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 naïvete, 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.