An Exclusive Excerpt From ‘So Now You Know’ A Memoir About Growing Up Gay In A Pre-Acceptance India
I remember twirling.
It was more of a dance actually, I think, but without the music. I was definitely twirling, and my hands were in the air – what was I doing with them in the air? I remember I stopped. And I mouthed a dialogue from the then super-hit movie, Sadak.
The year was 1991. I was all of eight years old and didn’t know any better. Or did I? Had I by then named the attraction I felt toward boys? Was I aware of what I was doing with my body as I danced without giving a damn, without realizing it – till a hand struck my face, very hard at that – and I somehow knew it was because of what I was doing. Not just dancing, but dancing like a girl – and that was a big problem. One that just would not go away.
‘What do you think you are doing?’ my uncle thundered.
I was speechless. I didn’t know how to respond. To my mind I was only dancing and nothing else. Why was it such an issue?
I didn’t know any better. In time I would come to see. People would tell me what I was doing wrong: sometimes kindly, sometimes in no uncertain terms. But more about that a little later. For now, let’s talk about where it all began.
In a very Dickensian fashion, I was born. Literally. I had to be after all. So there.
I was born. That’s how most stories begin, don’t they? You are born – not like you asked to be but you are – and if the stars or planets or both were in your favour when you were born, then life is easy. If not, then you are doomed!
Luckily for me, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Literally. My grandmother fed me sugar and dahi with a silver spoon, or so I have been told. The doctors at Breach Candy Hospital – the most efficient of doctors – told her not to, but she wasn’t one to listen to anyone. I sometimes think I turned out just like her, at least when it comes to the stubborn gene. For the rest, we are like chalk and cheese.
Anyway, back to the point. I was born at Breach Candy Hospital, which is something of a status symbol. Probably so that my grandmother could brag to her sisters and sisters-in-law that her grandchild was born in Breach Candy. A matter of ego, pride and status – all rolled into one, just like how it should be.
And she was like how the matriarch of a good South Bombay household should be – honourable and relentless in putting others down, even if it was her own family. Oh yes, my grandmother was quite a character in her own right, but extremely lovable. I remember calling her ‘Mamma’. My mother was always ‘Ma’ or ‘Mom’.
I must tell you that my grandmother wanted to name me Vicky. Why? Well, because to her it sounded macho – it had that kind of ring to it. Not really though. She wanted to name me Vicky because she had just watched Namak Haram and was fascinated by Amitabh Bachchan’s name in it – which was, well you guessed right, Vicky!
My mother, on the other hand, would not stand for it. She is one of the most formidable women I know. So I was named Vivek, and that was that. But Vicky stuck as a nickname.
‘Vicky, eat this!’
‘Vicky, eat that!’
‘Vicky, what do you want?’
These were perhaps the most common phrases I heard growing up. Like I said, I was the apple of everyone’s eye, till much later (but I must not get ahead of myself). There was constant talk of food in our house, not to forget Bollywood. We would get film magazines and a weekly newspaper known as Screen that focused solely on Bollywood news – well, gossip, really. The reason I mention this is because of the effect it had on my formative years and teens – the gossip, the lives of stars, of wanting to be like them and emulate their lifestyle.
And amidst all of this, there was my mother whose love for reading was handed down to both me and my sister – the best gift of them all. While it was my grandmother who seemed to make all the important decisions in the household, it was my younger aunt who influenced the family the most. My mother had married into a traditional household – where nothing was of her own will or consent. She has always been an avid reader but she had to steal books from the local library and read them in the shower – or my grandmother would be really upset. You get the drift, don’t you?
‘What are you doing with a book?’ was a question my grandmother often asked my mother.
While my aunts and my grandma were busy watching television or planning which movie to watch next, my mother read. She remembers reading to me – while I was still in her womb – fairy tales and nursery rhymes at that. I know this because she told me so. While my grandmother berated my mother for it, nothing stopped me from reading books (patriarchal privilege being deeply entrenched), and so I went on and on and on.
I started reading when I was all of five and life has never been the same since then. We lived by the sea. I have to say this here because for as long as I have known, I have loved the sea, but from a distance. There has always been this fear – of the large expanse of water that it is. I have still not been able to figure out exactly where this fear comes from. It is just there, and I cannot put my finger on it.
Anyhow, I was raised like any other ‘raja beta’ – the quintessential much-adored first child of a joint Sindhi family where no one was above me. It was all about me, which meant I was basically completely spoilt.
‘Mama, I want this.’
‘Mama, I want that.’
‘Mama, I want this now.’
I was throwing a tantrum to get what I wanted from the age of four. I learnt quickly, and it was my mother who knew how to keep me grounded and not give in to my every demand and need.
That’s how it went on till I turned eight. For all practical reasons, that was one of the most important turning points of my life.
So Now You Know is published by Harper Collins India and releases on September 6.
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