The song of acceptance

The song of acceptance

The new music video ‘I Am Who I Am’ will strike a chord with anyone who knows that decriminalisation has not put an end to the woes of queer people, writes Chintan Girish Modi

Author Sharif D Rangnekar, whose memoir Straight to Normal: My Life As a Gay Man released in 2019, is out with a new music video titled I Am Who I Am this year. Shot, produced and edited during the lockdown, it strikes a note of much-needed optimism amidst the overwhelming despair brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The song itself was written in the year 2015. “When I started out, the song had more to do with my gay identity. As I moved from verse to verse, other thoughts crept into my lyrics. I began to wonder about the many layers of identity and choice; that is why I also talk about colour, race and faith,” says Rangnekar, frontman of the Delhi-based indie band Friends of Linger, and also the founder of Rainbow Literature Festival.

The video was put together using footage sourced from the individuals who appear in it, and from the archives of Gaylaxy — a precious digital resource for queer communities in India. Due to the limitations posed by physical distancing during the pandemic, the collaboration and coordination took place via phone calls and online tools such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The video is available on YouTube. Rangnekar features queer people working in various fields. His cast includes mural artist Shanthi Muniswamy, singer-songwriter John Oinam, puppeteer Varun Narain, journalist Dhrubo Jyoti, disability rights activist Shivangi Agrawal, Mr Gay World 2016 Anwesh Sahoo, engineer-filmmaker Sukhdeep Singh, musician Smruti Jalpur, drag artist Betta Naan Stop, and storyteller Pavel Sagolsem.

“It was an instinctive selection of people. To me, each person stands out for who they are. And that is what counts most,” says Rangnekar. The joy they bring to the screen is completely in keeping with the lyrics written and sung by him, and further enhanced by the indie acoustic duo Chayan and Smiti singing a cappella. Adhir Ghosh is on the guitar, while Siddharth Jain is on the drums. This song echoes former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s words in a landmark Supreme Court judgement on September 6, 2018, when he declared that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional “in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex.” He quoted German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who had said, “I am what I am, so take me as I am.”

One of the most poignant lines in Rangnekar’s song is “I don’t want to die cause I am who I am.” It will strike a chord with anyone who knows that decriminalisation has not put an end to the woes of queer people. In May 2020, the suicide of a bisexual woman named Anjana Hareesh in Goa was a major blow for the queer community in India. It was reported that her parents forced her to undergo ‘conversion therapy’, hoping that it would alter her sexual orientation and make her ‘normal’. Rangnekar’s memoir offers a vivid account of how he too had to “battle bouts of confusion, vulnerability, fear, dejection and depression... in order to thwart the desire to kill himself and find a reason to live.” Fortunately, his entire family embraced him with open arms. Not everyone is as lucky. His mother Veena, who is a naturopath, is also part of the music video alongside other allies who cheer on as Rangnekar sings, “God is the reason why I am who I am/ Nature is the reason why I am who I am.”

(Not Only But Also is a regular column with a fresh take on gender, sexuality, and more. The author is a Mumbai-based writer, educator, and researcher. He tweets @chintan_connect.)