People reflect their cities. As someone who was born and brought up in Calcutta and now lives in Delhi, I have seen these two cities embracing and rejecting their people in very different ways.
One of my closest friends, S, had flown down all the way from Bombay to see me. I left work early afternoon on February 14 to meet him at Connaught Place. Coincidentally, it happened to be Valentine’s Day.
At Connaught Place, I could see lovebirds all around, holding hands, giggling. Some possibly celebrating their first Valentine’s. I was more cynical. I have never understood the point of having just a day in the year to lyricise love but it felt appropriate being there with S. Our friendship has been effortless and we have seen and felt love in very broken ways. So, there we were, two great friends walking the streets of Rajiv Chowk looking for a drink in a pub away from the chaos and commotion of Valentine’s Day. I wanted to take him to Warehouse Cafe. I had been there earlier with my friends and quite liked their music.
The pub was in the midst of its romance fuelled festivities. There were red and white balloons all around the elevator of the pub. At their main entrance, S and I were immediately stopped by the staff. “Nahin Sir. Valentine’s Day ka celebration chal raha hai. Only couples are allowed,” a staff member said. Apparently, they were celebrating ‘love’ but were only allowing ‘boy and girl’ couples. I was instantly curious and asked to see someone from their management.
When it comes to my sexuality, I have generally abhorred lapsing into simplification. I have been with both men and women. Moreover, I feel suffocated in boxes. So, at that moment, in a split-second decision, for the convenience of entering the pub, I told them we were a couple. S was not shocked. He has been professing his love for me! He smiled.
The response of the staff members shocked me, however. They giggled and looked at us as if we were alien beings. After this went on for a while, I felt really embarrassed and I got furious.
“Why aren’t homosexual couples allowed?” I demanded. “Are you celebrating love or just ‘heterosexual love’?”
The staff member replied, “Sir, we have instructions from the management, sorry.”
No one from the pub management showed up, although I desperately continued to ask for them. The man who was talking to us gestured us to leave so that we wouldn’t block the entrance. Even his gesture made me feel disrespected but for the sake of S who did not want to make an issue of it, we left. I was still fuming.
That afternoon, all the other mixed gender couples found a table at Warehouse Café to have their drinks. S and I didn’t get ours. I have always heard of such situations or watched them in movies. That afternoon, I was struck by a profound sense of rejection for being who I am. It made me realise that I’m living in a country that doesn’t allow me to be, that foists its heteronormative standards on everyone. But, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t keep quiet. After all, the word ‘couple’ is gender neutral. Only by sharing my story can I make sure that our celebrations of love, in whatever form they take, are truly inclusive.