Dear younger me,
Pause. No, don’t stare melodramatically at me. Really, drop your guard and listen. It’s all going to turn out wonderful and beyond the horizons of your dreams. But first you will go through a lot of self doubt.
Then laziness will exacerbate the self-hate. Stay put, drag those feet along and believe in the best of people because it’s true. Your current sample size is small, so don’t start wisecracking yet and cry yourself to sleep if you must, but everything’s coming up roses, baby!
I remember the day I saw the Facebook post about auditions for Rainbow Voices Mumbai, a Mumbai-based gay choir. That was the day I knew I was going to audition.
I dreamt that I would knock the socks off everyone in the room and make one person have goosebumps. I’d steal coy glances at them and while our chemistry would get tiresome for everyone else in the choir – thinking will they or won’t they hook up – after two or three months of dilly dallying, we would finally become boyfriends and screen would be swallowed by a giant rainbow.
Except what really happened was I went in and sang a couple of songs, met people who were neither dreamy nor did they have a roguish allure. I met gay people who didn’t hit on me. David, our wonderful choir director, taught us our parts of the harmonies.
My heartbreak was shorter than my dream. A sneaky wave of familial warmth hit me only a few months in. We were getting comfortable with each other. We greeted each other with hugs and traded silly lines about each other. We sang together and at some point, we sang like we were all one person. David said that’s the way a choir is supposed to sound.
I truly don’t remember when it was that the Pink Singers were mentioned. This time, I didn’t bite the dream bullet. They were going to visit Mumbai and sing with us. I had recently fallen hard for a desi boy who had retained his British accent from his three years of undergraduate degree and I was still reeling from how disastrous that had gone.
We met the Pink Singers months later, in January, and I instantly fell in love with their rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Love”. I was sobbing in the front seat and thinking, “What the hell is happening? Oh, they’re marvellous!”
Before they left, I managed to learn everyone’s name and got a sense of how reality can be iridescent and multidimensional and truer than dreams. Because what are dreams if not desires with tunnel vision? There were people of all age groups, sizes and shapes. There were couples and there were single people just like me. They all seemed confident. Our concert at the NCPA went great!
When we walked the Mumbai Pride together and partied after, I remember feeling lost. They were going back and I didn’t want to break away from the hugs.
Somebody said something about us needing to have passports during one of our Sunday rehearsals as we might have to go to London. My brain scoffed, “As if.”
All my plans were prefaced with a just-in-case. Just in case we did actually go, it was better that I got my passport renewed. Just in case I got the visa, I might end up going after all?
I treated the prospect of the entire trip right until we were in the check-in queue with the pretentious coolness of a guy who thought he was being checked out by someone handsome at the bar. I wasn’t going to let up. Besides, half our choir, the students, couldn’t get their visas and I felt like an impostor. It was only when we were in our seats and had raised a toast with the flight wine that I finally smiled until my cheeks hurt. It was happening!
We landed and were hugged and kissed and taken to the Pinkies’ homes where we’d be staying for the next 10 days!
My hosts were Ben and Paul, who had been married for eight years. I was meeting them for the first time in London as they couldn’t make it to India in January. Paul had asked me on Facebook what my eating preferences were and had said he couldn’t wait to meet us all. After we reached home, Paul took me out for dinner by the river before we met with the rest of the choir. Ben was at work.
The first morning after I woke up, I was sitting by the table in the kitchen watching Ben make tea for me and coffee for them both. Ben said something about school budgets. He’s a life science teacher at a school. Paul said something about taking out the trash. That moment warms me every day – when watching a married gay couple in a house talk about their lives was no longer a scene from a movie or play or just an idea.
I could go on about how each lovely day was one-upped by the next day and how all our 10 days in London were glorious beyond belief.
We marched the London Pride with the Pinkies and I got to reunite and hug all of them and make friends with the ones who couldn’t come to Mumbai. We sang and danced all our way to Trafalgar Square with people on both sides behind barricades hooting and cheering for us. Two hours of that cut a solid 100 hours from therapy in the future. We sang at Trafalgar square and I remember sobbing into Guillaume’s chest. He was way too tall and he said, “There, there,” in his French accent.
Our itinerary was stacked every day. Two or more Pinkies took days off to show us around London every day. We saw the major sights: the museum of natural history, some arrestingly beautiful public parks, Tate Museum’s gift shop (We stayed there too long and missed the museum. I know, I know! Spare me that look!), and we went to two musicals – “Kinky Boots” and “The Lion King”.
We went on the London Eye. We went to Brighton! We sang at Ebay and Willis Towers Watson. We ate out every night and took the Tube every day. To paraphrase Rihanna, we da shit ya baby we da bomb.
It was a sea of wows and my head was spinning from all the serotonin flushes. Our rehearsals went on for long hours but we honestly didn’t realise how time flew. During one of our very first rehearsals in London, David said that if we don’t let this experience affect us, then we haven’t really lived it. I’d say we were changed and humbled and it made us giddy.
We still can’t believe our stars. We met some gorgeous souls and I know I’m not being presumptuous when I say we made some lifelong friends. The city was great, the trees were magnificent, the weather oh so kind – but the people! – oh the Pinkies are truly an unwaveringly fierce and compassionate bunch!
And so talented! They knocked it out of the park at Cadogan hall performing 15 song including choreography in one night! The audience was supremely welcoming and I almost lost my footing when we got a standing ovation even before we began to sing! We weren’t victims or bruised people, we were proud gays and lesbians and we mattered! We sang our guts out, as did the other guest choir for the evening, Out Aloud.
We danced silly that night and had a picnic lunch the next afternoon. Slowly people started saying goodbyes and tears started trickling down. By dinner, we were all a bawling, sniffling mess. My hosts, Ben and Paul, put out a cheese platter that night as Aditya, Peggy and I sifted through their photo albums and talked about choral arrangements. More goodbyes and tears followed.
Coming back to Mumbai was – I’m not going to lie to you – hard. There weren’t many times that I walked the roads in London when I was not holding or hugging one of our choir members or the Pinkies. We held hands with an immediate lack of inhibitions. It’s baffling how quickly we get used to blessings. We had a taste of spaces that did not strip us of our dignity and it was hard to leave those 10 days behind.
It was only a few days later, and after ‘hearting’ several Facebook pictures from our trip, did I gather myself and regain focus. We are all renewed. We are not alone. We have our brothers and sisters beside us! We’re powerful and driven and here to sing for our rights. We are Rainbow Voices Mumbai and we will have our voices heard! World, watch out!