It took a sting operation to get several gay men record their personal testimonies before the Whistling in the Dark 21 queer interviews could really be written,says R Raj Rao,writer and professor of English at the University of Pune.
A gay writer,Rao celebrates his own identity but the other queer men like him are not that fortunate. And this is precisely why the book was conceived as a non-fiction work of art on the reality of gay men and women from India and abroad.
Cant we just celebrate gay love?, asks Rao,who along with Dibyajyoti Sarma has edited Whistling in the Dark 21 queer interviews. The book,published by Sage Publication,will be officially released at Oxford Book Store in Mumbai on May 6.
In 1999,a few former students and Rao got together to form the Queer Studies Circle,a support group that was concerned with the intellectual,cultural,social and political aspects of being gay in India. We felt that the gay movement had been hijacked and homosexuality was seen as synonymous with HIV/AIDS. This took away the focus on the celebration of gayness itself, Rao says.
So,at our meetings we encouraged people to talk about their personal history. We had people like autorickshaw drivers,masseurs and even people visiting us in Pune from countries like Canada,Spain,Sri Lanka,Mauritius and Iran, he says.
Some of our interviewees have been imprisoned for sex-based crimes and they spoke of their experiences in jails,notorious for the kind of things that go on there. These interviews were surreptitiously conducted in the manner of a Tehelka-type sting operation, says Rao.
Hence we employed various strategies to get them to talk,which included partying with them and taking them on overnight jaunts to hill stations like Matheran. While a majority of interviews in the book appear under assumed names,there are some like Christopher Benninger,Ram Naidu,Hoshang Merchant and Bindumadhav Khire who have readily agreed to being quoted and have spoken about their experiences.
The aim was to present the life stories as they actually exist,without vetting or editing them in the interest of propriety, says Sarma. The writings encompass several issues that have troubled the community over the years.
These narratives go beyond the commonplace and conventional,providing a rare insight into the private lives of people,some of whom were (at some point of their lives) forced to live their true lives in hiding rather than leave themselves open to the ridicule of society and imprisonment.