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Book reviews and articles on ‘Gay Bombay’ – II May 14, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in Indian Express.
From Businessworld:

The Gay Way To India
16 May 2008

Gay Bombay Globalization, Love And (Be)Longing In Contemporary India
By Parmesh Shahani,
Sage, Pages: 342; Price: Rs 395

Parmesh Shahani’s book is a gateway to new ideas, but also a way of seeing beyond the concept of ‘India Shining’ in purely economic terms. It offers a wide range of approaches: part-memoir, part-thesis, part-ethnography — each part a starting point for a wider discussion. As Shahani declares early on, the various styles and methods are designed to provide “perspectives on what it means to be a gay man located in Bombay at a particular point”, not to sum up a complex history or provide an academic review of sexual politics India-wide. That said, Gay Bombay can on occasion be reference-heavy and at points contains enough to bewilder rather than inform.

Without much close reading, it soon becomes clear that the ‘gay man’ is the author, and the ‘particular point’ is right now. However, Shahani’s personal experiences, recounted intermittently throughout the book, are balanced with those of his interviewees from the gay community in Bombay. They form a diverse bunch, despite being restricted to “urban upper-middle class India”, and their experiences as well as Shahani’s tell us a lot about the choices faced by a gay man in Bombay.

What’s refreshing about this book is the author’s casual honesty regarding both his love life and his response to the city: at no point is the personal response to any issue hidden. We get treated to first loves and first fumbles, the settled domesticity of a long-term relationship and partying all night in Bombay like a “disco jalebi” — all through the eyes of the author. However, in the same breath we get the political meanderings of the gay cause, from TV panels to Shah Rukh Khan’s appearance on a radio talk-show, to Ashok Row Kavi’s unwavering commitment and comment. We see the global finance aspect too, from economic reform policies to the emergence of India as an “international buzzword” in recent years.

Throughout all this example-hopping, a picture of Bombay emerges as a city with enormous potential and a diverse social scene – a lot of the information here would be of use to those interested in a wider scope of development, from media and technology scholars to marketing managers and Human Resource managers in large corporations: Shahani’s research provides a picture of what’s going on in city society and how big business might respond to it all.

Parmesh Shahani Parmesh Shahani is currently based in Mumbai and works on venture capital, innovation and strategic brand outreach in the corporate world and also serves as the India-based affiliate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Convergence Culture Consortium.

New meanings and newness are the root cause of this book, and the reason it will be of use not only now but to future readers is precisely because of its being a product of its time. It is a valuable resource for contemporary conditions and its author is riding the wave of opportunities that Bombay is awash with in the 21st century, having been at the forefront of the web development scene and now with a finger in many media pies.

Moreover, his depiction of the online and offline community in Gay Bombay is spot-on, as anyone who has attended one of their regular parties will testify. Shahani is a writer who knows the scene well, yet remains participant rather than organising, and as such is free to observe and experience the many lives that gay Bombay offers. The overall sense is that here, one can be anything and everything: married, gay, successful, a father, wealthy, qualified, young, attractive, a kothi, a CEO — for better or worse, all these things and more are possible in one person.

However, Gay Bombay doesn’t highlight problems so much as it examines potential. Many of the characters in his book are success stories, often at the top end of burgeoning industries and the media sector. This is a reflection of the innovative and creatively-thinking society that Shahani’s ethnographies and interviews suggest; it also shows how, at least in the urban space that the author is concerned with, the men of Gay Bombay aren’t that different at all — they have the same career aspirations, concerns for their families and of course they want “the perfect Bollywood love story, a guaranteed blockbuster!” at the end of it all.

Gay Bombay comes highly recommended for anyone who is interested in how globalisation works, in India today, and Shahani’s pioneering study provides a multifaceted and illuminating introduction to a brand new scene.

Charlie Henniker is a writer based in London, where he is currently completing a Master’s at the School of Oriental and African Studies.


Love, actually (Financial Express)


Two divergent young voices present their versions of an emerging India
Posted online: Sunday , May 11, 2008 at 2231 hrs IST

Don’t be misled — the Bombay in this book is not one most of you are familiar with. Nor is the creator of this world easy to slot. Parmesh Shahani works on “venture capital, innovation and strategic brand outreach” in the city’s corporate world, but is as comfortable locating his identity as a gay man in this ethnoscape. Not surprisingly, his first book, Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India, can be read as a comment on the way Indians have embraced the various subcultures that have existed in the country. Using thoeretical constructs, he examines the cultural dimensions through intersecting scapes — ethnoscape, financescape, mediascape, technoscape, politiscape, memoryscape and ideoscape — to arrive at how “various Indian historical traditions continued to flourish along with the reformulated modernity”. Suman Tarafdar attempts to understand this emerging India as seen through the gay prism in a conversation with the author. Excerpts.

Interestingly, you explore the changing mores of Indian-ness in the book. Was that a conscious decision while structuring the book?

The book talks about Indian-ness. If India is shining, the world is realises that India is big on innovations. And can do it simply, less expensively. The book attempts to map out gayness in India and understand core ideas of citizenship by studying trends in its Economy, polity, society, culture and institutions.

Does Gay Bombay help in this?

Gay Bombay is as much an online website as a fluid community. Sexuality provides an interesting lens to examine changes happening in India — the economic surge, the higher political profile, the cultural explosion on the world stage and a new and assertive confidence in its own capability as a major world power. I am really interlinked in contemporary urban India and my goal was also to answer what it means to be an Indian in contemporary India.

Despite Article 377, do you see the post liberalisation years as being better for social acceptance of gays in India?

Absolutely. Real changes are happening in spaces like offices. Colleagues are now far more accommodating of co-workers. Legal changes are awaited, but friends are changing every day. It’s important to tell the good stuff as well.

How does the gay man in India find himself vis-à-vis his family today?

Well, like most other Indians, gay people in India too are family-oriented. Families here are realising that gay people are not moving away from family values. I see a tremendous respect for the family among gay people, in fact they crave that acceptance.

What role has the media played?

Media is the space where the negotiations have happened. While before 1991, there was hardly any mention of gays in the media, now the coverage has become regular, and there is an articulation of a wider range of issues about gays in India. The media has opened eyes to the possibilities. Many Companies now working towards same sex partner benefits. Television and radio have also played their role in bringing issues to the fore, while the internet has helped many acknowledge and gather more information about their sexuality. To be gay in Gay Bombay signifies being ‘glocal’.



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