Homosexuality has always been a heavily intellectualised topic among the thinkers of elite Indian society. They discuss the struggles that the queer community faces with the hope of giving them voice and power – the intelligentsia has always been righteous in that manner.
With the striking down of the esoteric Section 377 that categorised homosexuality as a criminal offence, the gay community in India has definitely gained more confidence. Since then, popular culture has been growing in all shapes and forms – from mainstream Indian movies, a barrage of western queer content to general woke-ness – the dialogue around homosexuality is seeing positive light.
With the rising popular cultural phenomena and references, several layers of homosexuality, queerness, and gender expression are coming into their own.
In Mumbai, a city housing 20 million people, thrives a gay culture that is inching its way towards a transformation and is adjusting to a new dawn in the gay world. The culture is seeing an influx of the Gen-Z crowd – who are out and about and already a year old on Grindr – into the existing mix who have witnessed many Mumbai monsoons through experienced gay eyes.
One such element, and a crucial one, of the Mumbai gay scene until a few years ago used to be cruising spots. Naturally, with Grindr, Tinder and a whole bunch of apps that give you a wide range of dopamine options – from blow jobs to the delusion of affection – actual cruising spots that once thrived with strangers finding solace in their attraction towards men’s bodies are now on the decline.
Well, except one. One that is doing better, more than ever.
Mumbai local trains, called ‘Mumbai locals’, are the cheapest and the most efficient means of transport in the city. But travelling in Mumbai locals is not that easy. On average, 7.5 million commuters use the service daily.
I’m one of those daily travellers, and the only way to explain the experience in the trains is that it is extremely tiring, extremely crowded and makes me feel excruciatingly guilty about spending two or more hours of my day doing absolutely nothing.
Except when you are in ‘Two By Two’. Each Mumbai local has 12 to 16 carriages, depending on the line. Each carriage has six doors – three pairs, on each side. And the first or the last carriage (depending on the direction in which the train is moving) is always the ladies compartment. Just behind that, is ‘Two By Two’. So technically, ‘Two By Two’ – is the second set of doors in the second carriage of each local.
And no points for guessing, it is a colourful gay cruising spot.
Utterly crammed with all kinds of people, you enter ‘Two by Two’ not knowing who is who, and whether or not they play for your team. Your eyes start to look for connections, and gay folks know that, just eyes clocking for attention is enough for them to know whether the person plays for their team or not.
Once you have zeroed in on a person, amid the public eye of regular (read as non-gay travellers), you make your way towards him, or he comes to you. Depending on preferences, both men adjust themselves either in front or behind each other, without any verbal communication. It need not be said – but is well understood.
And now, the fun starts. You start feeling each other up, and your hands start moving – very slowly. Office bags come in handy as shielding devices here. Depending on each other’s comfort, the levels of touching are decided. Sometimes it can be just holding each other’s hands, or his hands on your waist while the bodies rub against each other, or their hands can get all the way in your shirt, pinching your nipples. And in extreme boldness and desperation, you might just touch his penis.
Those moments of physical intimacy are very few, and yet very special. The entire activity from spotting the person to feeling him up leads to this cumulated pleasure that leaves you with a high. You move away when uncomfortable or once done; and the (non-gay, filler) crowd helps in such situations. If a person decides to move away to the other side – it is never a suspicion. For outsiders, it is just a normal movement of a person, not knowing the dynamics between you and your ‘fling’.
Come to think of it, all this happens on a moving train, is made to look like nothing is happening, using communication only by eyes, all while there is a bunch of men around you.
More than the act itself, it is the thrill of being in the public eye, and yet successfully getting sexually titillated is what makes this experience so enthralling. The variability of the factors is huge – the time you catch the train, how crowded the train is, the presence of regular travellers, and new passengers coming aboard with each passing station. The whole cycle of attracting, inviting, seducing, executing and then departing makes this experience unique.
Experiencing ‘Two by Two’ can be very disparate for the first time for a different set of people. A lot of men engaging in this are so called heterosexual, mostly married, closeted men who, in all likelihood, only have this sexual act as a recourse to get as close to the fantasy living in their imagination. For them, this might be a haven of sorts.
The queer community, however, responds to this on varied degrees. Some enjoy the silliness of the act, some take it very seriously and seek pleasure from it. Some feel disgusted and dismay about the sorry state of homosexuals in a third world metropolis in 2020. Not to forget the classism angle here, as local trains are largely taken by sections of society that do not have access to their own cars or cab services.
Each one who engages in this activity is fully aware of the consequences. If you over-intellectualise – yes, it is a set of people engaging in a risqué, vulgar act in the public to derive pleasure from it. We start thinking of the ethics, morals – since married people are usually involved – and values and principles that you hold onto for yourself, before being immersed in a despondency over this tragedy of pride.
If you choose to just be, and if you remove all filters of social lenses, you will realise the ‘Two by Two’ is nothing more than lustful men having a good time.
We cannot control culture, as it births and fosters itself with certain practices taking their own form. ‘Two by Two’ is one such aspect of the cultural existence of gay men in Mumbai. Yes, it is in a crowded place with the danger of getting caught, but it is consensual. The good thing about certain practices is that they allow you to study the poetic movement of humans – as they are.
Who are we to judge good and bad, or the people who participate?
Mandar Gupte is currently working with an NGO geared towards education. He tweets at @gupte_mandar and you can find him on Instagram at mandargupte93.
Featured image credit: Yogesh Pedamkar/Unsplash