reportage /

An Indefinite Sentence

Love, homophobia and the AIDS panic in 1980s India.

I WAS 26 YEARS OLD in 1988, living in Delhi, where I had recently moved after several years as a graduate student in the United States. I was a stringer for the Washington Post, living in a rented apartment in Jor Bagh with my partner, Tandavan, a Frenchman of Tamil and Vietnamese descent in his mid-thirties. We had met by lucky accident one morning outside the nearby Lodi Gardens, and fallen in love instantly.

Tandavan was my first boyfriend. Until we began to live together, I had feared that gay men and women everywhere were doomed to living lives without lasting romantic love. Societies, it seemed, permitted only heterosexuals to have fulfilling, steady relationships; and they were, for the most part, bitterly opposed to our partaking of this basic human joy.

Tandavan, a Bharatanatyam dancer with a gift for making everything sensually intense, had brought colour, music and hope into my life. Our one-bedroom apartment was always full of friends: Indian, French, and of innumerable other nationalities, crowding around for impromptu dinners. Yet, despite the unexpected joys of living together, there was no escaping the chronic sense of fear that came with being gay in the India of that era. By being together constantly—in our car, on the verandah of our flat, walking and biking together, going shopping—we drew the attention of some of our neighbours, as well as of the domestic help and private guards in the area. From their comments and stares, I realised that Tandavan and I were the subject of a lot of discussion, some of it patently suspicious and unfriendly.

My tensions would cross over into fear whenever Tandavan and I were intimate with each other—whether it was kissing, having sex, or just cuddling together. I was aware that we were violating India’s criminal laws, even if it was in the privacy of our flat, and we could be arrested and imprisoned as a consequence. It was sickening to feel fearful every day, to think that I was a criminal just because I loved another man.

Siddharth Dube is a contributing editor at The Caravan. His memoir, No One Else:
A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex
, will be published next month.

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