Book Review: Gay Bombay

Book Review: Gay Bombay
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First Published: Tue, Apr 29 2008. 12 00 PM IST

Updated: Sat, Sep 20 2008. 03 37 PM IST
Gay Bombay
Globalization, love and (Be)longing in contemporary India
By Parmesh Shahani
Price Rs395; Pages 349
Sage Publications
In my 12- year old mind, I cannot yet comprehend the feelings that I am developing for E. I have a crush on Suraiya. That I know. She is wonderful to be with and when she speaks to me, it makes me happy. I blush whenever we are teased together and it makes me feel respected and appreciated amongst my friends, even though it is supposedly clandestine. But what am I to do with my feelings about E? I never stare at Suraiya the way I stare at E
It is such nuggets of subjective personal information packed within the larger
Parmesh Shahani, author, Gay Bombay
objective question on the ramifications of being gay in India, that make Gay Bombay an informative, thought provoking and interesting read.
Well researched and written in a frank and conversational style, the book manages to bridge the gap between being heavily academic and serious and being frivolous and mushy. The book also represents a coming-to-terms with the self, for its author who is also gay.
Parmesh Shahani wrote the book while he was doing his Masters in Comparative Media Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a graduate thesis. Without being self conscious he says, that in many ways, the book marked the end of a chapter in his life, a time when he could come out in the open about his sexuality.
At the core, the book studies a social group called “Gay Bombay”. Formed in 1998, it represents a “queer haven---a safe space for gay individuals to come together, affirm their identities and explore their sexualities.”
As of January 2007, the group’s website had a membership of over 5000 people and an average of 450 postings a month. Much of the book is based on characters and situations that the group members experienced. It also explores the circumstances that led to the book coming out in its present format.
It sensitively tracks some of the media’s reportage of gay issues and its effect on group members, the online and offline interaction of these members and the feeling of strong kinship that came to exist between them.
The book places all their questions, concerns and even affirmations within a historical and contemporary context, providing the book with its ‘soul’. For instance, Shahani identifies key trends and examples in coverage of gay issues in the media including print, electronic and radio to trace hesitant acknowledgement of a group till now considered on the fringes of society.
He traces the effect of Internet and technology on people with alternate sexuality living in a bustling metropolis like Mumbai. What comes out quite clearly is the fact that times have changed, even in conservative, hypocrtical India. The book brings out various nuances in interactions of the community, hitherto considered taboo to even talk. Some of the chapters explore questions like class differentials that exist within the folds of the gay community and the expectations which gay men have from one another.
Parmesh ends on a note of optimism, hoping that Gay Bombay and the Indian “queer movement” will be able to create a better society which includes them as equals. His own personal journey with rich anecdotal material gives love and affection a new dimension.
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First Published: Tue, Apr 29 2008. 12 00 PM IST