Published: 27th July 2019
Remembering Shankar Ganesan, who proved one can be openly asexual and an academic in India
Being one of the openly asexual academics, 49-year-old Shankar Ganesan passed away on Wednesday. We spoke to his friends, students and acquaintances
On Wednesday, Dr Shankar Ganesan, an Associate Professor at VIT Business School passed away. A native of Chennai, he was 49 at the time of his death. Apart from being a dedicated Human Resources academic, Shankar was a storyteller and an openly queer person, who has, in fact, helped a lot of young people to come out and deal with issues like bullying and trauma. We spoke to a few friends, acquaintances and colleagues of his, in and around Chennai.
All the people we spoke to, collectively, remembered him as an extremely pleasant and cheerful individual, who never picked up fights or spoke rudely to anyone. This includes Gopi Shankar, a Madurai-based Intersex activist and filmmaker. Being asexual himself, Shankar even coined a Tamil term for the Asexual people, Gopi tells us. "Shankar coined the term Suliyar in Tamil, which means Asexual. Tamil is a language which has separate terms for sex and gender," ze says. "He was really caring and empathetic. In fact, I've never met anyone like him," ze adds. Gopi also tells us about how Shankar, who was also a very talented singer, could sing in both male and female voices flawlessly.
For Delfina, an LGBTQIA+ activist and a theater artist, Shankar's demise was sad and shocking. They remember how a few years ago, Shankar introduced them to playback theatre. "He has been very active in the LGBT community. But that isn't just it. He always took time to talk to people and understand their problems, including their health issues," they say. "In many ways, he isolated himself, but at the same time, he was friendly and attracted a lot of people. He wouldn't say anything provocative or outrageous," they add.
Apart from theatre and singing, Shankar was adept in storytelling too. Eric Miller, who runs the World Storytelling Institute in Chennai recalls Shankar's interest in storytelling techniques and how he used them to solve real-life issues. "He always used storytelling and role-playing in exploring situations at work and to make plans in advance to handle them," says Eric. Eric adds that the institute is also planning a memorial for Shankar, who was a regular there.
Another storyteller, Vikram Sridhar also had something similar to share about Shankar. A few years ago, the duo conducted a storytelling workshop together. "Being a professor, his idea of using stories in his lectures was quite exciting. Not all management academics use these. That was a different perspective," Vikram says.
"Selfless soul. Insightful mentor. Stream of infinite love," Ambi Moorthy, a former student of Shankar's calls him. "I have never seen him angry or egoistic," Ambi wrote in an emotional Facebook post. He also recalls how a friend of his once snapped at a few couples sitting on the sidewalk when Shankar was around. "Shankar, in his usual calm demeanor responded 'Don't be judgemental. Do you think they would prefer this place if they had a better place to hold hands and talk? Be considerate.' He always went an extra mile when it came to empathy," Ambi says. "I’m heartbroken than such a wonderful human being is no more," he adds.