November 02, 2007

Fairy Tales

Published in Time Out Delhi, Nov 2-15, 2007 (Gay & Lesbian Section)
When it was released in July this year, I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This, the last book in a seven-part series, was the first one I had skipped reading: Potter-fatigue had finally taken over an enthusiasm begun ten years earlier. But after author JK Rowling’s recent announcement that Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay, you bet I will be poring over the entire series again to find out if my gaydar had missed out any clues.

It seems not. For sure, my gaydar is a fairly new acquisition: and I am amazed (and delighted) at how much acquiring it has changed life, every time I am pointed out or discover afresh a homoerotic subtext in a movie or book I’d seen or read earlier. However, Rowling’s announcement seems to have caught most people unawares, and only a small minority of Potter afficionadoes claim they were unsurprised by it.

Reading queerly, of course, is an audience/readers’ strategy. It is the way queer audiences and readers have sneaked past heteronormativity, creating and celebrating their own subcultures. Unlike this time, where an author herself is claiming gayness for a character, not in any of the seven books, but ex post facto. This has bewildered and infuriated many of her fans, for very different reasons. There is the usual intolerant, bigoted, anti-gay brigade. Indignation is also rife among some queer and feminist readers who think that Rowling has done too little, too late. By not being explicit about Dumbledore’s attraction to a man who he was later forced to become enemies with, even though it was “a key part of the ending of the story”, they say, she has in fact fallen into the trap of silencing and invisiblising the queer experience.

In some ways, we in India can celebrate Rowling’s delayed outing of Dumbledore with far fewer reservations, because we know what it is to need to keep our lives hidden and protected, to be cautious and slow to trust. And who better to bear the burden of being a gay icon than Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore? The most venerable of them all, with a flowing white beard et al. A fount of wisdom.

The fame of Dumbledore’s prize student has taken the news about Dumbledore to even the smallest Indian suburb. On October 20, it was a screaming font story in every newspaper. No doubt this is not something that can be hidden very long from children who trawl the voluminous “fan fiction” surrounding the Harry Potter books over the internet. So, will our Indian parents now forbid their children from reading Harry Potter? Meanwhile I’m glad my friend had a copy of Deathly Hollows so I can read it and look for clues.

Finally, this retrospective announcement by Rowling forces us to figure out if the author’s mere intention about a character impacts the readers’ reading of the work. After all, in the Harry Potter story, everything happened the way it did, everything is as it always was. And yet, we know it is different, don’t we?

By the way, this fortnight do make time to catch Danger Zone, the Pandies' Theatre play (see listings). The second episode is based on hard research conducted over two years, on the lives of lesbian women living in Delhi's bastis at Dakshinpuri, Seelampur and Todapur. The play looks at the lives of a lesbian couple from childhood to middle-age facing the onslaughts of patriarchy and right-wing hatred, a struggle complicated even further by poverty.

No comments:

Post a Comment