While launching my new novel at the Kolkata Book Festival this year, I was warned that Calcutta was a very conservative city. ‘Whatever you do, don’t read out any of the gay scenes. Especially not the gay sex scenes.’
Naturally, that’s exactly what I did. The results were disappointing. Nobody shouted, nobody swooned, the city seemed to pull through just fine. Surely such provocation deserved more of a reaction? This was supposed to be my great in-your-face coming-out campaign, which I’d fretted over for months beforehand. Had India suddenly lost its conservativeness, turned enlightened, even hip?
The Bombay I grew up in during the 60s and 70s was quite incontestably unenlightened. Homosexuality was not mentioned, it didn’t exist. I never once met anyone I knew to be gay. The only media input I remember was a single article in a women’s magazine during my college years talking vaguely about far-away beaches where men supposedly found each other. There were, of course, occasional bursts of lusty gay sex steaming up the pages of widely read novels like ‘Dreams Die First’ by Harold Robbins. Although immensely titillating, these novels only deepened my sense of isolation, since the characters and situations were so clearly foreign.
Since the idea of exploring my sexuality in India seemed so impossible, in 1979, at age twenty, I came to the US. (Though this was not the reason I gave in my visa interview.) By the time I returned to Bombay for a vacation two years later, I was in a same-sex relationship. I decided to come out to my mother about it.
In this, I was luckier than most: my mother had an MA in psychology. At twelve, she’d told me I might soon be attracted to boys – a normal part of growing up, and just a phase, according to Freud. So the morning I started noticing some of my classmates in the ninth standard in a decidedly different way, I didn’t feel any guilt – if anything, I’d been impatiently awaiting this. It didn’t take me too long though to figure out this wasn’t a phase.
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