Our fourth and final India blog comes to you from another Pinkie. Tenor Hsien put in MANY hours to make this trip happen, from organising seminars, liaising with the Rainbow Voices Mumbai team, and branding the whole project to handling the vast majority of the logistics! (We think he must have made a clone of himself to have achieved all that he did…). Anyway, this is what the experience meant to him.
We live in a time where forces are trying to separate us, where difference is something to be feared rather than celebrated, and where populism has thrown up barriers between communities both within and without national borders. When, two years ago, the Pink Singers first started planning our trip to India to sing with Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir, we had no idea that the world would change as much as it has, nor could we have predicted that the need for our collaboration would have been as great.
It is a truism that music brings people together, and an international choir collaboration is nothing new, but when two choirs identify as LGBT and perform jointly in a country where being gay is still criminalized, the added dimension creates the opportunity to not only learn about how culture, society and history affect each other’s LGBT experience, but also explore common ground.
The first formal event of the week sought to both analyse this and serve as an ice-breaker, and was a seminar at the American Consulate General in Mumbai. The topic of discussion, “LGBT representation in the arts”, was timely given the partial coming out in the recently published memoirs of Karan Johar, a famous Bollywood actor. While much of the discussion naturally focused on community arts and, in particular, choirs, we had the privilege to be joined by the director Onir whose ground-breaking film “My Brother Nikhil” continues to have ramifications on the film industry today. He gave us a candid insight into the tension between his own coming out and the challenge of carving a career without labels for himself.
It served as a springboard for members of both choirs to discuss their own experiences. Indeed, what the two choirs shared with each other – our stories of coming out, of family pressures, of first dates, of singing in choirs – showed that our similarities were far greater than any differences between us. Judging by how the conversations flowed into dinner and a late night karaoke, there is a strength in the knowledge that we are not alone, and that out there, there is a community of singers just like us.
The joint ”We Shall Overcome” concert at the prestigious National Centre for the Performing Arts Mumbai was an emotional rollercoaster for many of us precisely because of this: in the context of these personal testimonies, every song sung by both choirs took on an added significance. When, as our finale, we sang an a capella version of “We Shall Overcome” together in English and Hindi, it was a moving show of defiance and solidarity from which I could not hold back my tears.
My personal highlight of the whole weekend, however, was marching side-by-side with Rainbow Voices Mumbai at Queer Azaadi Mumbai (Mumbai Pride). It was a raucous, colourful march full of energetic dancing, the sound of drums and singing, but at its core it was also a protest with hand drawn placards and strident chants of Azaadi! (Freedom!), reminding curious onlookers that this was very much a demonstration.
I have now returned to the UK with fantastic memories, newfound friends, a much deeper understanding of the challenges the LGBT community faces there, and a strong desire to help Rainbow Voices Mumbai in their twin fights against Section 377 and for social acceptance. It has also made me appreciate that I cannot take any of my liberties for granted: were it not for the quirk of fate which led me to be born in the right place at the right time, my life could have been very different. It makes all the divisions we seen being artificially created around us, all the more irrelevant. I can’t wait to see Rainbow Voices Mumbai again when they come to London this summer for Pride in London.
We’re still fundraising to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai to the UK, to see what it’s like to march in a Pride parade where everyone can be themselves and live without fear. We’ve raised over £5,000 already, thanks to our supporters’ generosity. We need to double this to bring every member of RVM here in July. Can you help us reach our goal? Donate via our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.