Interview : Author Parmesh Shahani

Author. Editor. Fashion Expert. Media Generalist. Page 3 Celebrity. Bollywood Addict. Spellbinder. Charismatic. Alive. Hottie. Eligible Bachelor.

Enough said!

Dear readers here’s the eklauta namuna, maa da laadla and a darling friend, Parmesh Shahani;

ParmeshIn your book Gay Bombay, you state that being gay is a lifestyle, though others may argue that it’s just another aspect of one’s personality and NOT their personality as a whole. Please comment?

I don’t write that being gay is a lifestyle. Some of my interviewees express this in the book, but others express different viewpoints, including that what you have just said.. Based on what I’ve heard in all the interviews I conducted and from my own personal observations, I think for most people in India, sexuality is important, but not the primary lens through which they view themselves. Other lenses such as family, its responsibilities, religion or profession are more important and sexuality is always adjusted, or accommodated into these other spaces. This would apply to both heterosexuality and homosexuality.

Having said that, gay men in urban India have certainly been able to create social ecosystems for themselves, within which they can mix and match a range of elements from both traditional Indian queer cultures, as well as international influences. Would this be considered as a gay lifestyle? I think so. Would it be a universal Indian gay lifestyle? Certainly not.

It is interesting that many of my book interviewees wanted to incorporate their current or future partners within the matrix of their traditional family. Some of them in fact even wondered why their parents couldn’t find a same sex partner for them through arranged marriage, the same way as they were planning to do so for their straight siblings. So if you were mapping out a gay lifestyle chart for India, arranged marriages would have to be on it.

Do you think gay men are better off than queer women in India?

Well, we will have to decide what being “better off” means. But in a general sense, yes, I think so. Everything is so male-centric here, the fact that women have desires and agencies over their bodies and sexual choices is sometimes still a radical thought. Just look at the popularity of Balika Vadhu! Gay men are definitely more visible in society and in the media, and they have more organizations dedicated to them. This includes both social and health organizations. It is harder for women to resist a forced marriage that they’re often forced into, than it is for men. It is easier for a gay male couple to imagine living together, than for two women. Even in terms of the coolness quotient, films like Dostana offer a humorous, playful and in parts, positive take on homosexuality. What do the women get, other than ghastly queer phobic films like Girlfriend? I think it takes great courage for a queer woman to be herself in India, and I admire all those that do that. Having said that, it’s interesting that there haven’t been many male gay marriages in India, at least in the public eye, besides the high profile ones like that of Wendell and Jerome. On the other hand, one often hears of lesbian marriages, even from small cities and towns. So maybe, even though queer women might be worse off than gay men in India, they have more balls!

There’s a strong notion that Homosexuality is mostly Industry specific, as in Queer people hail from either the Fashion world or the Entertainment. Your view?

I think this is a silly notion to have. I know very few queer people in the fashion world and in the entertainment business. Most of the queer people I know are nuclear engineers, marine biologists, doctors, linguists or chartered accountants.

With the decriminalization of 377, what will be its impact on the HIV/AIDS campaign in India?

The impact will be positive. 377 made it difficult for health workers to reach queer people at risk from HIV, because of fear and police harassment. Hopefully that will now stop, and if it occurs, activists and health workers can take legal recourse. If you remember, the Naz petition was supported by the National Aids Control Association of India, a government body.

Some believe that it’s time for Indian Gay Celebrities to step out of the closet. Because they owe it to the community. Do you agree?

There are already several gay “celebrities” in India who are out of the closet. Ashok Row Kavi and Prince Manav, for instance. If you’re talking about Bollywood actors or directors who the media like to gossip about, then we need to define what you mean by stepping out of the closet. Many people might be out to their friends and family, but not to the media. I think one’s sexuality is a personal matter. Who one wants to discuss it with, and when, is a personal choice.

There are many people who are closeted who are doing a hell of a lot for the community in terms of donations, or other kinds of activism. Take for instance, one of my closeted interviewees for my book. He is from the corporate world, and he has in his own way, changed the HR policy of his company to be gender and sexuality neutral while considering new hires. People do whatever they can, in their own way, and when they feel the time is right, for them.

Do you believe monogamy is highly overrated in today’s day-n-age?

No. I believe that this is something that is a personal choice. For some couples, monogamy is very important and the bedrock of their relationship. For others, it is not, and they value other things. Nobody has the right to say that one is better than the other.

India, needless to say, is a super conservative place. How did your family deal with your openly identifying yourself as a gay male?

I’ve been rather lucky on this front. They have been supportive, though in varying degrees. My mom has been really amazing. It’s wonderful to have a strong support system in life, in general. I must have done some good karma in my last janam, no?

Now moving on to the Rapid Fire round;

The best dressed male desi-celebrity?

No one I can think of. They’re all awful. Ghastly. And they all need to shorten their trouser lengths. None of the men really has a sense of style, like say a Gayatri Devi had, or a Sabina Chopra or a Bandana Tiwari or a Feroze Gujral or a Priya Kishore or a Twinkle Khanna have among today’s women, or a Lapo Elkann has among international men. If I had to choose under duress, it would be Rahul Gandhi or Arjun Rampal.

And the one who immediately need to sack his designer?

All of them. Especially Salman, Saif, and Amitabh.

A Bollywood actress you wouldn’t mind switching sides for….

Sonam Kapoor.

A condom can …

And must be used. Always.

Karan Johar….

kabhi khushi kabhie gham…

Most effective way to get your attention (interested prospects, listen up!)…

Be nerdy, look like Dilton Doiley (from Archie’s). Have sharp ankles, elbows, wrists and a very sharp collarbone. (All of these turn me on.) Gift me a non-fiction book. Send me a link to your favourite TED talk when you see me online. Pursue a strange hobby, and tell me (shyly, awkwardly, but very intensely) how you’re going to change the world. Be kind – to others, and certainly to me, but most of all, to yourself.

Okay so the last bit could be termed as being very picky but then ‘He’s absolutely worth it’.

About the author

MJ

Now 30, 100% shudh desi lesbian. Likes living large, and on the edge. Dislikes stagnation, fence sitting and hypocrites. Lives in a bubble of joy, with occasional lapses into drama queendom. Currently nursing a massive crush on actress Chitrangada Singh (kind of eerie, her resemblance to the late Smita Patil, don’t you think?). Aspires to build a fully functional support system for the Gaysi community in India. And most importantly, top the 'Hottest eligible desi-lezzie' list one bright sunny day.