Vikram Johri: From Earth to Planet Romeo

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 11, 2013 19:33 hrs

Negotiating spaces for gay romance used to be a fraught affair. Since the advent of the internet, however, it has become far easier. While earlier it was furtive encounters in cruising joints (Delhi’s Nehru Park and the Churchgate station in Mumbai, not that you are interested), now things are more regular. The leader among gay meet-up sites is one PlanetRomeo, based out of Holland. It offers free services to Indians, because its owners are committed to “furthering the cause of gay rights”, and India is not exactly at the forefront in that department. 

You start by making a profile on the website, complete with pictures and descriptions of body and soul, and then wait for people to respond. Some profiles are headless torsos, indicating a discomfort with either public display or, more likely, one’s sexuality. Others overflow with pictures that, as with many things with gay men, are rich and colourful. A profile on PlanetRomeo, as the website is called, is a good barometer of not just whether one is gay but how gay.

There was a time when people chose to communicate only with those who had put up pictures of their faces. This was in the early 2000s, when PlanetRomeo was gaining traction in India. That sort of elitism is now frowned upon in the community. If the profile is nice (“I am into reading and Mexican food”), the absence of a picture may be ignored, at least initially.

At any given time there are at least 500 people active in Mumbai. That would indicate a plethora of choices, but the reality is less exciting. Most gay men quickly get to know one another and then it is the same pool from which to pick and choose. People exchange hellos and pictures, if they aren’t already on their profiles. “You are sweet,” they say. “I find you cute. You look so nice.” Sometimes faces are wonderfully handsome, but in a distant way. Sometimes they are excruciatingly sweet, making one fear for breaking their heart if one was not careful. 

After a few messages – in fact, after the first message in most cases – people can say: “You are not my type.” That simply means: “You don’t get me horny.” Some say: “You are not what I want” — which is more slippery. You are not what I want? Seriously? Come on. You feel it in your gut, but are unable to articulate it. It is something you want in a way a child wants candy. Once he gets it, he forgets about it. You know that this moment of refusal will linger in your mind. It forces introspection. You are not what I want, when in fact you are exactly what I want, but not in person. Maybe as a nebulous, romantic idea.

Still others say: “You are not what I am looking for.” Now that’s deeper. This goes beyond sex, and percolates into the warm, cosy territory of love. It tells you that you look and sound all right, but I am more determined about what I want in a partner. Because I have waited a lifetime for him, and have kept myself from going crazy by embellishing him with new and finer qualities until he became a nearly living person waiting to discover existence.

Sorry, you are not what I am looking for. It is easier to handle rejection when you are dealing with that. It makes the whole thing sublime. For all you know, he may be looking for a bookseller who doubles up as a circus artist who buys cupcakes on his way home and does not drop the key on the table but keeps it there, softly, spreading it in silence. He wants someone whose memory surrounds him, alternately, in comfort and frenzy — someone who is there without being there as he does routine chores like reading the newspaper.

Picture this: he reads the newspaper at night, before going to sleep. Words, full of meanings known and unknowable, fill his mind with expectation. The end of the line he reads approaches him, and he feels the anxiety of reaching the end and the challenge of starting the next. The psychological place that separates the two is filled by the bookseller circus artist. That man, still closing his bookshop or performing the last trick on the stage, is the push that he needs to simply be. 

You are not what I am looking for? I understand. I will vanish, but thanks ever so much for sharing the beauty.

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