‘This book is full of gratitude and anger’

Nandini Nair | Updated on January 22, 2018

This is me Author Siddharth Dube, outlawed for being himself   -  Tom Pietrasik

No One ElseA Personal History ofOutlawed Love and SexSiddharth DubeHarper CollinsNon-fiction₹599

A work that records the systemic savagery of the bully, as also the oral histories of those who fought back… for all of us

No One Else — A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex, by Siddharth Dube, is an important book for our times. Probably one of the most important, as it triumphs an essential message — accept me for who I am. Both fierce and tender, it will leave the reader enraged and heartened. In western history, and in India even today, “cases of same-sex attraction read like a chronology of brutality and injustice,” writes Dube, who has also been a specialist commentator on poverty, public health and development for more than two decades. The multi-layered work not only sculpts Dube’s own journey from self-loathing to acceptance to activism, but also examines the import behind ‘girly boy’, the fluidity of gender and the class dynamics at play.

This book records the systemic savagery of the bully, who comes in various forms, be it seniors at The Doon School who upheld the tradition of ‘fagging’ (where junior grade boys became ‘house slaves’ to the seniors), or the policeman against the sex worker, or bigots against gay people. But this isn’t a narrative about oppression. Rather, Dube pieces together the oral histories of those who fought back, and fought back for all of us. No One Else is finally a celebration of those early pioneers who strove for rights of gay people and sex workers, and quite simply believed in creating a just world.

As a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York, Dube is in Delhi only briefly. It has been a hectic week packed with book events and introducing a new puppy to his elderly mother. But this is a city he knows well — both as an idyll and a purgatory. We meet at a conference centre close to Lodhi Gardens, where, back in 1988, Dube ran into a stranger who became “one of greatest loves” of his adult life. With utter compassion Dube writes in vivid detail about his French partner, who made him experience the world anew. The fervour of their relationship seeps into Dube’s perceptions of the city. And Delhi becomes a place of trees and birds — the amaltas and gulmohar, parakeets and sunbirds — and a hotbed of films, dance recitals and talks.

But the city didn’t take long to show its egregious other side. One winter night, Dube and his partner Tandavan find themselves at the Jor Bagh police station and accused of being ‘homos’. Abused and locked up without reason, Tandavan nearly dies in custody as he is denied his daily shots of insulin. The two of them are finally let out from prison, but this experience left the writer with “a terrifying new awareness of what it meant to be criminalised… be summarily imprisoned to suffer the corruption and capriciousness of India’s rotten policing and judicial systems.”

Throughout this book and our conversation, Dube underscores these two sides of India, one of gentleness and the other of hate. Sipping his lime juice, this practitioner of Sufism and yoga says, “This book is full of gratitude and anger. Gratitude for the course of my own life. And anger that gay people are still criminalised in this country. No one should have to feel like that for what they feel and love. And anger for how sex workers are unjustly and disempoweringly treated.”

Dube is scathing when he refers to the likes of The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Apne Aap founder Ruchira Gupta, and feminist and activist Gloria Steinem, who according to him, foreground trafficking above all else. He says, “They have managed to addle the issue and ruin people’s understanding of sex work… one sentence of theirs, out of a 100 or 1,000, will be ‘protect the woman’.”

He recalls the words of a sex worker who argues that everyone is selling sex all the time. Be it the woman on a billboard or the man in the magazine. Through years spent interviewing and working with sex workers in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal, Dube believes that these women (also men and transgenders) are people of dignity and pride. He says, “People don’t realise what is the alchemy of turning shame into dignity and self-worth.”

With the opening chapter of the book titled ‘Shame,’ it is evident that self-worth was hard-won for Dube. And he writes in compelling detail of the years he spent in ‘solitary confinement’ because of his orientation. He recounts the highs and lows of the war against 377 and ends the book on a note of abject despair, “Once again, I was a criminal in my own country, an outlaw for being who I was, with little hope for freedom in my lifetime.”

While Dube has written non-fiction books, No One Else proved to be the most difficult and took seven years to complete. Questions of omission often proved the hardest.

From the sex workers he had gathered unique oral histories, which could not be included for lack of space. He hopes he can chronicle them online. While the book includes a couple of his sexual encounters, Dube decided to censor some of the details in the Indian edition. He explains, “I didn’t want to skew people’s reaction to the book.”

I mention that the firewall in my office blocked his website for reasons of ‘pornography’. He hoots in laughter and says it is the wildest thing he has heard. We realise the title of one of his books — Sex, Lies and AIDS — is to blame. This just proves the “irrationality of human discourse” and the many prejudices that lurk everywhere.

Published on November 27, 2015

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