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Film director Onir pens a poignant memoir — I Am Onir and I Am Gay

The book is replete with fearless moments and choices. Here is an exclusive excerpt reliving an evening in Kolkata, ahead of the book’s release

Onir | Published 23.06.22, 01:30 AM


The Telegraph

It was 30 August 2020. I was taking a post-dinner walk when I bumped into him; it had been a while since I last saw him. I will call him ‘Park Street’. You’ll soon know why.

December 2018.... LitFest Kolkata, Tollygunge Club.


Winter evenings in Calcutta are usually lovely, with just that slight nip in the air that brings a spring to the step. I was in a panel discussion about queer representation. This was probably the festival’s first edition and things were kind of disorganized, with multiple sessions happening simultaneously in very non-intimate spaces. Plus, because of the venue, a lot of people thought that it was not open for all. As I started speaking, my eyes travelled across the room since I like to keep evaluating the audience interest level so that, if necessary, I can change track.

As my gaze travelled from right to left across the room, it stopped midway, at the door. He was standing there—lightskinned, oval face, brownish hair, tall. He was an attractive man. All through my talk, my eyes kept finding their way back to him. He was with a couple of foreigners, and I assumed that he was one of the international guests.

Once the session was over, the doorway stood empty—he was no longer there. I had planned on hanging around for some time as I wanted to attend some of the other sessions, and went to the writers’ lounge for some coffee. As I switched on my mobile, there was a message on my Grindr. The profile pic of the man looked similar to the man at the door. The message read, ‘Nice talk. Btw I liked your pants.’ It seemed like my evening in Calcutta was going to get more exciting. I texted back.

I: Were you the man standing at the door, constantly texting?

He: Yes.

I: I was wondering who’s this attractive man.

He: You’re flattering me.

I: Why didn’t you come up and meet me after the talk?

He: Your fans had surrounded you and I felt intimidated.

I: Am I so scary? I don’t bite.

He: Haha

I: I’m at the lounge having coffee, why don’t you join me?

He: Well, I have already left the venue and am on my way back to the hotel.

I: What a pity. Where are you from?

He: I’ll be flying back to Delhi tomorrow.

I: I’m flying back to Mumbai tomorrow. And I have nothing to do this evening.

He: I too will be in my hotel room in Park Street. Don’t know anyone here.

I: Maybe you should turn back.

He: Are you serious? I’m half-an-hour away.

I: I can wait for the beautiful man.

He: It’ll take me 45 minutes.

I: I’m waiting.

It took him about an hour to come back. He was smartly dressed in jeans and a black polo T-shirt with a thin red line running around the collar. He walked into the lounge with a chuckle—he had this irresistible chuckle that was difficult not to fall in love with.

We had coffee and spoke for an hour, each of us probbably checking if the other wanted to take this forward. I told him that I wanted to go back to my hotel to change my pants as they were inviting too much attention and I already had all the attention that I needed (I was wearing maroon pyjama pants from Anaam, a designer who pushes me to wear stuff beyond my comfort zone). He laughed loudly.

We spoke non-stop during the drive from Tollygunge Club to Marriott. At the lobby, I asked him if he would prefer to wait downstairs or come up to my room. He said he would come up since he wanted to use the restroom.

We went up, he used the restroom and I changed into a black T-shirt and jeans. We kept talking, and he told me that as a teenager, he had the biggest crush on my friend Sanjay Suri. So I told him that we should click a selfie together and send Sanjay a hi. He held the phone and I put my arms around his neck as he clicked the photo. Then he turned around and started kissing me.

During the next hour, we kissed a lot, laughed a lot and kept debating about how far we should go. He kept saying that he didn’t like going all the way the first time, yet he was the one constantly trying to undress me and then teasing me saying, ‘You Bombay guys are so shameless.’ Our banter in between the kisses and laughter was a Delhi versus Bombay thing.

I took him out for dinner to Peter Cat, a restaurant on Park Street. Later that night, we sat on the steps of an adjoining shop and looked at the moon. I decided I would nickname him ‘Park Street’.

Over the next seven months, we met each time I was in Delhi or when PS (Park Street) came to Bombay on any official work. I believed we enjoyed each other’s company, and having met him on Grindr, I was not worried about him suddenly getting married. The only thing I found odd about him was that he was somehow very reluctant to come home or meet any of my friends. I thought that he perhaps felt like that would seem like a commitment, and he didn’t want to commit. It didn’t bother me too much. I liked his company but wasn’t thinking beyond that.

I was planning to go to Australia for an event in August. I made a nervous offer to him—nervous because we were in a ‘no strings attached’ relationship—that I could give up my business class travel and opt for two economy class tickets if he would like to come along and spend some time with me. I told him that it would be fun to get to know each other beyond hotel room lovemaking. It made me really happy when he chuckled and agreed readily.

Australia was magical. I told him about how You had hurt me, but I mostly didn’t remember You at all for those ten days. He was one person who helped me love my body, for he gave it so much love. He made me shun shame, and we could be naked in each other’s presence without switching off the lights. Sometimes we made love three times a day.

We walked around, exploring parks and streets, driving to different destinations. We kissed in the middle of the streets and parks. . . it was all so special.

Indian film director Onir’s memoir I Am Onir and I am Gay, co-written with his sister Irene Dhar Malik is being published on June 28  by Penguin India

Last updated on 23.06.22, 11:17 AM

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