Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Had an amazing conversation over the phone with Y e n L u W o n g. I had googled here based on what little info I had - that she was at U C S D and taught theater - to tell her that I had a book from my mother for her. Turns out she had documented the troupe back in 1976 and kept the films, shot on S8, with the Smithsonian. But wonders! she had also just come back from Yunnan where she was born. Dad was the head of Bank of China so that puts her right up there in KMT China. We have the same ideas about culture, preservation, interpretation of the weaker and the smaller. Plus she was In Tennesse in Knoxville and had an interest in A p p a l a c h i a. I sent her my A p p a l s h o p i n C h i n a article.

Heady day over all. Met up with B a b l o o at the W i t n e s s office, so spanking new ay 8 0 H a n s e n P l a c e I wcouldn't even find the door! S a m and A d i t i were nic eand am not sure why they needed me to recut Tamyaima's Soldiers in Sarongs. The soundtracks are a problem. I spenty 5 nights doing S a n a m a c h a' s S t o r y with M i c h e l l e; can't do it for free. W'll see = but got to ask if Witness might be intersted in funding the film S t e v e n wants to do. I am glad he agrees B should be the central figure, or one of the central figures. Plus W i t n e s s worls with organizations not individuals and I think ours should be an indie. Perhaps F r o n t l i n e.

Over coffee with B we talked about my recnt trip. I told him what I told T a m o G a n g m u m e i : that the problem is that the M e i t e i s do not have a coherent historical vision of their future. Perplexed, he aske me what we should do. What an amazing question. I told him about my projects in re-mapping" - that's about all I can do as a cultural worker. He agrees independence is out of the question, or at least very difficult. Interesting to hear about Lichtenstein's 1993 proposal.

I also tested out my summer epiphany: that we love things mayang and I n d i a n but cannot take to being ruled by them. That I think is a place to start.

I don't think we will have time and space to talk about our film at S's on Thursday. Maybe I will still invite B.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Finally met C h r i s for coffee today. The usual dinner at 66 and broadway. Love being able to say I have an agent - and with ICM too! Haha.

Nice guy. i like him. C o n c o r d, M a s s. He's lost weight so we talked gym and I had tons of advice. He's working on a diet book. Turns out he did submit the proposal to NatGeo so I need to follow up with J e n n y. I also talked to him about my baseball = I think if we can get someone like R u s t y S t a u b on, as M i k e suggests, we can make something of this mets thing.

Dashed down to Chelsea to meet K a t h y and R o b e r t o. I think they finally got it that i am pissed I missd the deadline for the C P B. my NY projects barely budged in my absence. You want something done, you have to do it it seems. At least not until I am powerful enought to take meeiting in my bathrobe. Hehe.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Manipur never ceases to confound me.

So here I am, doing my dutiful research with seriousness of purpose. I go with Muna and Zabeth to the latter’s neighborhood Kang festival. I am taking pictures of the festival, focusing on traditional rice products from paddy necklaces to Laloo candy.

On the way back, Muna jokes that the homos are preparing for the evening. I almost drop the camera in the car. A Homo Dance for Kang? This I must see of course.

So we turn back, after I leave my sneakers behind and slipping on some flip-flops for access to the temple area.

The temple mantop fills slowly, everyone filled with anticipation for the evening’s performances. My cousin astonishes me by taking center stage in the Joidep sing-along they start out with. She’s such a sly one. Then follows the young maidens Chali dance. It goes on for quite a while, some dancers being quite accomplished. The last presentation by two handsome gay boys, dressed all in traditional temple white. The lights go off and they perform by candlelight, first a solo by the cute fair one and then a solo by the tall dark and handsome guy and then their duet. Oh my. Traditionally performed by a man and a woman, the dance brings to life the murals that circle the temple mantop. The Ten Incarnations of Vishnu,

They were excellent, and indeed they turned out to be professional trained dancers. Many young men watch, but since Manipuri boys tend to hold hands or wrap their arms around each other, gay signifiers of the West fall to pieces.

But how did they come up with this idea of presenting a traditional composition, by Oja Babu, no less, in a holy festival? And the na├»vete, the nerve, to call it the Homo Joidep! None of the imported “Khush” business here where it is evident some NYU grad came back and decided to translate “gay” back home. And I don’t think even using an epithet to empower themselves, like, say, the N word. The folks call them Homos, so Homos they were. Sure, I heard a few homophobic comments, but of the mild run-of-the-mill prejudice variety. But empowered they surely were and visible too, bringing in a modern gay consciousness, entirely homegrown, into a modern continuation of a living tradition. The closet analogy I could think of was Sandi and that gay curator at the Jewish Museum doing a Drag Purim at Rodeth Shalom, was it?, on the Upper West Side. But not quite, for there was a refreshing freedom from irony. No wink and a nudge here. Just an offering by two gay boys to the gods.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Arvind thinks the Tamenglong is lousy. Of course too polite to say just that, but I could tell. Specifically too smoky. Which I agree. It was a blind test.

When I told him what it was, he thought it was like Cachar tea. Derisively called “kachra”. I told him he “knows” too much about tea. We don’t need the Indian Tea Board to determine what Tamenglong is like.

But his export experience and his knowledge of tea will be useful. Just gotta teach him about Manipur tea, that’s all.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

So M says to me" "There is a Homo Joidep tonight." Just like that. Maybe a chuckle. And I go "Whoa! Come again?" We had just come back looking at Kang and photographing various ritual uses of rice for my Rice Queen project. So we go back to videotape some more after I leave my shoes behind. Cousin L is there when we got back = turns out she is the lead singer. The temple is all closed and people sit on the mats all around. I love the paintings of the incarnations of Vishnu.

The Homo Joidep is the last act. I mean it has got to be the most coolly radical expression of cay culture I have ever encountered. Right from the very use of the term Homo. Empowerment? Taking the sting out of an epithet? Ironic? Yes, all perhaps but I suspect even more. Like is less is more.

The boys are good dancers. They too do the 10 incarnations - choreography by, as it turned out. O j a B. So we are talking high art performance. (I don't use classical any more) Plus in a traditional venue in a traditional way. Yet it goes beyond the usual rituals and performance avenues for homosexuality in traditional cultures. They are gay in a modern way but without taking cues fro the post-industrial West. I mean, the Indian word for gay is khush, which literally translates as gay. So one imagine an Indian gayboi at NYU going back all empowered in Gay pride.

But no, this is more like the gay Purim at Rodeth Shalom (?) that Andy (aka Esther in drag) and Sandi told me about. Without the irony. A bit like Farmer Tom who dressed in women's clothes up in Vermont where L and J used to live. (Wife to Mrs. K: I don't mind ironing his dresses but I will not iron his underwear). He is Tom first and then Tom-Who-Wears-Dresses second. So with the boys I suspect. Basically accepting with a few homophobic catcalls.

I must research more. A whole new way to gay culture. I think this is astounding.