How I Came to be Named the ‘Cuntographer of Kabul’
A friend who identifies as queer once said something that had a profound impact on me — that there is a lovely deviousness and defiance to being gay in a place where it’s outlawed. Where you have to skulk around and meet your lover at great risk to your personal safety. That it adds a certain edge to encounters that straight-laced ‘non-gay’ people like me will never experience. There is something to that, I thought.
Suspension of Disbelief
In a time and place where much of our behaviour is subject to Neanderthal laws or the menacing gaze of vigilante groups, defying the code is so much fun. In the pre-adolescent society we have become, this bears some thinking through. Let’s imagine that the same principle could be applied to beef-eating or alcohol. I use the word ‘imagine’ here so clever you will know not to treat the next few paragraphs as anything but concocted.
Imagine how absolutely spectacular the said meat would taste if it were procured and served not in a dirty alleyway hidden from view but at a proper sit-down restaurant, served up not by the much-maligned meat-eaters that vigilante groups have their eyes on but by someone from their own kind? Hmmmm…did I, didn’t I? That’s hardly the point. Conjure up a dark, spectacularly juicy piece of meat that could be mistaken for forbidden fruit. The brain automatically works on over-drive and the anticipatory saliva and hormonal imbalance causes a colossally sumptuous combustion when consumed.
Now onto some real-life deviance. In India, this has become harder than in Afghanistan where I can proudly own up to some happy, institutionalised disobedience. I spent a few months in the country in the winter of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. It was snowing in Kabul and just the right time to knock back some hot toddy over a lovely coal fire or bukhari.
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There were three criteria for being invited. One – you had to be a drinker (duh). Two – you had to want to hang loose and talk sh*t (double duh). Three – you had to respect the code of ethics involved in the disobedience; no putting out photos online, no public display of private fun. So of course I was in.
A Topsy-Turvy Living
The Hash as it was called by us Hashers was a worldwide institution that I only discovered the joys of in prohibition country. Actually, drinking is prohibited in Afghanistan only for Afghans. Expats are welcome to swirl their glasses or pitchers or buckets as the case may be. But being a war zone and one where drinking was restricted to us phoren-log (foreigners) made the whole business of getting it, and then finding a place to store it feel like a mini-adventure.
Before I get to that, I have to talk a little bit about what the Hash is and where it comes from. It’s a fraternity of people who gather on an appointed day each week to drink together and explore the city they are in. The master of ceremonies conducts official business including a roll-call and punishment for those who didn’t attend the previous meeting. She/he is called the Hound. The Hound punishes those who didn’t make it to the previous Hash by calling them to the centre of the circle where everyone is gathered, and asking them to knock back a mug of beer really fast. In this ulta (upside-down) world, the punishment is the reward. Next, the Hound introduces new members.
So there was a Blows Brownies in my group and a Cums in Quarts, a Show Me Your Tatas, an English Knob – in what we called the Kabul HHH or the Kabul Hash House Harriers. Once the naming and shaming is done, the Hound leads the flock – called the Hares on a walk or run around town.
This was especially fun in Kabul because expats were normally not allowed to walk the streets. Even an exercise-averse a**e like me craved a time and space to move about a bit without the bullet-proof vehicle, the windows rolled up.
The Hash was the one place where the code of not-walking was broken. Partly because if you were a Hasher then WTF right? But also because we were flanked by fellow Hashers who were from Afghan security agencies. In my case, the NGO I was contracted to write for, had a Danish head of security who I was in-and-out with in a strictly Hash sort of way. He was a fellow Hasher so he had my back.
Where the Streets Have No Name
As the moniker suggests, the Hash, which has a chapter in virtually every city around the world, is a fine institution that was started by bored British soldiers (who else?) in Kuala Lumpur in the 1930s. Which was also the inter-war period where most days for a solider were off days.
But since war zones aren’t the best places to find people to lay, loose talk and tight talk and everything-about-sex talk, and naming people after all of the above, was the order of the day. As the chapters grew, established conventions came up around them. Because even deviance requires structure you see! So there are Hash songs – sample this.
A Soldier I Will Be.
To P*ss- To P*ss-
2 Pistols On My Knee.
For C*nt- For C*nt-
For Country and for Queen.
A Soldier I Will Be.
Drink it Down Down Down…
This leaves me with one last bite to offer that has to do with the title. Since everything here is upside-down, I had to serve this up last. Kabul isn’t a family posting sort of place so most Hashers I met were war junkies and had been hopping from one war to the next, fixing roads and the internet and the war…and and and.
Hashers would get a map with the GPS location sent to their registered email ID with the name of that week’s host, who had volunteered to buy the crates of beer from the UN canteen (the only place to buy booze in Kabul).
Hashers would have to use the GPS to get to the appointed location. When my inbox received the Hash invite on a Thursday night, I would open it, stare at the GPS location and blink hard. And then send a message out to all asking for help. I am map challenged. I could not get back to my own home using a map if I was standing right outside it.
Luckily for me, since Kabul was a war zone and most men were there on assignment without girlfriends and families; they desperately wanted the few women Hashers in the city to be there.
So I would get many messages back saying – “Revati, don’t worry, we will find a way to get you to the Hash. X will pick you up en route or if not, then Y will.”
Baptism by Fire
Being the preening princess, in response to this undue attention forced upon me, I declared to the Hashers, “If you guys want to name me, you can’t wait for me to attend five successive Hashes in keeping with the convention, since I am travelling across Afghanistan and will not be in Kabul most Fridays.” Recognising a true deviant in me and also not wanting to displease a diva for fear of losing out on the opportunity to drool, everyone agreed to name me at the next Hash.
Then the Hound was commanded to pour white maida (flour) and crack raw eggs on the To-Be-Named-Hasher’s head. I was told later that this convention was driven by the express desire to get Hashers to take their shirts off. But a few polite Hashers wanted to prove how propah they were and gave me a towel to cover myself with so my shirt didn’t get egged or removed. I merely had a head full of white flour and yolk that I could wash off in the sink. It was time to name me.
What else could my fellow Hashers do but to come up with a title that lovingly referred to my special cartographic skills with a Hash twist. If you go to the Kabul HHH site, you will find me there, listed proudly as The C*ntographer. I am indeed famous.
Now back to where we started. Take the Hash experience anywhere but Afghanistan and the fizz goes right out of it. Without the deviance that drinking and walking in forbidden territory offers, it’s just a bunch of old drinkers and wankers. Now applying the Hash code closer home, what could an equivalent be? The possibilities are ‘mind-cunting’. The politics, utterly devious and liberating. It turns us all potentially gay.
(Revati Laul is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Delhi. She tweets @revatilaul. This is a personal account. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)