This was supposed to be the first episode, in which I gave some idea of what The Masks of Gender podcast was all about. Claire Doran came to ask me some questions to get the show on the road, and added to the whole thing with her clear mind, her own identity issues – which box do I tick when none of them are me? – her easy understanding of the complexities and realities of gender identities, and more. I think I hesitated to post this episode because I quickly found that this whole concept was far deeper and wider than I imagined, so I left it to see what I said still made sense some time later. It does, so here it is.

Just before I started to publish this podcast, The Masks of Gender, I thought it might be useful to begin with me talking to someone who knew me well, asking me about my intentions, my inspirations, my hopes and dreams, what I value, what are my ways of seeing, and so on.

Fortune favoured me; Claire Doran agreed to be that person who held the conversation with me that inspired me to tell it all, or as much as I knew at the time. She works for the RSA, the Royal Society of Arts, of which I am a fellow, and she supports this podcast both personally and professionally, which I feel privileged to receive.

For reasons I’m unsure of, I didn’t put it up first, even though in the beginning of the recording I lead with a welcome to the whole series. Perhaps I wondered if I had to create some conversations before I really knew what I was doing. In fact, when I listened to it again, and although I’ve definitely learned a lot about my podcast game, the content holds up well, and I think it’s a good time to post it.

Claire really is a wonder; clear, open, sharp, with a wonderful background to bring her own particular insights into identity, gender and more. She agreed to be the contributor to her own episode, it’s in the recording, and I am going to chase her to talk to us all soon.

I don’t have the right picture of Claire as yet. When I do I’ll insert it. The image shown is of a small part of a garden sculpture I made some years ago, when I was a garden designer and maker. Another identity which has come and gone, as they do. Podcaster; there’s another.

When I went to India, the state of West Bengal, the city of Kolkata, in January this year it was the first time I’d been back to that tumultuous country for almost 28 years. Before then I’d been all over the North, spending a lot of time in an ashram in the West, but never in the East.

Pawan Dhall was the first of the new Indian, Bengali friends that I met in Kolkata, or Calcutta as it is still called by many. Nothing in India is clearly bordered, everything is in flux with varied possibilities, so gender too has its complications and uniqueness in that country.

One aspect of society that exists in India as nowhere else I know is that of the caste system, the named and historic way of classifying people which goes way past the class system in the UK. After talking with Pawan, when he brought up the caste system and how it affects all aspects of Indian life, including, of course, gender, I decided to talk more with him, to mine some of his well worked wisdom.

This fresh angle on social class, privilege, power and so on shines a light on our own ways of division and hierarchies, the masks of gender we impose on others. And ourselves. The outsider from the comfort of our own little worlds has much to tell.