Friday, October 29, 2010

Meeting Tellis

I finally met Dr Ashley Tellis for lunch yesterday at Mamu dhaba in JNU. He is forever surrounded by people, and yesterday, I was one of them. We were a mix of researchers from different centres of JNU (one was from IIT), straight and gay people, basically ‘feminists’ at heart. What was supposed to be a pure luncheon turned out to be the first meeting of a group called a ‘good idea’ (might have to check that again). Though I am cynical with on-campus groups since in the last few years one has only witnessed a declining level of discourse and politics on campus, still I kept my opinion to myself for then. Anyway, coming back to yesterday’s meeting with Tellis.

I have been circulating his petition for days now (; more than 800 signatures in 4-5 days means overwhelming support for him) and found it rather amusing to be meeting him after already sticking my neck out for him, his politics, whatever I have managed to perceive of it till now. His razor-sharp logic can tear apart any thought and give it dimensions that the speaker, who could be anyone, never thought of before opening his/her oral cavity. In that sense, the unplanned visit to Mamu’s was slightly draining but certainly very meaningful. No teacher, friend, family or office colleague ever stresses on ‘using the mind’ in an ordinary conversation as much as Tellis does. That is such a welcome treat but can get stressful if one is not used to an obscene amount of honest questioning of mundane experiences of life. So it’s almost like a challenge to sit in Tellis’s company and also to keep up with his very creative, rational onslaught, if I may call it that.

Btw, he referred to himself as a girl few times yesterday but that somehow didn’t sound as disturbing to my ‘heterosexual, slow, peace-seeking, forgetful and forgiving Vipassana’ mind, as I expected it to sound. Till before yesterday’s meeting, I still imagined myself to be a rigid person from the convent education regime imposed on me in childhood, but I guess I have (un)learned lots and moved on from there at least. Was introspecting that since gender is a social construct we grow up rehearsing in our minds (along with societal reinforcements) but what we call just ‘the mind’ must not have a notion of ‘gender’ by itself unless we feed it with stereotypes of how to look at itself and the person carrying it.

What I am then implying is that if a person’s gender has everything to do with his/her state of mind along with what one is feeling at that moment, then, at the cost of sounding complicated, I think it’s ok for a person to feel masculine and/or feminine traits and in different combinations at different points in his/her life. For instance, taking the two commonly used gender categories of man and woman, aggression as a quality is considered ‘masculine’ but women can be aggressive too when they have to fend for themselves as single women or single mothers. Being tender and caring is considered to be a ‘feminine’ trait but men can become caring too. I know at least three almost non-sexist, almost non-patriarchal and caring men - two male teachers and one male classmate precisely - while I also know of many more patriarchal and non-patriarchal but aggressive women, who survive the 'big bad world', which is considered a 'masculine' thing to do.

So, who else can decide that combination of qualities but the person concerned himself/herself as per his/her requirement/need? Then the logic of dividing people into distinct categories (queer vs. non queer, homosexual vs. heterosexual etc) also loses meaning to an extent unless it is done to fight a political fight, where asserting group identity becomes necessary to demand basic human rights.

Coming back to Tellis, I decided to be ok when I heard a statement like ‘I am a clean girl’ (in the context of hygiene practices) from a person who is physically a man, who exudes tender vibrations while uttering swear words all the time. I realise it’s a very interesting combination of qualities we have here but what is clear and certain is this person’s humanity. He might speak profanities and have the skill to mount rib cracking jokes on them, but one doesn’t ‘feel’ offended while sitting next to him. His vibration should have created lots of discomfort considering possibilities of all that can come out of his extraordinarily witty brain, but thankfully, he ‘feels’ like a very sensitive, genuine and reliable person. This I am sure about. Glad I finally met him.


  1. Hey,
    I really love the new look of the blog! So fresh!
    Love it.
    And, I liked this piece as I said. It blends more of you with the reportage and your reflective self is coming is one the nice things I like.
    And I wish Dr. Tellis the best in his struggle.

  2. Shaweta, first of all I should say your skill of observation is very impressive. As for the content, I personally find it difficult to imbibe the idea of distancing one's mind from the notions of gender, for I feel it's all inseparably interconnected. It's true that, tho' we tend to fall back on the stereotypes to explain what's masculine/feminine practices are and argue for antilabelling, the labelling finally matters as u said, to win our basic rights at least. Ashley doesn't talk anything 'profane' or 'obscene', it's the way we are groomed at different places like the convent school regime as u said that makes it hard to stomach them. I always believe, I shall someday get over all those discomforts that the "obscene" things bring in, and be ok with all the "bad ideas" that I come across, as I move on;)Looking forward to more meetings of "good idea" and insightful thoughts from the discussions and your blog too.


  3. Great article. It's interesting how you took a meeting with a person to a higher level of thought. I like what you said about the feminine and masculine traits in a person. As the saying goes: 'There is a little bit of man in every woman, and a little bit of woman in every man.'It's sad though that personality traits are classified as masculine/feminine - both are essential for survival and happiness.

  4. Shaweta

    This is indeed a well written reflective piece. Your campus life seems to be dotted with interesting personalities and stories. Wish Dr. Tellis the best in his struggle.

    It is interesting how you have placed your reflective Vipasanna mind and self to understand human beings, their thoughts and come to terms with ideas of 'sameness and difference'.