Mission Delhi – A. Husain, Green Park Market
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His eyebrows are threaded and his nails are manicured. He is carrying a large brown handbag. “I’m not an Indian,” A. Husain says, dressed in a pink T-shirt and blue shorts. “But I grew up in Delhi intellectually and emotionally, and my life’s most important relationship was formed with a Sikh man from Punjab.” The Delhi Walla meets Mr Husain, 27, at Café Coffee Day, Green Park Market.
A PhD student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Mr Husian has lived through the changes that have partially transformed the lives of gay men in the city. A native of Mauritius, he moved to the Capital seven years ago.
Mr Husain chose to study in Delhi because of his Indian boyfriend whom he first met through Yahoo Messenger. It was 2004, the year Facebook was launched. The friends had no access to photo-processing software, so no pictures were exchanged. “I only knew that being a Sikh, he had long hair and a beard and so I moved to India,” says Mr Husain. He is sitting with his lover, who recently cut off his hair.
Mr Husain joined Delhi University’s Khalsa College as a graduate student. The boyfriend was a medical student in Amritsar, a city 450km north of Delhi. The online interactions were infrequent and depended on the availability of empty terminals in Internet cafés; the lovers wrote letters and chatted on landline phones.
Until a few years ago, Delhi’s gay social life was limited to private parties and cruising in seedier sections of public parks. In Amritsar, it was as if gay people did not exist.
Every month Mr Husain took the Shatabdi Express to Amritsar to spend a weekend with his boyfriend where they booked a hotel room. After spending time alone in the room, the couple would go to the Golden Temple, sit by the holy pond, and listen to Gurbani, the Sikh devotional hymns. By 10 pm, the boyfriend returned home to his parents and Mr Husain spent the night alone in the hotel room. Next morning the boyfriend returned. They would check out of the hotel and before catching the Shatabdi back to Delhi, Mr Husain dined with his friend at Pizza Hut on Lawrence Road.
While at Khalsa College, Mr Husain kept his sexual identity a secret. “People joked about gay men. They still do but it’s less. Now, being gay is more acceptable. It’s almost fashionable. Sometimes we are passed off as frivolous because most of us are so careful about our grooming, unlike straight men.”
Mr Husain occasionally went on Tuesday nights to Pegs N Pints, then the only place in Delhi for gay men to dance together. “Off and on, there would be farmhouse parties in south Delhi or Gurgaon,” he says, “but there was no Metro then, the auto rickshaw would not go to Gurgaon and cabs were too pricey.”
In 2007, Mr Husain began attending JNU. “I’m a minority in the campus,” he says. “I live in a hostel and people do talk about me. Why am I so colourfully dressed? Why am I so sissy? But largely people let you be. No one tosses the swear word chhakka at me.”
In 2001, the NGO Naz Foundation filed a lawsuit in the Delhi high court asking for the legalization of homosexual intercourse between consenting adults. In 2008, New Delhi’s first gay pride parade took place on Tolstoy Marg. Less than a thousand people came. The following year, the second parade had more than 3,000 people. Drag queens danced to dandiya songs; masked homosexuals flaunted their orientation but not their identity; and many others who could be straight, gay or bisexual walked with them. Curious onlookers watched from bikes, auto rickshaws, cars and buses.
Three days later, at 10.35 am on 2 July, in the jam-packed Chamber 1 of Delhi high court, a bench comprising chief justice A.P. Shah and justice S. Muralidhar held that the law making gay sex a criminal offence violated fundamental rights. People present in the court started crying, jumping, and calling their lovers, friends and families. Later that day they gathered at the Jantar Mantar, the popular place for holding demonstrations, to commemorate the “victory”.
Mr Husain was also there. “For the first time in my life, I felt free,” he says. His love life, however, is still in the closet. “Once I took my boyfriend to my home in Mauritius for the holidays and my aunt spotted me combing his hair. My father, a pious Muslim, was told but even now he refuses to believe that I’m gay. Meanwhile, my friend is not out to his parents in Amritsar. His mother calls me his younger brother. It’s sweet of her but it fills me with frustration. I’m his lover.”
Next year, Mr Husain intends to complete his thesis in English and cultural studies. His boyfriend has graduated as a doctor. “We might move to the UK,” he says. “There’s no future for our relationship in India.”
[This is the 46th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Still in the closet
Long way ahead