Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India


Parmesh Shahani

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    Parmesh Shahani is an original. This beautifully written debut book, Gay Bombay, merges autobiographical, ethnographic, institutional, and historical perspectives to paint a vivid picture of the emergence of a gay community in modern India. This book will inspire and provoke many interested in understanding the intersections between sexuality, globalization, and new media.

    Co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter De Florez Professor of Humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Author of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide

    FINALLY! Finally we have the definitive gay historical document of the city we still lovingly call Bombay. Parmesh Shahani shows us in his quiet Indian way that being gay in India is no Stonewall revolution.

    It comes from the heart of someone who has lived in Bombay and researched his city with love. Here is a work of academia infused with very touching personal experience. Did you know that the word homo-sexual was coined in 1869? Or when the Page 3 was launched by Times of India? Read on to get the trivia, truth and factual history.

    Shahani's Gay Bombay traces the modern and the old with charming first person. This book takes you to the television studios, the editing rooms, the dance floors, the chat rooms and the private parlours to discover gay Bombay in all its subtle victories, intimate vibrancy and surprising diversity.

    Fashion Designer, Goa, India

    Gay Bombay is a must-read! Shifting seamlessly through the personal, the Gay Bombay community, the national, and the transnational, the book gives the reader a unique understanding of what it means to be gay and Indian. Its contribution lies in giving middle-class urban gay identity a history and context. The chapters weave scholarly analysis with rich details and poignant accounts of gay life and identity. A courageous and compelling book.

    Director, Graduate Program in Gender/Cultural Studies Chair, Department of Sociology, Simmons College Author of Woman, Body, Desire in Post-colonial India: Narratives of Gender and Sexuality

    Parmesh Shahani has written a brilliant, powerful book that helps us understand the nuance, multiplicity, and complexity of Gay Bombay.

    Research Affiliate Massachusetts Institute of Technology Author of The Long Interview

    Shifting effortlessly from the personal to the theoretical, from the local to the global, Gay Bombay is a pathbreaking study of homosexuality in modern Bombay/Mumbai that will be essential reading for students of gender and sexuality. Parmesh Shahani's analysis of gay, metropolitan India is one which will be welcomed among its subjects as well as by many other readers.

    Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema Head of the Department of South Asia School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Author of All you Want is Money, All you Need is Love: Sexuality and Romance in Modern India

    A chatty book by a new young voice on the block, combining autobiography, queer theory, interviews with gay male Bombayites, and descriptions of gay male life and activism in Mumbai. Easy to skim and fun to dip into.

    Professor, University of Montana


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    To Riyad Wadia. And to Bombay: muse, nemesis, saviour, home.

    For Junri Shimada

    Kabhii kabhii mere dil mein khayaal aata hai

    Ki jaise tujhko banaaya gaya hai mere liye

    Tuu ab se pahale sitaaron mein bas raha tha kahiin

    Tujhe zamiin pe bulaaya gaya hai mere liye…

    Kabhii kabhii mere dil mein khayaal aata hai…

    Ki yeh badan ye nigaahein merii amaanat hain…

    Ye gesuu'on kii ghanii chhanv hain merii khaatir

    Ye honth aur ye baahein merii amaanat hain…

    Kabhii kabhii mere dil mein khayaal aata hai

    Ki jaise bajtii hai shahanaa'iyaan sii raahon mein…

    Suhaag raat hai ghuunghat uthaa rahaa huun main…

    Simat raha hai tuu sharmaake merii baahon mein…

    Kabhii kabhii mere dil mein khayaal aata hai

    Ki jaise tuu mujhe chaahega umra bhar yuun hii

    Uthegii merii taraf pyaar kii nazar yuun hii

    Main jaanta huun ki tuu gair hai magar yuun hii

    Kabhii kabhii mere dil men khayaal aata hai…

    Sometimes the thought crosses my mind

    That you've been made just for me.

    Before this, you were dwelling somewhere in the stars;

    You were summoned to earth just for me…

    Sometimes the thought crosses my mind

    That this body and these eyes are kept in trust for me,

    That the dark shadows of your hair are for my sake alone,

    That these lips and these arms are charged to my care…

    Sometimes the thought crosses my mind

    Just as the shehnaii sounds on the roads,

    That it is my wedding night and I am lifting your veil;

    You're shrinking from shame, blushing in my arms…

    Sometimes the thought crosses my mind

    That you'll love me like this our whole lives through,

    That you'll always lift a loving gaze to me like this.

    I know you're a stranger, but even so,

    Sometimes the thought crosses my mind.

    —Kabhi Kabhie (Sometimes): Sahir Ludhianvi*

    * Kabhi Kabhie (Sometimes): lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, music by Khayyam. (Bombay, India: Yash Raj Films/HMV Music, 1976). Hindi to English lyrics translation courtesy Gender modified from original.


    This book would not have been possible without the backing of my terrific MIT thesis committee. Henry Jenkins was the ideal thesis supervisor and also ideal boss. He, along with Edward Baron Turk and Tuli Banerjee, helped me conceive, mould and eventually pare down the manuscript to its current length. William Urrichio helped with the initial push and (freshly minted University of Michigan professor!) Aswin Punathambekar provided the motivational pull at the finish line. Over the past four years, I have looked up to the five of you as my academic idols and also been privileged enough to consider each of you a close friend; I thank you all for your affection, support and guidance.

    I wanted to write this book in multiple voices. I am not sure that I have succeeded, but among the different academic voices that I had the pleasure of discovering while researching this book, were Kath Weston, John Campbell, Arjun Appadurai and closer home, Henry Jenkins, Grant McCracken and Robert Kozinets. These are the voices that have inspired me to continue to keep one foot in academia and if I can eventually manage to express myself with even a fraction of their lucidity and conviction, I will consider myself a success.

    I am grateful to my family of classmates and co-workers at MIT Comparative Media Studies, my home during the three years that this book was being written. Chris, I miss you immensely. Susan darling, when will I see you again? CMS mother hen Sarah (and now, new mommy!), Ilya Vedrashko and the entire C3 team—you rock.

    I am obliged to the many advisors, experts and confidantes that helped me during my research, with follow-ups, reading drafts and making suggestions for both this book and the video documentary project that accompanied it. Vikram Doctor, Ashok Row Kavi, Vivek Anand, Nitin Karani, Alok Gupta, Jyoti Puri, Wendell Rodricks, Simran Thadani, Rachel Dwyer, L. Ramakrishnan, Robert Cagle, Gulnar Mistray, Jignesh Jhaveri, Dan Van Roekel, Joe Gibbons, Rajeev Masand, Tara Deshpande, Sridhar Rangayan, Sidharth Jaggi, Darshana Dave, Beth Coleman, Generoso Fierro, James Dai, James Nadeau, Michelle Oshima, Paul Knox, Shailen Bhandare, R. Raj Rao, Mario D'Penha, Nandini Manjrekar, Gautam Bhan, Sandip Roy, Kim Mulji, P. Balakrishnan, Michael Fischer, Shivananda Khan, Pratap, Sachin, Albert, Deepak, Sultan, Ashish, Sameer, Raj, Rohan, Bhushan, Vikram, Sunil, Ketan, Arshad—thank you all. To the wonderful SAGE Publications team in New Delhi, especially Sugata Ghosh, Maneet Singh, Sunanda Ghosh and Anamika Mukharji, a big big thanks.

    To all my interviewees, for both the book and the film, I am overwhelmed by how you freely gave me your time and your stories and the several other random acts of kindness that made this journey so special.

    I must express my gratitude to my family of friends spread all over the globe, who love me not in spite of my quirks, but because of them and whose affection provided vital nourishment during the process of writing. Anchal, Roy, Alan, Amulya, Prajna, Kriti, Gray, Rommel, Pranjal, Ali, Sujata, Ghalib, Jitin, Fawzia, Shashi, Sajan, Anne, Girish, Kuleen, Kushal, Meenu, Mridula, Aalika, Aakash, Uttara, Ashwin, Yusuf, Nusrat, Ananya Sage, Rahul, Anand, Nikhil, Arvind, Nandan, Ashish, Sharmistha, Aroon, Astad, Paul, Karishma, Aidita, Raul, Murray, Kai, Joyce, Stefan, Nancy, Anuradha, Nainesh, Aneesh, Sangita, Neha, Chandler, Mridu, Ajit, Anmol, Pallavi, Shradha, Seema, Uddrek, Girish, Shilpi, Nargis, Sujoy, Gitu, Akshina, Ramesh, Nitish, Jay, Shubha, Satchit and I am sure I am forgetting loads of people here and will be reminded about it at length, but really… thanks, from the bottom of my heart. To my maternal grandparents, I owe an eternal debt for raising me like no parents ever could and to my parents, I am grateful for the space, the intellectual freedom, the understanding and the acceptance. I want to make you proud. To my mom especially, I am sorry I take you for granted. Thank you for being there, come what may, with your steadfast love and support for whatever I do. To my sweetheart Junri, what more can I say—you have got a romantic love poem dedicated exclusively to you right up front! You are very lucky to have me, you know that, na?

    Finally, to my gay support systems—Gay Bombay for the subject matter of the book, for helping me rediscover my city and myself; Humsafar for their always accessible advice; the MASALA network in Boston for introducing me to fabulous desi queerdom; the incredible resources of LBGT@MIT (especially Rick Gresh, Tom Robinson, Howard Heller, Ajit Dash, Michele Oshima and Abigail Francis) and the MIT community at large, for being such a wonderful refuge while this book was being written.


    Gay Bombay is an online-offline community (comprising a website, a newsgroup and physical events in Bombay city), that was formed as a result of the intersection of certain historical conjectures with the disjunctures caused via the flows of the radically shifting ethnoscape, financescape, politiscape, mediascape, technoscape and ideoscape of urban India in the 1990s. Within this book, using a combination of multi-sited ethnography, textual analysis, historical documentation analysis and memoir writing, the author attempts to provide various macro and micro perspectives on what it means to be a gay man located in Gay Bombay at a particular point of time. Specifically, he explores what being gay means to the members of Gay Bombay and how they negotiate locality and globalization, their sense of identity as well as a feeling of community within its online/offline world. On a broader level, he critically examines the formulation and reconfiguration of contemporary Indian gayness in the light of its emergent cultural, media and political alliances.

    He realizes that Gay Bombay is a community that is imagined and fluid; identity here is both fixed and negotiated, and to be gay in Gay Bombay signifies being ‘glocal’—it is not just gayness but Indianized gayness. He further realizes that within the various struggles in and around Gay Bombay, what is being negotiated is the very stability of the idea of Indianness. The book concludes with a modus vivendi—the author's draft manifesto for the larger queer movement that he believes Gay Bombay is an integral part of, and a sincere hope that as the struggle for queer rights enters its exciting new phase, groups like Gay Bombay might be able to co-operate with other queer groups in the country, and march on the path to progress, together.

  • Appendix

    Interviewee Profiles


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    About the Author

    Parmesh Shahani is based in Mumbai, India, where he works on venture capital, innovation and strategic brand outreach in the corporate world and also serves as the India-based research affiliate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Convergence Culture Consortium. His other work experiences include founding India's first youth website Freshlimesoda, business development for Sony's Indian television channel operations, writing and editing copy for Elle magazine and The Times of India newspaper, helping make a low-budget English feature film and teaching as a visiting faculty member at a Bombay college. He holds undergraduate degrees in commerce and education from the University of Bombay, and a graduate degree in Comparative Media Studies, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He may be reached at

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