For the past ten days, I’ve been trying to write this post and I’ve failed. I don’t know how to begin it. There’s nothing funny in what has happened and the events offer no insight that I can share. This time next year I will probably not remember what made me sit down to write this post today but that isn’t important. I’m writing this now, so that I don’t forget what happened on Friday December 12. Because a human being (and a reasonably well-known one at that) was killed that night. The killer was found quite easily within a few days. The news that the killer had been apprehended was looped briefly in a few news channels and surfaced in the newspapers a day late. That’s why I’m writing this post. Because by the time actor-photographer Khushi Agnihotri is finally sentenced for murdering dancer Bireshwar Gautam, who knows what will be remembered of Friday December 11?
On Saturday December 12, one of Bireshwar Gautam’s students tried calling him repeatedly but couldn’t get through. There was something to do with a recital and it was very uncharacteristic of Bireshwar to disappear like this. Ultimately, the student went to his house. No one would open the door. The guard said that Bireshwar had not left the building. He’d had a visitor late last night but the visitor had left alone. Ultimately, the police came into the picture when the student decided to get a locksmith to break open the door. When student and locksmith did break in, they found Bireshwar’s dead body with strangulation marks around his neck. The guard told the police that at about 11pm on Friday, a man had come to meet Bireshwar. When the guard had called Bireshwar on the intercom to tell him of the visitor, Bireshwar had asked the guard to let the man in. It didn’t seem odd to anybody because the man had visited Bireshwar’s place a number of times over the past few months. The guard had no trouble helping the police’s artist come up with a sketch of the man who would be identified as Khushi Agnihotri.
All this was presumably reported in the city papers (I wasn’t around so I don’t know). What wasn’t reported was that Bireshwar was found naked and half his face had been bruised so badly, it was decided that his dead body wouldn’t be photographed. So the moment the police saw his corpse, they knew it was “a gay crime”. Because Bireshwar, who with sublime irony in the world was known as Biru (meaning “brave” and a version of Veeru, Dharmendra’s über-macho and heterosexual character from Sholay), was openly gay. I don’t know what a “gay crime” means in India. Is it a hate crime when your lover kills you? Does it get labelled a hate crime because the killer hated the man he killed for screwing him over? Is the fact that the victim was gay explanation enough for the murder? Is the label of “gay crime” adequate to ensure something is reported only in muffled tones?
On Monday December 14, Khushi Agnihotri, a struggling actor and photographer who was wearing the too-tight T-shirt and weirdly-bleached jeans that make up the uniform of “strugglers” in Andheri, was arrested for Biru’s murder. Khushi means happiness or, as my grand-uncle told me when I was a kid, “feeling gay”. It’s a word for an emotion and not used as a name generally but if a name, it’s generally a girl’s. Not that there’s anything effeminate about Khushi from what I saw. He looked buff, as all aspiring Bollywood actors tend to these days. Khushi had been seeing Biru for a few months and apparently, his only reason for being with Biru was that the dancer was supposed to give Khushi a break into Bollywood. As dance teacher to some actresses, Biru had the access that Khushi apparently craved. I don’t know if Khushi has admitted to having a sexual relationship with Biru but he has certainly suggested that he had sex with Biru expecting the dancer would give him the all-important break. When Biru did no such thing, Khushi killed him.
The television reports I saw found nothing problematic about this logic. It seems that’s what people do, or perhaps that’s what gay people supposedly do: kill a guy because he’s not sharing his address book. One of them went on to say that Biru had done this repeatedly in the past and said that one of his ex-boyfriends was a photographer who had also hoped for a break but got no help from Biru. (The news report didn’t tell us whether this photographer had also tried to kill Biru for his lack of generosity.) Then they mentioned that Biru knew lots of people in Bollywood because he gave some starlets dance classes. The classic evil, opportunistic, nymphomaniac gay man. Because there’s nothing opportunistic about the men sleeping with him in order to climb the Bollywood ladder.
Of course according to Khushi, he came on Friday night to show Biru his portfolio. At about 11pm. No one knows what happened after that. Was it an Michael-Hutchence-esque accident? Did Biru say something that made Khushi lose his temper and suddenly go ballistic? All I’m left with are horrifying imagined moments: Biru frightened, desperate to not die, his expressive eyes shining with terror and his face imploding into itself as bone splintered, muscles snapped and blood spread like an ink-stain on his nut-brown skin. They’re like scenes from a silent film because I can’t imagine the sound. Maybe it’s too much to do or maybe it’s just the silence that surrounds Biru’s name now. We cannot talk about what happened to him because we don’t want to know the details. We can’t mourn for him because he died an undignified death; one whose details will be scratched out and perhaps even rewritten. He will be remembered as the dancer of the whispered sexuality, the one who was murdered because he lured men, and we’ll forget how, when he walked on to stage, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. The fact that his slim, graceful body had an elegant virility to it when he danced is something that will fade from memory. Those who saw him perform will forget how expressive his painted face could be and how keenly his unpainted eyes saw things around him. We’ll stop recalling how so many of us fell in love with his choreography and the dancer that he had been because dancers don’t want to remember the man who tainted Indian classical dance with the “gay crime” graffiti. I just hope we don’t forget that, on December 12, 2009, Khushi Agnihotri came into Bireshwar Gautam’s house as a trusted friend and then brutally killed him.