Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Yawn! God, make them stop!

Picture this. Yawn!!! You're the lone gay guy amidst a bunch of straight blokes and they are discussing something which you don't really care about. Yawn again!!! How many times have you faced this kind of a situation?

Being a part of such a group of straight boys is quite a challenge for most closet cases. Even if you're out to them, it can be quite intimidating. I can tell you from personal experience, the usual topics of discussion among the straight boys are as insipid to the gay palate as a dirty magazine would be to them without their centrespreads of big-busted beauties.

Nevertheless, on many occasions we find ourselves in social situations where we are probably the only gay person in a quarter mile radius. What do we do? Should we just walk away or should we stick around and feign interest? I, for one have tried both. Like in college, on numerous occasions, I found myself in a room full of guys discussing about the 'availability' of a certain girl or watching some straight porn. I had to excuse myself because it made me genuinely uncomfortable. Cricket and all other forms of sports were off limits as well as topics of discussion. Many a times, I simply faked interest in their banter just in a vain attempt to fit in. I can't say that I was successful in any of that.

The two options I spoke about above may work differently in different situations. In few cases, dashing to the nearest exit may be the best option especially when you know that you'd probably end up slashing your own wrists out of boredom at the end of the discussion. But in most cases, this may not work. Simply because, you can't run away from social gatherings or group situations just like that. If you do, people may label you as a 'prude' (trust me, I know) and that I am sure, you would not like. So, what do we do? The best recourse is to deliberately and cautiously try to change the topic of discussion to something which you find comfortable to be a part of. For example, if they are talking about Cricket and going on boring you with a ball-by-ball perspective about the latest match, digress the discussion by simply talking about the latest gossip about the 'alleged' link up between a certain celebrity and a cricketer. Or if they are talking rather grossly about a certain girl you know and her curves, simply say that you've some exclusive information about her. If they ask you, how, just put up a 'straight' face and tell them she confides in you more than any of them.

Faking interest is an art. You can perfect it only after several months if not years of practice. The first step to faking interest is to know that it's all about your facial expressions, eye contact, body language and using every possible tool at your disposal that will make it believable. The best way to start off faking interest is to start watching a rather boring TV show with a friend or a family member. Chances are, that if you manage to fake 'genuine' interest in the show, they'll either ask you to change the channel or say 'Why in God's name are you watching this'? When they do ask you that, just say "Sshhh, this is really interesting." If they ask you this, be rest assured that you're on the road to success as a 'genuine' faker. :) Remember, practice makes a man perfect. So, go on doing this until you become immune to the utter nonsense playing on TV.

The next step is to master eye contact. When someone is speaking something you care two hoots about, look into the eyes of the speaker for some time and then look around. Looking too intently at the speaker may well convince the speaker that you're some kind of a weird psychopath. On the other hand, if you don't look at him/her at all, that'll be dead give away that you're not interested. Equally important is your body language. Try to suppress your sighs and yawns. Those are give-aways too. Rest your cheek on your hand and nod your head every once in a while to show that you're actually 'listening' to what's being said. It's also a good thing to throw in some words like 'Really?', or 'Oh I see', or 'Hmmm'. Try using neutral words as far as possible. Avoid using sentences like - "I agree / disagree" or "That's a good point" which will entail that you participate in the discussion as well which you really do not want.

When the going gets too tough, its time to take out the last arrow from the quiver. When all the above technique fails, you've to find a creative way to excuse yourself. In today's world of communications, a call on your cell phone is the best way to leave causing the least heartburn. While the speaker is blabbering away, text a close friend to call you and when s/he does, pick up the call and dash to the nearest exit. After exactly five minutes, come back and say to the group that you've to rush as something came up. People wouldn't mind letting you go. The other way is to excuse yourself to the restroom and then take a detour from there never to return. You can later explain to the group that you left because you met an old school friend or became sick. This may work out really well if you're a part of a larger group of people hanging out together. You can find really interesting ways to make this last recourse seem as plausible as possible. Just remember, we don't really hate the person in question. He may be a close friend but we genuinely don't care about what he may be talking about. :)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Of friends in 'Pardes'

I have tried hard to reach out and make some local friends here in Denver ever since I landed here in May 2009. I have created profiles on Adam4Adam, Manhunt and other US equivalents of Planet Romeo. I have even tried posting ads on the uber-famous Craigslist asking for friends. The efforts, though temporarily fruitful have not succeeded in the long run. I had got a few replies and even met a couple of people during my initial days in Denver. But within a few weeks, these folks disappeared into thin air. No amount of calls, emails or voice mails compelled any of them to give me a call back. The only people who lingered were a couple of 'desi' guys whom I had known from before. Anyway, this experience with the local guys didn't really encourage me to try and again reach out to them. I had been to a few local gay clubs but soon found out that if you are from an ethnic minority, the local people either treat you as an alien or 'exotic'. I didn't wish to be treated as either. Apparently, the gay fauna in cities like NYC, LA, SFO and other big cities is a tad better. However, as luck would have it, I am at neither of these places. :-(

After months of procrastinating the thought of actually finding some friends, albeit 'desi', here in US, I finally floated an email on one of the Yahoo groups that I am a member of, a couple of weeks ago. Ever since then, I have received a steady stream of replies, some from USA and some even from Britain and India. It has been good so far and most of the replies have been quite sensible, not the usual 'my stats, your stats' kind of email. There are a couple of guys from California, one person from New York and one person from North Carolina. They are all desis and probably that is why, I have been able to connect to them rather effortlessly. We may be from different Indian ethnicities, but the underlying fact that all of us are 'desis' at the end of the day, binds us in some kind of an unseen bond.

It's been a pleasure talking to them on phone or on chat. I have planned a trip to Los Angeles to meet one of them during Thanksgiving and later, during New Year, I may even drop into New York to meet the New Yorker. I am hoping that finally I will finally have a good friend circle here in 'Pardes' as well. :-) Wish me luck!

21 days in India!

After roughly 14 months on foreign soil, when I decided to go back to India for a three week vacation, I was filled with a sense of anticipation and excitement. Anticipation because I was to meet a few people whom I was in touch with over the year; excitement at the thought of being able to savor the sights, sounds and more importantly the flavors of India once again. I was seriously longing for the roadside 'phuchka', the 'Chicken Roll', the 'Ilish Paturi' and countless other dishes.

My trip happened at the height of the monsoon season in India. As my Lufthansa flight glided down after a long 17 hour journey on the tarmac of the Mumbai airport, I couldn't wait to go out and breathe the moisture laden air. My Dad had come to pick me up at the airport. It was around 1:30 AM in the morning. It was drizzling lightly and by the time I reached home, I just couldn't seem to get enough of the Mumbai monsoons. And Mumbai didn't disappoint me at all. The next day, I checked out the spanking new Bandra-Worli sea link which is, I am sorry to say, a major letdown. Notwithstanding the engineering marvel, it's disappointing because you can hardly see Mumbai's skyline while driving down on it. Next stops were the Mahalaxmi and Siddhivinayak temples. My roller coaster ride in India had just begun.

Over the next weekend, we drove to Pune. We had to drive through almost pouring rain. At some points on the Ghats, we could hardly see what's ahead of our car. Nevertheless, the journey was enjoyable. The entire stretch of the expressway from Panvel upto Talegaon was lush green, numerous small waterfalls sprung out of nowhere, people had stopped their vehicles and were enjoying a quick shower under them. That must have been fun. After a brief stop over in Pune, which involved some official work, a jaunt to our office @ Hinjewadi, buying fish from Sus Road and a sumptuous Maharashtrian lunch at Naivedyam on Karve Road, we left for Mumbai around 3 PM and were back home by around 7:30 PM.

On Monday, 26th July, I, for the second time in my life went under the surgeon's scalpel. The first one had been when I was 8 years old and that was to make me 'Jewish' ;-). I had no clue at that time what that meant. If I had known, I probably wouldn't have gone for it. Anyway, this time around, the decision was purely voluntary. After a tedious 8 hour operation, I finally got back home.

The next two days were anything but comfortable. While I was confined to home, because of the pouring Mumbai rains outside, the surgery itself left me a little numb and uncomfortable. However, I had already booked tickets for my next stop which was the city of my origin - Calcutta.

Calcutta - the city is not really one of my favorites when it comes to living there. However, it never fails to amaze me. I was supposed to spend 4 days in Calcutta, with a one day lay over at Midnapore, which is my 'Mamar bari'. But I had to extend my stay by one more day because my visit wouldn't have been complete if I hadn't met all of my countless relatives and attended the grand luncheons and dinners organized in honour of the 'NRI'. :P Anyway, my visit to Kolkata was spent in the company of my relatives and indulging in gastronomic delights. Bhajahari Manna @ Hindustan Road, Kwality @ Park Street, Marco Polo on Sarat Bose Road - these are some of the places we had food. The food, kya kehna! :-) Lajawaab. Apart from these rather fancy places, I also gorged on Phuchka and Chicken Roll. Calcutta's roadside food is sheer bliss. It does away with your hunger but more than that, it also fulfills your soul. :-)

I met one guy in Calcutta with whom I had been chatting since September 2009. Let's call him 'S'. I met 'S' at Dumdum Metro station and we took a cab ride from there to Esplanade. We sat for a while at Blue and Beyond opposite the famous Hogg's Market or New Market in colloquial terms. It was drizzling lightly. The guy is perhaps one of the very few guys in Calcutta, I have actually met and liked. We drank a few beers and talked about the gay scene in Calcutta which according to him left much to be desired. I told him about the scene in Denver / US and he seemed totally excited listening to it. It was an evening well spent.

Next evening, I took the flight back to Mumbai.

On 2nd August, I finally left for Pune where my friends were eagerly expecting me. I landed up in Pune pretty late in the evening around 8 PM. Initially, I put up at this friend's place at Wakad. I have a history with this guy, which made living over at his place a little weird, especially when I came to know that he had a 'boyfriend' even though he never acknowledged that. What made me even more uncomfortable was that he had been flirting with me throughout the past one year. Moreover, his place was light years away from the actual Pune city where all the action was. On 3rd August, I made a trip to office once again, this time to catch up with my team mates. That day, well spent, I moved to a hotel on Ghole Road in Deccan on 4th August afternoon.

Over the next three days, I met a four more guys from Pune with whom I had been in touch through the past one year. It was nice meeting them. I also caught up with my old buddies from work, some old chums who were among my very first friends in Pune. As for sex, it happened with some of them and it was great! My 'dry' spell of the preceding 9 months had been broken. :-) Since, my birthday was round the corner, I called few of my very close friends to a dinner at the hotel where I was put up. We had a great dinner. I was supposed to leave Pune for Mumbai on 7th but decided to postpone by one day. As for how I ushered in my birthday on 8th, it was quite a lonely night, with me alone in the hotel. The only silver lining was that I probably became a little mature by realizing that it's not always what it seems and we have to be utterly careful when it comes to dealing with matters of the heart. Hopefully, this lesson will remain with me for a long time to come and stop me from committing the same mistakes all over again!

I returned to Mumbai on 8th evening. My flight back to Denver was on 9th August post midnight. The 9th was spent packing my stuff and getting everything in place. At 11:30 at night, my folks dropped me off at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and I bid them farewell for now. As I waited in the lounge for the flight to take off after all the formalities, the entire vacation flashed before my eyes. It was indeed a great trip. It made me happy, it made me sad, it gave me everlasting memories and some which I wish I could forget. But, I guess, that's what my life has always been all about. A little of this, a little of that! That's what makes me so FA-BU-LOUS.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Is there an end to this madness?

I have been thinking about coming back to the blogosphere for quite some time now. After I came to USA, honestly, I have been either too busy or simply too lethargic to take to the virtual pen again! Anyway, being in the USA for a little over a year now, I have been constantly amazed by how this nation works. It is by no means an overstatement if I say that the oldest democracy in the world through innumerable sacrifices, mistakes, determination and sheer hard work has achieved its rightful place in the modern world where it is today.

Now, let me bring to you another picture. I am from the biggest democracy in the world - India - a land which traces its history to beyond 5000 years (at least historically). India has endured in its past several challenges and yet has managed to somehow preserve its culture and its globally accepted plural character. Not going into any controversy, not going into any long drawn effort to prove or disprove its plural character, I just have few questions to all fellow Indians who may be reading this. I by no means claim to be a historian or even an intellectual but still I feel compelled to give words to my thoughts as they bother me everyday.

India is a country of over 1.2 billion people - majority Hindus (or one of its bewildering number of sects) followed by the minorities Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and others. Probably everyone knows the history by which we achieved independence from our colonial masters mostly through non-violent means. Yet, the price that we paid for that independence by virtue of partition continues to haunt us even today - viz. the complex socio-political Hindu-Muslim equation. Whereas it can be said that the two communities have lived peacefully in this ancient land since millenia, it cannot also be denied that their entire co-existence in modern India has been punctuated by unfortunate (sometimes religiously and sometimes politically motivated) events which have left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. No one can disregard the horrendous carnages that took place during the partition or the subsequent riots that have taken place at various times in the last 63 years. However, even after all of this blood spill and mayhem, India has managed to survive. This is because of the good sense that prevails amongst the majority of the population irrespective of religion. You may be wondering why I am suddenly writing about this issue out of the blue. The reason - the recent Ayodhya verdict. While I accept the verdict with all humility, I am skeptical of the far reaching effects that this verdict may have on our nation.

I am a Hindu. I go to temples (on occasions), ponder over the great spiritual discourses that are hidden in the Gita, love the fascinating stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata and by the way I do believe that they are true historical events, do the occasional teerth yatra, enjoy the Pujas (more so maybe because I belong to Kolkata and Durga Puja is not merely a religious festival, it is a cultural festival as well). Still, I am not satisfied with what the verdict has been even though I agree that this middle path may be the least objectionable one. Mind you, I am not saying 'acceptable to everyone'. Let me elaborate further.

The court case that was decided upon is merely a case to decide who owns the title of the land and as we all know that case has been going on for the last six decades. Even though the case may be to simply decide on the title suit, the emotions involved with it are by no means simplistic. Since two religions are involved, it has more or less become a test of pride for at least a section of both Hindus and Muslims. Theories and counter-theories, proofs and counter-proofs have apparently been presented to the court to decide on this matter. Both the parties claim to have evidence which proves their unequivocal right over the land. The case is also complicated by bringing in the fact that certain Hindu right wing groups and parties have used this issue to garner support amongst the population by claiming to be the protector of 'Dharma' or by advocating the correction of historical wrong-doings of Islamic invaders and rulers (viz. demolition of various temples) at various times in Indian history. Similary, some Muslim clerics and groups have tried to portray this suit as another proof that a Hindu India is trying to subjugate the Muslims. Add to this, the absolutely deplorable act of razing the Babri Mosque (while the title suit was still in the court) and you have a potential mixture for a time bomb that is ticking away. This time bomb can however be defused before its horrific consequences unfold only if, we as Indians show the courage, prudence and maturity to do so. Religious beliefs and historical facts are open to interpretation but we cannot turn a blind eye to the events of that particular day in December of 1992 when 'secular' India was challenged more than ever before. That happened right before our own eyes (I was 12 at that time) and we all know what the aftermath was. Thousands were butchered and yet the same people who planned this macabre act are allowed to flourish and continue to rule the roost. This is absolutely pathetic. After the events of 1992-93, the civil suit for the land became intertwined with the criminal suit of the demolition. These can no longer be seen as not inter-related. I am now stating something potentially controversial - The verdict would have made much more sense if the Mosque had still stood in its place and the court had given this ruling. Because in that case, if the litigating parties had accepted this verdict, the re-structuring of the disputed land as suggested by the 1/3rd formula would have had legal sanction and general approval of the parties in concern and the public in general. However, this scenario seems very unlikely. Even if the Mosque would not have been demolished, I am sure the two parties would have moved the Supreme Court because of the 'Pride' factor.

But, since the Mosque was demolished, this verdict seems to send out a signal that the demolition has indirectly been vindicated. This is because, as I stated earlier, had the mosque existed even today and the contending parties had accepted this verdict as final, the demolition / restructuring would have happened anyway. The verdict apparently uses 'belief' as a parameter in determining where Ram was born thereby awarding a portion of the said land to the Hindus. Many legal experts have raised questions on this aspect. I am not aware of the law or legality of the verdict but I can understand that if belief is the cornerstone in a certain case then that sets a dangerous precedence in the long run. One day, suddenly you'll find people filing civil suits against each other simply because they 'believe' in something which may be contrary to what the opposing party 'believes' in.

The verdict is going to be challenged in the Supreme court by both the parties so that they can gain complete control of the land and not 1/3rd as prescribed by the High court. Probably another 60 years would have passed before that verdict is delivered but in the meantime can we at least punish those people with exemplary punishment who instigated the mobs to bring down the Mosque? Can they be made accountable for their actions? If law is supposed to be above everyone else, can they be made to kneel in front of it and ask for forgiveness?

Those who sympathize or support these leaders - I have a question for you. Five hundred years ago, when the temple was demolished for the mosque, if you had the power to convict Babur / his general would you not have done so? Would you not have singed your teeth in anger if you had seen your beloved grand temple being razed to the ground? Probably yes. Would you be able to do something? Probably not. Because at that time you could do nothing even if you wanted to. That was medieval feudal India. But fortunately, this is 'new' India - a phrase that seems to be the hot favorite on TV these days. The demolition happened in our life time and now we do have the power (via the law) to correct this wrong-doing. We need to do that. I hope we can at least do that. We urgently need to mobilize public support to push for the early and just conviction of those people who challenged the very fundamental principles on the basis of which this republic was established. Let this not be another case in the proverbial 'slow cooker' in which by the time the verdict comes, most of the accused are either infirm or dead. An early conviction of all the accused will be the best thing that we as a nation can strive for. That will rebuild the trust deficit between the communities an overwhelming majority of whom just want to carry on with their normal lives without looking at each other through a prism of suspicion. Let historical wrongs not dictate our present polity anymore. Twenty first century India cannot be held hostage to the demolition of a temple in sixteenth century India.

I don't know what the Supreme court will decide or who will get the final title deed. But I believe that peaceful co-existence needs to be driven so deep in our collective psyche that no matter what happens we always stay united and together. I have faith in our judiciary which has shown exceptional courage and farsightedness in many past judgments that it will consider all the issues impartially, based on evidential proof and legally before arriving at a conclusion. If you ask me, I personally think that we would do our nation a great service if we build a hospital or some other such public institution at the site which is beneficial to one and all. On the other hand, if we have to build a temple and a mosque side by side at that site, then let us make sure that the bricks used in the construction of those structures bear the names of all those unfortunate Hindus and Muslims who perished in the communal riots in 1992-93. Let there be a 'Kar Seva' by the families of those who were killed. Let the Muslim families contribute and toil in building a modest temple and let the Hindu families do likewise in building the mosque. In between the two structures let there be a plaque with the pledge that we will not be divided any further.

I started by saying that I admire America for many reasons. One reason is that the site of the World Trade Center is being rebuilt even to this day and even after recent controversies it will still have the names of all the people (of all religions) who died in the horrific 9/11 attacks. It will be a reminder to all American people and to the world to strive to live in harmony.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Denver's fabulous!

Yes, it finally happened. After waiting for a ridiculously long time, I set my foot on Amreeka'n soil on 10th May 2009. The place is Denver, Colorado also called the Mile High City. It gets such a name because it is roughly a mile high above mean sea level. :) It's got the Rocky Mountains towards the west and from what I have seen, some of the higher peaks are still covered with snow in May, :) and apparently its summer time here. :D

I am here for work basically and so far it's been quite ok. The team I am working with is good and they are really sweet and helpful. I am put up with a colleague but I would probably move into my own studio apartment by August. One of the things that I find really unique about this place is the weather. Some of the days it gets really hot even to the point of sweating it out - like 30C and some days it gets cold with the maximum being just about 15C. :) The people are friendly and they smile at you even though you are a complete stranger to them. Like just today, I was waiting at this bus stop and there was a really cute guy sitting next to me and he started a conversation - asking me my name, where I was from, what do I do and likes. He was really cute and had blue eyes, and a whole lot of piercings. One of the piercings was on his lower lip. Ouch, that must have hurt, I thought to myself when I saw it. But he was really sweet, I even suspected he could be gay coz he appreciated my eyes. :P

Anyway, somebody I know in the US had told me about this classified ad portal called 'Craiglist'. I honestly do want to have friends here out of my work place coz it gets a tad boring to hang out with your colleagues all the while especially when they are married or straight and all they can talk about is either baseball, basketball or women. :P I seriously do want to have a set of gay friends here whom I could hang out with, go out to dinner with, go out shopping, or maybe head out to the nearest gay bar and dance the night away. And it seems to me that I have found some really great people.

I put an ad in Craiglist asking for purely platonic friends and got three responses so far. One of them was an Indian - Tamil guy to be precise called Arun. He is a really sweet guy and although he is married, he is still very much into the gay scene. I met him last weekend and he told me a lot about the gay scene in Denver - like the bars, the clubs, the bathhouses and the likes. He told me pretty interesting anecdotes about his 4 years in Denver.

The second guy's name is Greg. He is a nice guy too, probably in his mid thirties. Likes to talk a lot. I met him yesterday and we drove to a gay bar called JR. It's a cute little place near Downtown and it's a very comfortable environment. We spent roughly two hours there and he was telling me about his life, his family, his work and everything in between. We had a good time together and he was sweet enough to drop me home as well.

The third guy's name is Nathan, though he likes to be called Nate. I met him at a mall today evening. He is a really amazing guy and I had a great time with him. We went to a coffee shop at first and then drove around for some time before coming to JR. He introduced me to his good friend Steve. We talked a lot about his life, my life, about India, about food, about dance, about pets, about his relationship, about my crushes. It felt really nice to be with him and every now and then he would ask me if I was comfortable. I think that was really sweet of him. We decided to meet up again soon midweek probably for dinner and then over the coming weekend when his sister would join us too for something fun - maybe hitting one of the dance bars. :)

So, it's been good so far and I really hope that they find me worth their friendship coz I really need them to be around. I am looking forward to hanging out with these guys more and more so that I get to know them better and eventually be great friends with them.

I also decided to explore the city on my own. So, I also took my first suburban train from Downtown to Lincoln and back where I live. It was a fabulous experience. Its really amazing how well connected the different parts of the city are and you can practically reach anywhere without any hassle. As you begin to leave the main town for the suburbs the scenery changes and its all mountains and green meadows all around. It looks awesome. :)

Tomorrow, I am going out with colleagues to the nearby mountains. There are two places that we are going to - Caves of the Winds and Garden of the Gods. I am really excited about that, can't wait to take some fab photos and post them online. This will be my first trip in the US. :)

When I was taking the flight to US from India, I was kinda sad coz I was leaving all my friends and family back there. But now, I think it'll be a good experience for me and it'll help me in my growth as a person. After all, life is all about learning new things and making new friends.