Bombay — Portuguese, more or less, for "beautiful bay" — was part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when she married Charles II of England. Merrie Monarch though he was, it is unlikely he knew just what a prize he’d received.
Bombay — since 1996, officially "Mumbai," is among other things India’s gay capital, as Calcutta is its intellectual centre and Delhi its political one.
With just under a billion people in India, the standard figure of 1 in 10 men being gay means 50 million gay men and somewhat lesser number of lesbians. And with 15 million people in Bombay, there are by that reckoning three quarters of a million gay men here.
Bombay has a very vibrant gay "scene" in India. But its not just our large gay population that makes our city the gay capital. Multicultural, cosmopolitan, the centre of industry and trade, the location of the huge film industry, wealthy, tolerant and vibrant, Bombay naturally provides a hospitable environment for gays of local origin to constitute a lively and self-assured gay community. But Bombay is also a magnet for gays from all over the country.
For gay residents and visitors alike, Bombay is the most hospitable, exciting and indispensable city on the subcontinent.
Gay life in Bombay and in India generally
Indians gays are Indian first and gay second. We value and respect the manners and mores of our families, our communities, our various religious heritages.
As a result, most gays in India remain, in Western terms, deeply closeted. (This will not be a puzzlement to visitors from Islamic countries, but it does need to be stated plainly, since our highly cosmopolitan and free-wheeling urban lifestyle can confuse visitors from more straitened societies.)
Our tradition of arranged marriages means that most of us have wives and children. For the most part this is non-negotiable for us; for that matter, few of us would want it otherwise.
But this can be confusing for Westerners and visitors from Islamic countries. Gay visitors from Islamic and Western countries will naturally assume that our relatively liberal social mores and public manners indicate that it is proper—and safe—to behave in public as they might expect to do in a very liberal Western city. This could cause embarrassment or worse. Overt displays are therefore out (other than handholding, which is quite all right, though Bombay-ites are sophisticated enough to be aware that Westerners who do it are probably gay).
You won’t find gay bars, bath houses, and other exclusively gay establishments. Gay events are specially scheduled from time to time, though. Talk to local gays about what is coming up and how to get there.
Bombay is astonishingly cosmopolitan. Its cosmopolitanism has to do with its being hospitable to the wisdom and insight of cultures from the international community and from all of the Indian subcontinent, which is of course a world unto itself.
The Indian subcontinent contains communities from the earliest pre-historic cultures of mankind through the most advanced and sophisticated civilisations on earth.
There are intact remnants in India — particularly in the Andaman Islands, but with genetic remnants throughout South India — of the Melanesian race and cultures now most fully extant in the South Pacific which preceded us all in South and Southeast Asia. In the South of India the ancient and vibrant Dravidian race and cultures are alive and well in their hundreds of millions. In the foothills of the Himalayas the East Asian Asiatic race and cultures are amply represented. In the North of India the "Caucasian" race of central Asia, Europe and, more recently, the Americas and Australasia, is present in force supplemented, amplified, complemented and intermingled with the ancient Dravidian race of Southern India.
The result? Apart from the absence of a South Saharan African component, India is a microcosm of the entire human species. Everything that is aesthetically, culturally, and otherwise desirable in the human male (or female, if that is your preference) is fully represented among Indians. You like "European" types? Charcoal-blacks? Soft cuddly, warm and furry teddy bears? Lean, mean mesomorphs? Smooth asiatics? The long lean type? The short, muscular type? We have them all, and we are all Indians.
And by corollary, whatever YOU are, there is bound to be someone here who finds you their physical, cultural, or intellectual ideal.
What makes Bombay special—our multicultural microcosm?
The principal attraction of Bombay for gays is its cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism
All of India is amply represented here in Bombay.
Bombay is the metropole of the Indian "state" of Maharashtra. It s native language is of course the most predominant tongue of Bombay.
Marathi, the native tongue of Maharashtra, is of course predominant. Gujarati and other regional languages are widely spoken.
But cosmopolitan languages are widely or univiversally understood. Hindi is of course foremost. South Indians and international visitors will find that English will get them just about anywhere they want to go.
Urdu is very widely understood and Urdu speakers will of course find it fairly easy to get by in Hindi.
Do’s and Don’ts for visitors from elsewhere in India and abroad
Generally, anything goes, particularly with regard to matters of unique concern to gays.
If you are reasonably discreet and circumspect in your efforts to meet people, whether for purely social, romantic or purely sexual involvements, you should run into no difficulty at all.
But, Bombay’s astonishing multiculturalism apart, it is also fundamentally Indian. San Francisco it ain’t. This can be confusing for visitors.
Visitors from the West and from Islamic countries will inevitably be confused by the mixed signals they receive. Male displays of affection are common and nothing interesting should be read into them.
Bear in mind that as everywhere else, sometimes cops get bored. And when there is nothing else for them to do, harassing gays, particularly at typical pick-up points, is a way of assuaging their boredom. Enough said.
-- Compiled by Vikram
Uploaded on 08-Feb-2002