Sep 5, 2014

Summer 1984: A Bodybuilding Contest in India

The 1997 episode of Seinfeld where the gang goes to India for a wedding always gives me a weird nostalgic vibe. In 1984, just after my second year at Indiana University, I traveled to India for a wedding.


During my first 1 1/2 years in Bloomington, I invited my gay Indian friend Viju home for two Christmases, one Spring Break, and to my sister's graduation, where he hooked up with my Cousin Joe.  So he decided to return the favor: at Christmastime in 1983, he told me that my present would be a trip to India to visit his family next summer.

A free trip to India!  I was never so excited about Colombia, Germany, France, or Switzerland!  I spent all spring semester studying guidebooks, practicing conversational Hindi, going to Bollywood films at the Indian Students' Association, and reading a dozen books: The Wonder that Was India, Plain Tales from the Raj, India: A Wounded Civilization, Tales from Ancient India.

Jahanpanah City Forest
Of course, there was no way to see the whole country in two weeks.  We only took one trip out of Delhi, to Agra (for the tourist-trap Taj Mahal) and Varanasi (to see the Ganges).  But we did see the Red Fort, the India Gate, the Qutub Minar Mosque, lots of temples, lots of department stores,  a few naked ascetics, and because I was a bodybuilding enthusiast, a competition sponsored by Talwalkars Gym.

There were no gay bars, bathhouses, community centers, or gay organizations  in India, Viju said: being gay was illegal (India didn't decriminalize "sodomy" until 2009, and then recriminalized it in 2013).

So, like I noticed in Turkey five years later, men met by cruising in parks or metro stations, or through friends. But the cruising was very, very active in Nehru Park, Vasant Vihar Park, and Jahanpanah City Forest

Viju was not "out" to his family, except to his sister Aruna (a chemistry major at Nehru University).  And he wasn't planning to come out.  No one in India would, he said.

Khalkaj Mandir
As long as you met family obligations by marrying, having children, and passing on the family name, no one cared about your secret "sexual tastes" -- or wanted to know about them.  So Viju told everyone all about a fictional "girlfriend" back in the States, a lovely girl, not Indian but from a high class family, with blonde hair and a yacht.

"You can't keep that up forever," I pointed out. "Eventually they'll expect a wedding announcement."

"Oh, eventually she will dump me, and I'll be devastated, and move on. Then I'll find someone new, and the cycle will start all over again."

I had a fictional "girlfriend" story prepared, too, but no one ever asked about her.

Soon I found out why.

Viju kept inviting Aruna along on our expeditions to museums and restaurants, and to the bodybuilding competition, and one day when we went to a movie -- I think it was Asha Jyoti, starring Rajesh Khanna -- he suddenly vanished, forcing us to sit through the whole thing and then find our way home alone.

Finally I got the picture: "Are you trying to fix me up with Aruna?"

"Ok, you caught me!"  he said, grinning.  "She's cool -- she won't mind if you have boyfriends on the side."

"Yes, but..."

"And it will solve your job problem."  I had sent out hundreds of resumes to book publishers, newspapers, magazines, and tv stations, with no luck.  "Once you are married, you can stay in India, and my brother Gadin can set you up in a job teaching English."

"Yes, but..."

"And the best part -- you'll be my brother-in-law, a member of the family!"

I grabbed him by the shoulders.  "Yes, but I'd have to sleep with a woman!"

He blinked.  "Only until she gets pregnant. Why, what do you have against women?"

"Nothing, as long as I don't have to sleep with them!"

Too bad Viju didn't try to fix me up with Gadin, an English teacher at a private academy.  He was quite a hunk -- with a "girlfriend" that no one had ever met.

See also: The Top 10 Public Penises of Hinduism; and The Bodybuilding Villages of India