TW: White gaze
To what it added to my spirit; I will always remember. Thank you, India ‘98.
I arrived in India from Spain in the summer of 1998. Many locals there called me “Armaan” or “Aam aando” instead of Armando. It was whimsical. My grandfather had lived 5 years in India in the 1940´s, so I grew up hearing lots of stories about India. Nonetheless, I had very little knowledge about the specifics of the place.
He would always say that in India, people would cut the lawn with a knife. When I arrived, I saw it for myself: people cutting large grass lawns by hand, with a knife.
At 16, I got into the United World Colleges program. I had several options, and India was the most distant destination. I was keen on living somewhere far from home and some place culturally challenging. True to my expectations, it was a mosaic of diversity. UWC Pune was a multicultural institution with students from various nations. There were a bunch of Indian students who took an IB course like me and many of them were queer; like me.
Back then, I hadn’t known who I was, or who I liked. I felt raw and fluid. I was naive but wild; I had the edges of my head shaved, only to have a long ponytail at the back. I had tubs of bleach and would colour it every week.
I turned heads with my unicorn hair; indradhanush baccha, they called me.
In the first year, I dated J, who was from Venezuela. We both shared our dorm with 5 Bombay boys. These city boys, chilled and lay down with each other in their chaddis. Literal chaddi buddies– I thought. They slept around each other on unfolded sheets and stank collectively. It was the perfect scene for an Italian director to go cut! and commence a vintage orgy film. (The Bombay boys were super straight by the way) They were our compliant comrades.
Our sweet sixteen souls took refuge within the walls of the campus. It was funny to me and J to see rules like “Boys not allowed” outside girl’s dormitories and vice versa… the homosocial atmosphere reflected a value system that helped same-sex relationships bloom.
The youth of 1998-1999 in India experienced an emergence of change. It was evident in the pop culture we followed, in the artists that we liked, the circles we chose and the films we watched. In ‘99, I witnessed a riot caused by the release of Mehta’s Fire. There was no media to “cover” it. Whimsical.
J and I travelled miles… not to find new lands but ourselves. For a gay couple, things were pretty convenient for us. We could easily book rooms in hotels; I weaved my way through as I was away from my family and never felt threatened amidst hospitable surroundings… It was far different from what I could have gotten out of myself, had I stayed in Spain.
Little did I know that I would keep visiting afterwards. Two decades later, I found love here. My husband’s life-lores only add to the many things I love about the country.
One of my visits to the banks of the Ganges had vyayamshalas which trained young men in their spiritual and martial practices, preparing them to live their lives in compliance with long-established cultural and social norms. And these kushti practicing men manifested hypermasculinity in combat; drawing surmise, speculation and an alternative gaze.
Langoti babus from the Bhupin Khakkar painting, I said to myself, as I watched them. This tradition endowed a rhythmic rustle of their muscles – adding to my Oriental phantasmagoria.
India continues to surprise me still. From being mind-blown at seeing people cut long grassy weeds by hand to seeing men hold hands navigating through alleys… It helped me flow through a labyrinth to a plural spectra of being.
My rainbow soul seeded the soils of India.
India, became home.