It was not one of those times when it was crowded with people trying to sit almost anywhere an ass could fit. It was perfect. Everyone sat comfortably on chairs and some chose to sit down. Harpreet brought the meeting to order and informed us about the good news that this month, September would be filled with events celebrating GB. Gay Bombay to be exact and not Great Britain as it’s usually known.
It was that time of year when the members of the group congratulated themselves on a successful year that had gone by, their anniversary month. It had completed fourteen years this September 1, 2012. There was a party the previous night with a huge turnout and an amazing time people had there. Awesome was the word on Gay Bombay’s Facebook page. Everyone thanking Dee which was short for Deepak, the man behind the scenes making the community dance to the music and, man, has he been doing a fantastic job doing that for all these years! After Harpreet told us about more events like another picnic / overnight party at Lonavala on the 8th & 9th of September and more such events, he moved on to introducing Umang.
Umang sat there, debating for about a minute that he mustn’t be the one talking about how it has been all these years. But he finally agreed with Vikram and Harpreet insisting that it must be him who must do the honours.
As much as it took time for him to finish saying the story, it was very interesting. At least for those who were new to GB, and mind you many of us had not even been there for a year. He told us of how his Ex played the role of bringing it all together. He didn’t forget to mention how it was in the old days to connect with people without any internet or caller Id phones. It really was interesting to know that people actually wrote letters. Harpreet said, “There used to be things like pens and paper people used in those days, you know,” jokingly to a young guy.
Umang continued saying that it was really difficult for them to start. Everyone there then spoke about their first time and how they felt in approaching the members when they came with the intention of being in the meet. Umang said he used to tell the guys that he would wear a black cap and sit in McDonalds and then people would slowly add up knowing that this is who they had to meet. It made me feel like some Bond movie production. All unsaid and understood by signs. The GB team members spoke about how they had all contributed from their own pockets to arrange for a party at Mahalaxmi, their very first one, and the funny moment when Dee had given people directions to meet at a sign-post which said Mangola (the cold drink) and it was funnier when he got there and found people painting over that sign-board for a new add (Yes, they painted those days) and he kept requesting them not to do that so all those coming to the party would not get lost looking for the sign.
The inspiration for holding a party had come, they said, from another friend’s invite they had got. It seemed that he had a huge home and could accommodate all of them in the house and it was one awesome party they seemed to remember quite well. This had inspired them to hold events like this in the future. Who knew that by this time, people stood in a huge line waiting to be let inside to be with people they call “family”? Be it new years or any major reason to party, GB made an invite and also made it a grand success. I remember it was 2005 when I made it for the first time. It felt like I had found the place I would close my eyes and come to, anytime GB would call me. It had become a place full of dance, drinking, memories and wonder for so many years in my life…. and for so many others.
The trend setters of our city, Mumbai are them, I agree. Everything they did, people do now. There is no need to mention that when they do it, it’s flawless, considering the experience and reach they have gained in all these years.
They had started this with the purpose of people meeting in one place, without being looked down upon or judged or made to feel awkward. A place only family could make. To add to it, thanks to Harpreet, there came two more, very important people and by that I mean VIPs of GB. When Umang and gang held these meetings to meet people from the same sex, they experienced some trouble and some time more from the owners of the venue. They met in McDonalds and other restaurants like Gokul which they said is an old story and at times, they were asked to leave as they were a huge crowd. At one such given moment, Harpreet had called his aunt and told her how they were treated. Munni Pua, as they all call her, had simply told them to come to her home and have the meet.
They all called this a very huge change in what makes them stronger today. It was like someone had given them one allotted space just for them to come and be themselves without any judgments being passed on them. In the years to come, they held meetings every month and respected her and her sister, Guddi Pua, with respect only family members get. The love these two VIPs had for the cause and continue to shower on this group is so immense that everyone falls in love with GB, its meets and its cause instantly, the moment they meet them. They welcomed people home, strangers, they said with open arms. They truly are the VIPs of the group. No one is treated as special as the two of these ladies. And by far, it’s the least people can do. They became GB’s First Family.
So, with GB welcomed in Harpreet’s Bua’s home, things started to look stronger and brought more meaning to their lives. By then, they had met so many people and understood how gays all around the country are treated. They had come from all walks of life. Lawyers, journalists, teachers, businessmen, artists, and doctors you name them and they were a part of the growing family of GB. Some famous and some not. Thinkers of the community I might add.
If it was not for GB and its fourteen years of hard work and more that they continue to do with managing a website that people talk and share and recommend to visitors, parties that people can’t stop remembering or going to, meets where they met the love of their lives, forums where they discussed something that shook their foundation and made them a new person, movies they saw at Nationals college based on gays and lesbians, picnics and spaces they created around Mumbai so people could be accepted (and others could learn from and use), groups for specific topics created on Facebook and other major social medias, Kite-flying events, Friendship day celebration, raksha-bhandhan meets, iftaari walks, Parents meets to help parents of gay members, counseling for people who felt lost, business opportunities for people in the community, contributions in kind and cash for QAM events and so much more I am sure we do not know about and can’t think of. I am sure, without this group being involved; Mumbai would have never been the Queen city we all nick name so proudly.
Faces in the group remain for all these years and stand by it even now. I am so glad I am now a part of this group somehow… I am glad and proud of what they did without any backing from the government or contributions from the government and risk they took day in and day out.
I could not stop thinking of how wonderful this journey would have been for all these lucky members. The meetings have become a ritual for me. It’s the place where I meet people who I know will treat me with love and kindness.
All I can say is, THANK YOU GB for everything. You make me, my city, my friends and so many strangers feel lucky every day by touching their lives. I am sure, without you, life would have been completely different. With you in it, you make it safer and nicer.