I have upset this ten-to-midnight crowd with my constant walking up and down past them. They are not bothered by the odd passers-by, at the appearance of whom they withdraw their hands back into themselves, and resume their manual labour once the person has gone. But I keep toing and froing past them, continually frustrating their desired activities. Hence, they migrate to the benches running along the west side of the pond, hidden by the trees. Some have left, and that too because of me – a confirmed homosexual whose adventures at this place might constitute a full novel, titled Sex in the Square.
However, although homosexuality is the one and only driving force of my life, this drive is not a force anymore, merely an energy. That the uranium has burnt itself into lead may be an inaccurate way of putting it. Better to say it’s heat without temperature.
And yet, this, my fifty-ninth year, is the very “golden age” of homosexuality. Seeing this grey-haired, yet robust man loiter, young and old call out to me, saying, “Come and sit a while. You’ve been walking around long enough”. I can sense that they are lifelong homos, and have fucked around with god knows how many hundreds and thousands like me. So, not only do I not sit with them, I don’t even go near them.
From a distance of about ten metres I tell him, “Don’t do all this, brother/Sir. You’ll catch a disease. VD is still curable. But AIDS will cost you your dear life. You know, don’t you, homosexual contact is one of the most possible sources of AIDS?” I have no idea how many understand. But a few have asked me about it and I have not seen them since. God knows whether they have quit cruising or have decamped to Shraddhananda Park or Muhammad Ali Park.
The thirst for coitus has gone; the thirst for company has grown. I need company during my nightly four hours in the park, but only loose ties – will speak as long as I wish, will move on once satiated, will not even sit down. Since this is not possible with individuals, I am more attracted to groups, and have, in fact, got a few such groups. To the group of twenty–twenty-one-year-olds, I am grandpa, ditto for the twenty-six–twenty-seven group; I am uncle to the group of thirty–thirty five-year-olds; and elder brother to the fifty–sixty-year-olds. I am “chacha” to a group of Bihari men.
The fifty–sixty-year-olds want to know if the idol of our resident goddess is indeed made of gold, or whether I remember if the statue in the north-west corner that was destroyed by a wayward military truck was that of the Maharaja of Darbhanga or that of Batakrishna Pal, or who was it who said, “The first and last vice in a noble mind is the aspiration for name and fame”.
The thirty-thirty five-year-olds ask how sixteen-seventeen-year-olds are expected to compete with clean-shaven twenty-year-olds in the Madhyamik Examinations, when these twenty-year-olds entered Hindu or Hare School at Class 4, having read till Class 6 in some other school. Do I think that an age range should be fixed for Madhyamik eligibility? The twenty six-twenty seven-year-olds try to take my mickey by throwing Math, Geography, History, English at me. I throw Jibanananda and Tagore at them. The Bihari group sings me songs of Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar.
I am encircled by the twenty-twenty one-year-olds as they clap their hands, slap their thighs and sing today’s rap songs – “Nilanjana” or “Ami Bhoboghurei Hobo”. I call this group the Sayudha group, because they run a magazine by that name, and they are absolute devotees of this new kid called Nachiketa who has of late become quite popular. A few months ago, I noticed everywhere posters announcing a concert featuring Nachiketa being organised by Sayudha at the University Institute Hall. What foolhardiness led these boys to book such a huge hall I could not fathom.
They said, “You’ll see. We’ll pull it off “. Every other day I started to get reports from them at the park: this many tickets got sold, this much received as donation, so-and-so is leading them a merry dance, so-and- so is helping them a lot, today the 20-rupee tickets sold out, just seven days to go and seven hundred jobs to get done, and yet the classes are running on full steam and cannot be cut, just returned after placing the order for flowers, Nachiketa has a cold, oh no! etc.
And then, two days before the event:
– Here’s your Guest Card. Absolutely to the front.
– I am not allowed to enter an air-conditioned hall.
– We will put you in a sweater, wrap you in a shawl and take you.
– Besides, I am not allowed to be in a crowded hall.
– We will put a mask on you.
– My dears, none of this will work out. But do know that I will be there in spirit.
– Then ask your Western-pop-loving son to go.
– That won’t work out either. His MSc Finals are on.
Utterly crestfallen, they handed the card to me and said, “We had kept this card for you. We won’t take it back. Give it to anyone you think fit”. Today was that concert. One of my son’s Hindu Hostel friends took my card and went.
At 7.30 pm, having eaten my lunch, I entered the park from the north-east gate, and on reaching the University Institute Hall, I realised that the concert was on. At the gate of the hall, under bright lights, hung the golden festoon of Sayudha. Behind it, running along the railings, strung up were two banners advertising a hosiery company’s vests and briefs. I realised that the boys were enterprising. The portico lay empty, bereft of any of the Sayudha boys. I decided to return there after sometime and therefore turned towards the park to take my evening walk.
In the middle of the fourth walk down my usual path I went back to the hall. Now it was even emptier. Only at the bottom of the stairs stood a dark, harmless boy of about fifteen or sixteen. I asked him if the singing was going on inside.
–It’s going on.
– I see a pink card in your pocket. You aren’t listening to the songs?
– I heard the songs in the first half. The second half has just started after the interval. But I don’t know what to do.
– Why, what’s the matter?
– My elder brother was supposed to come here. But couldn’t find him during the interval. I don’t know whether he is inside somewhere or hasn’t come at all. Tell me, which way is Sealdah?
I raised my hand and point in the direction of the station.
– Can I reach it by taking the road in front?
– No. There are tramlines behind this building. You walk along that road.
– It’s close to Barabazar, of course!
– Barabazar is exactly in the opposite direction, on the way towards Howrah.
– No, no. Barabazar is close to Sealdah. That’s where I live.
– You live near Sealdah and yet cannot decide how to get there?
– No, no. It’s just that I am new here. Could you, Sir, show me the way to Sealdah?
I started walking with him to get him to Harrison Road. Suddenly, three voices calling me out, “Dadu, dadu, dadu!” came from the stage door of the hall. I saw, on the other side of the closed gate, Sayudha youngsters Kaushik, Bappa, Suman.
Bappa: Damn! You never came! You really missed something!
Suman: Full house! Packed to the rafters! We had to turn so many people away!
Kaushik: Nachiketa is totally killing it! Well worth the ten grand we paid him!
Me: It’s incredible that you kids did all this. I had already been here once to meet you.
All Three: Come again after half an hour, when the concert is over. We will introduce you to Nachiketa.
Excerpted with permission from Entering the Maze: Queer Fiction of Krishnagopal Mallick, translated from the Bengali by Niladri R Chatterjee, Thornbird/Niyogi Books.