New Delhi: This is the story of Shirshendu Pandey, 33, a resident of Gurugram. He is a talented organisation professional development professional and a published author. Pandey is openly and happily gay and currently lives with his boyfriend. He is passionate about Hindustani and Carnatic Classical music and loves to read, run, sing or play guitar in his free time.
Shirshendu became aware of his sexuality when he was in 4th grade. He used to watch his classmates passing on notes in the class with 'I love you' written on them. He wanted to send a similar note to a boy he hang out with.
“I was having that unusual feeling felt right at that age. It wasn’t until I ended up in boarding school that I realised I was different, mostly because I was made to feel different. There were rules and criteria to be a man. If you didn't fit into that checklist, you were ridiculed and bullied. That's when I realised that my sexuality is different from others. I was 15 when I decided to confide in someone about my sexuality. Unfortunately, that person told me that it was wrong on moral and legal grounds. It has been a journey of exploring and understanding myself since then,” Shirshendu said.
It was not easy for Pandey to come out and talk about his sexuality to his friends and family. When he first tried to talk to someone, his sexuality was declared wrong to him. Pandey found out it was indeed illegal and felt outrageous about it. After some time, Shirshendu again shared about his sexuality with his friend while he was graduating, who again was not that supportive.
Later he finally came out to his family, to which they said that they will love him no matter what. However, it was still a roller coaster ride for him as they started trying to find a cure for it and even tried to get him married. He said it was because they wanted him to make better life choices. When nothing worked out, his family convinced him not to be public about his sexuality for his own safety.
Shirshendu said, “My parents have loved me throughout. But they don't understand what sexuality is or what it means to be gay. They love me nonetheless. Some days, I wish they were more understanding and interested in my life, but most days I feel happy that they still choose to keep me in their life and treat me no different. I am lucky, not many others are. My sisters have been very supportive of me since I came out to them. Even their husbands don’t treat me like an outcast. They include my boyfriend in conversations just like they’d include anybody else. They stood with me like a rock during my coming out journey. At some level, I knew I could always count on them.”
His life with his family was quite good as they continued to love him no matter what but it was difficult for him to find a partner. He said, “It is hard to find homosexuals who are comfortable with their sexuality. Also, it is hard to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't have a healthy relationship with himself, which is a challenge for the whole gay community. It was my community which supported me more in comparison to other common people. I have been exposed to a mix of people. I have had landlords who objected to my singlehood at my age. I had people who knew I was gay and didn’t care. I guess I am privileged to have a socioeconomic status wherein I can experience this. Not a lot of people do. It was great to find a great companion in Puneet. We both support each other.”
He also said, “On the professional front, most people don't care till they don't know about it. I was working for a bank when I first confronted the challenge of being in the closet. I had a colleague who saw me with some very overtly gay friends coming out of a gay party avenue. He stared at me from across the road and I was scared. I was about 25, and still closeted. At the workplace, he would ask questions about my sexuality and made fun of it. I became so afraid that I would tremble if he joined me on the cafeteria table or a group conversation. I would use the washroom on another floor if I saw him anywhere around that vicinity. It was so stressful that I quit within 6 months. In my next organisation, I came out to the partners of the OD consultancy I worked with. Their kindness and acceptance gave me a lot of strength. They were not only accepting, but they also encouraged me to find ways to be more comfortable. I currently work for an inclusive organisation that is exceptionally accepting of me. I work under a boss who is not only from the community but an exceptional mentor. My peers are also very accepting. It is truly empowering.”
When we think about our childhood memories, most of them are happy memories and bring a smile to our faces. It was not the same for Shirshendu as he spent most of his childhood time in confusion, emotional distress and feeling like going through depression as there was actually no one who could understand him or just let him speak about his feelings and sexuality.
He said, “Many queer people develop a strong coping mechanism, mine was music. I was supported by one best friend who stood by me no matter what. I was also supported by a couple of teachers who appreciated and encouraged my creativity. It's hard to believe I would have survived childhood without that little but critical support system. The issue with schools is that you depend on the kindness of your peers, all of whom are not mature enough to offer that. Kids nearing puberty are always confused. But ignorance makes it an issue. School systems do not have sex education or awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues, both of which are critical. We need to fix the education system in India.”
“For anyone who passes judgement upon anyone's personal life has absolutely no right to interfere. But some consider it their rightful duty. It's not easy to target such people and stop them but it's not impossible. Happiness is our right and if society doesn’t offer it, snatch it away,” he added.
Shirshendu said, “PRIDE is a celebration of individuality. Yes, it is to celebrate alternate sexualities and gender. But everyone should root for it because it underscores the fact that people have the right to live with dignity, exercise self-determination, and be included in society. Everything that nature allows is natural and beautiful. I would like everyone to offer each other basic dignity notwithstanding their own beliefs. To celebrate PRIDE is to allow your child to explore their interests and sexuality. To celebrate PRIDE is to become an ally and support those who have fewer rights and acceptance than you do. To celebrate PRIDE is to challenge stereotypes of queer people in movies, jokes, conversations, and pop culture.”
He also added, “Love is the nature of humanity. We are biologically compelled to seek it and fight for it. Nature is beautifully diverse and love is not exempt from it. Judgement is also natural to human beings. It is a very basic cognitive process. We are all guilty of judgement. I do it all the time. However, if you have been in love, you know that you don't care for anyone's judgement. What you feel is beyond anything else. What you feel is beyond others' judgement.”
Happy Pride Month.