Mintu was a looker with shapely legs and light olive skin. The first time our new sports teacher looked at him, we all knew that he fancied him like mad. This happened in class VIII around the mid-1990s. It was also the time when a Juhi Chawla movie was released and everyone in our class started calling him Juhi.
He was not talkative.
He would sit in the third row next to the window and quietly read film magazines hidden cleverly in his textbooks and would set his hair and occasionally look up to the teachers to prove his attentiveness. I felt he was lonely. He didn't have any friends. Sometimes he would take out his chap stick and apply on his lips and go back to his reading unperturbed by anything happening around him. Perhaps that's how lonely people are - in their own world.
Mintu was feminine, beautiful and guarded his reclusion in his make-believe world. I tried to talk to him many times and he would just reply in monosyllables and never added anything or asked anything to give friendship a start.
I stepped back after a few attempts. I saw him crying in the library once but could never ask because I feared he would not answer. He was not a raging Juhi Chawla fan and the students called him Juhi to mock him.
He had overheard that they actually named him Hiju or Hijra. If you flip the name Juhi, it could loosely be arranged as Hiju. That was the smartest way to refer to him and this is how the other students had their share of banter.
Mintu went home for summer vacations and never returned to school. Later, we heard he had jumped off the terrace and died. It was a suicide. He died of loneliness and rejection. We heard that his own father used to call him those names and his mother just cried incessantly without reacting. He had no protection and no support from family and obviously, no love. Loneliness and death at the age of 15. Unbelievable!
There were only two people from school who attended his funeral. One of them was me.
There were many queens in our school, mostly closeted like me. We often used to hang around in the old dilapidated basketball field applying Vaseline on our eyelids and that would add some shimmer to our eyes. We hoped that maybe this little act of freedom would add some shimmer to our lives, too.
That was our adda. Whenever we felt lonely, we would run there. The basketball court was ignored, too. No one played there so it would host us happily, I thought. Someone or the other was always found there. We had a few allies, mostly our seniors, who would join us sometimes for a small talk. We teased them and they did the same when they found one of us with them alone. Each gay guy in our school was lonely and ran to the court looking for a similar soul to talk to. We laughed, talked, ate stolen food from tuck-shop and ran back to our respective classes.
We spoke about Mintu for months and no one knew what happened to him. It was difficult. We had to pretend to be someone else while talking to our teachers, parents and to everyone. We couldn't be openly gay in front of them. We feared rejection, scolding and disapproval.
But everyone else knew. Our watchmen, school bus drivers who would often ask for blow job from each of us and they wouldn't give up if we refused. I constantly looked for a cockroach spray like Hit that would also repel humans. We battled it would. One thing you learn pretty early when you are gay is that you can't give in. The fights were endless. They would take advantage of our loneliness. Some of us were raunchy kids. To kill loneliness we would often indulge in sex with someone we liked.
We were just exploring our bodies because we didn't know what sex meant. Or we were abused. Isn't that child abuse? Now I realise when I was felt up in a crowded bus or one of those drunken uncles who would show up once a year during Diwali and would grab my cheek to kiss and forcibly move his lips to mine and I repulsed him like a force of a current. But I wouldn't report this. I knew it was bad. No one taught me these things but in my heart I knew those were bad things that were not to be told or discussed. Boy, I was wrong.
Then we all grew up with our loneliness and in bits, our togetherness. I picked up cigarettes to kill my boredom, read books after books, had multiple sex partners.
Is there a hairline difference between boredom and loneliness? Boredom is just for the moment, for that time around. It's short-lived but loneliness is for a long time. Maybe it can stretch till eternity. It's a disease. It doesn't go away. I try to be resilient by going to the parties, try drinking the heavier cocktails like long-island-tea or just down neat whiskey pegs and sleep until Monday morning and then begin the work week. I wear a smile to every party I go to. Parties are ephemeral. And then I return to my empty apartment in the city and I feel the familiar loneliness surround me again. My mom's death left a huge void in my life and I have been really lonely without her. Probably the pain cannot be described in words. But I miss her. Perhaps she knew. And I know she understood. I was her child. And that's all that mattered to her and me.
Then I met Raj whose depression cost him his job and his social life. He even broke up with his boyfriend. He hugged me and gave me the gloomiest smile I ever saw on someone's face. I felt like crying. I remember we kissed once. But that doesn't mean anything. He is seriously lonely and needs serious help. He told me he was speaking to some psychiatrist. He is anxious about his future. He has practically given up on life. It is an extreme loneliness because he was ousted from his family many years ago and now his lover has also forsaken him. So practically he is loveless and homeless.
"There won't be more than four people in my funeral," he told me wryly.
But I can see through his pain. Those dark circles around his eyes say a lot about him. He lives on Xanax and Vodka and those are his parachutes to temporary happiness.
On grounds of loneliness, I have not found much difference between my gay friends and straight friends. My straight friends comprise mostly single successful men and women in their thirties or forties. Some are in relationships but they are still lonely and constantly want to hang out without their partners on weekends while the rest succumb to mindless travels or find their anchorage in their respective careers, do hard drugs and tell too many lies.
And it all boils down to loneliness. Loneliness will lighten once they have a legit life partner but where is the partner, their knights in shining armours? I wish life partners could just be ordered on phone like food. It's such a grilling, excruciating exercise to select a life partner or a perfect companion. My friends have such high standards and they are highly successful and that becomes a hindrance in the selection process. No one wants to compromise on any grounds. The shortlisted candidate doesn't realise he has been shown his place already. He is out and she is lonely again but the search is on. And this is an endless cycle. And where do I or people like me find long lasting love?
I really want to thank the gay activists working to legalise homosexuality. The only hope is that this will bring some positive changes into some of our lives. It will change the quality of our life. We can walk on the road with our head held high. We will be free to live without any inhibition and that means a lot for us. The key reason behind a gay man's loneliness starts from a lack of acceptance.
I never had to struggle through my sexuality. I am lucky in a way that I came from a family that accepted what the world looked upon as "transgression".
I live my life on my own terms but I don't know if I can deal with my loneliness. If I was accepted wholly by our society, things would have been much better for us. Loneliness is an untold pain that lingers until we die.
If you compare it to some serious illness it is just as brutally manageable like diabetes or HIV/AIDS but we are condemned to die with it without proper treatment.
Can't scientists invent a pill for loneliness? It's hard to discuss and even tougher to hear about. Just a bit of social interaction and a friendlier approach can bring huge changes in our lives. Politicians have no interest in us because we are not their vote bank.
We have to wage a battle every day to be who we are, to be able to embrace our identity that doesn't belong to the prescribed gender binary. And it is tiring. It wears us out.
I go to fabulous parties wearing the most risqué outfits that I have. I wear my make-up but do you see the "invisible scar" on my face? Make-up hides it but I see it.
I come back home alone and lie down in my cold bed but my body is even colder. There is no one to hold me through the night. I wake up the next morning and slowly sip my coffee at 1pm and think what to wear in the night for yet another party or consider calling someone over? Another day, another time. Things are always the same. The routine never ends. The battles never end. Only we fade out. Bit by bit. Like the cigarette that dangles from my lips. It burns out. We do, too.
Also read: His duty to his nation - Heartfelt tribute to slain J&K cop Javaid Ahmed Dar by SSP Shailendra Mishra