goat skin, and blood. I saw one guy riding a camel as well. They entered in a Muslim neighborhood with this camel. I asked few locals about it and they all said that they were going to slaughter this camel as well. Wealthy people slaughter camels to show their wealth. Number of camels slaughtered is a news every year. I read in newspaper that ten camels were slaughtered only in Varanasi.

Municipality workers cleaning the waste

Municipality workers cleaning the waste

I don’t know what to say about this festival or whom to claim for this but definitely it is everybody responsibility to keep the sanitation. I think they must not throw animal waste on road. It spreads diseases and it looks so disgusting. I don’t think there could be anything worst than finding yourself in between all kind of meat. Nadia is also a Muslim but she had never seen or expected anything like that. She says that its completely hidden in Singapore. People never see any slaughtering even it is done in their name.

A begger storing food

A begger storing food

Nadia says that in Singapore they just pay the money to mosques and get a slaughtering done in their name. This idea is thousand time better than what we have. She started feeling sick after watching those tons of meat. I could not eat the day I watched it but it was still an experience for me and Nadia. There is very famous humor that selling meat is prohibited in Varanasi but the reality is something what I have talked about. Meat is everywhere:- in the shops, in the kitchens and sometimes on the road as well.