The shriek of the wooden door and my heavy breath.
The sudden silence of the basement’s cool room and their questioning eyes.
Here I was, yet again, not on time. Within that minute of unexplained awkwardness, I doubted if I should put my right foot forward and get in the room or pull it back, shut the door and crib about my ill fate for getting a rickshaw that knew every place in Mumbai but this!
“Come on in,” I heard, not sure of who it was.
I smiled, closed the door and turned around, only to find a dozen eyes glaring at me.
Too embarrassed. Too apologetic.
I bit my lip and cursed silently.
“So what do you think about the title of the workshop?” asked a broad shouldered woman who appeared to be in her mid 40s as she directed everybody to make some space for me.
And then it started- the sudden screech of the chairs against the cemented floor, movement of bags, converse shoes, clinking of pendants and sound of their random breath.
I took a few sips of water and finally settled somewhere in the middle surrounded by boys on both sides. I kept my glittery handbag towards the left and as soon as I turned, I found everyone anxiously waiting for an answer. Some sat cross legged with a gentle smile, other kept tapping their fingers on their laps.
“So,” I started, trying hard to reminisce the exact topic that I read on Facebook-it said ‘Queer’ and ‘LGBT’ for sure. And the rest I didn’t know. I really did not know!
“Queer means unconventional. And the moment I read LGBT, I was sure I wanted to attend the workshop,” I smilingly lied.
I was a homophobic.
One who would get scared if a transgender crossed by or the one who would maybe term a friend quite un-natural for being gay.
While speaking, my eyes caught the attention of a woman sitting right opposite to me. She was in lose jeans and sports shoes. No wrinkles or dark spots but an untidy hair bun. With elbows crossed at the junction of her mildly swollen tummy, her chapped lips slowly moved towards a smile.
I smiled back.
“Right. So let us all give you a small introduction before we further extend our discussion,” said a dark, lean, young fellow sitting on my left diagonal.
He sat with one leg crossing the other and his brightly coloured shoelaces came to my notice. He smiled as if he was too trying to understand me through the apparel I was wearing, through the way I was sitting; by the bag I carried or the way I had tied my hair.
I’d never dressed more girly than today. Didn’t miss my hair clip, wore a long dress, a pair of danglers hanging in my ears, ballerinas with a bow and a dazzling bag. What a girl! he must’ve thought.
“I’m Lance. 24. I’m a hair stylist and I just recently confronted my family with me being gay,” he started off. It was quite apparent that he was one. His neatly combed hair, few rings on his fingers, frail movement of his right hand and his seemingly tight jeans. My smile grew brighter, as if, it just waited to hear this confirmation from the man himself.
“I’m Deepansh. 24. I work in Mumbai and I discovered myself to be attracted to men a year and a half back. Have also dated some guys and am presently in a relationship”.
And now my lips were tricked. They didn’t know if they had to constrict towards a frown or grow broader for a smile.
“I’m Elisha. I’m very much new to Mumbai. And I’m in love with my partner, Sush who is sitting right here,” she said wrapping her left arm around the girl on the next chair.
It was all okay until I realized that within the group of us 15 people, I was the only straight person.
The rest fourteen were as excited to know about my sexuality as they thought I’d been for them.
“Hi, I’m Avantika. 22. A journalist. And I’m straight,” I spoke at last without a choke. I was too paranoid to look in their eyes for I didn’t know if I was fitting right in their judgment of me so far.
“So how is it to date a boy?” I raised a question representing one of the baseless curiosities of many straight people.
“You tell me, how is it to date a boy?” I was backfired.
I kept mum.
“It’s great,” I winked.
“So is it for me,” Lance winked back.
And the barriers broke. We smiled broader than before.
I spent the next 5 hours with the same people in that small dingy basement room. We watched movies on LGBT, some videos on Pride March, learnt about the discrimination they faced and discovered how normal they were.
While leaving the room I was astonished by how comfortable I had become in a while. I was very much in the spirit of attending Prides and being part of whatever could help. I somehow just knew that I was in the right room at the right time. I had to know why I supported dismissal of section 377. I had to know why I supported the people caught in its web.
While walking down the lane as we closed the room at around 7 in the evening with goodbyes and plans to meet up next, I wondered if I was really a homophobic? Or was it just an escape I was using like many other people?
I did not know. But one thing was sure. Even if I was once, I’m wasn’t anymore.