Gay in the City
(With inputs from Ananya Dhote in Delhi, Aditya in Kolkata, Shiva Prasad in Hyderabad, Ravi in Chennai and Kishore Kumar in Pune)
Being a frequent traveler is a nuisance and a boon in itself. The long hours in the trains and buses (Student budget guys! Air travel is way too expensive!) are enough to drain you as it is, but when you end up in a strange city with nowhere to chill and relax, or find a nice cruising place, you end up cursing yourself at the end of a trip as to “Why oh Why was this trip uneventful?” (ahem! I do that a lot!)
So saving all of you frequent travelers a lot of mental aggravation when it comes to having a good time in a strange city, Pink Pages brings to you a blow by blow (pun unintended) account of the LGBT scene across India’s major metropolitan cities.
One doesn’t have to be an out and proud die hard activist to be a part of the Delhi LGBT culture. The queer social circle is drawn around a personalized group of friends that catch up every now and then, or there are queer events like parties(notably, parties for gay men hosted by Boyzone), art exhibitions/film screenings that either center around Nigah or are notified by a plethora of online social networking groups like Queer Delhi(on Facebook).
These events help to provide socializing space for a community whose denizens feel isolated not only from the conventional milieu but also amongst themselves. On the whole, this results in having a positive impact on their coming out. But, these events also respect the extent to which a person might be closeted. 80% of the people that are a part of the active gay culture are not completely out. At such events or informal gatherings, one is not allowed to take pics etc.
Gay culture is moving away from the shady parks/alleys to posh nightclubs. Boyzone hosts weekly Saturday night events at the POLKA club or at Pegs N Pints. They have been hosting special Halloween, Christmas and New Year bashes too. More information available at PR (erstwhile g4m).
Putting orientation aside, for women the going is not as easy as gay men. So, while the gay parties and events are quite publicized, the social scene for lesbians may be active, but restricted. Online lesbian and bi women groups like Pink Delhi form a network of friends that know each other personally; they organize get-togethers that can be informal meetings, clubbing or in house parties. Personal information of members is, as always, kept confidential.
One of the most famous names in Delhi is Nigah, a non-funded queer collective that works on issues of gender and sexuality. Based in Delhi since 2003, they organize events each month and entry to all the events is free. Events range from art shows, performances, to the widely publicized Nigah Queer Fest, where a plethora of films, interactive workshops, and arts and literary events are held.
One word. Freaked out!
Mumbai nightlife, even the straight type, has been said to be one of India’s most happening. So why not the gay life? Mumbai has just the most exciting venues and parties, apart from a very prominent activism scene, and of course the ever alluring queer-themed festivals which feature the most prominent of the queer literati, and the glitterati.
Gay Bombay constantly keeps organizing monthly film screenings, parent-counsellor meets, and of course the (almost) weekly parties held at various happening places across Mumbai (mostly town side). Don’t be amazed if you find your favorite TV stars boogying there; the party circuit sees a good participation of well known faces (only sometimes though). Apart from the GB parties, Salvation Star and God Save the Queer are other noteworthy party planners. For those who prefer a more mixed crowd (homo and hetero), venues like Zenzi and Firangi Paani are very gay friendly. Most parties have a majority of gay participation, but the lesbian crowd has been seen frequenting these more often off late, in very small numbers though. (More on the lesbian scene in Mumbai in Priya Ganoo’s ‘Mumbai’s L Factor’ in the Metro Life section of the magazine.)
The Humsafar Trust comes out with Bombay Dost, the oldest LGBT magazine in India, though it caters to Mumbai and nearby areas. For those who’d like to shop for some pride articles and stuff, check out Azaad Bazaar’s outlet in Bandra (we covered them in our last issue too; their stuff is pretty great!).
azaadbazaar.com, gaybombay.org, humsafar.org
Kolkata is a simple city full of all simple people and life. Full of grace and audacity this city gives the casual visitor such an exciting experience that one can never forget in their life. One wouldn’t know much about Kolkata`s night life. Might even have a few strong opinions that unlike Mumbai, Kolkata becomes dead in the night time. No discos, partying out etc. in all a dully dull life. Says Aditya, who stayed in the city for a couple of months, “Even though I had heard a lot about Kolkata`s gay life, but since I explored the city with a whole bunch of my straight friends, I never had an experience of that picturesque also. This glass of my belief was broken by two straight friends of mine, who were damn excited telling us all their story of a visit to a pub and where they enjoyed themselves a lot. But the biggest shock I had when they made it clear that it was a gay pub.”
“For some time, I doubted them but my doubts vanished as I realized the real reason for their excitement. Cheap passes, stag entry allowed and unlimited drinks with freedom of hips & legs moving was all they were excited for. ‘Park Street’, a famous area for youth night life, was our destination.”
Apart from the party scene, it is well known that Kolkata was the first Indian city to hold a pride parade in 1999 when just 15 people turned up. Today it’s become an important event in the city’s calendar. Sappho for Equality, an organization for lesbian/bisexual women, has been organizing paper conferences on queer issues since 2008. There are also plenty of film festivals being organized by various organizations.
It is correct to say that the gay scene has just taken off in Chennai. Private parties and discreet meetings were commonplace even before the amendment of IPC-377. However, in a place where discs shut down earlier than most major metros, it is only now that the party scene is, at max, just started gaining momentum.
Chennai Dost is a major organization here which keeps on organizing parties, film screenings, meetings, and of course the Pride Parade, which happened in Chennai for the first time last year. Regular visitors and localites would know that Marina Beach (near Kannagi Statue) is a major gay-cruising spot, apart from Besant Nagar Beach and TVK Park, Anna Nagar. Chennai Dost has a pub dedicated for gays and bisexuals on Wednesdays called Diesel in T Nagar, and another location in Nungambakkam.
Unlike other metros, the amount of literary events and openly queer film festivals are next to nil in this southern city, primarily because of the still dominant ‘we don’t talk about sex, leave alone gay sex’ policy among a sizeable majority of the city’s denizens.
If I were to personally pick a city that could be called the ‘potential gay capital of India’, I would undoubtedly choose Bengaluru. Even with IPC 377 passing and the plethora of events being held in Delhi, Bengaluru as a city can be said to have a more gay-friendly (I’m not talking about gay-tolerant, but gay-friendly) culture.
The Bengaluru gay scene is varied; from queer film festivals to literary events, to evening tea with your whole gang, or a Joggers club for those who like the morning air, Bengaluru has something to appeal to everyone.
We start with the Saturday night party organized by Pink Nation or Party Square (the two most famous party organizers; my friends and I always have a dilemma as to which one to go for!) at one of the many awesome locations, including Seven Hotel. For those who’re still not hungover, Gay Runners and Breakfast at Cubbon Park at 8:30 am on Sunday is the best bet. Moving on to the hangout zones, MG-Brigade can literally be called as Liberty Avenue, especially on Sunday evening when the whole queer crowd comes over and relaxes over coffee at the Barista at Barton Centre (MG Road; this place has a reputation of having atleast 50% queer crowd at any given point of time. Even the golgappa wala can tell you the names of the more famous ones in the queer circle!). Honestly, one is bound to run into atleast a dozen acquaintances, which includes ex-boyfriends, hags, half of my ignore list, crushes with their latest arm candies (<heartbreak>), etc.
Film festivals keep happening time to time; one of them is scheduled in April. Bengaluru also had their first gay pride last year, and overall the city is surprisingly very gay friendly, in addition to the extensive family-like bonding between its queer inhabitants.
Pune has a happening queer scene, though it may not be as bustling as Mumbai or Bangalore. Beginning with a bed-and-breakfast at Keith’s you can be assured of a comfortable stay in Pune, if you know where to go.
Regular events and social gatherings are conducted by a social support group called “Birds of a Feather” (BOAF), run by Apphia K. These activities include parties and fun events held at happening venues. These parties happen once a month on average, and the next one is scheduled in early February. Entry is strictly based on prior reservation, which can be done by adding yourself on the group’s Facebook page. A group page also exists on PlanetRomeo. A guest list is prepared, and you usually need to be a part of the list to get in. You can take your straight friends along, but other straight people are kept out. This meticulous process is designed to, as Apphia says, keep out the homophobes. An entry fee is often collected to cater to the needs of arranging for a venue, and other administrative requirements.
Pune Mirror and TimeOut are journals that are queer friendly and bring out articles on queer-related issues. A quarterly journal called “Jiah” is brought out from different cities in the country, centred in Pune. It deals with lesbian-related issues.
Other businesses in Pune that are queer friendly include Either-Or, which recently opened a Pune outlet of AzaadBazaar. High Spirits, Zavoo’s and Opus are restaurants that are queer friendly, where you can simply be with your friends in a comfortable atmosphere.
Hyderabad, a staid and unexciting city a decade ago, started its metamorphosis at the beginning of this century, grew by leaps and bounds into a mega metropolis. Now the 5th largest city in India, with its distinct navabhi character, it has a small but visible gay population. The scene definitely exists and is getting better. Standing by its cosmopolitan appeal it has embraced the concept of alternate lifestyle quite well. We may not have paraded with all the pomp and allure like the other metro cities of India but we have been voted as the most gay-friendly city in the country. Hyderabad city is very friendly and tolerant towards gay guys. You can be out to your friends and yet see the immense support you receive. The support groups are doing their best too. Here the gay movement is more individual led than by an organisation or activists. Guys now have such clarity that they are coming out in college and know what they want from queer life. It would take a few more decades for gay life to come into the mainstream though. Attitudes toward gay men and lesbians vary here just as they do anywhere else. On average, however, you’ll find fewer Hyderabadis who think it’s any of their business whether you’re gay or straight. There are a few regular gay cruising places for the like the minded people to meet up. There are three pubs which cater to this community on dedicated days and the private parties are always there. There is a hesitation to put information online for the fear of attracting attention from the homophobic authorities.