Mumbai embraces gays ahead of Valentine's Day
In a social experiment, our reporters ventured out on the streets of the city, asking for hugs and testing Mumbai’s response to homosexuality. Read the story to find out their verdict
The Supreme Court’s December judgment may have taken a closed view of section 377, but love, as the song goes, is the higher law, and today, there’s good news for love. Same-sex love. Mumbai, it seems, has opened up to embrace the homosexual community.
In a social experiment yesterday, MiD DAY decided to quantify the love the city has by asking Mumbaikars to hug a gay guy and a straight guy. Two of our reporters, assuming heterosexual and homosexual roles for the purpose, went to three city spaces, starting with St Xavier’s College, moving on to Girgaum Chowpatty and ending the hugfest at Nariman Point.
Jeet with a young woman who volunteered to give him a hug. Pic/Atul Kamble
Yes, a few people were hesitant measuring and judging and eyeing and questioning the reporter bearing the placard ‘Free Hugs: Hug A Gay Guy This Valentine’s’ but most others winked and smiled at and, voila! hugged him.
A sketchy stat here: girls preferred to hug him; the reporter with the “straight” placard didn’t manage to get too many. Here’s how our hugging trail unfurled.
St Xavier’s College, 1.30 pm
Time spent: 30 minutes
Hugs: Jeet-12 Varun-4
The footpath outside Xavier’s is where the two experimenters deemed it fit to station themselves, each in a corner, holding up a sign. After overcoming the initial awkwardness, they grew into their roles. As collegians poured in and out of the gates, they didn’t hum and haw but went straight to hug Jeet, who was holding the ‘Hug A Gay Guy’ placard.
Jeet with one of his 12 huggers outside St Xavier’s. Pics/Atul Kamble
The first embracer was a girl, and, half and hour later, 10 of the 12 people who had hugged him were, tellingly, girls. The boys seemed shy, except for this one person who, spotting us only when we set out on our way to our next destination, ran across the road to come and give Jeet a warm hug.
On the other hand, Varun, holding the sign ‘Free Hugs this Valentine’s’, got only four hugs. These, incidentally, came from people who had gone to Jeet first, seen the lonely guy at the far end of the pavement bearing a similar placard though, making no mention of his orientation and hugged him because “we don’t want you to feel left out”. We liked these people even more now. Many Xavierites told us they supported our “cute” idea. Some kids wrote ‘Hugs’ on Jeet’s placard and clicked his photos.
Girgaum Chowpatty, 2.15 pm
Time spent: 1 hour
Hugs: Jeet-1 Varun-0
The Chowpatty, where apparently the everyman is found, gave us a bit of a cold shoulder after the soul-warmers we had got at Xavier’s. In all, one girl came forward to hug Jeet. Varun got none. Comfortingly, though, we found that many people acknowledged Jeet’s presence, with a smile, a wave or a thumbs-up.
Varun (in red) and Jeet (in black) patiently answer the man from Chhattisgarh (first from left) at the chowpatty in SoBo
Then, there strolled up to him a guy, claiming to be from Chhattisgarh, and he asked, “What does ‘gay’ mean?” We told him, and in turn, were treated to a sermon on our shared ‘sanskriti’ and suchlike rationales for leading a heterosexual life.
We told him to hug Jeet and see for himself that it would be just like hugging a “sansakri” person, and in response, he walked away. After spending close to an hour looking for hugs, worn out with all the people neglecting our statement, we packed up and left for our final destination.
Nariman Point, 3.30 pm
Time spent: 1.25 hours
Hugs: Jeet-1 Varun-0
We started our walk from the NCPA end of the stretch, halting at places, and people peered in to read the signboards round our necks. They acknowledged Jeet and gave him well-meaning looks of bonhomie, but from far away. No one actualised all that bonhomie we were sensing into a hug.
The social experimenters are done for the day, and return home, not very disappointed with the city
Then, a peanut vendor came and asked us what was written on the “colourful” placard. When we told him, he asked what ‘gay’ meant in Hindi. ‘Samlaingik’, we said. Then, he bared his teeth in a grin. But chose to skip giving that hug the placard was asking for.
Helpfully, though, he told us that we should stick around till sundown, when many more people would show up in the area. He stayed near us till the time we were ready to call it a day. Then, just as we were ready to give up, a girl came and gave Jeet a large, friendly squeeze.
From our visits, there were a few others we remember. Some sat next to us, some gawked at us, a foreigner winked at us and raised his thumb to show his approval. It merits a mention here that nobody mocked us. Nor were we, with the exception of a couple of people, met with homophobia.
It didn’t take us any brainstorming to conclude that Mumbai has come a long way in accepting a way of life that is as valid and dignified as any other, a choice made by many of our sons and daughters and friends and best friends. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day.