You can find heart-warming stories in the most unexpected of places.
I was in Boltz, a private members men-only club situated at the shadowy end of Lower Essex Street, which confidently describes itself as ‘the Midland’s horniest club’. While anything and everything can and does go on in this salacious bar, this was a particularly quiet mid-week, where only a modest early evening crowd had come in for a post-work pint and to see if they could retreat to a convenient cubical or more private corner with some likeminded gentleman, before heading home to partners, wives, families…. pets.
Uninspired by the half dozen familiar faces in the bar, I pulled out my phone and occupied myself by casually exchanging taps and pleasantries with local guys on… well I’ll say a ‘popular gay dating app’… but I mean Grindr, when a friendly ‘Hello’ popped up in my message box from someone 10 meters way.
I looked up to see a petite, South Asian lad beaming a wide grin at me from the other side of the rectangular bar that dominates the core of the club. The lad turned his large, doe like, eyes bashfully to the floor. I waited the few self-conscious moments that it required for him to muster the confidence to look back up again, then returned his smile, picked up my drink and walked around the bar.
We introduced ourselves. His name was Nishant and it turned out that he was from a small town outside of New Delhi and was in the UK on a three-year student visa, studying baking at the Birmingham College of Food.
Soon any hint of shyness had disappeared, and this guy showed that he loved to talk.
Nishant chatted enthusiastically about his studies, future ambitions and friends, both in Birmingham and back home in India. One subject rapidly tumbling into the next in an engaging monologue, all delivered in a charmingly lyrical Indian accent, of the extravagant type you don’t tend to hear outside of the politically incorrect sitcoms of my youth and certainly not in Birmingham these days, as most of the city’s South Asian population are natural born Brummies and have varying degrees of the city’s notorious accent.
Most endearing, was the enthusiastic head wiggle that punctuated Nishant’s soliloquy, adding emphasis to key moments and marking changes of emotion, pace and tone, like a human metronome! Often referred to as the ‘Indian Nod’, this expressive movement of the head is utterly charming.
Sadly, Nishant’s melodic narrative took a tragic downturn as he started to talk about a secret affair that he had been involved in with a man in his hometown. Things had turned sour after they had split up and the bitter ex-lover had maliciously outed Nishant to his whole community, bringing shame on his family and resulting in a temporary breakdown in his relationship with his mother.
Nishant felt that he had no choice, but to get away. His studies in Birmingham not only presented new opportunities, but also respite from the scandal.
When it came time to leave for the UK, Nishant’s mother refused to accompany him to the airport or even say goodbye.
Nishant had one older brother with whom he was understandably nervous of broaching the subject of his sexuality for fear of further rejection.
When he finally mustered the courage to talk to the brother, he asked, “Are you also ashamed of me?”
The brother replied, “Nishant, I am neither ashamed or surprised… and have been deleting your browser history since you were 12 years old.”
The older brother had discovered Nishant’s taste in internet porn sites years before and had been keeping his younger sibling’s secret safe ever since.
“I love your brother,” I said, once the story was over and I could get a word in, “but hang on… 12?!! Dirty boy!!!”
Nishant gave a bashful smile and, of course, a characteristic wiggle of the head and replied, “What can I say? I was an early developer.”
Some on the Birmingham gay scene condemn Boltz for its pseudo-sleaziness, but if you take a moment to look beyond the window dressing of slings and bars, rubber and leather you will find something else.
Within the gloom of the darkroom… you can find gems in the shadows.