I AM SIXTEEN. I have gone along with my parents to a Christmas lunch party in Mumbai thrown by the poet Dom Moraes and his wife, the actress Leela Naidu. Jeet is on his knees offering a bunch of red roses to a tall, striking young woman. He seems to be reciting one of his poems to her. Later, at the same party, I push open the door to the bathroom. Jeet’s in the bathtub with the same woman. They are kissing. I’ve never seen two people kissing. I say sorry and shut the door.
I return to the party and resume a conversation I was having with a friend of Jeet’s, the photographer Madhu Kapparath. It’s 1992, and Prince’s hit song that year is ‘Sexy Motherfucker.’ Madonna has just released her album Erotica: “I don’t think you know what pain is/ It can give you so much pleasure.” Madhu and I talk about Madonna and Prince, while Jeet spends the rest of the afternoon closeted in the washroom.
I am wearing a cheap clip-on earring in my right ear. The art critic Geeti Sen, who’s just arrived at the party, turns to my father, the poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and asks: “Arvind, is your son gay?” My father says he doesn’t know. Geeti says: “I ask because he is wearing an earring in his right ear.” Oh that, says my father, could be because he has just come from Allahabad and doesn’t know which ear to clamp his earring on. This was true. We had just arrived in Mumbai from Allahabad for our annual trip. I was desperate to be cool. My left ear didn’t know what my right ear was doing.