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‘Tolerance was the key word’

At 17, Pawan tried to tell his parents he was gay. The discussion didn’t go down well. This was Kolkata in the 1970s. The Internet had not arrived. Gaydar was unheard of, and networking was done the old-fashioned way — via snail mail.

india Updated: Jul 05, 2009 00:33 IST

Pawan Dhall, 40

At 17, Pawan tried to tell his parents he was gay. The discussion didn’t go down well. This was Kolkata in the 1970s. The Internet had not arrived. Gaydar was unheard of, and networking was done the old-fashioned way — via snail mail. At 21, Pawan sat his parents down once more and this time, he got his point across. In the weeks that followed , hardly anyone spoke. His mother cried everyday.

His father was stoic and business-like. “But despite the tears, she would try to keep a bridge between my father and I,” Pawan remembers.

There was no getting away from the feeling of loneliness. “At one point I had completely lost interest in my studies.” And had, instead, turned towards food. Think Bengali sweets. “There was always a huge variety to gorge on.” Pawan compromised on his health, his teeth, and flunked his class 11.

His sexual escapades in later years led him to contract a bout of Hepatitis B. His father lost his cool. He would have none of it. When Pawan took up gay rights activism, his father took solace in the teachings of Hinduism. Tolerance was the key word.

— As told to Nivriti Butalia