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From darkness to light

For years, US-based stand-up comedian Vidur Kapur locked away the most essential part of his life. Now he reveals how he got his family to accept his sexuality – and how he finally found love and happiness.

entertainment Updated: Feb 12, 2011 19:56 IST
Prachi Raturi Misra

It was spring. It most definitely was spring,” he says nostalgically. Stand-up comedian Vidur Kapur is no longer in Delhi in 2010. Instead, he is in Chicago one morning in 2000, standing in front of the college library, being asked if he could be kissed. “I thought of my parents back home, my failed PhD, my incomplete life, the lie I’d been living and thought, what the heck,” says Vidur. “I decided to go to his apartment. And it was that day that I first felt free. It was like an iceberg melting. I hadn’t been touched in years, felt love from anyone. I let go.”

Vidur Kapur is gay, Indian and a stand-up comedian. In his own words, that’s a deadly combination. Born in Kolkata, raised in Delhi, now based in the US, he’s performed at more than 150 US college campuses, was a top 10 finalist on the ‘New York’s Funniest Stand-Up’ segment of the New York Comedy Festival, was nominated for a NewNowNext award by MTV Networks and was part of a TV pilot for VH1. He has been seen on NBC, Fox, MTV and VH1. And in 2010, he performed in Delhi as part of The Park’s New Festival.

Vidur KapurHis job is to make people laugh and he’s successful, but money and fame are not the only fallouts of Kapur’s profession. "It’s my way of getting back at people, at society," he says. "Don’t they say comedy is born out of anger? It partly holds true for me."

This is not bad anger. It’s part of Kapur’s healing process, just as this trip to Delhi, the city that had made his life seem ‘incomplete’, is also some kind of facing up process. “The scars have gone, I think,” he smiles, amused at the thought that some of his former schoolmates – boys who’d torment him and call him ‘homo’ – could have been part of his audience. “I’m the happiest I have ever been. I love my work, I’ve been living with someone I love for the last seven years, I have a lifestyle I love and can afford, my parents have finally come to terms with my life. I’m content.”But he hasn’t been able to put his past behind him. Nor does he want to. Sometimes he likes to talk about it. “I’d really want some people who haven’t had the courage to come out and have been quietly suffering to be able to do so,” he says.

About a boy
As clouds gather over the Delhi sky, Vidur lets his story flow. Born in Kolkata to an upper middle class Punjabi family, he has little memory of his early childhood. “I remember being sent horse riding with my older brother. I never really liked it but went because I had to. My brother quite loved it. In fact, he later made a career out of it. He became a professional polo player, worked for a sheikh in Dubai for a few years and now manages a stud farm in Australia. He always fitted into the Punjabi image of a male,” Vidur says with a smile. Vidur was more complex. “I was extrovert at one level and a loner on another. I liked performing, gathering a crowd, yet the time I enjoyed most at home was when everyone was away.”

He remembers he was five or six years old when he was first attracted to boys. Which was also the time his engineer father, who worked with a multinational firm, was transferred to Delhi. Vidur went to the all-boys St Columba’s School, where he saw a few other boys like him. But it wasn’t this that shaped his sexual preference. “I don’t think it’s about an all-boy environment at all,” he says. “I think you are either born gay or you are not. I was born gay. It took me a while to realise it, and my family quite a while to not only realise it but also accept it.”Vidur’s early behaviour never found favour with the family. More so because they had another young ‘normal male’ (his older brother) to compare him with. “I never liked sports; he was very good at them. I was into painting and music, those were never his things,” he says. When he entered his teens, Vidur found himself a little involved with a classmate who lived next door to his naani. “I didn’t quite understand what was happening to me, but what I did gather was that it was ‘wrong’ according to society.” He discussed this attraction with a few friends who told him about the word ‘homosexual’. “I knew I was attracted to other boys. But I didn’t know my attraction had a word; that what I felt was something that had a meaning,” says Vidur.

But being homosexual meant not fitting within society’s norms. So Vidur tried to deal with this in his own way – which really worried his mother. “After I realised that a boy being attracted to another boy wasn’t normal, I thought I’d attract boys if I dressed like a girl. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do but I thought it was the only way that boys would notice me,” he says.

With every new attempt to cope with his homosexuality came more rebuke and guilt. Yet there was the need to go on. Vidur clearly remembers his mother’s sharp words when she found out that he’d stolen her hair remover to get rid of the first few hairs on his upper lip, something most adolescent boys flaunt as the first sign of machismo. “She was appalled. She asked me why I did it. I just stood there feeling guilty,” he says. But that didn’t stop him from stealing his mother’s mascara a few days later, to wear to school. He didn’t know then that what he thought would get him positive attention would actually lead to taunts and jibes. “Guys started calling me homo. They’d tease me, call me names. My self-esteem dipped every passing day,” says Vidur. “My father and brother who fitted into the Punjabi macho man image were ashamed of me. I became a social outcast.”

There was only one person in the family he could relate to at the time. His grandmother, who no one really spoke to. “We were the two outcasts in the family and we shared a quiet bond. I’d dress up in Mom’s sari, makeup, heels and dance for her when no one was home.” Of course when his mother caught him doing this, all hell broke loose. “She was so upset by my behaviour all the time. She’d say I was a disgrace to the family, shout at me, sometimes beat me.”

Slowly, Vidur slipped into depression. “The things at home, the teasing in school, my fight with my own self, it was all getting too much to handle so I thought I’d end it all.” He was 14 when he stole his grandmother’s sleeping pills. One day when no one was home, he took 16-17 of them. He doesn’t remember much of that day except that he felt like a bit of a zombie. The next thing he knew, he was waking up in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) as his stomach was pumped. After he was released from the hospital, he wasn’t sent to school for two weeks. There was an anger simmering in the house and Vidur was old enough to sense it.

Into the closet
It was a quiet morning in the Kapur household and its youngest member gathered up the courage to break the silence. Still frail both inside and outside, he walked up to his elder brother to say what he had never had the courage to say before. “I don’t remember what month it was, if it was hot or cold, but I remember I felt numb as I told him of my feelings for other boys. When my brother heard me I could see that he looked down on me, even before he said anything.”

His brother told his parents what Vidur had said, and they decided to have a talk with him. “There was a bit of talk about what was normal. About how I should feel and how I shouldn’t.” Everything seemed confused. “When other children were having fun-filled days, I was dealing with hell,” Vidur says.His parents took him to a psychologist at AIIMS. “He asked me what the problem was. I kept quiet. When my mother told him I’d dress like women, he started laughing.”

The sound of that laughter still rings in Vidur’s head. He had to do a chromosome test to see if he was ‘a normal healthy male.’ When it showed up normal, the doctor told him to “start behaving normally.” A visit to another doctor followed, this time a renowned general physician. “He examined my genitalia to see if I was indeed a normal male. When he found I was, he told me to stop creating problems for the family.”Then came another blow. The friends he hung out with in school suddenly stopped speaking to him. “That really broke me from inside. I felt lonely and miserable,” Vidur says.

His suicide attempt hadn’t killed Vidur physically, but the events that followed it – the words of the doctors, the behaviour of his family and friends – managed to kill a part of the boy. “I didn’t want to think about anything, talk to anyone, feel more guilt and shame,” he says. “So I shut myself in my room every day and drowned myself in studies. I didn’t want to think, to ask, to answer.” Two years passed. No one tried to open the doors Vidur had closed. The silence was killing no one except the boy who fought ghosts every day as he pored over his books. When the studying bore results and Vidur got a scholarship to the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales, his family was very happy.

Vidur was more relieved than happy. He was away from home, from school, from the environment that had traumatised him for so long. Other kinds of challenges would come up, he knew, but he was willing to face them. “I’d had an extremely protected childhood,” says Vidur. “My mother wouldn’t let me come back from school alone, ever. And there I was in a strange land, with bright students from all over the world. I was carrying a lot of baggage and I didn’t want anyone to get even a glimpse of it. So I let everything about me be hidden. I so desperately wanted to get my family’s approval.”

No way out
Vidur locked away the person he really was and tried to be the person his family thought he should be. “I chose economics and maths, didn’t think of arts. All I did was study. I did everything that was expected of me.” His grades got him admission to the London School of Economics. “My parents were proud. From an embarrassment, I was somewhat of a trophy for my upper middle class family.”

His success was probably a way of displaying his anger. “I wanted to tell my brother, ‘look, our parents can also be proud of me’ and I wanted to tell my parents I could also excel in what they thought mattered the most. I wanted to tell everyone I was also good, no matter what they thought of me.”
Vidur’s parents were suddenly proud of him. On his holidays back home, his mother told all their relatives about where he studied, how he was doing. Vidur was busy fitting into the mould society had created for him, a young, intelligent, good-looking Punjabi man. Ask if he felt hurt and he says he didn’t really think of how he felt any more. “I was just so scared of the trauma I’d been through, I didn’t want to think of my feelings any more.”
He got admission for a PhD programme at Chicago University. But despite his best efforts, Vidur couldn’t cope with the course. So he opted out and this made him depressed again. “From the age of 17 to 23, I had not for one day let what I felt or thought take over. With the course gone, it felt like my life had come to an end. What would I do?”

Frustrated, he attended a gay get-together in college. A sense of guilt was beginning to rise again. “It was reassuring to see so many people like me, but I’d keep thinking of the shame I’d bring to my family, of what I was supposed to do.”Then one day, as he stood in broad daylight outside the library, a man asked if he could kiss Vidur. And Vidur let go. There were more meetings and life looked beautiful again. But when Vidur found out the man he’d just fallen in love with was seeing someone else, his world crashed again. But this time he had someone by this side. The man hadn’t realised that it was Vidur’s first time. “He sat with me, apologised for hurting me, but also told me what he thought of me, that I was depressed and I needed help.”

Vidur found himself walking to a student’s counsellor. “I suddenly felt the need to talk, to get rid of my baggage.” And then words did magic. “This man made it all sound so simple. He said: ‘What is the big deal about being gay, so many people around you are and they are perfectly happy. I want you to think of your happiness before you think about the happiness of others. You can’t kill yourself for the way you were born or feel,’” recalls Vidur.

Home free
The words broke the walls Vidur had built around himself. After all those years of silence, he tuned into the music of his heart and soul and it told him to dance, to be free, to be himself. “I took up a masters’ course in economics just so that I didn’t have to go back to India. I began going out with friends, going to pubs, just having fun like young people do,” says Vidur. He got a green card and moved to New York. His career took off. He worked hard and partied hard. Everything seemed to be falling in place. And then he found love with his partner, Joel. They’ve been together for seven years.

Their relationship is not all lovey-dovey, Vidur smiles. “We are like any couple who love and respect each other. In any relationship I’d say it’s not about sex and physicality, it’s about compatibility, of how you complement each other.”Vidur knew he was lucky in his love, so when his mother visited him in New York, he told her what he couldn’t have said before. “She suggested that I get married now that I was doing so well. She said that my attraction to men was just an imaginary thing and that I’d feel wonderful with a woman. And that’s when I told her I was with a man and I wasn’t willing to lie by getting married.”

Suddenly he wanted to do away with everything that seemed a lie, his seven-year-old corporate life included. “It was beginning to feel like a rat race and I was itching to do something I wanted. So I started doing part-time stand-up comedy in 2006. A year later, I let go of my job.”
Vidur doesn’t know what ghosts his mother fought after he came out to her; what his father thought; what his family felt about his personal or professional life. But he knew he wasn’t doing something that he didn’t want to do. So when he told his parents about Joel, he saw a sense of relief in them – much more than worry. And when his parents met Joel six years ago, they both seemed happy. “Joel is quite a charmer and he struck a rapport with both my parents, something that has been steadily growing over the years. He is almost like a son-in-law of the family,” Vidur chuckles. “They get along really well. In fact, after my show in Delhi, my mother called him up and told him how well it went and how much she missed him.”
His parents are still perplexed by the media attention but they will probably get used to it. “They’ve come a long way and hopefully so should a lot of people,” smiles Vidur.

As the clouds that have been darkening the skies finally let go of the rain they hold, Vidur relaxes on the sofa, a smile lighting up his face.

(Photos by Ashish Shah brunchletters@hindustantimes.com)

- From HT Brunch, February 13

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