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My Slide Show of India.

Thank you, India. In February I went with four friends to India. No, we were not President Clinton's advance team. My partner of thirteen years, Urvashi Vaid, whom I can't marry and wouldn't if I could, even though we could use some new Corning Ware with matching tops, is Indian, and we wanted to see from whence she came.

Since our return, I have been reduced to loopy, halting responses to the innocent query, "Soooo? Howazzit?" Perhaps the lingering effects of killer jet lag made me think I could cogently summarize my trip in this space. There already is a whole body of bad work from people sporting dressy bindis, inhaling bidis, strumming sitars, trying to convey their transformations through a haze of sandalwood incense.

So, think of the following as a mercifully short, impressionistic slide show, in no particular order. Lights, please.

1. In Bombay, a city of sixteen million, we were stuck in one of the grimiest, noisiest, hottest traffic jams I have ever, ever endured. I had my very own claustrophobic passage-to-India moment. I exited my body and transported myself to the sweet spring air of a walk on the jetty in Provincetown. It is not that I am some highly evolved spiritual practitioner. It was pure survival or psychotic break.

2. In the past ten years, Hallmark has made its mark in India. Any variation of heart-shaped schlock was up for bargaining in tiny stalls. India, with its long tradition of over-the-top, swoony, romantic movie musicals cranked out by Bollywood, was an easy target for Eros's arrows. The romance still centers on arranged marriage, but that proved no consolation to the Hindu fundamentalist goondas who trashed heart-festooned stalls and attacked romantic-looking couples on Valentine's Day.

3. At least twice a day, whether we were in the city or the country, at little stalls or cantonment hotels, on planes or in rickshaws, I was "sirred." With short hair, no sari, and minimal bangles, I was addressed as "sir" more times than a character in Peanuts. When one of my fellow travelers wore the silver ankle bracelet we gave him, he stopped traffic in Kerala. One guide book said there are no gay men in India, just "frustrated husbands whose wives won't give them blow jobs." In the South, there has been a string of deaths of lesbian couples. The police report them as suicide pacts. Lesbians we met believed they were murders but had been stymied in their inquiries by the police and the families of the women.

4. For the three weeks of our visit, Deepa Mehta was all over the news. Fundamentalists shut down her movie set in Benares, where she was trying to film Water, a movie about the treatment of Indian widows. Every story had to mention her earlier blasphemy, Fire, the story of two Indian women who fall in love. (See above. Not a Bollywood-sanctioned theme.) In Bombay, the ratio of men to women is 13 to 7, due to amniocentesis, starvation, neglect. One guide responded to my frown with, "Why would you want to have a girl?"

5. Did I already show this slide? There are a lot of people in India. One billion of them. One-sixth of the world's population. Seven hundred nineteen people per square mile. Like fingerprints and snowflakes, I never saw two matching saris. I never saw one large piece of equipment, either. India was scrambling to get the place ready for the other Clinton's visit. People were doing the most intensely physical, nonergonomic, repetitive, carpal-tunnel-syndrome-inducing work. And if someone fell from the hand-tied bamboo scaffolding four stories up, there were always replacements.

6. We returned to: Al Gore and George W. fighting over Jesus Christ for their personal savior and running mate; Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?; California's passage of its Preemptive Prejudice Initiative on how marriage should be arranged; Oscar hoopla over the gender-bending Boys Don't Cry; the continued vilification of Hillary Clinton; and John McCain's suicide bomber attack on fundamentalists after the South Carolina primary. Lights up, please.

In India, the function of religion as social enforcer and the function of romance as the buttress of relentless heterosexuality are there for all to see. My trip made me notice, more clearly than before, how these same functions apply in the United States. For that, thank you, India.

Kate "Don't Call Will Durst for a Lifeline, Call Me" Clinton is a humorist. This column is supported by a grant from the Purple Moon Foundation.
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Author:Clinton, Kate
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:750
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