WORDS: CHARLIE CHAULAGAIN
On Grindr, he was relatively quiet, his presence a mere shadow. He never started a conversation. The few times I sent a Hello, our exchanges were terse, limited to basics. He wouldn’t send a face picture but passed on his number once and invited me to skype. I was instantly struck by his looks – thick black hair partly fell over the forehead; an unshaven look complemented strong Aryan features. When he spoke, it was with a distinct Darjeeling-type lilt, sweetening a gruff, macho voice.
Another one, I thought after hanging up, remembering a previous fling with a West Bengali, another Nepali-Indian who had raised my hopes. This one was younger, only 25, and was preparing for some tests, as part of an application process to go abroad. And so, I didn’t think twice before pushing him towards the edge of my consciousness.
Months passed. His profile would pop in and out sporadically. The display picture rarely changed. A couple of times, I examined it, unsure whether it was his own photo – most of the face cropped out, revealing only the bottom jaw, mouth outlined with rich, black hair – or an appropriation of someone else’s. But I didn’t pay much attention.
One afternoon, we ended up briefly skyping again and made tentative plans to meet up. It was Tihar season; everyone seemed to have a few extra hours to kill. But the plan did not work out that evening. A day later, I happened to go to his neighborhood and sent an impulsive skype message. He was ready to meet. It was the night before Bhai Tika, around eight pm when I stepped out. It was one of those weird Tihar days – the air seemed festive, yet subdued. The main street was half-deserted. Small groups of men hung outside kirana stores, smoking cigarettes. Bikes zoomed up and down. There were hardly any cars; no sign of tempos or micros.
He was standing by the roadside, smoking. I crossed the street to meet him and we turned towards the main chowk, somehow having reached a mutual decision to go for a night walk. Towards the chowk, a few buildings were covered with holiday lights; strings of multi-colored bulbs created numerous identical columns. They sparkled and shimmered above us, as if we were walking up a boulevard to attend a grand party. But the rest of the procession was absent. It was only us, and the quiet, odd night.
The conversation flowed nicely. I asked him about his background and education. He mentioned the West Bengal town he had grown up in, which led to a Bipul Chettri reference. “Yes, very much Nepali,” he said. Despite having Indian citizenship, he had chosen to attend college in Kathmandu, not in Delhi or Bangalore. Sensing something prickly in his tone, I inquired, “Maybe it was difficult to grow up as a minority. Did you get teased and pointed out?”
“Exactly”, he responded, “Maybe that’s why I have such strong feelings towards India and Indians”. His aversion was quite apparent. “That happens,” I said, lending my empathy. And with that exchange, there was a slight shift in our dynamic. It’s even possible that there was an extra shade of respect in his tone when he asked questions about my life; his “tapai” seemed more sincere, more genuine.
In any case, as we turned around and headed back to his neighborhood, I mentioned an art exhibition that was ongoing. “I’d love to check it out,” he replied enthusiastically.
“I’ll be with cousins tomorrow, but I’ll buzz you if the day ends early”. He was visibly excited. Even more excited because we had talked about smoking up before visiting the exhibition.
I could not meet him on Bhai Tika but we made plans to spend the following afternoon together. That morning, telling myself not to get too eager, I let the hours slide before checking in with him. When I finally called, it was close to noon. “Oh I’m already at the exhibition,” he replied, “With my girlfriend”.
It took me a second or two to process that while he continued, “I will buzz you if I’m able to meet up but it’s unlikely”. I was amazed for five minutes and then I got over it. Another one, I said to myself. Another Nepali man on an exploratory path. Another
person who thinks same-sex attraction is inherently wrong. Because that night, it had come up. During our walk, he had asked me whether I was married. And when I’d said No, he had responded, “I am definitely getting married.”
He was another one of those. In fact, at the beginning of the walk, he had broken ice by referring to me, jokingly of course, as a ‘bigreko keta’ (a rotten man).
Yes, he was another rich, privileged high caste Nepali man whose primary concern was his own pride tied to his family’s dignity. No, he was not going to take any risks. He definitely was not going to bring any kind of shame. Truth did not matter. Relationships did not require a foundation of honesty and openness. What mattered was ‘what others thought’, ‘what you were supposed to do’.
ANOTHER HALF-INFORMED, SEMI-EDUCATED, POORLYEXPOSED MACHO MAN. ANOTHER ONE WHO IS GRADUALLY LEARNING TO MASK HIS CONFUSION WITH SWAGGER, WITH HIS INSECURE LONGINGS WITH SELF-CREATED MYTHS; ANOTHER ONE WHO IS IN THE PROCESS OF NUMBING HIS DESIRES WITH ALCOHOL AND CANNABIS.
Another half-informed, semieducated, poorly-exposed macho man. Another one who is gradually learning to mask his confusion with swagger, with his insecure longings with self-created myths; another one who is in the process of numbing his desires with alcohol and cannabis. Another one who will slowly and surely dull his mind with pop culture and social media bullshit.
Another beautiful boy who doesn’t have a reading habit. Another young, bright boy we will lose to the mainstream. Another one with so much potential, such energy that will go to waste.
Another one we cannot count on. Another one, who, one day, will be sitting with his in-laws, sipping whiskey, relishing mutton sekuwa, watching television and making small talk. And if the LGBTI topic does come up on the television, he might briskly refer to us, lending a few precious words – ‘bicharaharu’ and ‘ke garne’ – before switching the conversation to the latest Bollywood movie playing at QFX cinemas.