A Month in an ‘Alternative’ World

When I entered the living room, Krishnendu was in his usual place, sitting on the sofa with his face glued to his laptop and a cigarette clutched tight between his fingers. The circular turtle-backed ashtray on the coffee table in front of him was full of burnt out stubs. I mumbled a half-hearted hello. Krishnendu didn’t respond. He never did, at least not in the usual ways. He was glued to the screen, with a manic expression on his face. He was chatting online, one of his passions, and occasionally a hint of a smile would cross his face.

I had grown used to Khrishnendu’s moody ways over the course of the month that I stayed with them. Actually, he was my friend’s flat-mate. I was new to the city and was staying with them till I got my own accommodation. Krishnendu and Anand (my friend) worked in an NGO that worked among HIV affected groups. It was a community outreach NGO: by the community, of the community and for the community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people or LGBT. One of the stipulations of the NGO was that HIV positive people would constitute a certain percentage of its employees. Another was that it employed only gays.

The flat was a ten minute walk from their workplace and Anand had assured me that I could stay with them till I found my feet. It was a large, spacious house with two bedrooms, one for Krish and one for Anand. A young Nepali cook prepared the meals and flirted with the kirana girl downstairs when he went out on the pretext of grocery shopping every evening.

It was a good life and I slowly discovered the world of my flat mates. I used to be out on work all day and return late in the night exhausted, only to find my two mates along with office colleagues and assorted friends gathered around the mahogany coffee table in the living room. Anand would be in a ‘compromising’ position with ‘Indu’ (Indus actually) swigging cans of beer and making risque comments. “Arre, andar aati kya kothi,” he would hoot to cheers. “Abhi nahi re panthi, baad mein chalti hoon main,” they would reply (Kothi and panthi are terms used among MSMs to refer to the active and passive partners during sexual intercourse. The term kothi is an amalgamation of two words according to urban legend: kothi [Telugu for monkey] and kut [Persian for ass]. The first denotes friskiness or playfulness). Krish would be blowing out immaculate smoke rings clad in a white towel. The moment I entered all the men would wolf whistle and pass faux comments. Often Krish winked at me and indicated the bedroom. Sometimes they openly hinted that I should have sex with one of them. A deadpan expression or a lame joke was the only way out. But to be honest, I secretly enjoyed watching them interact, not least because their ‘world’ was a completely new experience for me, one that I hadn’t even imagined existed, let alone experienced.

It was uncomfortable being around Krish. He was not the most expressive person at the best of times. Silent, brooding, intense. Everyone walked on tiptoes around him. I knew that Krish valued his privacy and resented sharing his space with strangers. And though I shared a flat with him, I did not know anything about him apart from the bare bones: He was gay, he worked with MSMs (men who have sex with men) and he had AIDS.

Krish had contracted HIV seven years ago from one of his partners and it had developed into fullblown AIDS. The prevalence of AIDS is high among MSMs (almost three times the rate among lesbians). Though there is no known cure for AIDS yet, with proper care a patient can live for upto 10 years. Krish could have, if he took proper care of himself. He didn’t. He abused his body like there was no tomorrow. Apart from his chain smoking and binge drinking he never wore a shirt inside the flat, increasing his chances of contracting a chest infection. He never had his meals on time and when he did he nibbled at his food. He was oblivious to everyone’s pleadings that he look after himself.