The Pen Chants

Features by Lyle Michael

The ‘Pride’ of Pets

Whether straight or gay, love for animals remains the same. And vice versa. This we discover at Gay Bombay’s Pets & Queers, an event unlike any other

On a cool, breezy evening, Khar’s popular alcove came alive to a gathering of the unlikely sort: pet parents from the LGBT community in Bombay, and pets, under the roof at Hive. Sure, questions would run afloat in your mind as to why such an event would be organised and what would its aim be? Questions that were answered upon our visit there, one we were glad we made on an otherwise regular Sunday at home.

Let’s begin with a moving tale by the director of United Way of Mumbai – a non-profit group, part of the organising team of the Mumbai Marathon among other events aimed at community development. Harish Iyer begins, “From the age of seven, for 11 whole years, I was sexually abused by my uncle and gang raped, too. Every night was a plea and a prayer to deliver me from the suffering, with no one to counsel me, or a shoulder to cry on. Except for my Jimmy who helped me through my ordeal by licking away my tears every night.” That is where Harish drew his strength from, from his beautiful German Shepherd, now no more, who showed him that no matter what, you will always have a companion in a wagging tail. Now with two cats adopted from World For All, Shiva and Krishna, Harish is a happy cat person who adds the little footnote that he is certain both his cats are gay, too.

From the canine, we move on to the cute, little mammal we so adore. Looking up at us with big round eyes is a timid rabbit by the name of Muffin who belongs to the young aspiring actor Nakshatra Bagwe. Here is how Nakshatra’s story goes: “I wanted to tell someone about my sexuality and coming from a traditional Maharashtrian family, it was certainly not easy. So I would confide in my pets – a parrot, tortoises, birds and fish. They were the best kind of support I could receive, until I opened up to my family, who now stand by me.” As for Muffin, who was a gift from Nakshatra’s date, he couldn’t be a more perfect partner. Though he, too, is predicted to swing the other way, as per Nakshatra’s observations. Amusing, we must say. But not implausible, we learn. Canine behaviourist Rajvi Mariwala clarifies that homosexuality in pets has actually been documented as she takes the group through an informative and interactive session on the dos and don’ts of raising a pet, answering doubts thrown at her with ease.

So cat lady Geeta Kumana comes up next – surprisingly enough with her one-and-a-half-year-old cat named Krishna – with the purpose of acquiring a few tips on socialising him and getting him to alter his behaviour in public. As for the ‘pets for queers’ aspect of it… sure, he is my constant companion, she says and that’s about it! Whereas for Charles Williams, a 29-year-old junior technical manager at Wipro, it was a whole lot more. Charles gets talking, “I have had pets for a long time: 25 dogs, 12 cats, pigeons, I bred fish and volunteered at the Parel Animal Hospital, too. Today I have my Boxer, Honey and I am glad I can understand her psyche, for it is most essential for a pet parent. And I owe my pets a lot. When I wanted to do things that were different from what the “normal” boys were doing, I had my dogs as company, my only friends who would accompany me to school even. Coming out to your pet first gives you a sense of freedom. And self-confidence and strength.”

Going beyond this, another aspect comes to the fore where the love of a pet has strengthened the bond a couple shares. Meet Harpreet and Anand, a Boxer-parenting pair, with the former an ardent dog lover and the latter not so, initially. “After having met Harpreet, who has had dogs all his life, we decided to get one together as a couple, and then a second one came along. We are content,” smiles Anand.

Gay Bombay – in association with India’s first online unconventional bookstore Queer Ink – certainly knew what they wanted to achieve with this kind of event and they did. As Vikram Doctor – founding member of the self-evolving group that began in 1998 in Bombay, creating a safe and comfortable space for the LGBT community and their families/friends – pointed out, “Pets are important in the lives of all people, gay or straight. Mainly because animals do not judge. They listen to you. And this gives us an opportunity to meet like-minded people while the pets get to interact, too.”

Pretty much answers your queries now, doesn’t it! Queers & Pets – a colourful match, we think.

This feature was published in Dogs & More, Mar-Apr 2015; used here with permission from the publisher

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