Balbir Krishan has come a long way. Shunned by his family, attacked by vandals, he retains a voice that cannot be silenced. He has found love too, writes SHAILAJA TRIPATHI
It is as if Balbir Krishan is caught in a whirlwind of emotions wherein he has not a clue about his state of mind. If on the personal front, life has moved ahead — he is marrying his partner Mike in the US in June 2014 — professionally, Balbir is dealing with yet another incident when his voice has been muffled. While his second solo show, at Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) in 2012 witnessed violence — his paintings were vandalised and he was beaten up — his third solo ‘My Bed of Roses’ at Muse Art Gallery in Hyderabad was taken off a day after it was inaugurated on November 30th this year. “There was no violence. The exhibition was taken off without telling me and I came to know through Facebook, the next morning. I was on such a high because it was after a lot of support from people like Ram Rahman, spaces like Engendered and my partner Mike, that I had gathered courage to paint again and paint so freely. But that morning I felt, I had been stripped naked in a bazaar. And all because some influential people who visited the gallery objected to it and the gallery owner didn’t want any hassles so he took it off,” says Balbir, who is now waiting for his 45 paintings to return from Hyderabad.
For this differently-abled Uttar Pradesh artist trained in fine arts from B.R.A. University, Agra, human body has been a subject of interest. His sexual predilection further sensitised him to the issues of gender and sexuality, which led him to engage with them in his art practice. “I think what makes me more vulnerable is that I am gay. And what really bothers people is that I celebrate being gay. I feel proud to be gay but they don’t realise that it’s not out of any compulsion that I am painting the subject matter. That’s my voice…those are my concerns but in my last show, not every painting was dealing with homosexuality. There were different kinds of works and I wonder what problem could anybody have with it,” wonders the artist.
Post the attack on his LKA show, an anxious Balbir had decided to go back to his village in Baghpat to lead an anonymous life, quietly teaching art in a government college in Budhana, but people like Ram Rahman, Sunil Gupta requested him to stay back. “Engendered’s Myna Mukherjee gave me so much support that I gained my voice back. For a group show, she asked me to paint the story of Shiva and Mohini and the birth of Ayyappa. I got so much praise for it. Nobody objected. Who was Mohini? She was an avatar of Vishnu.”
While his professional life was getting back to normal, his personal life hit a low note. “I had not come out formally and openly. In a village it’s not possible to do that either but slowly information started reaching there after the LKA incident and first I lost my partner of 13 years whose surname I still retain. He was facing difficulties and that’s when it ended.” He then met Mike, who had been quietly pursuing him for a while and the duo got engaged earlier this year. “I am not hiding myself any more. So I posted my engagement pictures after which my family stopped speaking to me. It’s not easy to let go of your family.”
At the college too in Budhana, parents are scared to send their kids to his class. “They feel I might attack their kids. Colleagues too have different ideas about me. Moreover, Mike is forever concerned about my safety there so I don’t know what to do with my job. I can’t even walk so what if somebody attacks me, I won’t be even able to run. The issue has reached the khap of the area so I am concerned but anywhere we go we are criminals now. This Supreme Court judgement is like as if somebody has told me not to breathe. But can I stop living? Can somebody dismiss us just because we are few in numbers? Seventeen years ago, when I was lying in the hospital with both my legs amputated, I was still checking out good looking guys in the ward. You are either a gay or you are not. ”