Pravartak (or Naya Pravartak) was the house journal of the erstwhile Kolkata-based queer support group Counsel Club (1993-2002). The journal’s eighth issue covered the period January to July 1997. Some excerpts from its editorial titled Growth Pains are shared here:

“Growing up invariably provides reasons for introspection – looking behind, within and beyond. Here one is trying to gather up pieces of one’s life and make a pattern out of it. And before one knows anything, one is four years old, grappling with questions, issues and responsibilities, some quite unforeseen, and not always sure if one is up to it.

“Growing up brings change – for better or for worse. One begins with monthly meetings where mostly work is discussed. As more and more people start attending, one feels the need for regular social gatherings. And so begin the social meetings, where newcomers need not plunge head on into work, where they realize that there is much more to life than loneliness and nervously cruising parks and urinals.

“Changes come from outside too. One fine day, without a warning, the venue for Counsel Club’s monthly meetings for the last three years becomes out of bounds. The landlord (of the member whose residence was the venue) objects to ‘anti-social activities’ and refuses to let any more of it go on under his roof! Luckily, an alternative venue is found and scattered pieces start falling in place again.

“One keeps growing and things start getting more and more diffused. It seems just the other day that all correspondence and counselling duties got carried out smoothly. Then suddenly letters seem to pile up, appointments get missed, tempers are raised and sentiments get hurt.”

Quote: The issue of ‘loneliness’, however, is likely to be a common thread through generations of queer lives. And the response to loneliness today or any other time also has to be what it was in the 1990s – the reassuring presence of another human (or a group of humans) who can empathize with you. The presence, at least some of the time, needs to be ‘physical’ rather than ‘virtual’, even if ‘X’ metres apart.

It’s possible that the Gen X readers of Varta, especially the queer activists, will feel a twinge of nostalgia reading this article penned by Counsel Club members Partha and Pawan. For some of the Gen Y and Gen Z readers, on the other hand, issues like ‘monthly meetings’, ‘meeting venues’ and ‘letters piling up’ may feel a tad alien. They may wonder what all the brouhaha was about.

Perhaps if they think about not being able to hang out in their favourite café during the coronavirus lockdown, they might get a sense of what it was like for a fledgling queer support group in the 1990s to suddenly not have a regular place to meet in. Also, ‘cruising parks and urinals’ could be replaced with ‘cruising on dating apps’ and ‘letters piling up’ with an ‘internet shutdown’?

The issue of ‘loneliness’, however, is likely to be a common thread through generations of queer lives. And the response to loneliness today or any other time also has to be what it was in the 1990s – the reassuring presence of another human (or a group of humans) who can empathize with you. The presence, at least some of the time, needs to be ‘physical’ rather than ‘virtual’, even if ‘X’ metres apart. Not discounting the benefits of social media and video calls or conferences, a certain degree of physical togetherness is irreplaceable for community mobilization and group engagement, transparency and accountability.

The full text of the article Growth Pains can be read here, but here are a couple of parting excerpts – particularly for those interested in forming and running queer support forums or already doing so:

“So does one write oneself off as a group? Or does one try to learn from one’s mistakes and stagger on?

“These questions force one to confront the issue of ‘group health’. The group must grow healthy if it is to help others improve their mental and physical health. But this requires self-introspection by each member. Each member needs to examine his or her ‘honesty of purpose’ in belonging to the group and in participating in its activities . . .”

Many of these issues apply also to Varta Trust as an organization.

See here a short film on Varta webzine completing seven years on August 1, 2020 – Editor.

About the main illustration: Snapshot from the January-July 1997 issue of Pravartak journal published by the erstwhile queer support group Counsel Club. Graphic credit: Pawan Dhall