In 2004, I went on my first date. Ever. I don’t remember what day or month or even my date’s face clearly anymore, but I do remember what happened. It was a walk in the park, quite literally.
We met at Lodhi Gardens in Delhi. We couldn’t meet at either of our houses. We hadn’t ever met before, it was a blind date. All we could afford was a ten-rupee bottle of water and a rose that I bought as a gift for another ten.
In those 40 minutes of walking around, my favourite place in the city turned quite hostile. We were jeered at, faced comments and weren’t allowed to sit and chat. The park is meant for walking, not for sitting around, the guards told us. And we weren’t even being remotely affectionate, just sitting and talking.
Perhaps it was the rose. Perhaps, the curious sight of two boys carrying one around. But I suspect it had something to do with his floral shirt and the way his body moved in it when he walked. He was very conscious of himself. I was very conscious of him next to me. I wished I could run away, but I stayed because I could think of no excuse, and he was kinda cute. So we argued with the guards, and continued to walk so we could avoid a fight. We didn’t meet again, but I have thought about that date many times since.
Lodhi Gardens in Delhi | Photo (detail): Manak
“At least he does not seem gay” was the solace offered to my parents by someone who felt it was needed when I confirmed their suspicions about my sexuality. It made me think of my date and the continuous feeling of having to watch how I walk, talk or behave lest I “seem gay.”
I think about that walk in the park each year, as many of us gear up for a different kind of march on the last Sunday of November. The Delhi Queer pride is about visibly reclaiming the city and asserting our identities and presence in public spaces. But often queer spaces come with inherent phobias against men who are “effeminate”, women who are not, and a whole range of identities and behaviors that defy the gender binary.
Repeatedly I find among friends and acquaintances a disdain for difference and a desire to fit in and appear “normal”. So each year, as I march to reclaim the city on that one day of November, I think about all those people who don’t fit in the oppressive gender norms and have to reclaim each day their right and legitimacy in public and personal spaces.
In 2013, as the Supreme court of our country ignored the constitution and denied having a role in ensuring the rights of “minuscule minorities” I was reminded of that tentative, fearful walk in Lodhi garden back in 2004. It was perhaps the only time I felt unable to claim my space, making me conscious not just of my vulnerability, but of the immense privilege I enjoy as an upper class, upper caste, educated, able bodied, cis-gendered man born to a Hindu father. And as I march with pride each year, I think back on that walk in the park as the reason we must continue to reclaim spaces for diversity of identities and voices to exist while being conscious of giving up some of our inherited legitimacy to make room for other voices to speak their stories and be heard.