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Rainbow Stories

by Sridhar Rangayan
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Illustration by Nilapratim Sengupta

Industrial Design Centre (IDC) has been instrumental in making me who I am — even more than the design education I received there, it provided me with a soul mate who helped me discover myself.

I met Suhail Abbasi the day I came for the interview for admission to IDC in 1984. I never knew we would be close friends for 35 years and counting. He is more than a friend, a soul mate to be precise. We were in the same batch of 8 students of the first Visual Communications batch of IDC and bonded closely — because I, being from an Engineering background (NITK Suratkal), sought his help to execute artworks as he was from Applied Art background (J. J. School of Arts). In fact, all eight of us were very close as it was such a small batch then. 

While Suhail and myself bonded closely we never spoke about our sexual orientation. At that point in time, I was not even out to myself that I was gay. I was deeply closeted and too scared to admit my sexual orientation even to myself. 

I was deeply closeted and too scared to admit my sexual orientation even to myself. 

Remember, it was the pre-internet, pre-cellphone era! Nothing was ever spoken aloud about sexuality, everything was hush-hush. If you are slightly effeminate you would be teased by your hostel-mates. I had to project at being ‘normal’.  It was a tough time hiding one’s innermost secret and pretending that everything was happy and joyful. It was a really painful time.

After we passed out of IDC, Suhail and I remained good friends as we tried to go on our course of job hunting — he joined the film industry and I joined an institute for the hearing impaired as their Mass Media Officer.  It was only after three years of passing out, in 1990, when Suhail co-founded Bombay Dost, India’s first gay magazine, that I came to know of his sexual orientation, though I always suspected it. Very soon I came out to him that I was gay too. He coolly said, “Big secret!!”

From then on Suhail and I bonded even more closely, we worked on the magazine together, and then went on to co-found The Humsafar Trust, India’s first gay organization, in 1994. He has been a consistent support to me all these years.

From then on Suhail and I bonded even more closely, we worked on the magazine together, and then went on to co-found The Humsafar Trust, India’s first gay organization, in 1994.

While at IDC, Ravi Poovaiah and Ajanta Sen were constant supporters. They kind of knew about Suhail and my sexual orientation, but they never asked any questions. Their silent support meant a lot. Of course, after we came out to each other, we came out to Ravi and Ajanta too and they continue to be amazing people who have even attended some of our gay parties!

While Suhail continues to be on the board of The Humsfar Trust and also work as a creative director for many shows, I have managed to pursue my dream of making LGBTQ films and also found KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, which over the past 10 years has become South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ film festival. 

We both were in some way instrumental in Sec 377 being finally read down in September 2018, as petitioners challenging the law in the Supreme Court — Suhail being a petitioner along with The Humsafar Trust, and myself being one of the petitioners from Pravritti, the pan-IIT LGBT group.

Now, IIT Bombay has Saathi – IIT Bombay, the campus LGBT group which is doing amazing work by bringing together the LGBTQ community and allies on campus. They also have a counselling helpline and organize several activities on campus. 

Earlier this year Suhail and I were on a panel organized by Yaariyan, the youth LGBTQ group, along with Saathi — IIT Bombay. We reminisced about our early days on campus and laughed out loud about how closeted we were. But there were tears mingled with laughter.

Tears of joy, that we have come so far in LGBTQ rights movement where it is not illegal anymore to be gay in India. Campuses are far more inclusive of diversity, and there are so many companies who have their D&I policies in place, to offer placements to LGBTQ persons. 

I’m so happy that I met Suhail 35 years ago, and so thankful to IDC for having put me on my path to self-discovery and contribute in my very small way to the betterment of the rights of the community.

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