Entertainment

A Mother's Acceptance Helped a Gay Professor to Accept Himself

‘Inaayat’, a documentary about professor Himadri Roy, recently played at the Queer Asia Film Festival in London.
June 25, 2018, 10:30am
Inaayat explores Himadri Roy's life and his relationship with his mother. Image: Himadri Roy 

One winter vacation when eight-year-old Himadri Roy visited home from his boarding school in Darjeeling, his mother suspected something was wrong. “Are you happy?” she enquired.

Yes, he lied.

The next year, when he returned to Siliguri, West Bengal, she questioned him again. This time it was more pointed. “Have you been sexually assaulted?”

“It felt like a bomb,” recalled Roy, who is now 45 and a professor at the School of Gender and Development Studies at IGNOU. He has also written a coming-of-age novel, Travails of Entrapment.

“I told my mother everything,” Roy said—how he had been molested by senior students at school. “Then she asked me: ‘Why didn’t you complain?’ I was stunned by that.”

The relationship between mother and son is the premise of Naveen Tokas’ 2017 documentary, Inaayat, which was screened at the Queer Asia Film Festival 2018 in London, on June 24. It has also been screened in India thrice since last year, at the Delhi International Queer Theater Film Festival, the Allahabad Queer Event, and Queer-e-Mehfil, New Delhi.

We asked Roy about coming out, why he thinks his 63-year-old mother Minati Roy accepted him, and how he thinks the documentary affects his life.

VICE: How did this documentary come about?
Himadri Roy: The director Naveen Tokas had seen my YouTube coming out video. There was a web series called “Come Out Loud”. Tokas saw that and got in touch. While I was narrating the story of my childhood and my mother, he said let’s focus on that.

Inaayat emphasises the importance of family acceptance in queer people’s lives. Image: Himadri Roy

What is that story?
I grew up in a conservative, joint family. But there was one thing: everyone could marry anyone they wanted. For example, my aunt married a Muslim guy. So it was accepted in the family.

I was in a boarding school when some seniors sexually abused me. When I told her everything, she asked me why didn’t I complain. And asked me to think about it. Seniors used to call me to their rooms. I started enjoying it. There was no love or emotion. It was a part of my duty to obey—that’s what has been told to us.

My mother told me, “I think you are different.” She said this will remain between you and I. And then, she hugged me. This was during 1980s when there was zero conversation around these topics.

What do you think made your mother so accepting of your sexuality?
You know, I have had long conversations with my mother about this. She was a housewife, the elder daughter-in-law of the household, and she had to follow all the customs, traditions. When my family found out a letter from my then boyfriend, they freaked out and there was drama at home. No one spoke to me for a few days. Everyone was upset. My mother came to me and said that she would support me, but I will have to fight my own battles.

She always tells me, “A mother’s happiness is when her children are happy.”

What does the documentary achieve?
The film emphasises on acceptance as a game changer in queer people’s lives.

What kind of impact has the documentary had on your life and your mother’s life?
I have been receiving some emails from people. They mostly tell me that I am lucky to have such a mother. Or they write me that I was brave to fight from an early age. The idea is to tell others that families’ support is very important. Whenever my mother goes to any pride parades, she always asks the youth, “Have you come out to your parents?” She tells them, don’t drop the bomb. Just take them out to a movie that has a queer character. Initiate the conversation.

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