Two young men have a chance encounter in a local train. Standing, swaying to the rhythms of the train’s movement, watchful of the eyes on them, they make a feeble attempt at seeking each other out. Not a word is exchanged but their chemistry is palpable. As is their fear of being “spotted”. What happens next makes up 2×2, a seven-minute sketch that plays out to music. It is one of the six sketches that comprise Pinky Promise, a collection of short plays being performed today in Mumbai (two shows at HOP: House of Party, Andheri West, 5pm and 8pm) to mark Gaysi Family’s tenth anniversary.
This milestone for Gaysi, a collective that works to give voice and create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, comes at an interesting time. In September this year, the Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict, overturned an archaic law that criminalised gay sex, opening the door for the community to live with dignity in the society that had for long ostracised them. The anniversary, says Gaysi’s co-founder Priya Gangwani, is a reflection of both the challenges from the past as well as the hope for the possibilities in the future. “It’s not about how society is looking at us or how we feel within the social norms. For once, it’s about self-love,” says Gangwani, 35.
This is also the brief Team Gaysi shared with its contributors when they invited scripts for the sketches. As an online community that began as a blog a decade ago, bringing out a zine and expanding into events over time, Gaysi has a fairly large network of desi contributors from both India and abroad. This versatility in terms of experiences of the community from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum faces is what they hoped would get translated on stage. “When we started out shortlisting for Pinky Promise, we were sure we did not want dard bhari (wrought-with-pain) coming-out stories. The pieces needed to reflect the nuances of this world,” says Sheena Khalid, the director of Pinky Promise.
The pieces being performed revolve around myriad themes. While 2×2 looks at love in the city, Trans in Transit explores a transperson’s never-ending confusion about which queue to stand in at an airport, Love’s Neighbourhood, on the other hand, explores a conversation between two women who were once lovers. Although a sketch like 2×2 may resonate with everyone irrespective of their sexuality, Khalid points out that most pieces that make up Pinky Promise could not have been performed by a heterosexual couple. “For instance, Love’s Neighbourhood uses the sari as a metaphor. It is about two women in a relationship and how they feel, what is their reality or the sensuality of their relationship cannot be superimposed on a heterosexual couple,” she explains, pointing out the dangers in trying to appropriate queer stories. “It’s not always possible to ‘get’ how these characters feel.” Performed in a mix of Hindi and English, Pinky Promise will have two shows this evening, followed by an afterparty. The team hopes to have a similar celebration in Delhi soon.
Gaysi has so far focussed primarily on the written word, but has also organised their first Zine Fest in Mumbai this year. The stage became their medium of choice to mark the anniversary for several reasons. Gangwani admits that visuals make for a powerful medium, often cutting across classes, masses and language barriers. “Language plays such a huge role when talking about LGBTQ+ rights but all the terms that explore the nuances of sexuality, such as heteronormative, cisgender, non-binary, are in English. We are often trying to dumb it down but when people understand it through the visual medium, it stays with them,” says Delhi-based Gangwani, who works closely with her Mumbai counterpart Sakshi Juneja.
“But the idea was also that we present a bouquet of stories that we can keep adding to over time, and travel with it,” she says, adding that this also allows them to up the representation of queer characters in the visual medium.
Khalid, one half of the theatre group The Patchworks Ensemble, who has earlier collaborated with Gaysi on their play Drag Kings, opted for the experimental format for Pinky Promise, making it easier for the play to be performed in both conventional as well as alternative venues.
Standing at this juncture, set to cross the dual milestones of its 10th anniversary and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Gaysi’s team is charting their journey ahead. Their first stage of evolution came when they graduated from providing a voice to the community to asserting their space through events such as their open mic property Dirty Talk. The next step, they feel, is to take it beyond the urban set-up they have established themselves in. “Reading down Section 377 gives us more freedom to speak up. Gaysi’s formula and platform can now be replicated to form smaller chapters of Gaysi in tier-II and -III cities. That’s what we will be aiming at next,” says Gangwani.