On January 15, 2012 on Juhu Beach, Mumbai, while at the Queer Games I witnessed something that I shall never forget. Notwithstanding all the hatred shown by a crackpot harassing us at gay parties and a big bunch of crackpots fighting us at the Supreme Court right now, I realized that there is light of hope at the end of this tunnel. I witnessed that light on the faces of ordinary people who happened to saunter up to watch us sporty folks having fun on a breezy beach on a Pongal evening.
The QAM team did not advertise the fact that this was a queer event when we marked our little space on the beach at 4 pm. We only waved two rainbow flags for other gay folks to locate us on the beach. There were no placards or posters in plain sight. Soon a crowd of beach revellers gathered around to watch. We spoke mostly in English among ourselves and some of those bystanders started asking us if they could participate in the games. We cheerfully allowed them, ofcourse. All participants were asked to pay a nominal entry fee for each game and the collected money will go towards meeting the expenses of the Mumbai Queer Azaadi March on January 28.
Five young men who have, perhaps, seen 22 odd Januarys on this earth walked up, stood behind me and started talking among themselves in some dialect of Hindi I couldn’t easily follow. “Yahan kya ho raha hai?” (What is happening here?), one of them asked me timidly. I turned and told him that we were having a competition of games. He smiled shyly at me showing his dimpled cheeks. He turned to his comrades and relayed the information to them. By and by he again mustered up the courage to ask, “Hum bhi khelen?” (Can we play too?). I encouraged them and they gathered sufficient courage to walk up to Sibi (one of the organizers) and register for the tug-of-war.
That bunch of five won the game and were rewarded with t-shirts. They were pleased as punch. They came grinning from ear to ear to shake hands with me as I stood a little way away, chatting with Vivek Anand. I congratulated them. The games were over and the organizers were packing up. The crowd was starting to disperse. That’s when someone had the idea of sensitizing the crowd about Queer Pride. Harish Iyer stood bravely and talked to the silent bunch about being homosexual and the Queer Azaadi March. Sachin Awasthi explained to our bunch of five victorious tuggers that this was a “homo” event and that they were welcome to support us by marching alongside on January 28 from Azaad Maidan.
I stood there observing their faces, the setting sun, our rainbow flags fluttering in the slightly chilly sea breeze and the horizon. The crowd was silent. Our victorious five seemed unsure. Would we get a cold response from them? Far away a tiny, insignificant boat seemed stationary on the blue evening waters. Perhaps our onlookers felt as unconnected with us queers as that boat. Perhaps they too would go away over the horizon. Did they know how important Queer Azaadi was to us? Did they care? Perhaps this was just our futile attempt at educating beach revellers.
Harish asked for donations to support the Queer Azaadi March. And a donation box was held up to the crowd. Some moved away. Some stood by staring. And a few extended their hands to put money into the box.
It was then that I witnessed the light of hope in the twilight. Our bunch of five moved closer towards me. The same young man with dimpled cheeks smiled at me and shook my hand again. “Hum aise nahi hain, magar hum march me zaroor ayenge!” (We are not like this but we will certainly come for the march).
It was still a tiny boat far away on the evening waters, but that boat is destined to sail a long way.