Gay Delhi – Scene & Sensibility

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Desi Brokeback Mountain!

An expose on gay life in the city.

[The author, a well-known fashion designer, does not wish to disclose his identity; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

About four years ago, the opportunity to quit London and move to Delhi in the interests of my work presented itself. I was quite unknown t o the various quirky charms of this city. As any sensible person would do, I went around asking people what they thought of the matter. Only in my case, they were people who knew I was then a gay lad of 22, so there had to be some special considerations.

Nobody said it was bad. They all said it was different from the gay scene I had known in the capital of the Old World since my pre-pubescent days. I didn’t quite understand but was sure I would have a lot of fun in Delhi – a city of more than 10 million, practically ruled by men (unsafe for women, female foeticide) – as a young well-off entrepreneur. That was all set to change.

Here’s what I found out about the gay scene in Delhi. I should have known the people I asked were being awfully English when saying ‘different’ for ‘drastically damnable’.

There isn’t a gay scene in Delhi.

There are millions of gay people here but if you did a survey, you would think it was a curiously homogeneously heterosexual city. There are some rather strange straight people in Delhi who pretend to be gay on some days of the week, particularly when the wife is not being too obliging.

There isn’t a gay scene in Delhi because you can’t tell anyone you’re gay – even though that in itself does not constitute a crime, not even under the bizarre load of bull euphemistically called the legal system. If you tell your neighbours, they’d probably never speak to you again. If you tell your workmates, they’d think you’re the assault-in-the-office-loo type. If you tell social services, – but I ramble now, what social services?

It takes acceptance or complete indifference on society’s behalf for a sort of an organized ‘scene’ to build up in a city or country. You could be gay or straight or a cattle-fancier, but when it doesn’t matter to anyone but yourself – that’s when people would be okay partying in clubs tagged ‘gay’. Or doing whatever – why are you bothered? The intelligentsia blames their Victorian laws but before damning the late Empress, do take a look at what the story’s like in England now. Conclusion: it’s India at work here, not the Victorians.

I don’t deny there are a few organizations in India which claim to do social work for the homo cause. More often than not though, these are like political parties with one person at the helm of affairs, the affair usually being all about his own great charm to impress the media every now and then.

It’s true there are gay people everywhere in the world, just as there are straight people. A friend of mine says it just doesn’t work out if you admit as much anywhere between Istanbul and Bangkok. I’ve empirically observed this to be true. You may have had bed breaking sex with a man in Delhi, but three minutes after ejaculation, he would deny knowing you. Or worse, he could kill you for being an immoral person too rich for the good of his nation. This I will try and explain to myself in view of the fact that 77% of the Indian populace lives on just about 21 rupees a day (£1 = 80 rupees, roughly).

As for the other 23%, they have other things to look after – wives and kids more often than not. I’m not saying it doesn’t go on elsewhere, but is it just Indian culture that requires every man to be married and add his bit to the zillions, or could it possibly be that they’re all lazy sods who need free cooking and laundry for a lifetime in exchange for a few liquid ounces of semen? If only their wives would wake up and smell the sheets. Parents in India are prone to suffer heart attacks the moment their son says he doesn’t want to get married, but that, I think, is due to the corrupting influence of Indian customs and soap operas, which leave every woman above the age of 40 with a burning desire to burn a daughter-in-law.

One might think it would at least make a nice place for anonymous sex then – you know, instant ‘sex and the city’ kicks. Well, you can have more, and better, in Kabul. The trouble here is, they all want you to take them out to the Hyatt, where they then proceed to drink Kingfisher beer out of a bottle, ask for onion rings with garram marsalla to eat, and then pass out in your bed. Next morning, they politely borrow a neck tie, without asking you, to wear to their call centre in the suburbs.

It isn’t like this is not a ‘modern’ country. Delhi and Bombay are progressive cities, after all. Could gay bars be all that difficult to run? Well, Bombay faring only slightly better, I can say of Delhi that the gay bars here should immediately close down. They do more damage to the non-existent scene than one could imagine.

Maybe it’s that 21 rupees thing again, but half the numbers of the urban unemployed/underemployed male seem to have realized there is a niche market for their bodies here, irrespective of sexual orientation, served on a nightly basis. You’d only ever find rent boys in the gay bars. I believe the term ‘escort’ is far too dignified to be applied to the version available in India. Again, there are seedy bars everywhere, but where’s the good one here?

However, drag queens seem to have no problems getting about in gay Delhi. There is even greater social acceptance for them as opposed to a man who ‘pretends to be a man all day long then has sex with a man, you know!’.

The long running eunuch tradition in the country, especially in these Mogul parts, could be the explanation for this. Some people do think all gay men are actually eunuchs. (Bless those!). Delhi Police cops usually don’t harass you cruising in a park if you happen to be effeminate; your hips sashaying from Diplomatic Enclave to the West End. For some reason, you simply have more chances of being laid if you agree to exist that way. Maybe you’re a lesser threat to insecure straight people in such a case.

Enough of social science. It was true I had a lot of fun, for about three days. They are all, after all, looking for anything on two legs with a flat available for two hours, or 3 minutes, as the case may be.

But I wanted a relationship, feelings, silly me. Six months into one such thing, his wife telephoned. But I still wanted to fall in love with the right sort of person. I went back to my leather club in Kings Cross and found him.

I can safely declare Delhi as a hellhole for anyone who happens to be gay and looking for the finer things in life. I’m glad I have the choice to go back, and that I’ve lived to tell the tale.