A Narrative: Our final 24 hours in Kerala – a police officer intimidates us, but doesn't keep us from fulfilling our distribution goals

Published: August 7, 2011

Attempted plans to meet a gay Catholic young man of Ernakulum

Matthew (not his real name), a closeted gay Catholic young man of Ernakulum, Kerala, who had heard
about our being in Kerala, the most southwest state of India, through a women’s rights activist of Trissur, contacted us by mobile.  This was the only gay young man we met in Kerala, India, who was not married, who was out to himself and who was decidedly living as a gay man.  (We met other gay men in Kerala, who once they knew we were gay made it very evident to us that they were interested in same-sex sex, but none who fit this description as not married and out to himself and decidedly living as a gay man.)

After our time in Trivandrum, we moved our base of operations to Kottayam, about an hour and a half from Ernakulum by train.  Once in Kottayam, we made plans to meet Matthew first in Ernakulum and then in Kottayam, but both times the plans had to be changed and it looked as if a meeting would not take place.

Our final networking, distribution and meida-related activities in Kerala

However, our final hours in Kerala proposed an opportunity to meet.  Our train to Goa, our destination for our two-week vacation, left from Ernakulum around 2:00PM in the afternoon; if we were to take the 9:30AM train from Kottayam (which arrives at one station, while our train to Goa departs from a second station) we would have three hours in Ernakulum.  We did just that and accomplished three things while in Ernakulum between trains (and train stations):  (1) We met Matthew for the first time; (2) we rendezvoused with our Fort Koshi auto-rickshaw driver whom we had met during our 2010 visit to Fort Koshi; and (3) we placed packets of news releases with copies of the Malayalam book in the mail boxes of more than twenty newspapers and TV stations at the Ernakulum Press Club.

(What a full day of Other Sheep networking our last day in Kerala had become!  Before boarding the 9:
30AM train in Kottayam, and while Steve was finishing the packing at the hotel, Jose made an early morning run by rickshaw to a college campus where he deposited 10 copies of the Malayalam book with a friend of the college student who was requesting the books; and on his way to the train station (where Steve had arrived minutes earlier with part of the luggage), Jose (with the remaining luggage) had his driver go by the Kottayam Press Club and there Jose deposited packets of the news releases with copies of the Malayalm book into the mail boxes of the newspapers and TV stations of Kottayam.)

Our meeting with the gay Catholic young man in Ernakulum

Upon our arrival in Ernakulum, around 11:00AM, Matthew was waiting for us on the platform.  But when he did not see us approaching from where we should have disembarked the train, he phoned us.  We were out of his sight-range, at the far end of the platform where we had disembarked from our first-class car, going through our four suitcases, one at time, in search of our Kerala receipts folder.  The evening before, Jose had emptied the last of his Kerala receipts from his wallet to the receipts folder, including the train tickets he had purchased that day in the morning for our Ernakulum-Goa overnight express.  We were presently in search of our train tickets to Goa; if only I could remember in which suitcase I had packed the folder!  

At last, without any further delays we phoned Matthew to pin-point his location in the train station and we finally met.  We were all so happy to meet at last.  He was very much taken with Jose’s good looks, and let me know just how lucky I was.  Even so, he showed equal interest in us both and was more than socially appropriate in how he engaged us both in dialogue and eye contact, something not all gay men are able to do when they first meet Jose and me and are admittedly “smitten” to some degree by Jose’s looks and charm.

As we made our way to the Ernakulum Press Club, we presented Matthew two packets of material which included the Malayam book on the Bible, sexual minorities and inclusion – one packet for him and one for his same-sex partner.  He was very much interested in, and grateful for the resources we gave him. Matthew had told us a few days earlier by phone that he has a life-partner.  They aren’t able to live together and they are both closeted as gays and, of course, as a couple.  They see each other publically and privately in places, times and situations that would not expose them as lovers.

When he saw how freely and publically we are as a gay couple, he just marveled at the reality of it. It was all too foreign to him in practice (though not in concept) – a gay couple acting like any other heterosexual couple.  He was so moved by our presence as an out-and-open couple that he just had to verbalize what he was feeling.  To be a couple in India like we are a couple in the United States would surpass his wildest dreams.  For a moment, as the three of us traveled together in the auto-rickshaw with our luggage piled high behind our seat, he just looked at us and took it in: something to behold, an openly gay couple.

He had told us before meeting that he was an average looking young man and not strikingly handsome.  And so he was, average looking like me.  But also like me, he was especially loved by one other person who found him especially attractive, like Jose does me, a lovely person and that one-in-a-life-time person who makes the perfect significant other for that right someone, the partner who loves us.

The Muslim straight man from Fort Koshi

After depositing our packets of news releases and the Malayalam book into the media mail boxes at the Ernakulum Press Club, Matthew, Jose and I waited in the shade of trees outside the Press Club building for our rendezvous with our 2010 Fort Kochi rickshaw driver, a kind Muslim straight man with whom we had become so attached the previous year that we asked him to meet us briefly in Ernakulum.  He was glad to and made the thirty-some minute trip from Fort Korshi to see us.

I was at an Internet café when Jose, who had just purchased our ticket for Goa, phoned me and told me he had just gotten word from our hotel that the police “were looking for him” the day before (while we were in Kanur) and left a message that he was to phone the officer at the number he had left. 

We met up in our hotel to decide what to do.  Within 24 hours we would be leaving the state of Kerala for the state of Goa.  What do we do?  Do we lie low and not return the call?  Or, do we return the call?  Jose made the decision that he would phone.  From our hotel room he phoned the number and got the officer.  The officer spoke no English.  Jose tried the same number two or three times with the same results:  the person that answered the call (whom we believed to be the officer) spoke no English.  Later in the afternoon, while we were checking into a new hotel by way of the train depot as if we were leaving town (we had a scheduled seminar in the evening and felt it best to stay in town one more night), Jose spoke with an ally in another part of town who was willing to phone the officer’s number to learn what he could.  He phoned the officer and told the officer he was phoning for us on our behalf as a translator.  He said he knew nothing about us personally and so was not able to answer the officer’s questions which amounted to where are the we from and when are we leaving town.  When our ally told us about his conversation with the officer, we realized that the police officer was acting on his own, and not in any official capacity.  He was hoping to intimidate us.  I had experienced this same thing in America (of all places), where a young officer from Cortland, NY, had phoned me in my home in the Bronx and threatened me as a police officer.  I obtained his name and district and phoned his supervisor who informed me the officer was not acting in any official capacity, apologized on behalf of his subordinate and asked me to report the incident in writing to him, which I did.  That American experience served us well in realizing what was occurring here in Kerala with this police officer. (The officer, we assume, was asking for Jose by name, and not for me, thinking Jose was Indian and spoke Malayalam.  Just a theory; we don’t actually know.)

You can imagine how all of this was very harrowing:  A police officer on our trail (albeit acting unofficially with the hope to intimate us); moving to a new hotel for our last night in Kottayam; back-and-forth to the copiers and stationary store (I was creting  more than 50 packets of several documents to leave at the Press Club in Ernakulum and Kottayam); a seminar that evening that a student initiated and arranged (no one attended, complications had occurred); phoning the last contact in Kottayam who wanted copies of the book  – making arrangements to meet his friend, the contact person being out of town; packing our belongings so that our Pres Club packets were kept neat and ready for distribution.

Jose was “cool, calm and collected” about the police having looked for him at our hotel and having left a number with orders for Jose to phone the police.  Jose told me, as we sat in our hotel room, hostages to the four walls, our location known, and deciding if we should return the officer’s call, that whatever the outcome we knew we were being subversive and so in the style of Gandhi and King we should submit to the authorities.  (Our worse imagined scenario was we would be told to leave India immediately and therefore miss out on our two-week vacation time in Goa, our lodging already paid for in full, and that visas to India would be denied us for a period of some years.)

Jose was remarkable.  He was bold and decisive.  I was scared to death and certain Indian authorities would hold us back, tie us up with red tape, and, at the very worst, bring charges against us and escort us out of India. 

A similar incident in Africa in 2007 turned out to be only a rumor

In 2007, in Kenya, Africa, a similar situation occurred.  Only in Kenya it was rumored that the police were looking for us.  A newspaper reporter supposedly had information that the police were looking for us.  At that time, Jose was sacred and told me he wanted to leave Kenya immediately, cut our trip short and return to America.  I told him, then, that we would be acting on rumor only.  He insisted that I take him out of the country or that he would leave without me.  I told him we must question the source ourselves, and not go on hear-say, before we make our final decision.  He agreed and we phoned the newspaper with which the reporter was associated.  It turned out the reporter was either misquoted or had his story wrong and therefore denied any basis to the rumor that police were looking for us.  Jose was still uneasy, but agreed he could stay on in Africa.

That was Africa, and it was easy enough to be brave in the face of rumors and hear-say.  So, in Africa, I was cool-headed and decisive.  But this was India and there was no rumor, only fact that the police had visited our hotel a day or two earlier, spoke with the front desk, and left a phone number to call, asking for Jose by name.  I was running scarred, but it was now Jose who was cool headed.  (Boy, did I love him for it!)

Jose’s overall fortitude and his decision to return the police officer’s phone call

There we sat in our hotel room, on the two chairs at the table – the chairs pushed back a bit, as if to
breathe.  The whole room, formerly bright and happy with activism, food and drinks, had become a cell filled with foreboding emotions.

But Jose was present in his thoughts.  It was at this point that he decided we should, indeed, phone the police number he had been given by the front desk.  I sat motionless in fear.  He placed the call.  I had told him he should call since the officer had asked for him by name.  I was acting more cowardly than logistically.   The person who answered did not speak English.  Jose spoke slowly and clearly, identifying himself as the person who was told to call the number he had dialed and that it was a police officer who had left this number to call.  The person on the other end did not speak English.  Jose eventually hung up.  We looked at each other, our questions pretty-much unexpressed.  He decided to try again.  He did.  He got the same response: no English.  He may have tried a third time.  I don’t recall.

We decided we had done what the police had asked:  to phone at such-and-such a number.  Now, with a clear conscience, we decided to lay low.  We would pack our belongings, immediately check out, and move to another hotel for our last night in Kottayam. 

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