It’s my second-to-last column on gay life in India, and I just realized I might have given you the wrong impression about its queers.
Judging from my previous dispatches, you might think that everyone here is deeply closeted, living in loveless marriages with sham wives and desperate for cock, but with no hope of getting anything besides an occasional quickie.
The awful truth is that, in India’s long-running caste system, there are still plenty of guys around here who match that description. And many of them are stuck for life in the lower class.
But there are also plenty of bright, confident, outgoing middle-class guys like the ones I met in Hyderabad.
Don’t worry, I’d never heard of Hyderabad (pronounced Hydra-bad) before I got to India, either. But almost as soon as I landed, people started telling me about it.
“It’s got great markets.”
“There’s tons of Muslims.”
“It’s way better than Bangalore.”
Then, I read an article about Hyderabad in India Today (basically, the country’s answer to Time). I quote: “Hyderabad is the least homophobic and most sexually tolerant of Indian cities, partly because of its multicultural heritage.”
That clinched it. I had to go to Hyderabad.
Known as the gateway to South India, it’s a sprawling city of five million that’s starting to get an international rep for its call centres. It’s also a very fit city. The morning I arrived, I spotted something I’ve never seen in India before: joggers.
That night, I went online and chatted with a few guys. The one who caught my attention had a picture of himself with his nose in a book. Not only that, but he was very persistent. I invited him out for dinner and the next thing I knew, I was plugged into the Hyderabad scene.
Ramesh told me about Hyderabad’s HIV/AIDS march and then I hung out with him and his pals at Barista, India’s answer to Starbucks.
But I’m already getting ahead of myself. First, you probably want to know more about Ramesh. He’s slim, twinky and precocious. He laughs at just about everything, rolls all his Rs, and speaks fluent Brit-English, using cute words like “chap” all the time.
Ramesh is 26 years old and like most queers in India, lives at home but isn’t out to his family (except for his brother, who once caught him fooling around with another guy).
Ramesh’s friends lovingly call him Sandy but he pretends to hate it. The main members of his posse are:
- Gugan, a faux-hawked fag who went to university in London and manages a high-end boutique called Mont Blanc inside a five-star hotel;
- Shree, a gangly scientist who sounds kind of snooty at first but turns out to be totally charming;
- Bosco, a sturdy, smiley motorcycle rider who sleeps by day and takes calls from Canadians by night. He works at Dell’s Hyderabad call centre and promises to get me a good deal on a laptop.
Ramesh and his friends are all smart and well-read and refuse to conform to Indian society’s number one rule: get married and produce kids, no matter what. In fact, they all talk about one day renting a “flat” together (that’s another favourite Ramesh word).
I got together with my Hyderabad pals several times and, despite my protests, they treated to me with everything from iced lattes to McChicken burgers. Each posse member has had his share of blow jobs and broken hearts, but they’re single for the time being. Gugan is about to embark on a new adventure. Starting at the end of January, he’s studying fashion at Humber College in Toronto.
Eight days after I arrived in Hyderabad, which is three days longer than I originally planned to stay, I climbed onto the train with gifts from my new friends. Ramesh gave me a copy of the book The Last Song of Dusk, which is written by a queer Indian and has great queer content, while Bosco hand-wrote me some poetry. (“Friendship is sacred; It wipes away the world’s hatred.”)
Despite what India Today says, I wouldn’t quite call Hyderabad a queer capital. It’s still a very small community. But guys like Ramesh and his friends definitely make Hyderabad high-quality.