People, Sep '16
Varta brings you the ‘Queer Kolkata Oral History Project’, an initiative to document five decades of queer lives in Kolkata (1960-2000). Our aim in this project is to go back in time and bring forward diverse queer voices through a series of interviews, which will provide a landmark to Kolkata city's queer history.
Typically, the focus will be on the queer scenario in Kolkata during the growing up years of each interviewee – how it was to be queer in Kolkata in different decades since the 1960s till more recent times. The effort will be to bring forward a mix of the well known and the lesser known voices.
Apart from the excerpts published here, the project also aims to publish a collection of the interviews in different formats. All interviews are based on informed consent and where requested, all markers of identity have been removed for reasons of confidentiality.
In this issue we bring you the second part of an interview with Suresh, 68, a teacher of marketing management who used to live in Kolkata till the late 1990s and is now based in a coastal town in southern India. In the first part of the interview (published in the August 2016 issue of Varta) Suresh talked about his early sexual discoveries. In this part, he talks about more sexual encounters as an adult, affairs of the heart, marriage and divorce.
The interview was conducted by Pawan Dhall over Skype on June 4, 2016, and later transcribed by the interviewer.
Pawan: Okay, so talking about your college years and older people going to certain places to find sexual partners, question is where would they go, like in your school days, you had space at home, then also at your friend’s place. But where would these older people go?
Suresh: Some of them had gone to RS [park], and I think they were chased by police or something like that – they came running and were telling stories about that . . .
Pawan: Hmm, so, you said they were chased by someone?
Suresh: Chased by supposedly police, I don’t know . . . Or somebody acting like police, moral police.
Pawan: By now we are talking about the late ‘60s and early ‘70s?
Pawan: Okay. Alright, so when did you start venturing out?
Suresh: That is when I started going out on tours, for my company.
Suresh: First I was teaching in a college, PQR College, chemistry I was teaching. Because chemistry honours was my subject – and then I saw an advertisement from XYZ Ltd., I’ve applied for it and I got the job. My first posting was in Bombay.
Suresh: And Bombay was heaven (laughs).
Pawan: Why do you say that?
Suresh: In our hostel itself there were gay people, and there was a . . . hotel where we used to go and you know have drinks and some gay shows were put up . . . some Caesar’s Palace, that it was . . .
Pawan: Achha, that’s very interesting!
Suresh: Don’t know exact name, achha that, then after that when I was sent on tour – to Kolhapur, Belgaum, those places . . . there was a, this . . . room boys and others, some of them were willing . . . so, with some of them I had sex. I was always the top, of course, and paid them money – at that time it was just about maybe 30 rupees or fifty rupees, for one go.
Pawan: So, all this while, did you share this with anyone else, with your family or any other friends?
Suresh: No, at that time not so open, society was not so open that I – we could share. With friends, we can just whisper and tell – our urge what was, they knew, and we used to whisper and talk because they also used to tell us about their experience. So those things were there.
Pawan: And then what about girl friends?
Suresh: We never thought about girl friends.
Pawan: Achha (laughs).
Suresh: Never attracted towards girls, except when I was forced into marriage – because my boss had told my pitaji – “Tumhara munda bigda jaye!” . . . you better fix his marriage or something like that. That time, I was, I objected vehemently, even fighting. There were seven signatures, now – even now I’ve got that letter stating that no, there’s nothing like that, everything will be alright once the marriage takes place. I didn’t say it . . . I said I don’t want to get married, basically I feel that I’m not attracted towards girls. Then they said once you get married, it will automatically be okay . . .
Pawan: Oh, so you mentioned that you were not attracted to girls?
Pawan: Achha, okay, and they did not – they were not upset or anything?
Suresh: At that time, I don’t think they understood the meaning of it.
Suresh: Because for them that is something not at all possible (laughs).
Pawan: Right, but isn’t there a bit of contradiction, because as you were saying that many things were happening, all around, you know people were even going to RS . . .
Suresh: Yes . . .
Pawan: And yet you are saying that your parents would not have understood.
Suresh: Hmm, that time society was like that – that they may have seen some things but they can’t bring the limelight towards that – not only my parents, all the parents.
Pawan: Alright, so this was happening while you were in Bombay?
Suresh: This was happening first when I was in Calcutta, and also when I was in Bombay.
Pawan: Okay, and in these years you didn’t develop any special feelings or any kind of romantic attraction for anyone?
Suresh: Yes, I did.
Suresh: I did, there was one roommate whom I, you know, loved very much rather. I used to bring him presents; he used to get a little bit less salary. Then, he was an apprentice in Air India at that time.
Suresh: He used to get very low salary, and then . . . I used to pet him, sometimes try to kiss him. He didn’t like it. Then all these things were there. Then he was sent to some place for training – then he went off.
Suresh: Good looking boy . . . and I was really fond of him. I could have gone with him . . .
Pawan: Haan, and this was around which year?
Suresh: This was 1969.
Pawan: So you were in your early 20s?
Suresh: I was in my early 20s.
Pawan: And in those days did you have access to any kind of books or magazines, or any other material from where . . .
Suresh: No! Yeah, some novels were there – like one novel was there God in My Mind – so that was totally on gay . . . I don’t know the author’s name, but this is in '70, 1970 I’m telling you. We used to have the library there near the station, Chembur station. So I used to get books from there. I used to read up Perry Mason, Agatha Christie, all those, along with that sometimes I used to get these sorts of books also.
Pawan: Okay . . . so tell me a little bit more about your interests in those days, in your school and college days.
Suresh: School, of course, cricket – I was the . . . I was the 12th man you know (laughs), but highlighting scores and once or twice I have done umpiring, and then . . . this CAB also for school, inter-school this thing – umpiring I have done, and this, what was the hobbies – stamp collection was there. Other than that . . . we used to collect photographs of cricketers, different poses . . .
Pawan: Achha, yes.
Suresh: That used to be a great this thing (laughs) . . . looking at those photos . . .
Pawan: In fact, even up to the ‘90s I think there was a passion that people had for collecting photographs, picture post card size photographs?
Suresh: Yes, yes.
Pawan: I used to see a lot of them on Chowringhee Road.
Suresh: Haan, haan (laughs) . . .
Pawan: But now all that is finished.
Suresh: Yeah, only one magazine was there Sport and Pastime.
Suresh: That’s why it was difficult. Nowadays thousands of magazines are there and you get lot of photographs . . . and the Internet is there (laughs).
Pawan: Yeah, thanks to which we are talking (laughs).
Pawan: So tell me what happened, major happenings from your early 20s onwards.
Suresh: Early 20s onwards, yeah, yeah . . . (pauses).
Pawan: What about your marriage, so finally you got married?
Suresh: Yeah, that’s right. So after my Bombay posting, I was called over to Calcutta, transferred to Calcutta. Because my boss talked to my father and then . . . then, my father was also working in XYZ Ltd. at that time. He was a big shot, and transferred me to Kolkata. And then they started looking girls for me, and then finally one girl was . . . you know I used to say this is not correct, kundali is not matching, this is not matching, I want somebody who is born within this group, you know, and all that. So they finally found somebody who was . . . then all of them sat together and signed as I told you a document saying that we don’t agree to what he says and he’ll be happy once he gets married and all that, seven signatures were there.
Pawan: I didn’t understand this seven signatures bit.
Suresh: They have given it in writing that I’ll be happy if I marry. I said no, so they stood guarantee that I’ll be happy!
Pawan: I see!
Suresh: And that seven signatures are there, of course, of that only one is living I think, others are all dead now (laughs).
Pawan: So then how was your relationship with your wife?
Suresh: It was not – any strain as such, but she also used to, you know, because she was working in LMN, so she would go out to different places with different boys and girls, to parties and other things . . . so the relationship was not bad till I was transferred to Guwahati. And when we came to Guwahati, there was this one person working in ASL who became quite friendly with her.
Suresh: Of course, by that time, my daughter was born already. And this boy had some sort of an affair with her, apparently. Once, when I came back from Siliguri, the door was closed actually. The servant said that they are together, inside the bedroom . . . since this thing was there, so I sued for divorce. Separation was given and then finally divorce was granted, because she wanted to marry that boy. Meanwhile, we had a child, who is abroad now, my daughter . . . Fourteen years which I was married, I did not waiver; I was straight at that time.
Pawan: Okay, you did not have any other sexual relations?
Suresh: No, no.
Pawan: So when you separated or divorced, how old was your daughter?
Suresh: Hmm, she must have been . . . 12 or 13, I think.
Pawan: Achha, okay.
Suresh: No, 11, she was 11 and she was actually in DEF girls’ hostel, in Kolkata.
To be continued.
Main graphic credit: Pawan Dhall