The events of the past two weeks initially allowed the queer denizens of Mumbai to revel in their favourite pastime, wallow in the swirling mud of uncertainty. The bone of contention was the Great Mumbai Pride Parade, a genial beast that, around this time of the year, lazily stirs at the August Kranti Maidan and then slowly trundles along to the soft sands of Girgaum Chowpatty, nodding and waving at beaming curious onlookers, a festive entourage in rainbow colour, voices chiming into the air like revolutionaries firing shots with play-pistols. The vibrant cavalcade, dubbed the Queer Azaadi March (QAM), was first denied permission by Mumbai Traffic Police but now it has got the green light. So the annual gay gala is now scheduled to take place on Saturday, February 2.
The festivity that the build-up to QAM ushers in each year, is now in full swing. From late in November 2012, there has been a full itinerary of cultural events, all of them exciting stopovers on the road to Pride. Like last year, the calendar includes a flashmob and a rock concert featuring out-and-about musicians, some of who have become minor celebrities on the circuit. Earlier this month was the second edition of the self-styled Queer Games, where instead of pole-vaulting and 100m dashes, the classic lemon and spoon sprint set the pace at Juhu Beach. A feature of this year’s pre-Pride activities has been the overwhelming participation by young people. This has been partly because of the efforts of new youth-focused groups like Yaariyan and partly because we are perhaps seeing the first lot of post-377 youngsters come into their own, without the baggage of ‘criminality’ that encumbered previous generations. In December, Yaariyan organised the pink darshan, a heritage walk of sorts to places of queer significance in the city — mostly smoky bars and pick-up joints, since for the longest time, the city nightlife was the only space that embraced gay people.
Much has changed. One of the most successful events was a fund-raising queer fête called the Gulabi Mela, in which the Moonshine Lounge at Juhu’s Habitat, a sleepy venue known for soporific drama rehearsals and dank air-conditioning, was suddenly transformed into a pulsating, heaving, and almost bursting at its seams, Goa-style flea market with people streaming in through a narrow portal to patronise stalls that peddled everything from cuff-links to shrink sessions to hot dogs to even a startling range of the skimpiest novelty underwear, in a stall run by a couple of enterprising straight lads who amply demonstrated how straight businesses were now acknowledging the power of the proverbial pink rupee.
Even though the space was miniature, the motivation and zeal was at its peak. Photographer Punit Reddy, who has seen the complexion of queer visibility in the city change over the years, said, “It’s great to see support pouring in from the youth. They have gone out of their way to speak out in a creative manner, and have made the awareness of equal rights fun, with tees, accessories, books — all expressing that being different is being unique and if you are gay, it’s perfectly okay.” One of the stall-owners, Inderjit Nagi, whose label Item Number creates accessories with a Bollywood twist, said, “This was a first of its kind, and quite wholesome in its approach. We sold much more than expected, but more than that there was the entertainment quotient.” Dancer Ameya Hemmady, who performed a couple of choreographed set-pieces, said, “It was nice that as an artiste I’m able to perform on a platform that allows me to be who I am, and emote from an honest place.” There was also a bookstall from the fledgling queer publishing house, Queer Ink, that was selling advance copies of its anthology, Out!, weeks before its formal launch by Nandita Das in January. With some of the contributing writers present, it provided youngsters with the opportunity to meet their role-models. Business consultant Kanishk Chaudhry was able to engage with his idol, script-writer Gazal Dhaliwal. “It was interesting to read her story of transformation in Out!, and then meeting her in person was the highlight of the evening,” he said.
QAM is a grand coming-out parade where we can announce ourselves proudly as integral members of society at large — even if people may choose not to recognise us, our existance cannot be denied. But what can also not be denied is that the community has found other ways of empowering itself — the show of strength is no more in just being able to congregate in large numbers in the public eye, but in being able to create networks and support structures within our own universe and there is something to show for that.
The writer is a playwright and frequently writes on queer issues.