I had been talking to people about my participation in the forthcoming Mumbai LGBTQ Pride March for about a week. Some reactions were:
"LGBT? What's that?": An educated girl employed in an IT firm
"What parade? You are going to attend a parade?": My family members, well-aware of the lazy me
"You mean those people who do dirty gestures? Isn't it illegal in India.": My 'well-educated' neighbours.
Another reaction was: "Oh I see..." followed by a long pause. A mixture of shock and fear gripped their face when I asked, "Will you come too?". On insisting, I got an answer, "Ya, actually, I don't mind all this in principle. But what if somebody thinks I am one among 'them'? I want to get married yaar...". I could have argued with that one, but I liked the frankness, and kept quiet. I mean, at least it was a frankly expressed fear, not an ignorant "What is all that?". Apart from this, "I don't have time", "Would've liked to.", "have some other work to do" were some other reactions that I received. Needless to say that I did not let go of the opportunity of spreading awareness because of the reactions above. We were to meet Aditya - we, as in Mast Kalandar and me -and we were going to participate in the Pride March.
The atmosphere was festive: Artists painting tattoos on cheeks, Creative posters condemning Section 377, queer costumes attracting attention, celebrities interacting freely with people. Greetings of "Happy Pride!" followed by warm hugs, air-kisses. Rainbow flags representing unconventional sexualities. Traffic around. Astonished on-lookers. (We spotted many such on-lookers right till the march ended) We also got our faces painted, wore badges condemning 377, and took pictures.
Two young men, looking barely 18 years of age, were walking in traditional wedding attire. A lady who had accepted their love (and was also holding a symbol typical to Maharashtrian weddings in her hand) was walking with them. They walked the march in that attire itself. They had dhols with them -and people dancing with them as if in a wedding procession.
A Madhubala Poster asking "Pyaar kiya toh darna kya" (Loosely, "Why fear, when you have loved") and mixtures of masculine and feminine costumes. (Now that I have become aware of these adjectives, I do not like these categorized terminologies. But please take these words only in terms of their context. I will not be able to find a more 'politically correct' noun, due to my limited knowledge). Nine-yard saris, stylish turbans, cowboys -and many many people supporting the March in simple clothes, but with badges and flags.
When the March started, the onlookers grabbed our attention. There were many of them on either sides of the road. In addition, many more also watched the March go past their balconies and windows. We looked hard, but did not find hate or disgust on anyone's face. Is it because this March is now an yearly ritual, or is it just an average Mumbaikar's tolerance? Who knows!
"You are gay!", someone screamed. "It's okay" came an enthusiastic cheer.
"You are lesbian!" -"It's okay!"
"You are hijda!" -"It's okay!"
"You are straight!" -"It's okay" made me laugh at once.
We heard "Taaro maaro sem chhe, prem chhe prem chhe" and remembered Padgaonkar. "Prem mhanje prem asta, tumcha aamcha same aste" was soon to follow. (Note from translator: The mentioned line is from a poem by famous Marathi poet, Mangesh Padgaonkar. It loosely translates to "Love is but love. It's the same for all of us.") What would Padgaonkar think had he known that his poem has reached here, was one curiosity that peeped into my mind. The number of women was less. Not that they weren't there, but they were less in number for sure. On asking around, we were told that people in general find it difficult to walk marches like this. Some are scared to disclose their sexuality for different reasons. It is all the more difficult in case of women. The group we were walking with, had no woman apart from us. We later realized that there were some onlookers who were of unconventional sexuality but they were only watching the March. We felt angry+disappointed that they only peeped out of their 'closet windows' to acknowledge this March.
The obscenity that we could have expected, was nearly absent. There were volunteers with ropes at both ends, directing the walking crowds. There were volunteers who were also cleaning trash that participants would have left behind.
For girls like us whose sexuality was never suppressed, it was easy to walk a march like this. But what about those who must have pressure of their families, close ones and the society -how difficult would it be for them? How many of these onlookers would want to come on this side of the March? Or at least those who are openly accepting of this community? Yet again -Who knows! The March came to an end in some time.
Then we waited right there for the bus. The excitement of the crowd had gone down -but was far from over. People chatted around in groups. Just then, an elderly lady at the bus stop asked Mast Kalandar, "What is going on here?" She did not understand what to say -considering the lady's age/background, it was unlikely that she would understand anything at all, we thought. Mast Kalandar struggled with words as she said, "This is a March by gay people. So that the society accepts their existence, and understands them..."
Pat came the reply, "Ok, so all of them are gay." Not a question -just a statement. The expressions on her face did not change by a bit. She calmly boarded the bus that had just arrived and left. We stood astonished!