Kanishk Devgan, Class of 2020 On a fairly ordinary afternoon at Ashoka, a roomful of people
“Azaadi, azaadi! Azaadi, azaadi!” The streets resounded with frenzied chants and slogans. A riot of colours unfolded before my eyes as flags were unfurled, rainbow badges donned and witty banners held up. As the dhols beat, so did people’s hearts, louder and stronger than ever before. The 10th Delhi Queer Pride on 12th November, 2017, was nothing short of a flamboyant display of unity and desire — a culmination of ten years worth of fighting against discrimination, anger, and inequality. And as my first ever Pride march, it couldn’t have been better.
I could talk at length about how heartening it was to see solidarity in numbers, to see friends and lovers strut through the streets, to see love so pure that it made my heart melt. While these definitely formed an integral part of my experience, this is not what this article is about. I walked from start to finish — sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, sometimes lost in a sea of revellers. I saw mothers walk alongside their queer kids, proud as hell to be there. I saw a little boy in a rainbow t-shirt sitting on his father’s shoulders; then I saw his other father. I saw trans-people fulfil their “lipstick waale sapne”. And as the wisps of smoke from cigarettes held by ecstatic old-timers lingered in front of me, so did the maelstrom of emotions — happiness, wonder, and guilt — in my head.
Guilt. Why guilt? Because living a dual life is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Being gay is hard. Especially if you can’t tell the people who mean the most to you. My social media was flooded with pictures and videos I took during the pride march. I found myself worrying about whether or not the news of it would reach my parents’ ears. A poster at the march said, “My mom thinks I’m studying but actually I’m here”, which sums up not only my experience at Pride but the past few months at college as well. Every month I’ve been attending queer events across the city, unknown to my parents. All I say is “Yes, I went to Delhi today. It was fun.” And I presume they nod approvingly at the other end.
Sometimes, I think about how they’d react if I told them. They aren’t homophobic, but what happens when your own child is not straight? Sometimes, I panic. At first, I wonder why it should be such a big deal. And then, I wonder: why I, of all people, had to be gay. This is followed by anger and self-hatred. To the casual observer I’m embroiled in deep thought, but internally I’m quaking, afraid of all that being gay brings with it. A part of me yearns to tell them, make it known that this isn’t “just a phase”. But our relationship is already rocky, and I don’t know when — or if at all — I’ll ever be comfortable enough to break this to them. I guess till then I’ll just keep going for events one after the other, returning with nothing but an even bigger sense of wrongdoing and unhappiness.
Over and above this, I think a lot. About many things. One of them being Pride. What really is Pride? A flamboyant expression for, and of, the LGBTQ+ community? A show of unity and solidarity? A fight for rights, and a fight against hatred and discrimination? Or something more? In August 2017, the Supreme Court declared sexual orientation to be a part of the right to privacy, an inalienable right possessed by every citizen of India. For the LGBTQ+ community, it brought relief, joy, and a sense of hope. Hope that in the future, things will continue to go their way; eventually, Section 377 will be repealed. But if this does happen, what will it mean for Pride? What will we fight for if there is nothing more to fight for? Does Pride retain any of its original significance anymore, or is it just a single day of celebration for people who don’t know where things are headed?
I think it’s all of these in equal measure. You can choose to agree or disagree, but one thing I got from my first ever Pride was an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. People were trying so hard, so hard, to show how happy they were, how grateful they felt for this day and all that it meant to them. “Pretentiousness” is the wrong word to use, but it was a parade; a whole host of people still hid behind their masks, wishing to remain unknown. And I admit I was one of them. I wasn’t particularly overjoyed by the whole experience. I didn’t feel like I belonged; the march didn’t fill me with hope and happiness, as it appeared to do to others.
The signs began long before I actually considered the possibility of being gay. Unlike my friends, I didn’t have a favourite actor or sportsman to drool over. I didn’t feel jealous of the girl who was dating the hot guy in the batch. I didn’t “feel” like a girl as much as I should. Realisation was slow, and then all at once. I am now more cognisant of this fact than ever before. I’ve acted on it a couple of times, and it rarely ends well. And it always, always tears me apart.
Maybe this will change. Maybe one day, I’ll finally have the courage to go up to my parents and say it out loud. Maybe one day, I’ll finally be able to value and accept myself for who I am, despite the imperfections. Maybe in a couple of years, I’ll be able to understand the true meaning of Pride and allow it to make me believe in change and hope. But before that, there’s a long walk to freedom. The freedom to be and the freedom to accept myself. And who knows how long that will take?