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Look Beyond The Binary View: Understanding Gender Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’

The binary gender concept is so deeply embedded in our global society that any dialogue around gender fluidity is frowned upon.

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Gender Identity

While it may seem like a novel concept to some, societies, all over the world, have a long-standing history of conforming to a non-binary view on gender. Going beyond a binary view on gender not only broadens the spectrum of expression, for individual gender identity, but also removes any social hurdles, for the same, through the creation of a safe space.

Before we dive into an explanation, it is important, as a reader, to understand what the binary gender model actually is and the manner in which it leads to the concepts of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ being used as interchangeable terms.

The binary gender model proposes that there are only two genders, male and female. Consequently, the binary model  for gender does not factor in the complete spectrum for actual individual gender identity and its expression. This, invariably, leads to the idea that a person can only belong to either gender (He or She). This forced conformity to two gender identities, through the binary gender model, leads to the concepts of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ being used as interchangeable terms, which, categorically, is not the case. An individual’s sex is biological while their gender pertains to their self-identity. The two cannot be viewed as a singular concept.

What is Gender?

Gender, essentially, is an individual’s identity based on how they feel about themselves. The concept of gender is built on two components, namely ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’. 

Gender identity is self-defined and its expression is constructed based on an individual’s external and social expressions. 

As mentioned earlier, while the majority of the world may present gender fluidity as a novel concept, the idea that gender is binary, however, is not universal. Historically, numerous cultures, societies and religions have been engaging in a dialogue of gender fluidity as part of their societal and cultural identity. For example, Jainism, in the 5th century, itself, adapted to the idea of the ‘third gender’. As suggested by their religious text ‘Tattvartha Sutra’, all beings possess one of the three genders: Male, female or the third gender which was referred to as ‘Nampusaka’. 

What are some of the Gender Identities? 

When speaking of gender, it is important to understand that it is a spectrum. Understandably, all of this can seem confusing to the uninitiated. It is critical, however, that an attempt, to understand and accept the identity of others, be made, regardless of any existing confusion. Let’s take a look at some of these gender identities.

  • Agender: A person who doesn’t identify with any particular gender and may have no gender at all.  
  • Androgyne: A person whose gender is both masculine and feminine or in between the two. 
  • Bigender: A person who has two genders. A Bigender person reflects typical cultural male and female roles. 
  • Cisgender: A person who is cisgender identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. 
  • Genderfluid: A person whose gender shifts within or outside the society-based expectations and definitions of gender. Their gender experiences fluid motion between two or more genders. 
  • Masculine of center: This term is often used by either lesbians or trans folks who experience their gender identity or expression leaning more towards masculinity. 
  • Non-Binary: A person who identifies as non-binary does not experience gender within its binary spectrum. Some people who identify as non-binary experience expressions and identities that overlap with other genders like non-conforming and gender expansive.
  • Omnigender: A person who identifies as an omnigender possesses and has experiences of all genders. 
  • Pangender: A person who identifies as pangender exhibits characteristics of multiple genders. 
  • Transgender: Transgender is an umbrella term that includes all people who identify with a gender other than what their sex assigned at birth would suggest. 
  • Trans: As defined by GLAAD, the term is “used as shorthand to mean transgender or transsexual – or sometimes to be inclusive of a wide variety of identities under the transgender umbrella.”
  • Two Spirits: It is an umbrella term that includes different sexualities and genders in the Indigenous Native American Community.

While the list above is not a comprehensive one, it is an attempt to make the world a little more familiar with the fluidity that exists within gender identity. Individuals who do not conform or identify with predetermined gender identities, often, find themselves at odds with socio-cultural institutions and practices. Gender is deeply personal and its individual expression should not be seen as a challenge or a hurdle to overcome. It is time that we, as a society, gain a more better perspective on it.

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Humara Spectrum

Pride In Stories: 10 LGBTQ+ Books by Indian Authors

We’ve rounded up some excellent LGBTQ+ books, both fiction and nonfiction, by Indian authors that you must check out.

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Pride Books

The stories and narratives of the queer community and homosexuality have never found a place in mainstream India. Only recently, one can find stacks of queer and LGBTQ+ books amongst the many fiction and nonfiction paperbacks. Especially in India, the fight for gay rights had been extremely difficult. Considering a time of post 2000s in India, it was impossible to write novels and stories on homosexuality, or for gay writers to write their own memoirs freely and openly lest they be charged under obscenity. Since, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and eradicating hetero-normativity continues, we’ve rounded up some LGBTQ+ books, by Indian authors, both fiction and nonfiction, from different eras of India, that you must check out to gain insight, learn, unlearn, introspect, and also identify your own selves. 

Kari by Amruta Patil

Kari is an LGBTQ+ graphic fiction novel by Amruta Patil, India’s first female graphic author. The novel follows the visible and hidden struggles of a lesbian couple – Kari (the protagonist) and Ruth. The events unfold in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, highlighting that even the progressive of the cities are deeply hetero-normative. Amruta Patil has used unapologetically raw and powerful illustrations for the novel, which will speak to you louder than words. 

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

Funny Boy is a LGBTQ+ book, narrating the story of Arjie, born in a wealthy Tamil family, who prefers dressing as a girl and playing with his girl cousins rather than play cricket with his brother. His father sends him to a school which would spark the ‘masculine’ in him. The novel consists of six stories, narrating Arjie’s coming of age and his exploration of his sexuality. All this is present against the background of political unrest in Sri Lanka. Shyam Selvadurai gives a poignant vision of the political and the personal, which will offer you a plethora of socio-political insights.

Lihaaf by Ismat Chugtai

Lihaaf was written in 1942, in unpartitioned India, when the norms of the society were stricter, rigid and even more conservative than what we’ve today. Lihaaf is one of many of Ismat Chugtai’s bold and unapologetic stories. This novel even landed Ismat Chughtai in a criminal offence for ‘obscenity.’ This fiction is written from the point of view of a little girl who visits the household of Begum Jaan and his husband Nawab Sahab. Nawab Sahab, however, stays away from home most of the time, engaged in other businesses. Begum Jaan yearns for a relationship of love in her loneliness. This is when she finds it with a female servant. Since the story is told by the pov of a little girl, Ismat Chughtai, very wittingly uses indirect words and actions to convey the homosexual acts which unfold between the two. 

Loving Women: Being Lesbian in Underprivileged India by Maya Sharma

This nonfiction LGBTQ+ book is a collection of ten stories based on research. These stories are not from the elitist points of view, but Maya Sharma brings the stories of lesbians from the underprivileged sections of India, particularly rural India. The writer tracks how the women’s movement in India has failed to include female sexuality. This is an exceptionally insightful read on homosexuality, with a different research methodology. 

A life Apart by Neel Mukherjee

A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee is a fiction, a story within a story. Simply stated, it is a story of two migrants. Ritwik is a young gay Indian man travels from India to UK after the death of his parents and takes up a scholarship to study English literature at Oxford. He wants to build his future far from painful memories of Calcutta. During his stay, Ritwik pens down the story of an educated British woman, Miss Gilby, who joins her bureaucrat brother in Raj era Bengal. Against the backdrop of political and social upheaval in Bengal, she takes English tuitions. 

Me Hijra, Me Laxmi by Laxminarayan Tripathi

Me Hijra, me Laxmi, is a memoir (nonfiction) of Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the eldest son of an orthodox Brahmin family, who became Laxmi, a hijra. Laxmi was born a male with male organs. At a tender age, she realised her needs as a woman. There was agony and trauma because she felt her body betraying her own self. This first hand perspective educates the readers about the Hijra community, and the anguish and the difficulties they go through. 

The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattnaik

This LGBTQ+ book by Devdutt Pattanaik has is about king Yavanasha, who accidentally drinks a magic potion that was meant for his wives, and ends up becoming pregnant. The novel poses a question – who is Yavanasha now? The story blurs the line between genders, between woman and man, and explores the question of sexual identities.

Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History by Ruth Vanita & Saleem Kidwai

Same-Sex Love in India presents an array of writings on homosexuality and same-sex love from over 2000 years of Indian literature from a myriad of scriptures and texts from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and modern fictional traditions. These collections of writings testify to the presence of same-sex love in various forms, depicting the gender and sexual fluidity in ancient India. Through this, it attempts to discard homophobia as a ‘western influence.’ Same Sex Love in India is one of the most revered nonfiction reads on LGBTQ+ community.

Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

Mohanaswamy is one of the most bold LGBTQ+ books in the Kannada literary scene. It was released in 2013. The book is semi-autobiographical since this was a coming out of the closet for Vasudhendra, the author, too. Mohanaswamy, is the story of exploration of sexuality, relationships, and life events in the face of being gay. The book highlights the harsh realities of being queer in India. This LGBTQ+ book is divided into short stories.

Our Lives, Our Words: Telling Aravani Stories by A. Revathi

A. Revathi brings the voices of the marginalised communities of trans women in this nonfiction LGBTQ+ book. The Hijra community has been perceived as objects of amusement and metaphors. They lack a concrete history and visibility in society. This documentation of trans women from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu brings forth first hand perspectives and experiences of the Hijra community – the agony, anguish, childhood trauma, and the rejection they have faced from the society. 

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte (Illustrated by Priya Dali)

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte is a LGBTQ+ book for children. It is difficult to find children’s fiction discussing sexuality, inclusivity, homosexuality and queerness in such a refreshing way. It is a heartfelt story of Karan, who, when not in school, is in his cupboard. Even while playing with his friends, he’d come back soon and be in his cupboard. The beautiful illustrations depict a hopefulness for inclusivity and is an amazing way to initiate a conversation with both adults and children on homosexuality.

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Humara Spectrum

Moving Away From The Heteronormative Lens: Examining Queer Art

Queer Art is still in its nascent stage, where the artists channel their efforts into sharing experiences through art.

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Pride

Art has always had a political undertone. When you really look beyond the aspects of form, medium or, even, style, the core idea, behind it all, is intrinsically tied to storytelling. It seems appropriate, then, that the LGBTQIA+ community has been using art to tell their personal stories and drive political movements since time immemorial.

Modern history has, of course, borne witness to several works that are central to the queer community. However, it’s bordering on being erroneous to assume that queer art is a contemporary effort. You only have to look at Ancient Greek or Indian literature and art to see the truth in this statement.

The critical point of difference between ancient and modern queer art is that the latter is imbued with a focused intention. While ancient queer artistic works leaned towards the idea of ‘creativity above everything else’, modern artwork, centred around the LGBTQIA+ community, has always attempted to strike a balance between ‘creativity’ and ‘storytelling’.

That’s a crucial point to note before going any further. After all, the entire point of this article is to celebrate the manner in which the LGBTQIA+ community has effectively deployed art as a tool to reform socio-political views.

Going back a century, archaic laws and repressive policies were still in effect, predominantly being used to oppress any minority groups that didn’t adhere to heteronormative ideas. Ever since then, the LGBTQIA+ community has addressed these issues, blatantly or otherwise. From photography to abstract painting, queer art has been consistently working towards giving the community its rightful voice back.

Frida Kahlo has been a prominent figure in this effort. Her 1940 piece, titled ‘Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair’, was an iconic statement at the time. Depicting the artist in a suit, with her freshly chopped hair strewn all about her, the painting was instrumental in driving home the idea that gender was a fluid concept. Back then, it was almost an unimaginable thing for a woman to wear a suit, let alone sport cropped hair.

Fast forward to the roaring 60s, Diane Arbus began to get her photographs published in the leading magazines at the time. Arbus, who was bisexual, spent a lot of time capturing the experiences of marginalized groups. It was, perhaps, a shocking experience for the masses to see pictures celebrating drag queens on the issues of esteemed magazines. That, alone, served as a significant avenue for the general public to get acquainted with what was wholly ‘alien’ to them. The option of just flat out refusing to acknowledge the queer community wasn’t available anymore.

The 60s also marked a shift in the social perception of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Stonewall riots in ’69, for instance, had a massive impact on the queer community’s visibility. Up until that point, comparatively speaking, there hadn’t been such an event that demonstrated the community’s unwillingness to bear the intolerance directed towards them.

Still, it’s interesting to note that there was a certain discrepancy when it came to the queer community itself. For example, Yves Saint-Laurent, the co-founder of the fashion label ‘Saint-Laurent’, never had to deny his sexuality in the first place. Even so, this discrepancy did not translate to complacency. As a matter of fact, Saint-Laurent’s ‘Rive Gauche’ collection was an attempt to even out the playing field when it came heteronormative fashion.

Queer Art, perhaps, had never been more vital than it was during the AIDS pandemic in the 80s. At the time, medical concern devolved into unfounded dogma that eventually lead to the LGBTQIA+ community being unfairly stigmatized. There are plenty of artistic pieces that fought back against this. Even to this day, mainstream entertainment media continues to explore the circumstances surrounding that period.

A notable piece that deserves a mention, in this context, is Keith Vaughan’s ‘Drawing of Two Men Kissing’. While the piece, itself, was finished sometime before ’73, it did hold immense significance to the queer community during that time.

It would, indeed, take more than a simple article to comprehensively examine the LGBTQIA+ community’s relationship with art. It doesn’t, however, take more than a minute to acknowledge the difference it has made over the years.

The one thing that serves as a hopeful beacon is the fact that, considering everything, Queer Art is still in its nascent stage. Think about it. The artists who came before had to exclusively focus on fighting prejudice against the community. Now, with a growing support building behind them, queer artists can also channel their efforts into sharing experiences through their preferred artistic medium.

There is so much that we have yet to see. And, without any doubt whatsoever, all of it is
going to be truly beautiful.

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Humara Spectrum

Voices on Stage: Looking At The Stories Of The LGBTQIA+ Community

The LGBTQIA+ community has several stories that they need to tell. Theatre lends an image to decades of untold tales.

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Queer Theatre

Conversations in India are always a tempestuous thing. More often than not, archaic notions and beliefs tend to overshadow an objective perspective. 

In the context of communities and groups that differ from the so-called normative sphere, a typical response to any discussion surrounding them is: Haven’t we already become more tolerant? Well, that’s not really the case. Moreover, tolerance isn’t the same as acceptance.

Considering how long the LGBTQIA+ community has faced bigotry and persecution in this country, it’s crucial to understand that conversations around the queer experience will never stop being relevant. After all, the country, as a collective, has repressed their voice for an unimaginable length of time. It’s only right that we, now, listen.

What are some platforms, then, that let us hear what the LGBTQIA+ community has to say? Off the top, theatre is one such example. The obvious artistic nature of the platform meshes incredibly well with the voice of the queer artists and performers. It lets them say the things that needed to be said for the longest time. More importantly, the platform allows for the disclosure of our country’s ancient ties with the LGBTQIA+ community.

Consider this example. A little over two years ago, the G5A centre saw a beautiful play being enacted on its stage. The name of the production was ‘Even Mists Have Silver Linings’. An original play, the production was a glimpse into the authentic experiences of the queer community in this country.

What is more interesting, however, is how the audience reacted to the play. Before being allowed to see it, each audience member had to partake in a survey that primarily measured the audience’s knowledge and attitude towards the LGBTQIA+ community. 

The results of that survey showed that the audience rated the performances of the actors above all else. The information presented through the story came in right after that. This is fascinating for two reasons. 

First, it goes to show that Indian society, as of now, is receptive to learning more about the queer experience in this country. Second, the aesthetic experience or the format in which information is presented is significant as well.

Still, ask yourself this. Should the LGBTQIA+ community shape and mould their stories in a way that is palatable to us? Wouldn’t that detract from their experiences?

A more nuanced way to go about it would be to shape the audience first. Indeed, stories tend to lose their value when being forced into a certain box. This is even more relevant in the context of human experiences. Ideally, we should all be working towards a place where people are allowed to express themselves in a way that is true to who they are as human beings and individuals.

Don’t get it wrong here. ‘Even Mists Have A Silver Lining’ was a massive success. What’s more, it was a landmark in theatre production and original storytelling. The one place that needs more work, in relation to the play, is our own perspective.

In the context of theatre and the queer community, we need to look past formats and other elements such as performance quality. It’s essential you understand why.

The LGBTQIA+ community has several stories that they need to tell. Even more, all of them need to be heard. What theatre is doing for these stories is something that is unprecedented. It’s giving these human experiences a voice. More importantly, as a visual platform, it’s making that voice difficult to ignore any longer.

When we prescribe more significance to secondary elements rather than focusing on what is actually being said, we are, essentially, pulling back on being more inclusive. 

Think about it. What you read and hear may be forgotten after a period of time. Books need to be re-read and understood once more. Songs need to be heard again. A picture, however, will burn itself in our memory, washing away any ignorance that we could hold on to.

Theatre does exactly that for the LGBTQIA+ community. It lends an image to decades of untold tales. It’s only right then that we muster the courage to look.

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Humara Spectrum

5 Plays that Impacted Queer Theatre History

The plays which shaped the Queer Theatre History and influenced the LGBTQ movement struggle, spotlighting the lives of the queer community.

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Queer Theatre

Theatre has always been a space for conversations, art, representation, and revolutions. It has been used as a space for self expression and the creation of personal and different perspectives. Queer Theatre is a generic term for gay theatre, which covered musicals, plays, and dramas on and around the stories of gay people, their lives, struggles. During the inception of Queer Theatre, the plays unravelled the deep homophobia and heteronormativity in the society, which concealed the presence of the queer people. Queer Theatre History not only reflects the participation of the queer community as artists but also the social conditions they were living in. Queer plays and dramas were often banned under the tags of ‘obscenity’ and ‘unacceptable’. Censorship and State laws worked maliciously against gay writers and gay actors. 

Queer Theatre History is a window to the history of the queer community and the LGBTQ struggle. Here are some of these plays which affected queer theatre history:

The Captive by Edourad Bourdet (1926)

The Captive by Édouard Bourdet was one of the first plays to portray lesbianism on Broadway when it was first performed in 1926. The three-act melodrama follows a young woman trying to forget her love for another woman by marrying a man who is deeply in love with her. However, the play was shut down after its 160th performance. The critics flagged it for indecency. This play prompted the adoption of a state law dealing with obscenity.

The Drag by Mae West (1927)

Written under the pen name of Jane Mast, The Drag first performed in 1927, Connecticut, is a 3-act drama-comedy play that follows Rolly, a gay man who marries a woman to hide his sexuality and the consequences of this. The Drag had a cast of exclusively gay actors from a Greenwich Village club. The play was a huge financial success. However, The Drag by Mae West saw major outrage for the depiction of homosexuality and cross-dressing and was banned for portrayal of indecency. It is one of the most significant plays in the queer theatre history.

The Boys in the band by Mart Crowly (1968)

By the late 1960s, activists made a case for gay visibility and protection. The Boys in the Band, debuting off-Broadway at Theatre Four in 1968, was one of the first plays to place homosexuality as its central plot, majorly putting a spotlight on the struggles of homosexuals. It was frank and unapologetic; the brashness and honesty of the play proved to be a game changer and ran for 1001 performances.

Bent by Martin Sherman (1978)

Sherman’s play, Bent, was one of the first ones to showcase the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust period. It took the world by storm when it was first performed in the Royal Court Theatre in 1979, shocking the audience and shining light on the treatment towards homosexuals. The plot follows Max, a gay man taken to Dachau with his boyfriend after the Night of Long Knives. After his boyfriend is beaten to death, Max falls in love with another gay man in the camp.

Eve by Jo Clifford (2017)

Written by the successful trans woman, Jo Clifford, Eve is a story of a child who was raised as a boy but always knew that they were in the wrong skin. Growing up to become 2017’s most Outstanding Women in Scotland, this is a story of Jo Clifford, herself.

While theatricals have been a stage for the privileged, it has also been an effective tool for the marginalised lot to express their identities and stories. When the queer community writes and presents their own stories and struggles, it pushes the hushed conversations into mainstream. Authentic, real life and raw first hand perspectives garnered the spotlight through theatre. The backlash that these plays suffered are a proof of the violence meted by people just for expressing their true identities. Even though, the queer community is coming up front in the society more strongly, heteronormativity and homophobia still lurk around. Queerbaiting and tokenism are prevalent, especially in the media, films, and theatres.

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Humara Spectrum

Honouring Pride Month With A Look Into The Works Of Fantastic LGBTQIA Artists

As Pride Month comes to an end, let’s support these talented queer artists who proudly don the rainbow!

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Art

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

These words surely resonate with us all; after all discovering ourselves is what life is all about. But let us not forget those who have to fight desperately just to be who they are. As the month of June has come upon us, we wish to celebrate the many talented queer artists who are using their art and their platforms to bring a much-needed change to our society. 

Let’s introduce ourselves to Arzoo (she/they) who goes by Arzoodles on Instagram as a force of nature. She is an illustration, animation and graphics designer who has an abundance of charm. Their work is an amazing collision of fun, awareness and a sight for sore eyes. Using art as a form of activism, their work is beyond words. Check out her instagram page to support their art!

Credits: Instagram (Arzoo)
Credits: Instagram (Arzoo)

Sakshi Singh (she/they) knows how to immaculately blend her words with art. A 20 year old poet and artist, they have mastered traditional art as well as digital. Her poetry will hit you at 90 mph, overwhelming you in the best way possible. The way they phrase their words, the aesthetic of their poetries with her original illustrations will simply leave you spell-bound!

Credits: Instagram (Sakshi Singh)
Credits: Instagram (Sakshi Singh)

Next up, let’s meet Actor and Dance & Fashion designer Norden Sherpa. He’s won the Video wars of UTV Bindas and spreads his talent through teaching. Be it Jazz, contemporary, freestyle or Bollywood-he’s got all the range. Speaking of fashion, one can take quite a few styling tips from him! 

Credits: Instagram (Norden Sherpa)
Credits: Instagram (Norden Sherpa)

Singer, Songwriter and Composer John Oinam (he/him) made himself well-known on many reality shows. He reached the Top 10 of the Stage season 2 and was also in the Top 30 of Indian Idol. He’s also the lead vocalist of the band BlueMeadow. He’s a proud proponent of acceptance and self-love and his debut EP is out now! Make sure to show some love!

Credits: YouTube (John Oinam)

Vasu Primlani is an unstoppable force of comedy. But she isn’t just a standup comedian, she’s also a corporate trainer, marathon runner, triathlete, somatic therapist and police trainer. Talk about an impressive resume! Moreover, her passion for environmental protection is also unrivalled. In 2015, she was also awarded the Nari Shakti Award by the Government of India. 

Credits: Instagram (Vasu Primlani)
Credits: Instagram (Vasu Primlani)

Our final artist has lent her artistic touch to many amazing projects. Priya Dali (she/they). They are the art director at Gaysi Family and are amazingly proficient in Art direction, illustrations, Typography and Creative direction. Her art focuses a lot on LGBTQIA themes in hopes of a better tomorrow! Clearly, art is the way to bring change. 

Credits: Instagram (Priya Deli)
Credits: Instagram (Priya Deli)

As this campaign along with pride month comes to an end, it’s important to remind ourselves that the fight isn’t over. Pride isn’t just a big party, but a protest. Speak up, show your support in whatever ways you can. 

And on that note, to all our readers, we wish you a very happy pride month. 

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Ali Akbar Khan
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