I’m glad I went to see the hindi film “Aligarh” this afternoon. I almost missed it . My daughter had booked my ticket online , but at the counter I was told that it had been booked for yesterday . I rechecked the message delivered on the mobile and realised that it was sadly true. Fortunately, lots of tickets were still available for the current show and so apart from the money she lost, all was well.
One vaguely remembered reading about the newspaper reports that spoke of a professor of Aligarh Muslim University, in North India , being caught on video in a compromising position with a young rikshaw-puller and his subsequent suspension from his post , at a time when a High Court had revoked Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code which made homosexuality a criminal offence. Some journalists had broken in into his house, barged into his bedroom and filmed them. Almost immediately, four of the faculty members had turned up at the place and from that point onwards, life had become a nightmare beset with persecution and humiliation for the sixty four year old professor who had spent over two decades , teaching Marathi in that University. Two days after the petition filed by him in the High Court was decided in his favour for revoking his suspension , he was found dead in his rented house. The post-mortem had revealed that there were traces of poison in his blood.
Hansal Mehta’s cinematic version of this true-life incident is remarkably well executed. Manoj Bajpai , enacting the role of Professor Srinivas Ramachandra Siras is superb. As the soft-spoken, unobtrusive, almost nondescript professor whose lonely evenings were spent with a glass of spirits and old hindi songs of Lata Mangeshkar, his portrayal etched the character indelibly in the viewer’s mind, I felt.
Raj Kumar Rao, in the role of the young Delhi based journalist Deepu Sebastian Edmond, then working with the newspaper Indian Express, who had followed this case along with his photographer colleague Tashi Tobgyal, is also very impressive.
It was Deepu who had highlighted the culpability of the persons who had intruded upon the right of an individual to his privacy and against whom no action had been taken. In actuality, Deepu and Professor Siras, had never met and there had been only one conversation on the phone after the judgement was delivered. In the film, they are shown to have met several times and the mutual understanding , respect and affections that developed between them have been very touchingly depicted.
“I don’t like the word gay”, the professor objects in the film.” To me it is like poetry, an indescribable urge”
And how can that be a crime if that relationship is between two consenting individuals , if it doesn’t impose or intervene or disrupt another’s space or rights or well-being? That it is unnatural , is the reason provided by almost all religions and the law. How can an individual help the way he feels about love or it’s expression if that is how his nature is ? Isn’t Nature itself a testimony to the fact that homogenity is against the very nature of Nature itself , with it’s myriad forms, colours, contours , climates, niches and nurturing , food cycles and courtship and reproduction.
In this age of taking sides , of information and counter-information and misinformation, of strident voices dominating every aspect of human existence , of confusions and helplessness, how does one sift through the incoherence and arrive at any conclusion? How does one know for sure that what one is standing up for is indeed the Truth in the shifting sands of morality , patriotism, religious beliefs, definitions of propriety, social norms, traditions , culture and so on?
The truth is perhaps that one may never know . May be the only way we can justify our perceptions is by gauging the truth of our own feelings . For me, the touchstone would be whether my alignments are motivated by love or animosity for my fellow human beings. Which side I am on is not perhaps of any significance .