This is one of the 'crazy' things I have done in life.
I was about 24 but still going through the tough times that every young adult goes through--career decision, dealing with your sexuality, asserting one's individuality to your family, etc. Only in my case, I was also coping with: the burden of responsibility that comes with being the only child (in terms of being heir to the family business, having progeny, blah, blah...); and my sexual orientation.
I chose to take a big risk--I decided to leave dad's practice (I had worked part-time through college and the journalism course until I took up my first journalism job). I quit studying for the Chartered Accountancy qualification, even though I had already cleared one group of subjects at the Inter. CA level. And choose a career 'not-as-respected-as-CA'--journalism.
After much agonising over these decisions, going through an aptitude test (at 24!!), talking to a vocation counsellor and shocking my parents, I finally decided to place my bet on a career in mass communication. I enrolled into the part-time course at Xavier Institute of Communications. This is not the 'crazy' decision I referrred to at the start. The setting for that was a 2-day workshop at Lonavla for XIC students on media and ethics. I suspect it was more of a bonding workshop for students. What Aradhana Sethi nee Jyoti recalls below happened on the second day (if memory serves me right). A few thoughts on Aradhan's description of the events after you have read this, but just a little more essential background: In one of the sessions, the students were divided into groups of 5-6 and were given two (hypothetical?) cases to discuss and state their stand on the question posed. The second question was on the death of a few well-known men from the 'respectable' class who had died in a fire at a theatre infamous for playing gay porn. While one newspaper decided not to publish the names of the victims for fear of bringing disrepute to them and their families, another decided to follow the usual practice of publishing names of victims in such accidents. A student from each group was asked to come forward and state whose decision they supported--newspaper A or B. And I was one of the students...
“I am gay,” – I clearly remember those words you uttered in presence of all the journalism and public relation students of Xavier Institute of Communications. Not just your words, but even the impact they had on our lecturers and some of the fellow students.
Silence followed by hushed ‘Did you know?’s and ‘Really?’ A puzzled lecturer of media and ethics (Nitin, I forget his name now!) dispersed the entire batch for a tea break. As we moved out of the room, I said to a fellow student, “I think he ‘IF’.” “No Aradhna, he said, ‘I AM’,” she responded. That was it for me. I heard. I didn’t believe my ears. A friend confirmed. And a quick thought flashed through my mind, “He’s a nice guy. Being gay doesn’t matter. Had he not told us, we wouldn’t have figured it out. And now that we know, it doesn’t matter to me – it’s not as if he was my boyfriend!” I had it settled in my head, but suddenly I realised there was a low toned buzz going on.
You were walking towards the tea tables set aside for the students. One lecturer was looking at you intently. I wondered what he thought. Then, I noticed many of the guys were moving away. Some wondered whether the other guy who used to sit next to you was your partner. In our group, he said, he wasn’t. Another friend of ours questioned as to whether you may have just said it to create a buzz. No, that couldn’t be true. The thought was dismissed. The hushed whispers of disbelief then led to talk about how brave you had been to come out of the closet in presence of all your fellow students and teachers. They gave you credit for your honesty and your courage.
Finally, most of us came to one conclusion. Being gay was not a communicable disease. Gays or heterosexuals – none of us carried our sexualities on our sleeve. Within a few minutes, I can confidently say, we all accepted the fact and it didn’t bother us.
For me, it was fun to work with you in our group – doing the photo essay, radio programme, etc. Your being gay never did bother me or even cross my mind.
Through my tenure of working as a journalist in India, I did come across a few gay men. It didn’t seem to bother me, though. But yes, had I been going out with a man, who were to suddenly tell me he was gay, I would have certainly blown a fuse. Then, that would have bothered me. That would’ve been my business!
At times when we spoke about your relationship on the phone, I wondered how many people – men and women – had ever really given a true thought to their preferences in life. I wondered if society was just moving with the norm of heterosexuality because that’s what the way of life had been, and that’s what was acceptable.
And when you shared your worry about your family wanting you to marry a girl, your concern about how your dad may react to knowing about your sexual identity, and the fact that you couldn’t be untrue to yourself or to another girl by bonding her in matrimony for the sake of your family – your thoughts, your concern for the others, and your firm conviction to being certain of who you are and what you want, led to a new sense of awe and respect for you.
I thought, “Here’s one guy who’s more a man than many others I have known. He believes in himself, respects others’ sentiments and stands up for himself .”
Aradhna says this is straight from the heart. I believe she has been somewhat generous in the appreciation of her XIC classmates--including me.
However, I did not feel the negative vibes around me probably because 1) I can be naieve and 2) I was still feeling the rush of blood in my head at what I had done, but trying not to show it and pretending nothing unusal had happened. Later, I did feel upset with the students as a whole for supporting newspaper A's homphobia--which I felt reflected their own phobia--and wrote about it in 'Bombay Dost'.
The wonderful piece of news is that people change. One classmate whom Aradhna remembers as being very uncomfortable with my gayness (I like the word--rhymes with 'royal highness'!), has now become a good chat friend (he stays in the US). People grow, they change--for the better. There's hope for more understanding, tolerance, even acceptance.