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  • India next hub of gay tourism?

    Post Date:- 06.05.10


    Earlier this week, the New York Times in the business, not fiction, section suggested that India could become the next big hub for gay tourism.

    The NYT pegged its Panglossian optimism largely on the fact that a year ago, in July 2009, the Delhi High Court put a coda to an eight-year-long battle for gay rights in a landmark judgment struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, arguing inter alia that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to sex, and that discrimination on sexual orientation is not permitted under Article 15. And about time, too the law, which had earned India considerable condemnation [also read full text of a Human Rights Watch letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh], was based not on Indian sensibilities but on those of the British circa 1860, when Lord Macaulay deemed that Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

    The judgment, NYT points out, plays into the mindset of gay travelers who are reluctant to visit countries that have harsh anti-gay laws. The repeal of Section 377 basically means that the police force is deprived of a handy means of extortion [the spine of author Vikram Seth's argument in favor of repeal]. Coupled with other developments such as the proliferation of gay-pride parades in major metros in recent years [images from Bombay's gay pride parade 2009], and the gay film festival of earlier this year, the NYTs optimism is understandable. Also questionable: repealing a law is easy; ending centuries-old prejudices, not quite so much, as the case of Aligarh Muslim University professor Dr Srinivas Ramachandra Siras should have made clear. And then there are the on-ground problems, vide this clip from the NYT piece:

    Mr. Malhotra said he felt it was a shame that gay Indian couples could not explore and enjoy their own country as openly as they could in other parts of the globe. He decided to form IndjaPink to give gay men a safe way to travel in India without having to hide who they were.

    One of the biggest challenges in designing itineraries for gay travelers, Mr. Malhotra said, has been heightening the sensitivity of the hospitality industry. For example, despite being informed that a group of tourists is gay, the front desk staff at some hotels often seems determined to put same-sex couples in rooms with separate single beds.

    A big part of IndjaPinks business, Mr. Malhotra said, involves speaking to drivers, housekeepers, doormen and bartenders to ensure hassle-free holidays for his clients.

    Its important that the staff not speak in hushed tones behind a guests back if hes sharing a private moment with his partner or not stare at the couple in the rearview mirror if theyre holding hands in a taxi, Mr. Malhotra said.

    Sometimes, though, getting the message across can be difficult. When Ive had meetings with drivers and asked them if theyre comfortable being around gay people, Ive had them turn around and tell me, Yes, yes, sir, were all gay here too. Very happy and gay.

    Ahem!

    Coincidentally, around the same time the NYT was waxing optimistic about Indias acceptance of the gay-lesbian sexual culture, a writer of Indian origin was discovering that it was not all that easy to be open about his sexual preferences in this country.

    When I come to India and I come quite frequently with my partner weve never been openly gay. Were always careful not to make our relationship very explicit. It becomes difficult to make those adjustments at times. I never rest my head on his shoulder while on a bus, something I would be much more inclined to do in the US.

    Rahul Mehta is in fact the point of this blog post [what, you thought it was a polemic on 'alternate sexuality'?]. The lecturer in English at Alfred University, New York, recently released his fiction debut Quarantine, a collection of short stories, under the Random House imprint that has begun making an appearance on Indian bookshelves.

    In an essay on the Random House blog, Mehta talks of how he came out to his parents. Im yet to read the book [blame it on a ceiling-high pile of 'to-read' books on my bedside table], but Nilanjana Roy, my friend and go-to resource on anything to do with books, has a review out on her blog that is largely encouraging of the debutant. The money quote:

    Quarantines greatest flaw is its narrow ambition, and Mehtas deliberately constrained rangeits the exact opposite of the baggy monster school of writing, and for a certain kind of reader, the limitations wont be a barrier. It announces Rahul Mehta as an extraordinarily astute, talented young writer, blessed with a quality not often considered literaryhe has empathy, and he writes dialogue like a practised eavesdropper. It would be unfair to stereotype Quarantine as just a collection of gay writings, any more than John Updikes short stories are just a collection of writings about hetero relationships, but Mehtas lack of self-consciousness makes this a wonderful exploration of writings about gay men and different approaches to masculinity, as well as the family in general.

    Over the next decade, itll be interesting to see whether Mehta manages to expand his range. His craft and his assurance are unquestionable, but while Quarantine is a beautiful, and often moving, read, it stops just short of being memorable. Thats a problem Mehta shares with John Cheever, and it didnt stop Cheever from building his reputation and his audience over time.

    Enjoy. And if you have a list of favorite gay fiction, share names/links with the rest of us, in the comments field.


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