“Kisko dekh raha hai, bey? Kaunsi ladki hai?”And so it began, again, this Ram-kahaani of half-lies and full diversions.“Arre no, yaar, no one. Does she look like someone I will go out with?” No one picked up on the illogic of that statement to ask, “why not? You are as smart as Raju, no? Tere liye to woh sahi hai.” More on that word -- ‘smart’ – later. But Raju was Venkatapathy Raju, then newly inducted in the cricket team and like me, small, dark and slim. Like him, I bowled left-arm spin (but, badly) and batted right-handed (slowly, like a sleepy Anshuman Gaikwad on dope). So too did that pin-up, all rounder Ravi Shastri. But comparing oneself to him was not on since he was too tall, too good-looking (in a hungry, feral way) - and found getting women all too easy. Since my friends and I spoke mostly in cricketing terms as young men, even this back-handed compliment would’ve been way off the mark. I would have loved to not be like Shastri, but be with him, sensually stroking his incredible cheekbones (feather, optional). Par kaise batayen is raaz ko?And ‘Smart.’ That’s the annoying euphemism in the straight person’s world for male good looks. The word also has synonyms that are pure ugh like the Bengali “ki shupuroosh!” (My Mum’s favourite description of Soumitra Chatterji, Uttam Kumar, and Lord save us all, Pradeep Kumar!!!). If you ask me my favourite expression of manly beauty it is the Hindi romanch kahaniyon wala “sundar, sudaul, gabru naujawan.”First of all, among men there exists this coyness with male beauty. For instance, it is impossible to blurt out, “Uff, Dhoni is so sexy, man!” No sooner were I to say that, than some neighbourhood idiot was sure to pipe up: “You mean the way he ran out Mushfiqur?”No, no, no!I meant his mischievous triangular grin that slowly spreads to his eyes and the way his arched narrow back flares into the perfectly luscious bubble butt.By now you’ve caught my drift surely – that it is tricky to make sexy, lustful remarks about men amongst straight people, and downright impossible to make romantic ones. So in the opening scene of this piece, I was definitely looking at a beautiful guy but did I say, “abey chodu, main us sundar, sudaul, gabru naujawan ko dekh raha hun”? Sigh.When I reached the quarter-century mark, I finally realised I was gay.Everything in the universe pointed to it. Red roses reminded me of Ethan Hawke’s wet pouty lips; the buzzing of bees reminded me of Bruce Lee whistling tunelessly, fixing his nunchaku while flashing his abs; VVS’s divine whip outside off to the midwicket boundary reminded me, well, reminded me of VVS; the first rains ki saundhi khushbu reminded me of the whiff when I ran into a sweaty Panjo, merey hostel-wala dream-boy; and the thundering clouds reminded me of my heart when I thought of my crush, Tushi at night.So, like a proper scientific chap, I welcomed Occam’s Razor and proclaimed that a comely lad causing my eyes to dart, my nose to whiff and the chest to thud had to be my body and soul rising up to its gayness, like cream from whey, like a skimpy Daniel Craig from the sea. You get the idea, now?Let loose, this rise of the body and soul caused me to constantly fall in love with many a lissom lad. My haalat was dire. Imagine for a moment not a straight, but a bent Bingo Little, rushing up to Bertie Wooster croaking, “I say, old chap, I’m in a frightful pickle. There’s this rum boy I’ve met at the workmen’s Ball and he has this thing against spiffy gentlemen. You wouldn’t mind asking Jeeves to send up a good word for me through Oofy’s cook, who is his aunt, would you? ”To which Bertie would of course have raised his perplexed brow to ask, “Jeeves has an aunt?”Bairhaal, I had no Bertie or Jeeves to turn to. So I would make googly eyes, pant and sigh and gulp lumps of self-pity flavoured saliva. Most times the humdrum days at work would dissolve the pangs. But sometimes, especially when working together, thrown constantly into excruciating proximity, the sum total of each touch of the shoulders and brush of the arms, the fragrance of the exhalations, the repeated meeting of the eyes would slam me in a place where it was:To love unasked to speak with eyes unarmed with arms wrapped in words unuttered.Then, one day, in walked Jadoo, a friend of a colleague, for an interview.To this day, I do not know why I fell in love, but I did, gradually but surely. No, he did not qualify the rounds, but he still gave me what I thought were adoring smiles every time I went in and out of the interview rooms and even when I told him he didn’t make the cut. Perhaps foolishly I blurted, “Come home for dinner?” He did and within a week I was constantly replaying the image of holding his slim waist against mine while we discussed his career that night. I guess I learnt another meaning of the term ‘Strategic HR’.Jadoo wasn’t gay, but he was amenable to my request for a kiss then, and much more, as weeks passed. Perhaps he was curious. Perhaps my gaydar spotted a kashmakash in his heart. Perhaps he was being kind. He gifted me an intimacy that I yearned for. For six months, I would travel to Pune, his new workplace, to stay the weekend with him, sharing his narrow bed, while his four flatmates pretended that such things happened all the time. We had holidays together in a southern hill station. I was in love, but slowly also realised that he was not. As the haze of this love cleared it appeared that Jadoo might not even enjoy our intimacy anymore. And just as suddenly it ended. It hurt. I have this predictable trait of striking out when hurt. To make the break-up even more memorable, I was less than generous and patient with this much younger lad; and now when his memories poke me in the eye, I crawl into a sombre place where:Darkness stoops into my roomA companion for another lonely evening by the windowI have seduced some straight men, and some straight men have flirted with me. Mazey ki baat - ki I remember those who kissed me. I tell myself I’m a romantic. Perhaps I do not have enough testosterone that would have me remember all those rides like a stallion. The incontrovertible proof of these low levels because my hair is only now receding from the temples. This wisdom I acquired many years ago, at fourteen, when our neighbour, RaniMaasi had strewn her pearls before me, “Golu ke Papa bahut energetic hain. Dekho unka kapaal (forehead) kitna ooncha ho gaya hai. (Golu’s father is so energetic. See what a high forhead he has?)” And there was I thinking he was going bald! For some years I have wondered about my trysts with straight men. In my thirties I followed Nida Fazli sa’ab’s advise:Faasla nazron ka dhokha bhi toh ho sakta hai,Wo mile ya na mile haath badhaakar dekho.(The eyes may miscalculate the distance across which they meetWhy not hold out your hand to see, if a hand is within reach?)It worked a surprising number of times. I have some memories of feeling triumphant after bedding straight men, some memories of having a great time before and after, swapping tales, reliving favourite cricket moments, talking politics and film music. I remember them appreciating the food I cooked for them, and particularly one coming back for more, kyunki my ghee-rajma-rice was like Mummyji’s. Thus affronted, I wanted to strike terror in his bowels by some inappropriate manly method. But all I remember giving was a sickly smile and asking if he wanted more. A couple of these liaisons were disasters because they wanted, not in words but in intent, to be macho, to show this homo what a man really ought to be. Perhaps I could have squealed in delight, got on with the task at hand and let this devil take the hindmost. But then as in life, and just as Darwin discovered that there are all kinds of finches in Galapagos, likewise, there are all kinds of homos in Mumbai. Mann toh yeh bhi kiya ki bataun, ki abey ghonchu, even the smallest things known to us are not so straight and narrow. You can be like the Top and Bottom Quarks, and do it like the Up and Down Quarks, but see, dekho, wahin Strange and Charm Quarks bhi toh hai! Jo ajeeb lagta hai kisi-kisi ko, who bhi Standard Model ka hi hissa hai.With none of these men could I talk being in love with a man, about desiring a man, about sharing why I loved his body, and why I loved his kisses even more. I don’t want to undermine these times; they provided me warmth, pleasure and even some moments to savour. Most of these boy-men were sweet lads, capable of being affectionate and caring. But their heart was not in it; their founding assumptions about the sexual partner were a little different. One of the chaps, now a goodish friend, told me that it was not the problem of the short leg fielding between the two long legs. He too had one and was most sincerely in love with it, and he was okay with all such short legs. No, the ickyness that he felt was because my body was hard and unyielding, and that it was a beastly thing to spring on him. He urged me to try and become soft and pliable like his girl, though he also felt it was utterly illogical of me to find guys sexy when all I had to do was to look at girls. I tried telling him and some of the others that I revel in their hardness, in their stringy musculature, in the muskiness of their pits, their treasure-trail, their five-o-clock, the bony edges of their hips, their…. Most often the faces would go from grim to grimmer, probably horrified at being objectified, but not by a woman; and scared, not wanting to hear the words that made it all too real. So following the bro-code, I learnt to zip up and push the emotions down to non-drama levels. To go unheard and silenced added to the all-too-familiar experience of gay men at that time, forcing me to accept that:Our fate is Ruse.To cry in the rain, strike bold and sulk tearsSince then, I have discovered more. There are two sundar, sudaul, not-so-gabru, naujawan who flit in and out of my life. While I partake of their beauty, sometimes make love, sometimes simply open my heart to flood them with the sneh that oozes from my being, I wonder what they get out of this strange arrangement beyond the orgasm? Why do they keep flitting in? Why does one of them appear like a chiselled dream at my door, and as soon as he is in the flat, wrap me in a hug so warm that the chocolate starts melting in the fridge. He nuzzles splendidly, giving the best bruising kisses ever, giggling like a satyr while giving a hickey, and then just as suddenly he stops to saunter to the fridge to root out something to eat. I want to tell him, hey, you hellion:I tremble whenyour warmth touches me.Blue-points of ice that set me afire.Then I find myself smiling at these six impossible explanations before any breakfast. Humming, I go to the kitchen and make him what he wants to eat that evening.Pat is a consultant, an academic and a mentor. You can read his other writing for Agents of Ishq here.
To All The (Straight) Men I've Loved Before
Let loose, this rise of the body and soul caused me to constantly fall in love with many a lissom lad