A (gay) passage to India
Follow writer Kaj Hasselriis as he travels through India over the next two months. He will give readers a peak into what gay life is like in the country, where homosexuality remains illegal.
I've never forgotten my final night in India eight years ago, with a cute boy I met at the only gay bar in the country.
Now, I'm finally back to find out what's really happening beneath the hetero surface here.
In 2000, I was an inexperienced backpacker on my first visit to a truly foreign land. For five weeks, I travelled with two straight girls to some of the country's top tourist traps, like the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple and the Buddhist caves at Ajanta. But the real India didn't become clear to me until I found myself at Mumbai's (formerly Bombay) Voodoo Pub, partying with the city's small but energetic queer community.
There's nothing like marginalization and persecution to bring a people together. Everyone knew each other and everyone danced together. There wasn't a single clique in sight.
Then, before I knew it, the night was over. Everyone hustled out of the bar and onto the nearby boardwalk, overlooking the Mumbai Harbour. But it was pitch black and some of the guys said the cops would come soon to bust us for cruising.
I started talking to a young hottie with big brown eyes named Farad. It was still early, I said. Where else could we go to hang out?
But Mumbai's not like any big city in Canada. You can't just adjourn to the nearest 24-hour diner. So Farad asked me back to his place.
We hopped in a cab and the next thing I knew, we were at a dark, grotty highrise, sneaking past a sleepy security guard. After walking up a few flights of garbage-strewn stairs, we arrived in Farad's family's apartment. As he led me into his bedroom, he told me to keep quiet.
The first thing I noticed in his room was the dresser. It had an impressive collection of knock-off street cologne, everything from Tommy to Polo Ralph Lauren.
Wow, I thought. Gay boys in India are just like us.
Farad wasn't out to his parents or any of his friends. Homosexuality is illegal in India. He had gone down on a few "straight" guys at school, but up to then, that was the extent of his gay action.
My only regret for the night is that I refused to take Farad's email address. Why bother? I thought. I'll never be back here. Why get his hopes up?
But I couldn't get that night out of my mind. For eight years, I've been curious about the queer underground of India that's slowly coming out into the open. Just recently, I read about the country's first gay Pride marches. Apparently there were only a couple of hundred participants at each one, most with bags over their heads. But in India, that's a big step.
I wanted to come and see what else is happening. So here I am.
Last week, I arrived in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), and over the next two months, I'll be making my way back towards Mumbai. I've already checked out the scene in India's most easterly city and seen things that would make Mother Teresa spin in her grave. But you'll have to wait for my next column to learn more.
In the meantime, feel free to help me plan out my route. Is there anything in particular you want to know about gay life in the land of child brides and arranged marriages? Is there anywhere in particular you think I should go? If so, please let me know. Over the next two months, we'll journey through gay India together.