When I wrote the song "Head Held High", I had no idea that the script was not just a story that many gay men could relate to, but that it was a path that my life had taken. Yes, as the verses in the song spelt out, even I was confused, frustrated and lost at one stage. Later, I realised who I was and grew in confidence and that led to joy, happiness and the desire to love myself and share the love I could with others.
As a young man, at no point was I aware of my sexual inclination. In fact, I was so deeply conditioned by the world around me that I believed that anything sexual could only be with the opposite sex. Unlike any of my school friends, I had not yet explored my sexual being while I was in school. I had neither held hands with a girl nor kissed one. I never stared at or dreamt of them.
" My first kiss was when I was already in college, and it was my lips touching that of another boy... I enjoyed those moments with him but never thought of them as homosexual acts. "
My first kiss was when I was already in college, and it was my lips touching that of another boy who seemed to be way ahead of our time. He was younger but less inhibited by society. He was free and did not hesitate to kiss me or get intimate. He was a small town boy and I was an urban product subject to the trappings of what Delhi society stood for. I enjoyed those moments with him but never thought of them as homosexual acts.
I passed off these occasions as a 'phase' in my life, an assumption I had drawn after reading sections of Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape. Hence, the intimate moments with that boy did not seem to be unusual as once the phase was over, marriage would happen, I had presumed.
When I look back, I am ashamed of my naiveté and stupidity. How could I have not thought beyond what I had inferred from one book? Was I so cocooned?
I could take shelter, though, in the fact that there was little information in the public domain on homosexuality then. Sex was hardly spoken of or written about and anyone said to be 'homo' was a pansy (an effeminate man)! I was not a pansy, I knew that, but like society I lacked the knowledge that all homosexuals did not share one type of mannerisms or behaviour. This could partly explain why I never once saw myself amongst the sexual minority.
"I was ridiculously stupid walking straight into a possible engagement with a girl. My mind was obviously terribly conditioned into believing that a 'good', 'normal' life was to be mine too."
Homosexuality in an active form was clearly far more underground than it is today or even when I came out in 1999. We had no internet or search engine. All we had were social norms and no media or debate challenging anything in terms of a life of love beyond the knot of marriage. Even live-in relationships were not a matter of discussion or choice.
Still I was ridiculously stupid walking straight into a possible engagement with a girl. My mind was obviously terribly conditioned into believing that a 'good', 'normal' life was to be mine too. That I had been virtually asexual for eight years probably added to the conclusions I had drawn. Not pansy, no man in my life, no woman, no booze, no drugs, just the home-to-work-to-home journey every day - this made me the kind of 'suitable boy' that society loved. And yes, that my by-line appeared very often in The Economic Times as one of its correspondents, may have added yet another suitable, socially acceptable dimension.
In less than two months, between January and February of 1999, it was decided that I was to be engaged. The lady was the childhood friend of a colleague. At no point during those two months did I stop the movement from a first meeting to an engagement. To me, as I recall, it was a process that I saw no emotions in and just followed. I was doing what I was told to do and I knew that my mother would be happy to see me 'settled' in life.
Unlike many other gay men, though, I was not under pressure from my family but I was aware of their desire to see me 'happy'. They knew as much about my happiness as I did at that time.
" I know that when it comes to love it can be anyone... Love is so strong, it can break all myths and not just connect people but empower them too. "
It was fortunate -- particularly for this girl -- that the engagement was cancelled around 40 minutes prior to the event. Her uncle wanted to push back dates and I, after consultations with my family members, called off the event.
What would have become of her life had we married, I wonder. Would I have cheated on her like the many other homosexual men who I found at gay parties when I came out? Men, after all, had many more liberties and would often not be questioned about their whereabouts. Would she have missed being a mother? Would we have divorced and put our respective families through the trauma of our separation? I have no answers but can only apologise today to that lady who was ready to marry me even though I was always hesitant to hold her hand or be intimate even in the most ordinary way.
I can only say sorry to my friends who introduced me to her, for not knowing who I was then and for having opened myself to the possibility of marriage.
As I stepped out of the engagement, I was suddenly a different man. I felt a burden off my shoulders even though I did not realise I was carrying one. This was the only time I thought about who I was. I explored libraries and used the internet at my office to find out more about the life of men who were attracted to men. I discovered the well-known Ashok Row Kavi who passed on the co-ordinates of the Naz Foundation in Delhi. Life changed quickly as I moved closer and closer to see other men like me.
From then on, I found love and lost it. I mixed up lust for love. I dived into relationships and broke down every time they ended. I was seeing my emotional self for the first time -- a person I did not know. Yet I grew in confidence and every day I realised more about myself and learnt something new.
Today, as I look back, I know that when it comes to love it can be anyone. Love may not reside just between two people of the opposite sex but also of the same sex. Love is so strong, it can break all myths and not just connect people but empower them too. If love is to be treasured, one cannot look down upon it. Our head must be held high with pride for choosing love over hatred, realising that no matter who you are or who I am, one can love beyond the conforms of society.