Mumbai's local trains are the backbone of this city and make the commute a lot easier. Millions of people travel by the local train to work each day. But what a lot of us don't know is that one particular compartment in these trains is a place for gay cruising.
But what exactly is gay cruising?
Gay cruising is a culture that has existed in India for a really long time. After the Supreme Court decriminalized section 377, this culture is only growing. Cruising for sex can be defined as walking or driving or visiting a certain place that is a hotspot for like-minded people who just want to have some casual sex. One such place is a 2x2 compartment in most local trains.
The 2x2 compartment means the second door of the second bogey towards Churchgate. In Mumbai, millions of people travel through the train every day and a lot of these commuters are closeted men looking for a safe space to have some fun.
I boarded the 2x2 compartment at Goregaon station just because I was inquisitive as to what exactly happens here. The moment I got in, I could see a men checking me out. Some of them even made gestures with their faces. As I stood in the doorway, a couple of guys stood next to me with their hands in their pockets and as the train started moving, their hands came out of their pockets and reached for my thigh. At this point, I decided that I had to move out of that doorway and I moved inside towards the seats.
As I kept an eye out for what's happening in the doorway, I could make out that something was happening under their bags and a few were busy grabbing butts. But in the midst of all the romping, I could notice people making eye contact and signaling each other to get off at the next station. As the train came to a halt at Churchgate, people shared eye contact for one last time before they dispersed into the crowd at the station.
I decided to ask Akshay Pandey, a gay rights activist, about the 2X2 compartment and he gave me an in-depth insight into the train cruising scene. "Most Indian gay men are still in the closet and in a country like India, it is difficult finding a place to meet people or have sex. So a lot of gay men travel in these compartments and look for some no-strings-attached fun." said Pandey.
"The men who prefer dominating will stand next to the door with their hands holding the overhead handles. The submissive men will stand towards the center poll with their hand sticking out of their pockets. These men first make eye contact and then move closer. It is very common to see groping and hand holding in the compartment." He added.
But this raised a few concerns in my mind. How would a straight person react if they come across something fishy happening? Pandey says, "The doorway is so crowded by gay men that there is hardly place to get in. But these men are very discreet and make sure that they don't make things obvious. They cover their junk with their bags and the other guy is smart enough to slyly slip their hand in between."
But Pandey tells us that there are often cases in which men have crossed the line and are not bothered about who's watching them. "A very close friend shared an experience about how he saw a group of men cover a guy who was on his knees!" says Pandey.
And it turns out, trains are not the only railway property where people cruise. "There are a lot of railway station urinals where cruising happens at night. Most gay men find cruising places on online forums. So if a guy comes across a quiet place, he will tell people about it online and soon that place will start flocking with gay men looking for some action." says Pandey.
In a country where even PDA can land you in jail, gay men look for quiet safe spaces where they can find some intimacy. While it is all risky business, they hardly seem affected by it. Because in the words of Pandey, "Where else will they go?"