The fourth Queer Azadi March took place on Saturday with close to 3,000 men and women matching step, singing songs and dancing to drums in the carnival that was the Pride. Not only were they marching for queer pride, but for the pride of all their other identities -- profession, gender and community affiliation
There's a reason why the Queer Azadi March, the gay parade in Mumbai which resumed in 2008, is called the Pride. It signals the pride of individuals participating in the 2.5 km march from August Kranti Maidan to Girgaum Chowpatty, as much as it indicates their pride in being part of a city where, over generations, people from different nationalities, classes, and regional affiliations, have come and stayed, giving rise to Mumbai's famed syncretism.
Narendra dressed as Shivaji at the Pride march outside Azad Maidan on
Saturday. PIC/ SHADAB KHAN
So when 40 year-old Narendra (who goes by one name), a member of Marathmoli Sona, a three-decade old 'orchestra' and dance troupe, chose to dress up as his idol, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, he was not doing anything out of the ordinary. However, even before the Pride march began, Narendra was shorn off his.
"Political log aaye hai. Bola hai ki tum Shivaji Maharaj ki tehre kaise kapde pehen sakte ho (some political people have arrived and are asking how you can dress up as Shivaji Maharaj)," a constable told Narendra, who was standing along with friends in a sea of thousands of supporters outside August Kranti Maidan.
Narendra was too stunned to put up a fight, and even as his friends argued for his right to wear any costume he desired, Narendra knew there was nothing he could do. He took off his jiretop -- the turban that the 17th century monarch wore.
"Shivaji fought for the independence of his people. That's why I chose to dress like him for the march, since we're all fighting for our independence," said Narendra, resplendent in a traditional gold brocade outfit, complete with sword, juttis and jiretop. He also wore a neatly trimmed beard and a crescent-shaped bindi to complete the look.
The constable shook his head, with a sad smile. "We need to maintain law and order," he said, and walked off. Looking grim, Narendra removed his beard stuck on to his face with glue. "I have worn this costume several times in the past. This wasn't a safe space to wear it," he said, removing the several hairpins that had kept his turban in place. He tucked the beard into his belt, as a supporter wearing intricate angel wings, made with peacock feathers and wire, brushed past him.
What Narendra gained on Saturday was his pride as a gay man, walking with his head held high with 2,500 other supporters dancing to drum beats, waving rainbow coloured flags, marching in step with feminists in red clothes, tourists from Spain, England and the US, students and heterosexual supporters of the queer movement.
What he lost was his pride as a kalakaar, a performer, whose costume had never before posed a problem to him, the way it did on Saturday. "Does Shivaji belong to the political parties, or to the people?" Narendra mused, adding that he was glad to dress up like the monarch. "I have claimed him as a Mumbaiite. I don't need to be a politician to do so," he said.
"What we have managed to do with the Pride march is make people sit up and notice us," said Srinivas Satya, one of the organising members. "What we still need to fight for is the pride to be recognised for all our other identities."