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Outcast gay prince sets up date with Oprah

Rajpipla (Gujarat), Oct. 14: An Indian prince who grew up in a bubble of privilege and protection will in two weeks’ time discuss the startling details of his life on the world’s most popular TV talk show.

Manvendra Singh Gohil, 42, the only Indian royal to have declared himself gay, is the first male from India to be invited to Oprah Winfrey’s show, the first woman being Aishwarya Rai.

The prince is unlikely to disappoint his global audience on October 26. He has already shown he is ready to risk losing face, family and fortune by speaking the truth.

When the royal from the former princely state of Rajpipla “came out” in 2005, his family disowned him and people in his hometown burnt his portraits.

His parents printed newspaper notices cutting him off as heir because of his involvement in “activities unacceptable to society”. His mother threatened to sue anyone who referred to him as her son.

“I had given an interview to a trusted reporter of a local daily,” the prince said. “I was tired of concealing my real identity before my own people. I did not expect the news to go beyond Gujarat but it grabbed national and global news space.”

In high society, people tittered behind his back, gossiping about an alleged teenage affair with a servant boy and a sexless marriage to a minor princess that ended in divorce after 15 months.

But for the noble-turned-outcast, misfortune opened up a new way of life. It brought him a platform from which he could speak out against a law that makes homosexuality a crime, and take care of the HIV-positive whom Indian society often treats as pariahs.

With Oprah, he will discuss gay rights, the role of his NGO Lakshya Trust and the plight of HIV-positive Indians.

“It is a fantastic feeling to be invited to talk to Oprah Winfrey in her show. I received a communication on October 6 inviting me to her New York studio,” Manvendra said at his estate in the tribal district of Narmada.

Life has taken a few pleasant turns for the prince recently. His father Raghubir has accepted him. Manvendra had told his parents in 2002, three years before letting the world know.

“It was not easy for me or my family. My mother has still not reconciled herself to the fact that I am born gay. However, my father has no grudges.”

Shuttling between his plush Mumbai home and Rajavanti Palace now, Manvendra keeps fighting for the HIV-positive, his work bringing him a UN award in 2006.

He says he plans to build a home on the Narmada’s banks “for those living in the final stages of HIV and those neglected by relatives. They just need love and not medicines”.

At his palace, the music-loving prince holds an annual music and fine arts festival every October to promote the motto that “gays are also talented and creative”.

“Just as artists are born with inherent talent… we are born gay and people have to understand that it is a part of (our) nature,” said Manvendra, who is believed to be good at playing the harmonium.

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