Bewitching looks and a gentle manner, not to mention a sharp intellect, may have led many a lass to suspect my sexual orientation as somewhat deviant. It is now time to come out, I say, to confess that I'm as heterosexual as they go, and for reasons I cannot fathom, somewhat astounded by it.
Heterosexual men, in general, are characterized by violence as a means to deal with sexual insecurity. This violence is meted out towards women, subordinates at work, and, as is being increasingly seen in this country, against gay men and women.
Violence, as the learned suggest, has its roots in fear. This insecurity, when it comes to any man's inadequacy in dealing with women, may have something to do with having a smaller penis or stamina; with gay men it must be the fear of anal penetration, and with lesbians the fear of outright rejection.
Cause notwithstanding, the fear runs so deep, that I had no idea what homosexuality meant until I was twenty years old. In a boys' public school, homosexuality was something vague that bullies threatened the weaker students with, just like the uncharted trigonometry that lay between a woman's legs.
I was first introduced to the word 'homo' when I entered the Indian Institute Of Technology at Kharagpur, a campus that had ten males for every female. Naturally, seniors would flirt with junior boys who carried a soft visage. Beautiful young men were called 'juice', and the same term was used to describe the better looking girls. The seniors were trying to assert their masculine superiority by making homo-erotic suggestions, and I found that very unsettling.
However, actual gay activity was not often seen, discounting the holding of hands and shoulders that is so commonplace in the Indian male. In the local bar, the Waldorf, male friends would sometimes exchange smoke from each other's mouth by a kiss, again displaying lack of inhibition and masculinity through a homosexual gesture.
There was one student in my hostel who everybody said was a 'homo'. Everything he did, even a friendly hello, was seen as a sexual innuendo of some kind. That he was heavily built, had a shaved head, and was from a scheduled caste also added to the collective fear he held us under.
After college ended, I remember the car ride home from Jaipur railway station with my father. He saw a cross hanging from my neck, which had a pocket knife inscribed 'protect god'. Being a god-fearing Hindu, he said it made me look like a spoilt brat, to which I replied arrogantly, "For all you know, Dad, I could be gay. It's just a harmless cross. I wear it for style!" My father was aghast and silent for the rest of the ride.
It was in Bombay that I was exposed to gay culture as it exists in urban India. Like many lonely newcomers to Bombay, I would sit at Cafe Mondegar, waiting to make random friends, preferably female, which never really happened. One day I saw this handsome man, who gave me a friendly smile and called me over to his table. His name was Imam Siddiqui, he was a casting director in Bollywood, and I sat and listened to his amazing voice. He chatted and laughed like some Miss Universe; he was vivacious, and he was a man. If he was heterosexual, I doubt if there would have been one woman left unturned.
Imam took me to Voodoo, a Colaba pub that gays frequent. "Don't worry," he told me, since I must have looked hesitant, "at the most they'll pinch your butt." After a couple of drinks, I found myself dancing with a gorgeous, tall woman. Completely flattered by her attention, I went up to Imam and told him how I had just danced with the most beautiful woman I had ever danced with. Imam was confused, he pointed towards her and said, "Him?" Then he started rolling with laughter.
It was also a time when I had no place to stay, unless some random friend allowed me to sleep on the couch. Imam was also generous that way. Whenever I slept over, I would watch his bed against the window, like a princess asleep with stars above her.
The male form had always been ugly for me, and probably the reason why I was heterosexual, but Imam was a walking contradiction of that. One night, when his French boyfriend was visiting and had fallen sick, he asked me to find another place for the night. Subsequently, I drifted away and rarely heard from him. Today, we are strangers again. Later I only saw him in the society pages, all dressed up as a queen.
However, every time I felt lonely, I went back to Voodoo. All I wanted in the whole wide world was to be wanted, even if it was by a man. I sat there nursing my drinks and talking to strangers, being hit upon once in a while, and feeling grand when I turned them down. "I'm straight," I used to say, "I just like gay bars." Once I walked out with some guy hoping to score a free drink, until I realized that I'd been picked up. When I voiced my explanation, he politely dropped me on Marine Drive and went back to Voodoo. I felt sorry for having wasted his time.
Later I was introduced to a circle of friends who were gay activists, writers, artists, film-makers and in general seemed to possess the sort of intellect and objective outlook that I am attracted by. Often, at Vikram (a writer) and Alok's (lawyer) parties I would find myself the only straight guy in the room, with bemused gay men and lesbians all around. Doc is a great cook and his guests spend a lot of time around the food. I browsed the bookshelves, spied on conversations and lovers, and talked to people about everything except being gay, wary that they must get a lot of "So, what does it feel like..?"
As we became better friends, I began to appreciate who they really were as people. Alok comes from the same community in Rajasthan as I do, and this was something I was always shy about. Marwaris are a business-oriented community, whose very moniker means 'tightwad'. All my life until that point I wanted to be rid of that tag, and replace it with just about anything else (thus the cross). No one in my family or ancestry had ever read a literary book, listened intently to music, or showed any intellectual traits other than pure commerce. That included my parents, who were both medical practitioners.
It was Alok who urged me to write about my roots because no one was doing that, because the stories of those people remain untold in literature.
It was one of these parties at Vikram's place when I bumped into a straight couple - Daniel Pearl and his wife, standing in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Daniel was to later become the victim of a militant group in Pakistan. I have also learnt that if you meet someone at a party who says, "But some of my best friends are gay!", you should know you are talking to a closet homophobe.
One of my female friends keeps saying she is tired of men hitting on her, asking her out, all the time, when what she really needs is male friends. Now she is trying to hang out in lesbian parties trying to see what she can find there.
In all my experience, I have found gays more worthy of life and love, more polite, giving and caring than most straight males. They represent to me the amalgam of the better traits existing in men and women, compiled into one complete individual.
I am a heterosexual, but I find myself drawn towards intelligent men, as often as I'm drawn towards attractive women. Maybe, I too have gay traits. Perhaps we are all varying combinations of male and female traits in different proportions.
As far as anal penetration goes, most Indian men would put their penis in a hole in the nearest wall. Truckers do it to their male assistants, the police do it to petty criminals, and the jailed prisoners do it to each other.
The collective sexuality of the world, if you really look at it objectively, is gay. Then why are we punishing honest homosexuals who have come out to express their identity as a human being in a civilized society? Is it simply the disgust of anal penetration (sodomy) that outlines this fear, and is that a fair enough basis for law? Disgust is a human emotion generated by various stimuli, and going by that logic, nose-picking and crotch-scratching should be outlawed too, putting most policemen and journalists out of business.
At this karaoke bar near Marine Drive, on seeing two of my lady friends dance together, and all of us cheering them, the girl sitting next to me said, "What is it with two women dancing?" Quite simply, I replied, "It's beauty with beauty, not beauty with the beast." She gave me a ten on ten and joined the dancers.
This song by Doors keeps playing in my head these days -
People are strange
When you're a stranger
Faces look ugly
When you're alone
Women seem wicked
When you're unwanted
Streets are uneven when you're down
Rohit Gupta is a Bombay-based writer.