Book Excerpt: Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India by Parmesh Shahani

An excerpt from ‘Preface to the Special Anniversary Edition’ in Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India, Special Anniversary Edition by Parmesh Shahani, published by SAGE Publications India.

PREFACE (pp. xviii-xxi)

Another change personally over the years has been my own persona. From being someone who was rather shy 15 years ago, to being a flamboyant over the top fashionista who is regularly featured in our country’s fashion magazine “best dressed” lists, it’s been quite a ride! In fact, my fashionista journey began in 2008 with one of the first Gay Bombay book release events at the office of the fashion magazine Verve that I had just taken over as Editorial Director of. I wore a rather risqué rani pink silk kurta for that party with most of the top buttons open. I had also painfully waxed my chest – never again. (The risk-reward ratio just isn’t worth it!) From there to being a regular at fashion weeks and parties over the years, even though I’m not directly involved with the glamour business any more – what can I say except that I’m loving every moment of it. Whether in fashion or in business, or as a blue tick holding micro influencer in the digital world, I am in a different place today than I was in 2008, and I consciously use my vantage point to push for queer visibility and inclusion, wherever and whenever I can.

I felt young when this book came out in 2008, but today, at age 44 I don’t feel so young any more! At our Godrej India Culture Lab, I am surrounded by a team and interns that are all in their 20s and I can safely say that each one of my team members is much more talented and hardworking than me. I really think the world would be much better if we let the youth run it. It is now my endeavour to simply stay out of their way as much as I can, and come up with ways to pass my knowledge and experiences on to them and future generations. Time for legacy building!

One of the things my team members have taught me to do is to protest. As I march with them in the different student led protests in my city at the time of writing this foreword, I watch in awe, as my fellow of citizens across the country brave so much more, and risk so much more. What inspires me today are the intersectional voices on the ground – the feminist, trans rights, anti-caste and environmental conservation movements are all coming together in solidarity, and this is so wonderful to witness. I was pretty ignorant of intersectionality when I wrote Gay Bombay and over the years, because of the exposure I have had, because of the kindness of friends and most of all because of my fab team, it has become the framework with which I view the world.

In the context of all of the above, what is the point of reading this old book about 15 years after it was first written? I think there are two points actually. The first is that queer lives matter. Our stories matter. The lives of people chronicled in Gay Bombay still continue to be relevant. The highlight of re-reading this book for me is in re-visiting the narratives of all my interviewees who shared their stories with me with so much trust. Just like dear old Rose when she gets back on the Titanic, I simply have to open this book to hear the voices of my interviewees and flashback to the time I spent doing the research for this project. (Cue for “My heart will go on….” to interrupt your line of thought, now!)

Point number two, the modus vivendi that I ended the book with then is as relevant now as ever. I had written about the conflict between the Gay Bombay group and the Humsafar Trust in the book, and also differences within the queer community over issues of class, language, straight acting-ness versus effeminacy, coming out versus being closeted, the different meanings of activism and attitudes towards HIV. I wrote in the book’s initial introduction that within all these struggles, what was being negotiated was “the very stability of the idea of Indianness”. My interviewees had fashioned a distinctly Indian gay identity for themselves, as opposed to a Western gay identity. I had hoped in the book’s introduction that “as India re-imagines itself as a global superpower in the 21st century it is vital that this re-imagination includes the presence of its diverse and marginalized populations”. I had extended this hope in the book’s conclusion that the process of re-imagination should extend itself within the queer community towards marginalized queers, whose voices were often unheard in the larger conversations about Indian queerness. I had rather earnestly proposed a modus vivendi as the book’s conclusion. I wanted to build a common ground for the queer community in which we came together to work through our differences. Parts of this modus vivendi are very idealistic when I read it now, but this is exactly why I feel it is so important to re-visit.

Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India
Special Anniversary Edition

Parmesh Shahani – Vice President at Godrej Industries Ltd.
Published in 2020/ 344 pages / Ebook

(Kindle Edition): ₹435.00/ Paperback: ₹595.00 (9789353884208) / SAGE Select (Also available on KOBO and Google Play)  

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