In the summer of 1987 I took a break from my NGO in Brussels to spend a week with an Australian friend in Exeter, England. A few months before, I had made contact with a young gay Gujarati guy who had grown up in East Africa and now lived in the UK, but had never been to India. I’d spent six years in India and had recently come out as a gay man there.
I told him I’d written an article about my experiences and tried unsuccessfully to have it published. He asked if he could read it, since he anticipated going to India and would like to know what he might expect. I agreed and we arranged to meet in London on my way to Exeter.
On the day of our meeting I was early for our rendezvous so decided to check out London’s only LGBT bookstore, Gay’s The Word, near Russell Square, which was close to where we’d agreed to meet. It was a fairly compact bookshop, full of interesting material.
After I’d finished browsing, I was walking out the door when a publication in the magazine rack caught my eye. It was called Outrage, which triggered something in my memory. I picked up the copy and noticed in the masthead that it was published in Melbourne, Australia.
Then I remembered that earlier that year I’d sent my India article to this publication, on the recommendation of my Australian friend, who told me this was Australia’s leading gay magazine. Months ticked by and I never heard anything.
Flicking through the magazine, I was drawn to a page with an alluring graphic of an Indian smoking a hookah and the title “India — Beneath the Skin”. This was the second part of a feature article by Graham Hawke. Apparently, the first part had appeared the previous month, since it was a lengthy article.
I stared at the piece and read the first few lines. They seemed familiar, so I skimmed it further. Then it suddenly dawned on me that this was my article! I’d forgotten I’d used Graham Hawke as a pseudonym — a combination of a nickname and a friend’s surname — just in case the article should ever be published and reach family and friends to whom I was yet to come out.
I was elated. I’d been published in a commercial publication! This was one of those moments you don’t forget. At the same time, I was astonished and angry that the magazine hadn’t informed me they were publishing it, let alone pay me for it. I vowed to write to them as soon as I returned to Brussels and demand payment, as well as a copy of first part.
It then dawned on me that I had the entire manuscript with me. I paid for the magazine, rushed over to Russell Square, and sat down on a bench to compare my manuscript with the published version. They had printed it word for word.
When I met my Gujarati friend over lunch, I couldn’t contain my conflicting emotions as I described what had happened. What if I hadn’t decided to visit the bookstore that day? What if they’d already sold that one copy of this Australian magazine? What if I’d walked out the door without paying attention to it? And what were the odds that I’d have the original manuscript with me at that time?
I might never have known I’d been published and might never have pursued writing any further. It was as though my entire future as a writer pivoted on this knife edge of chance. Was I led to this moment by some mysterious power or was it just sheer luck? I’ve never come up with a satisfactory answer and probably never will. But I now view serendipity in a very different light.
It would take another 22 years before I found a publisher for the book this article became, and another five years after that for that book to appear in print.