In junior high school, the lunch break seemed all too short. When we were thirteen, every boy liked to play, except the class topper, a freak who never needed to study, and the wayward backbenchers. They did not leave the classroom when everyone else did. My only friend in high school once said, “He, and his friends, they have a disease called homosexuality. Do you know what it means?” I said, “Yes. I have read about it.”
I first read of homosexuality in a memoir in which the author, a scientist once met a friendly middle-aged man in a wine bar. The middle-aged man insisted that he needed a place to sleep. When the author said that there are many hotels in the city, the “friend” said that they are very expensive. The author took this man home, where he was staying as a paying guest. When the author decided to sleep on the sofa, asking him to sleep on the bed, the “friend” claimed that it made him feel guilty. He insisted that they could sleep together, puzzled, asking the author why he took him home when he had no intention to sleep together. The scientist did not understand what was going on. When he was asked to leave, the friend said that he needed money. The landlord woke up hearing the verbal duel, paid the friend, asked him to go, telling the author that there are many maricón’s in the city. Homosexuals. After this incident, the landlord and his daughter did not talk to him much.
I asked my mother what the word “homosexual” meant. She did not answer. I asked again. She again pretended not to hear, but I did not know that she was pretending not to hear. It was only years later when I was seriously considering my own Aspie-hood as a possibility, I went back in time, and reconstructed these events in my mind, trying to understand things in its wider context. Too much time and effort goes into my novel and the analysis of certain phases and relationships in my life because these long, ongoing projects demand impeccable research. Reading my novel could be more gratifying than any play my child can hope to watch on the stage.
When I was fourteen, my friend in high school asked me whether I want to be an engineer or a doctor when I grow up. I turned silent, thinking “This isn’t real, is it?” He was rational. He looked sane. I had lived too much inside my head, not letting these things get to me much. But, I was too much of a gentleman to say anything much. When I said, “I have not decided yet.”, he and another boy turned in their seats, to ask, “Now, when are you going to decide?”
Once when my father said that it is easier to swim with the stream, I remember that the twelve-year-old I made a long speech, which as best as I can remember was along these lines, “Socrates, Galileo, Pasteur…..”. I do not know why he said it. It violated every principle by which I had decided to live my life. But, when I graduated from junior high school, I was sent to an engineering entrance-coaching centre. It was not in my nature to accept this fate without a protest. Every evening, I came back home tired, hatching a new escape plan.
A week after I joined the entrance-coaching centre, I decided that I should go for a walk through the streets of the city, during breaks, to be alone in the crowd, to think, to reflect. The schools had not reopened yet. In one of those walks, I felt that two boys were following me. When I turned, I saw my friend in junior high school with another boy. The other boy who looked like a gorilla asked me whether I remembered him. I was silent for a moment, before I said, “Oh”. He was my friend in middle school. Later, my friend in high school asked me why I turned silent after saying, “Oh” when I met my closest playmate many years later.I could never come to terms with those unwritten rules of social communication.
They were the inmates of another coaching centre. It was hard for me to believe that every boy in the city allowed his parents to do this to him. After much hesitation, I asked him whether he enjoyed this. When he said that it was not too different from the life in a penitentiary, it confirmed my deepest suspicions.
When I was walking back, a man approached me and asked why I was walking through the streets, alone, for almost an hour. I said that there was no reason, in particular. He asked me whether I would like to watch a movie with him. I said, ‘No. I have classes in the afternoon.” It was only many years later I understood the intention behind the question.
One evening, in September, I found myself lying on my bench, thinking that it could have been worse. The sight of the dull kids in commerce and humanities made me sick. I did not want anything to do with them. I had seen my father incessantly slashing red lines across the answer sheets of these types. Many of them studied something called “Functional English”, but their inane prose made my little brother and me howl with laughter even when we were not out of baby class. God sent them to earth, marking their place at the bottom of the IQ pyramid.
After I joined college, in evenings, I often stared at the covers of the books with those enormous headlines, “#1 New York Times Best Seller”. I was hatching my escape plans. No one talked about homosexuality in school, but in college, most jokes were about homosexuality. But, there was not a single boy who was openly gay. I cannot recall an allegation of a serious nature. I never understood this. There are other dirty secrets, like office politics, but not many are willing to talk about them, or even admit that they exist.
Once, at midnight, I was walking in front of the railway station to find an auto. A bike stopped in front of me, and asked me where I was going, in a familiar voice. I said that I was going home. He asked me whether I would like to join him. I could not have recognized my neighbors by their face, but I felt that he was one among them. I said, “Yes”. When the bike made an unexpected turn, I asked him where he was going. He stopped the bike, and said that I need not join him if I do not want to, and that he was willing to pay. I screamed.
When I reached home, I told Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old, a 15-year-old friend of Krishnapriya that a gay man tried to take me home. But, Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old did not know what the word ‘gay’ meant. When I said that a gay man is a homosexual, and that “he is attracted to other men” Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old said, “Enough. I get it now.” When I told Krishnapriya that Mr. As-Dumb-As-A-Ten-Year-Old does not even know what ‘gay’ means, she said, “LMAO”. She used to tell me that the boys in her class think that a classmate of hers is gay, though she does not have any hard knowledge. “They call me an SNB”, she said. When I said, “I am not sure I always understand these expressions.” Krishnapriya said that it meant, “Sexy Naughty Bitch”.
In college, I remember a boy with a hard, male voice. Many girls had proposed to him when he was in school, but he had rejected all of them. It was believed that he hated women, but no one was willing to say that it is possible that he is gay. Once when I asked his lab record, he suddenly dressed, and walked to the staff room, took the lab record from the teacher’s desk and gave it to me.
I remember him standing in front of the electrical engineering lab defiantly. When the other boys asked him why he was idle, when everyone else was studying for the Viva, he said, “You can ask me any question. I know the answers.” Later in my life, I would never see such boys, in a country from which the best and the brightest have fled. Everywhere, I saw complete idiots who could not make heads or tails out of what they read.
I remember once standing somewhere in the Connaught Place market with a heavy heart when a smarty I was roaming around with said that the wonderful thing about having a gay friend is that they are not friendly because they want to sleep with her. I did not say that the wonderful thing about having a lesbian friend is that they are not friendly because they crave commitment.
Once, a young man who plugged my magazine article on think-tank corruption asked me to apply to the “Business Standard”, with his reference. His full name is Vikram Johri. I did, but after a while, I wondered: “Is he gay?” I quickly read his wall. I was right. I have such sharp intuitions. I have tried to dazzle people with my brilliance all my life, but they all have stood, as an intelligent fellow once put it, like a curb broker before Johann Sebastian Bach. I have to admit that much as I rant against people for their lack of inner-nobility, I do not expect anything noble from them. The editor of the magazine, I remember, was a gentleman who writes tenderly about the moral failure of the Indian society, but he regularly stalked me on Facebook, leaked my draft, and bitched about me in interviews. But, as far as the publication of my draft was concerned, he was unaware of my existence. This gentleman writes passionately against the people who are easily offended, but when I wrote about him, my friend list dwindled. His bosses want to believe that he crawled because they ordered, but what humiliated him was I thought of him as a half-wit among dunder-heads.
This gay man later asked me whether the editors asked me how I know him. “I hope that you did not tell them that we met in some gay forum.”, he said. I was not taken aback, but what I hate is people calling me a paranoid man with a persecution complex when all my suspicions come true. He asked, “I think I am going to hit on you. Are you very straight?”. I said, “I am very straight.” I did not see much of him after that. He once lashed out when I said on his wall that a Jain housewife who visits a temple every day is not happy.
One day, he asked me whether there is awkwardness between us. The reason of course, was that he noticed an ex-colleague’s post on my Facebook wall, “You should be dressed in a frock from now.” This was enough to set off his radar. But, the ex-colleague was a long-time Facebook friend of mine. He wrote it because I fear escalators, and is a soft-spoken person. He had expected a loud, colorful fellow, before we had met.
I said, “I think not. I do not hold grudges, for minor reasons.” He said, “I noticed that you really had not said anything about my Lincoln piece, or my gay lifestyle piece.” I am a narcissist. I almost never read the newspapers and magazines. I do not read the Facebook walls of other people, except four, of which three of them blocked me. So, if he had written such pieces, I would not have known.
He asked, “Are you happy with your job? The conventional media does not allow creative freedom, or any debate. I think you are suffering. It is a natural law, that men like you should suffer.” I said, “In a way, Yes. But, I have always wanted to be a full-time writer. What I do inside an office does not bother me much.” He asked, “Would you mind going into bed with me?” I said again, “I am straight.” He said, “It does not matter. If two men philosophically agree, they should sleep together, once.”