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Parmesh's ViewFinder
Published: Volume 17, Issue 8, August, 2009

Jai hoarse

I have a hoarse voice and sore throat from all the partying that I’ve been doing all July, and if you call me right now, you might be mistaken in thinking that you have reached the voicemail of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan from Agneepath. Not that I’m complaining. I love the way I sound; it is my party animal badge and I couldn’t think of a nicer way to usher in August. There is much to celebrate this Independence Day.

Kicking off the party fever on July 2 was the Delhi High Court decision on reading down the archaic section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The judges ruled that it was illegal to criminalise a significant proportion of the country’s citizens just because they choose to love someone of their own sex. The verdict was significant not just in its timing, coming as it did immediately after the new government being formed at the centre, but also in the words used by the judges. They quoted Nehru and Ambedkar and wrote about the dignity of the individual enshrined in the constitution, and for the need for the court to ensure equality for all Indians. Just a year ago, we had a Verve Lounge at which I read from my book GayBombay at the Verve office. At that time, I had hoped for an India where people would not be legally victimised because of their sexual orientation, but I had no idea that it would happen within a year.

I walked into the same Verve office with a spring in my step on July 2, and was welcomed by joyous colleagues. It was as if India had won another cricket World Cup. My friends reported similar scenes in homes and offices all over the country. The feeling is quite indescribable. (Imagine how someone might have felt waking up on 15th August 1947? Now multiply that several times.) Clearly, this was not just a victory for gay rights or for gay people alone, but for human rights, and for Indians at large. Like the majority of our Verve team, many people who were celebrating this verdict were heterosexual. Either they had gay family members and friends, or they were moved enough by the verdict to make their congratulations heard, or maybe they realised that the court verdict applied to them too, in a broader sense, as Indians and as world citizens.

My excitement was tempered slightly by hearing some of the homophobic rhetoric in reaction to the judgment. Most of it was just silly and being spouted by folks who clearly had no idea what they were talking about. (Mental hospitals and yoga asanas as a ‘cure’?) The rest seemed to me, a deliberate attempt to spread misinformation. Years of research have established that HIV is spread more by heterosexual men than by homosexuals. Indian culture has traditionally been plural and diverse, and incorporated same sex desires and relationships for centuries, as scholars such as Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai have documented. Finally, young Indian gays and lesbians are not a threat to society, but rather, some of the most traditional and family oriented people to be found, and this, I discovered, while conducting research for my book. Most of my interviewees wanted to incorporate their current or future partners within the matrix of their traditional family. Some of them in fact even wondered why their parents couldn’t find a same sex partner for them through arranged marriage, the same way as they were planning to do so for their straight siblings. So much for the anti-gay brigade.

have decided to tune out the rhetoric for the present. This is the time to celebrate, not argue – the arguments were completed in the courts – and thank goodness for our informed judges. On the night of July 2, waves of celebrations spread out all over the country. At the spontaneous dance party that I went for at a Chowpatty nightclub in Mumbai, hundreds of people were jammed together on the dance floor, smiling and congratulating each other, over the din of the music. Many of them had tears in their eyes. Some had brought their parents, or siblings with them. A bunch of happy lesbians were leaping all over the room, wearing party hats and handing out jalebis to everyone, from huge straw baskets that they were carrying by their sides. As I danced the night away, I wondered: what does it mean to struggle for years for an idea? And when the time finally comes, how does one deal with the rush of accomplishment and the inevitable nervousness that follows? What now? Do we rest? Do we raise the bar? In this magazine, while circuitously exploring the meaning of independence, we’ve talked to a range of women, some starting out on their success trajectories, and some well established (like the SEWA women), to explore this thought. We’d love to hear back from you about your own personal stories. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the Bombay Pride March on August 16. If you happen to be in the city on that date, do join me at August Kranti Maidan. I’ll be there proudly wearing my new black and white Verve T-shirt and waving this special independence day issue that you’re holding in your hands, at everyone who passes by.

Speaking of black and white…the grey overcast skies didn’t deter the swarm of guests who all dutifully decked up in black and white splendour for our 75th issue twin parties on July 15. You will read about these later in the issue and see pictures of how much fun we all had. Our entire Verve team looked stunning, as you can see in the event pictures, and we led the way in showing our guests how to party hard, Verve style. I was particularly touched by the presence of folks like Olive’s AD Singh, and Harper’s Bazaar’s Sujata Assomull who rushed to be with us after their own respective events in the city. Vogue’s Bandana Tewari flew back to Mumbai from her vacation and came straight to our party. Feroze Gujral fought off jetlag, rainstorms and a multiple hour flight delay at Delhi airport to make it to Bodhi Art in the nick of time so that she could read out an excerpt from her poignant essay to the appreciative audience. Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik delayed his outbound flight at our request, to deliver his mesmerising talk on black gods and white gods. (He went straight to the airport after his talk, leaving in his wake, several admirers all of who have since been SMSing me for his number!)

I have written before about how, to an outsider, the magazine business and the fashion and lifestyle world at large, may seem to be full of rivalry and cat fights, but it is a completely different view from within. Yes, we do compete with regard to the quality of our ideas and how these ideas get translated into the product you read every month, but this is a healthy, creative and enriching jugalbandi that feeds off each other…of the kind that Namita Devidayal and Pratish Motwani mesmerised us with at Bodhi Art, as the grand finale of our first party. At the end of the day, we’re one small, tightly knit family of writers, artists, photographers, designers, models, singers, actors, brand managers, advertisers, entrepreneurs…all trying to grow the creative industry space in India together, and it was this giant family that was dancing away at midnight to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits at the InterContinental. In this same spirit of family and lateral exchange, Shefalee Vasudev has invited me to be on the jury of the Marie Claire fashion awards later this year, and I have accepted, with delight.

The sky is pouring as I write this, but the action in Mumbai doesn’t seem to stop even for a bit. In fact, the monsoons are an adrenaline rush for the city. The more it rains, the more Mumbaiites want to go out, if not for yet another drive over the wondrous Bandra Worli Sea Link, then to one of the several cultural events that simultaneously take place each evening. I love the spontaneity at these events. It might be a CoHo session with elements of art, dance and music where Anju Taraporvala will take the mike to sing an impromptu Heal the World accompanied on the tabla and sitar. Or perhaps a workshop stumbled upon at the Bombay Paperie (do see Roopa Barua’s beautiful story on the store in this issue) where kids of all ages will gather together, and immerse themselves in handmade paper magic.

It might even be a simple giant trampoline set up on the ground floor of the gigantic Oberoi Mall in Goregaon, with a hundred screaming kids leaping next to their favourite cartoon characters at a Father’s Day event.

The ultra modern architecture of the sea link finds its foil in the glass and steel mall structure at Oberoi. I am very fond of getting a coffee from Gloria Jeans on the second floor, and observing my city through the giant wall of glass. Beyond the mall is the crowded highway and beyond it are tall skeletons of skyscrapers. A few minutes away in the opposite direction is the Aarey Milk Colony, no longer the forest it once was, with gargantuan structures like the Imperial Palace and the Royal Palms overriding the landscape. There are people everywhere I see and the atmosphere crackles with aspiration. I will miss this city so much when I relocate to the US at the end of this month.

As tempting and anthropologically fascinating the malls of Goregaon might be, I will miss my beloved South Bombay the most. I am glad that we shot our Genelia cover at the legendary Hamilton Studios this month. Her freshness, confidence and spunk, photographed against the nostalgic backdrop makes for a striking contrast. It symbolises the freshness-classicism dualism that we’ve infused the rest of this August issue with. Although I must confess, I didn’t spend too much time at Hamilton. The wet Ballard Estate street that wound round the studio led me as if under a spell, to Brittania Café, and its chicken berry pulao.

I will remember this delicious berry pulao in America (each grain of rice separated perfectly, with the tart Iranian berries complementing the tender chicken and sweet sauce) as I wolf down a late night burrito and grimace at its blandness and lumpiness. My mind will then wander to the palak paneer paratha at Jehangir Art Gallery’s Café Samovar, that I usually burn off by walking around the gallery exhibit or at the NGMA opposite, and then to the crab bharta at the InterContinetal’s Kebab Corner, which I like to seductively spoon into my mouth while seated at the corner table, facing the tempestuous waves of the Arabian Sea.

Some of my favourite South Bombay hangouts have shut. Café Naaz on Malabar Hill is now a water tank, and the historic Wayside Inn at Kala Ghoda, where Dr Ambedkar wrote the Constitution of India, has now been replaced by the ghastly Spice Route. Thankfully, new favourites have emerged, like Farhad Bombajee’s Kala Ghoda Cafe, whose ginger cake, egg sandwiches and freshly baked chocolate cookies are to die for. I am going to ask Farhad if he can pack me some cookies to take with me on my flight. They will remind me of the taste of home, if only for a few days.

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