Published in The Nepali Man on 28 February 2015
SaalaSaala Arun found a boyfriend and disappeared for weeks. Weeks! Apart from the boyfriend situation, he had also joined an INGO recently. Because of these two factors, he turned absolutely serious and didn’t have time to hang out. But he resurfaced after the boyfriend returned to his country and we met for lunch in Pulchowk to catch up. “He is coming back in the fall,” said Arun, sipping a lime soda, “...to be with me.”
They were going to figure out their lives together; even look for jobs in other countries if it came down to that. Holy shit. I was a bit scared at first. Not just scared for him but scared for myself also. When a friend gets serious and figures shit out, one can’t help wondering, “What about me? Am I going to just bum around and write about bumming around while my life slides by?”
In any case, he texted again to set up a Saturday night dinner in Lazimpat with Gagan and Kailash, who were relative newbies to Nepal. And then the four of us met the Saturday after Gai Jatra, this time in Jhamsikhel. Gagan and Kailash were fully Nepali but had lived abroad most of their lives. They were younger; their accents were thicker. So Arun and I made fun of them whenever we found them struggling with certain Nepali words or directions from one neighborhood to another. They were cool though, very friendly and nice and not jaded like me. They were actually hoping to find someone and settle down!
We laughed about all this over chicken wings and chilled Gorkha. And then I brought up an idea. “There’s an event at a bar closeby. Wanna go?” I was cautious because Arun always pooh-poohed my artsy-fartsy circle and found a reason to escape whenever he could. But he seemed open to the idea this time. So I led the way to our bar, eager for some poetry and music.
We paid the cover but the place was packed. So we ordered more beer and sat downstairs at the back. Once the event finished, we went upstairs and set ourselves in a corner. My straight friends, who often hung out at the bar, came over to join us. After a while, even Jhankaar showed up.
The air was soon filled with chit-chat and cigarette smoke and cocktail buzz. Jhankaar had gone to the Gai Jatra parade in Basantapur and was full of ideas. “Next year, we should get a bunch of gays to wear golden underwear and parade with the trannies,” he was saying. “Everyone complains that there is no gay visibility but as long as the gays don’t come out, the scene is not going to change.”
“I’m not walking in golden underwear!” Arun retorted.
“Why not? We need to show some flesh!” Jhankaar was adamant.
“What’s your rationale? What are you trying to change?” A straight, intellectual-type started to debate with Jhankaar.
“We need to attract attention, guys!” Jhankaar explained. “We need to celebrate male beauty. We need to show what gay men are all about!”
“How’s that going to help the underprivileged gays from the villages and small towns?”
“Wait. Can’t we just wear tuxedos and march?” Arun and Gagan were brainstorming an alternative scenario. Meanwhile, Kailash listened in, fascinated.
I could see Jhankaar’s point. “We can even hire a bunch of random guys,” I suggested. Because here’s the thing. The Kathmandu gays will never come out and take a political stance. Why would they? They have nothing to gain. They can easily hide and be discreet and do their thing. Those who can will escape to the West and live their lives. The bisexuals and confused ones will just get married and continue to cheat. Why would they hold a gay flag and risk their social standing and their precious reputations? No wonder BDS had to rely on the transgenders. They could not really hide. They had no choice besides being brave. Their identities depended on dressing up, on being visible. But the gay guys - forget it!
“Write about it,” our straight friend was still at it, encouraging Jhankaar. “Build a theoretical construct. Justify your rationale - how does a bunch of men wearing golden underwear during Gai Jatra help the LGBT cause?”
“So we need to claim our public space…” I had turned over to Arun and the newbies, trying to explain all this.
“Why can’t we do that by wearing tuxedos? What if we just wear a T-Shirt that says “Hi. I’m gay”?
“Umm. sure. That can help. As long as you make it clear that you are a gay man.”
“But flesh sends a whole different message, guys.” Jhankaar was getting a bit exasperated.
In any case, that was nice. It was nice to have new and old friends, gays and straights, talking about an idea, discussing possibilities. An alternate existence. I went home happy that night.
But the next morning, I woke up with some sniffles. And the morning after, the sniffles had turned into a terrible malady. I had no appetite; I felt queasy and could barely sit up. It looked like I had caught the flu virus after years.
I took some pills, drifted in and out of sleep, prayed for a speedy recovery. I remained horizontal for three days. But even after three days, I was still weak. So at one point, I just surrendered. I surrendered myself to the hours, to looking out at the trees and the blue sky. I spent long stretches listening to the birds chirping, waiting for the light outside to change, noticing how the gentle blue of the morning turned into violent bright yellow, how the afternoon hours hung heavy outside the window. Days passed. The week came to an end. I finally gathered some strength. One afternoon, I went to a cafe and read for a couple of hours. The following day, eager for some company, I walked over to our bar. But the place was full of strangers.
My friends, my friends were not there.