Saturday, August 18, 2007

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.


raymakesmyday said...

hey, wake up and smell the sheets..

maryam said...

It would be interesting to read a piece from Lahore on the same topic. I bet people have had similar experiences. The hypocrisy is disgraceful! What can you do when apparently enlightened and liberal celebrities choose to make ignorant and prejudiced statements. I just cannot forget Javed Akhtar's comments about the gay/lesbian issue in India. He refused to acknowledge that it was an issue at all!

Anonymous said...

Excellent read. I never realized how socially conservative India was until I came here. Not only does the (arbitrarily applied) "legal system" discriminate against homosexuals, it also picks on drinkers and, curiously enough, people who actually follow the law... Pity. Anyway, thanks for the take on the "scene" here; it gave me a better perspective on what to expect--or not to expect. Hope you're finding life more friendly back home.

simpleLAguy said...

Your piece is well written. I am 29 yo Thai traveller currently in India (delhi)....and want to explore. Can't exactly say I am out back home either. You would definitely be someone whom I want to meet (chat, that is, nothing more). Perfect encounter who shares similar interests. So post back if you are interested.

author said...

Duh, thanks Mayank Austen, for not sending me a quick email about the thai man who wants to meet up.

Aryan said...

Can't believe this. I stay in Delhi for three years. I am from a rural part of the South India. I think 'gay scene' is not neutral term, which is universal. Delhi Gay scene would be completely different that of London. And for people who have he privilege to choose between London and Delhi or Newyork and Delhi, Delhi won't be that great. I work with research publishing company and I am out with my colleagues. I am not an income tax payer, and does a lower middle level job, and my colleagues are fine with my sexuality. I also go for 'Delhi front runners and walkers', a non funded lgbtq group for people interested in sports. There are film screenings, queer cafe, discussions etc by groups like 'Nigahmedia' , 'voices against 377' etc. In fact I find in difficult to find time for the community. There are various queer communities in Delhi. People who identify as Kothi/MSM, and consists of mostly Hindi speaking lower middle class/working class people. There are various lesbian associations as well. After all, India criminalises homosexuality, and there are struggles and activism to decriminalise it. I think it is unfair to come from outside and comment without even giving some effort to understand the situation. I am here, like many others, and we are struggling, we are building a community, and the scene is changing and there is more visibility compared to the 90s. I am positive about this.

Anonymous said...

From the author -
Good luck then, with your struggle. If you're still around by the time they get round to decriminalising it in your country, leave another message on here, won't you? Maybe we could organise a 'Mardi Gras at the Taj Mahal' fete then.

applepiecrust said...

As a queer-identified upper middle class teenager from Delhi, the only real thing I have to say to your article is a resounding "I completely agree"!
I now attend a Catholic (!) university in Washington DC, but despite the university's religious affiliation, I've found infinitely more acceptance here than I could have ever dreamed possible in Delhi. However, according to my ex-girlfriend, there is a gay scene in Delhi -- as in an open, accepting, and sleazy or sketchy gay scene, but you need to be in the know. Well, I wasn't.
Gosh, if going back to Delhi means going and hiding in the closet once again, I'm certainly not going back.
As far as the last commenter goes, maybe he, like my ex-girlfriend, is one of those in the know. But seriously, here in DC it is so MUCH easier to be out and proud -- the LGBTQ associations (including one for South Asians!), the over-18 gay clubs, just everything.
I mean, with the present Delhi culture, I can't even imagine coming out to my parents and that hurts so much. I'd like to see positive change. Heck, I'd like to INITIATE positive change.

Isaac said...

I was there in 2004 and after a few hits on the net, I found out about peg's and pints and the "hip hop" night every Tuesday which turned out to be an execuse to open up the club to the gay 20-30 somethings.

In fact to my pleasant surprise I even found a relatively older gentleman that seemed to cater to what I was looking for so I ended up at his place the next evening.

From what I was told much of the scene is internal and not advertised due to homophobic nature of the society but it does exist. A few days later I was hit on in a rather subtle manner by this barista at a local cafe.

So I suppose there is much to see, hold, fondle and relish if you keep your eyes and ears open at all times but yes be beware of the intense scrutiny of the legal system since those knots could get sticky!!


Anonymous said...

I lived in Delhi for almost 10 years of y life and had travelled throughout northern India.
As a foreigner, you are so true and I can understand from where you are coming. India is still living in the Victorian age. There are no Gay places and scene. Everything is on internet and on one night base rather the whole interaction is for couple of minutes (lucky if it stretches to hours).
When I realised there are many other people with similar feelings, I was nearly 19 and still with no experience as such. I went to “Indian gay & lesbian Film festival” somewhere in Asoka road, in 1999 (yes, that’s true) and trust me that was very eye opening and educative. Films from American Pakistani guy on himself, names Ifti and his poems are few I still remember. It means things happen and people still prefer to remain unaware about it. I came to know about this by newspaper advert!

Last time, when I went to Delhi scene was in 2004. Again Pegs and pint was only I knew through some friends and I went there. I was surprised to see many white guys there mixed with so called Indian middle class call centre worker kind of crowd. None of them was interested to chat with me why? Because I was just Indian guy! Many Indian guys like to go (make) out with white guys!! Strange but true.
After a week, I went to a house e party of a gay friend, I knew from sometime. That was interesting as 1st time ever I met a so called Indian gay guy couples. Yes they exist and live together, 4 couples, in monogamous, live in relationship. These guys just socialise among themselves as they don’t want to be to and typecast. Their neighbours think they are best friends and share a flat. They have maid to help them with everything and they all work in rather good companies. Well al 4 couples have similar story. They are kind of self suffice group and meet every week and some1 pad, or go out for long weekends.
The whole thing is that gay are everywhere, different taboos are attached to homosexuals. In India, there are few who know they will marry and just FCUK around because they are under society pressure and accepted it as it is, and fewer are there who plan to stay unmarried and think friends, are there as their best companion, and less than fewer are there who are out and proud.
Now I am staying in London for almost 5 yrs now. I have found married people looking for cottaging, 1 night stand on internet, gay murdered in Clapham!! Most gay guys have type which actually doesn’t exist or they need Brad Pitt in their bed! What’s different is they still have liberty to find a guy and settle they? Very few, probably same in number as in Delhi or in India despite they don’t have this freedom.
I agree with you though!! Delhi gay scene sucks!!! 

Anonymous said...


Yes, I'm reading this article a tad too late. But it's so easy to judge the community when you're priviledged enough to be an undergrad (I'm assuming from your tone) at Georgetown.

I see where you're coming from, but its much easier to put down the efforts than appreciate it. Most upper middle class citizens complain about the lack of a scene, and yet, they are least willing to initiate change.

The ones fighting for our rights and protesting outside the courts are the hijras (the ones we best try to avoid, or would never really want to associate with). Yet, when the rights come along, they will be the ones we will be looking down upon at the gay establishments.

This isn't Dupont Circle or Chelsea, it never will be in the foreseeable future. It's a struggle, a movement that is still in its infancy. We can better utilize our resources (or frustration) trying to help push it forward, rather than easily putting it down.

Here's to you appreciating a normal Soho/Chelsea/Castro'ish gay scene in 2020. :))

SmartIndian said...

well am hoping the author of this blog would have got his answer by the increased Gay activities in New the past two yrs there have been two hugely successful Gay Pride Marches in addition to various yesterday on 2nd July 2009 the New Delhi High Court decriminalised the Gay sex scrapping the 377 article of the Indian Panel contrary to what applepiecrust said Indian Gay secene will not be better By 2020 but By 2010 it will be way much better.....;-)

Patrick T said...

I've been reading up on Delhi's gay scene because I'll be moving to the area in a two weeks, and though fully realise this post is two years old, I thought it worth commenting to express my gratitude for both the efforts of Mayank in creating the blog but also the comment contributors who have added their thoughts to the already fascinating post.

I don't know that I would call what I read encouraging, as I would have hoped, with Section 377 of the Indian PC being so publicly contested in court recently, that the life of gay men and women in India might be a little bit more open than I have discovered. I am going to be studying in the city, and likely to be surrounded to one degree or another my a microcosm of European thought, but at the same time the apparent level of homophobia and lack of acceptance does concern me. In fact, I could say it frightens me; I've grown up in cultures where being gay was nothing much more abnormal than being straight. We might remark on it and make a declaration, the typical 'coming out', but past teenage years it becomes something of a non-issue. All of my straight friends have good friends who are openly gay, and happily so. I am hopeful that Indian society will, do I dare say 'progress', to such a degree that being gay might not be normal but accepted as a valid state of being. I don't want to impose White Anglo-Saxon norms on Indian culture of which I admittedly know very litttle, but I don't consider being gay to be a crime, to be a problem, or to be something to be ashamed of.

I hope the author, working in a domain as openly full of gay/queer/non-heterosexual people as it is, finds great happiness back in London, but I truly hope that I encounter less stagmatisation than I fear and perhaps more acceptance and openness in the future. I simply do not see how my being gay is to the detriment of anybody else. I look forward to the day when others see that distinction as clearly as I do.

Anonymous said...

it is obvious that some people are made for London gay ghetto and some others are more for the rest of the world... why would Delhi be like London for the gay scene or some other aspects? maybe one day
You'll find out that life is richer than just hunting gay guys in gay places. Nice people are everywhere. Good luck to India and Indians Gay people, with the new law and its development. let's be positive...

Vishal said...

To The Ignorant Author.

Stop complaining about hypocrisy of Indian society when you I take objection to your choice derogatory colonial words e.g. "Old World'. What Old world? Europe isn't old world. Old World is Civilisation of Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Indians and Chinese. While these cultures and societies were flourishing, Europe was still in dark medieval ages. Taking longer view or the history, shunning colonial vocabulary full of historical bigotry, above mentioned cultures are First World, Queens England is 2nd World. It’s just that English were so medieval at time to explore us, the original old world. Go get some education.

You are criticising and generalising whole Indian society with a broad brush, that reeks of bias ...... or maybe you are just an ignorant English guy who thinks oh, let me go to colonies and have fun while natives serve my all kinds of fantasies. Buzz off.

PS: I am straight but gay friendly. This is not anti-gay tirade rather protest against genralised abuses hurled by the author against Indian scoiety in general.

Luc lima said...

My entire life i've met jus a pair of gay couple, n i'm 22. Guess i was sleepin d whole time or tt i stick 2 d same circle of frens(straight frens)! Anyhoo it's real hard findin a relation-type kinda guy. Or mayb i wasn't tryin hard?0_o! N yea u need connections to get to a good gay party,unfortunately i hve none watsoever.Tho i did get in2 1 such event once which was a disaster! I ended up losing my everyting,more like i was robbed! Maybe i was to blame, downin 1 too many drinks! :p Nvatheless who robs an innocent drunk,high on something-somethings,lonely guy? lol. Bad,real bad experience! Next time i go i shall take wit me an entourage of frens to guard me!lmao! :))) oh i was alone again,i went 2 GK Polka something,controlled my drinking,which turned out to be tasking n boring so i boarded a cab n zoomed off to watch tv wit frens! Was hoping to get laid! Boohoo :((( ! Btw i'm not alcoholic, in case u've jumped 2 tt conclusion! I'm , like dey say, a social drinker! So tts y i cal my frens over 2 drink evrytym! Wahaha! PĂ©rdon my dry sense of humour! Hopefuly by d tym i'm 90 d gay scene'll turn out gr8! Wit parades grand as Mardi Gras! Oooh so <3 tt! Seen it only on television,tho

Dwayne said...

I will be visiting Delhi in 2 weeks! Are you telling me that the GAY SCENE is that dead? OMG! Help please!!!! I need at leat 1 club/bar to got to....

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Jeff, newly arrived in New Delhi and here for a couple of days (5/28 to 5/30/11), staying at the Hyatt. Anyone want to hang out? I should have a little time, esp. on Sunday, 5/29/11. I'm from the US, married and bi, with my lady's knowledge and blessing (we're swingers). Anyone around? Hit me up. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Jeff, from the US, newly arrived in New Delhi for a couple of days (5/28 to 5/30/11). I'm at the Hyatt. I've been away from home for too long, would love a little company, and would find it very interesting to talk about the lack of a gay scene here and what that's all about ... the stuff of this blog. FYI, I'm 50-ish, bi, and married, but play with the lady's knowledge and permission (we're bi swingers). Anyone around and interested in some chat, maybe more... hit me up.