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Murder, rape and homosexuality are punishable crimes in India.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It was close to midnight at Pegs N Pints pub in Chanakyapuri – New Delhi's diplomatic enclave. Illegal acts were being performed close to the maximum security zone of the Indian Prime Minister's residence.
On normal days, Pegs N Pints is "normal" - strictly straight. But on Tuesday evenings as the clock struck ten, queers start trickling out of their closets. Lying husbands relegate pretty wives to dinner alone. Guilty sons fake extra tuition classes. Bored European diplomats exchange grey-colored blazers for black leather jackets. They all gather together in Pegs N Pints – New Delhi's only discotheque offering "gay nights on all Tuesdays."
Camouflaged as private parties hosted by a certain "Mr. David", these unofficial "gay nights" remain dependent on word-of-mouth publicity. Despite requests, no one from the bar management was willing to be quoted. The secrecy is understandable since gay sex is forbidden under the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and is punishable with imprisonment.
A The Times of India report on serial killings in Mumbai casually mentioned cops questioning a man sitting at Chowpatty Beach "if he was a homosexual, the latter confessed and was brought to the police station."
Inside the Den
It was an unkempt place. The wooden counter was scratched, the beer glasses chipped, and the restroom out of order. But nobody cared. No one minded the expensive entry charge of 400 rupees. This is one of the few watering holes for wealthy gays not willing to risk interrogations by cops in shady parks. Beggars could not be choosers.
As the evening progressed, the crowd started filtering in. The dance floor was downstairs and a boy with a teasing smile was girating to Shakira's Hips don't lie. Roving eyes were coming to rest at him. His smooth chest and gelled hair shone in the blinking strobe light. He shook his shoulders, moved his flat belly, waved his arms and flung his feet. He took leaps, invited others, hugged someone, moved on to the next, never staying at one place for more than a moment.
He seemed unattainable.
The public had come in groups but some were with lovers. Many were alone.
A venerable gentleman made his beer bottle bob up and down in sync with the pulsating beats of music. A young man in a brown corduroy jacket shook his head in pleasant disbelief. A middle-aged person danced with no dance partner. A male nymph, in a corner, jiggled while gulping whiskey. While an awed waiter, picking the used glasses, looked helpless.
After Some Time
Meanwhile sighs, moans and desire had filled the smoky atmosphere upstairs. Boozing men were huddled on a long sofa lined against the wall. Some sat on the laps of others. On the balustrade stood men-uncles staring down on the fancy fairies of the dance floor. Two hours were left for 2 am – the closing time. Beyond it lay a barren week before the thrill of kissing in public could be relived. Every moment was precious and to be lived to the fullest.
Soon the clock tick-tocked to 1 am and the music became louder. Bollywood chartbusters were replayed. More vodka bottles were opened. Kisses became desperate. Dance vigorous, squeezes frantic, embraces hungrier. Foot tapping wasforceful and eye contact more enduring.
Some of the boys, who could only be call-boys, started walking up and down the stairs to offer last-minute deals.
1:30 am: A grasp among the happy people. Cinderella's hour was ending. Lonely looked lonelier while the lovers hugged tightly. Those in groups held hands, forming a circle. Haughty boys, till now too choosy, caught hold of anybody looking decent and still single. Everybody wanted salvation from the bodily desires.
2 am: Doors closed, gate shut. Re-exile into the cold straight world. Car engines shuddered, headlights switched on, making the night fog glow orange. The fantasy had ended. Till next Tuesday.
A kid, leaving the bar, overheard saying on the mobile phone, "Papa, I'm studying at Vaibhav's place. Will be home in half an hour."