This year I decided to cheat winter by spending the last 28 days of the season travelling around India, a country which I found to be as colourful as expected and much more intense than I could have ever anticipated. A country of extremes, India never ceased to overwhelm me. My little Indian adventure was packed with exhilarating moments of wonder and shock, as well as with beautiful sights; no least, the local men. My first point of contact was New Delhi, where I was faced on my arrival with a striking ephemeral vision: The Boy in Purple. Whilst stuck in a traffic jam on a taxi from the airport, I saw this young man sitting on a public bench, wearing a purple shirt and black trousers. There was something intense and calm, ancestral even, about his body posture and about the concentrated expression on his handsome face. Like so many things in India, his position seemed carefully posed as if to be photographed by tourists; and, like almost everything in Delhi, he seemed covered in dust. But the dust could not overcast the splendid beauty of his dark brown skin, the masculine bony structure of his sexy body or the vividness of the purple shirt. I did not manage to take out the camera on time to photograph him but his looks left a strong imprint on me.
It was my introduction to the many homoerotic delights India had to offer. I am talking, for example, about the young male couples holding hands, kissing each other’s cheeks or wrapping their arms around each other’s waist and shoulders; about the men casually pissing against the walls of the city in bright daylight or carelessly scratching their balls; about the men publicly getting down to their underwear to bathe in the lakes and rivers – with the occasional flashes of genitals through the wet wraps; about the body searches (in airports, temples and the underground) ending always with a pat on the buttocks not granted by the required scrutiny.
Yet these public displays of manly sensuality should not be perceived as expressions of gay love, which is still illegal in India. 2013 saw the return of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, inherited from British rule, which states that non-procreative sexual acts (including consensual gay sex) are punishable with life in prison. It is anyone’s wonder why procreation should be such a priority in a country as notoriously overpopulated as India. And, although this law is rarely enforced, it sadly perpetuates social condemnation and pushes gay lifestyles underground – even if some slow progress is luckily being made. In fact, based on my limited experience, Section 377 is not affecting the use of dating apps like Grindr or Scruff, which are very popular amongst gay Indian men.
And here there is something to be said about colour, skin colour. Obviously, in India you will not see profiles stating “No Asians”. Most users indeed self-define as South Asian and often use phrases like ‘Made in Delhi’ or ‘Indian Delight’ as their profile tags. Yet I did see app users announcing that they were looking for GWM (Gay White Men). Similarly, a message I received from a boy in Mumbai read: ‘Hi How r u; I like white men; so hot; where r u dear; I meet u; where you stay’. And Arjun, a young man I met through Grindr and who drove me to a gay men’s sauna in Delhi, said unprompted: ‘Indian men don’t do it for me’.
I will not report here my experiences at the (illegal) gay spa but I will say that it was difficult for us to locate it and when I noted that, based on Google maps, the venue should be near a Hindu temple dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman, Arjun dismissively said he didn’t care about religion, adding: ‘Most gay men in India are not religious’. Somehow the statement rang a bell.
When I arrived in Delhi, I had no pic on my Grindr profile and one of the first messages I received was from a hijra or hijda (India’s third sex). Whether inter-sex, transgender or emasculated eunuchs, hijras are very angry individuals. And who can blame them? All the hijras I encountered wore red saris. The first one was a Muslim, entering the gorgeous mausoleum of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi. The second one was getting a fabulous henna tattoo at the Main Bazaar of the capital city. The third one was on the train in Mumbai. She was walking through the passengers, touching first their shoulders and then their heads, begging for a few rupees. I was part of a European group of tourists and the hijra spared us all except for our tour guide, Zibran, who was a local. When she noticed his handsome face, she caressed the stubble on his chin. He reacted with a macho shrug as if to indicate he had nothing to do with it. He went on to explain: ‘He is not a he; she is not a she. Nobody will employ her so she has to beg’. As Indian author Khushwant Singh wrote in his phenomenal novel “Delhi”: ‘They say, take woman, take boy— okay! But a hijda! That’s not nice.’ Ironically, in a country where a hermaphrodite version of one of their most powerful gods, Shiva, is devoutly worshipped by Hindus, hijras are treated worse than the untouchables.
But I want to finish on a positive note, with a reference to the medieval monument Qutub Minar, the remains of the earliest Muslim settlement in Delhi, a gigantic minaret rising a few meters away from the gay sauna I visited, casting a phallic shadow over that site of forbidden manly pleasures.
Ernesto Sarezale – sarezale.com