Prince Manavendra Singh Gohil of the erstwhile kingdom of Rajpipla in Gujarat was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show last week. He represented India in an episode titled Gays Around the World.
The who, the what, the huh? Exactly.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Gohil or perhaps remember him best from tiny articles buried deep within national newspapers identifying him as the Prince whose mother publicly disowned him when he came out to the world in an interview given to a Gujarat daily. In Indian gay circles, however, he is known as a rather prominent activist who not only funds a helpline called Humsafar, but also runs an award-winning non profit called Lakshya that advocates safe sex and works to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.
While it’s true that one of Gohil’s main attractions seems to be the fact that he is “India’s first openly gay royal”, his story touches upon the larger implications of being gay in India. A lot of people are likely to dismiss gay rights in India as some sort of western scam being pulled on the pure and innocent people of a great nation where such things don’t go on. Hogwash of course, but it’s a polite fiction that most people like to maintain because it’s someone else’s problem. As long as you’re not one of “those sort” of people, why should such things matter to you?
Except we’re not living isolated lives. Repression of sexual identity means a number of LGBT Indians are living double lives that affect more people than just themselves. Gohil himself is an excellent example – married off to a suitable Princess, the marriage was never consummated and ended in a matter of months.
“The last time when she met me, she told me, ‘I’m giving you a piece of advice. Please don’t spoil another girl’s life,'” he recalled. “That short and sweet thing hit me directly at my heart and I decided I’m not going to get married again.”
Sounds like your standard rona-dhona dialogue… just in real life. But first he had to convince his parents that he meant what he said. That’s right – his parents wanted him to try again. This is the reaction of a family with tons of money and the best education such money can buy. They needed an heir to carry on the family name and Gohil was the only son, ergo he should just lie back and think of Rajpipla.
Rajpipla by the way is my new favorite word. Rajpipla! Raj-PIPLA! Raj-PIP-la! Rajpi-PLA! Okay, okay, I’ll stop. It’s just I never heard it before and I like the sound of it.
Trying to make them understand landed Gohil in a hospital with a nervous breakdown and he finally came out to his doctor. He then came out to his family and subsequently the world upon which his hometown broke into riots and his family disowned him. Gohil went out and organized an arts festival at his pink palace and set about making himself useful. My kind of guy.
Personally, I think that Aishwarya Rai Bachchan looked much prettier when she appeared on the show but I prefer the Prince of Rajpipla – at least there wasn’t any awkward saree tying going on. Just a Mohandas Gandhi-returning-from-South Africa outfit with a fancy turban complete with white feather. Actually, he sort of looks like he borrowed it from Shiney Ahuja in Bhool Bhulaiya