Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 37


After confirming the booking for the Sankturi monastery, Frankie had received detailed email instructions on how to get there. A direct flight from Sydney to Bagdogra, a taxi or shared jeep to Gangtok, and something similar from there to Lachung, where he'd been assured the locals would tell him how to find the path leading up to the monastery. Easy.

Into a lightweight, faded blue, waterproof canvass satchel that could be slung over a shoulder so he wouldn't look like a tourist in towns, or worn like a backpack, he packed a wallet containing fake documents to fool would-be pickpockets, a toothbrush, a pack of disposable razors, a light sweater, a thin showerproof windbreaker, and duplicates of what he was wearing—faded blue jeans and a long-sleeved dark blue cotton shirt with secret pockets in the side lining for his passport, debit card and spare cash. There was no room for spares shoes, so if his sneakers wore out he'd buy new ones. Fully loaded, the satchel weighed less than two kilos.

In Frankie's inexperienced opinion, travellers should accept and live by the habits, customs and rules of their hosts. If they expect to live and eat as they do at home, then they should stay at home. He had also decided it was the traveller's duty to be invisible. How else would he learn about other people and their lives? In the days before leaving, he read as much as he could about the places he'd be visiting, the habits, customs and beliefs; yet still felt unprepared.

Ingenio and Constantine drove him to the airport but didn't stay, because long goodbyes are not only embarrassing, but also prevent the traveller experiencing the atmosphere and excitement of embarking alone on an adventure. Only two of the three business class seats in his row were occupied. Frankie had the window, and a slim, trim man who looked to be in his early thirties, dressed in tan slacks, loafers, white shirt and a lightweight jacket, was on the aisle. The take-off was uneventful and seatbelts had only just been unbuckled when the man leaned across and offered a lean brown hand.

'I'm Sushant.' The face looked intelligent, lean and perky with a hooked nose, sharp dark eyes behind rimless glasses, dense black cap of short hair, neatly trimmed beard on a square jaw and lips that were perhaps smiling, perhaps not.

'You're also handsome,' Frankie laughed as he shook the proffered hand. 'I'm Frankie.'

Sushant moved to the seat beside him. 'Thank you.' His voice was soft, almost conspiratorial. 'Why are you alone? Most Australians travel in noisy groups, and drink.'

'I'm not fond of noisy groups and don't drink.'

'Why are you going to Bagdogra?'

'To do a bit of trekking in the mountains of Sikkim. What about you?'

'I am going home. I am married with two children, boys, and I live in Darjeeling. I deal in fine cotton and silken fabrics unadulterated by artificial fibres, and am also involved in the export of tea and other herbs.'

'Did you enjoy your time in Australia?'

'I was there for six weeks during which I endured a cyclone, a flood, a heat wave, and flies. The scenery is monotonous and the women immodest, aggressive, contemptuous of men, and expect to be able to walk alone, half naked on the streets even at night. In bars and restaurants they are noisy and vulgar. Seriously, Frankie, your countrymen tell me Australia is the greatest country on earth, but I experienced unpleasant racism and learned that education standards are very low, unemployment is high, and the only jobs are in service industries because you import everything that used to be made there. Also, the Internet is slow, and.… I have no wish to be offensive, but Australia doesn't appear to be an independent nation… it seems to be just another pawn of the U.S.A. with mainly American TV content and news items, military bases, and the top secret Pine Gap.'

Frankie couldn't control his grin. 'In six weeks you've thought more about my country than people who've lived there all their lives. As I've never lived anywhere else, I can't make comparisons. And as I'm a product of the abysmal education system, I don't feel qualified to comment.'

Sushant laughed softly. 'I like you, Frankie. If you said to an Indian what I have just said to you about India, you'd have made an enemy. So… you are not patriotic?'

'As Dr Johnson wrote, Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Where did you go, to form such a negative opinion of Australia?'

'Overland between Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and I made a tour through the outback. In an effort to impress me, my Sydney host took me to a Casino on the harbour, even though I told him I never gamble, then to a nightclub with naked girls sliding up and down poles and sitting on patrons' laps, jiggling their breasts so you could put money between them. But you weren't allowed to touch.'

'Did you enjoy it?'

'I kept worrying that she hadn't washed properly between her legs, and wishing she had cleaned her teeth. Then, when searching for a taxi further down the street, we saw a shocking sight! Men kissing and holding hands in public! In India they would be imprisoned and severely punished.'

'That's odd, because I read that India has a tradition of male friendship and love.'

'But not homosexuality. That is a western disease; a perverted way of life that destroys the practitioners.'

'If that is so,' Frankie said with a thoughtful nod of the head, 'then surely they should by now be extinct?'

'Ah!' Sushant replied with the confidence and smile of someone who knows what he's talking about, 'They may not breed, but they pervert young boys and turn them into depraved monsters like themselves. They are unnatural!' he concluded nodding his head in satisfaction.

'Unnatural?' Frankie laughed softly.


'Really, Sushant! I must protest. As the eminent biologist Miriam Rothschild pointed out, homosexual behaviour has been observed in almost every known species of animal. Are you suggesting they are all unnatural?'

'Yes! Sex is for breeding and homosexual sex cannot make babies, so it is unnatural.'

'I admit that sex between a male and a female is necessary if you want a child, but ninety-nine percent of all sexual activity has always been for recreation, bonding and emotional fulfilment, children being too often the unwanted consequence.'

'It is still unnatural!'

'Are you saying that unnatural behaviour should be forbidden?'

'Most definitely.'

'Then wearing clothes, cooking food, building aeroplanes, houses, computers… all should be forbidden as they are all unnatural. Aren't you ashamed to be performing the unnatural act of flying through the air in a metal cylinder?'

'Not at all - I am a tolerant man,' Sushant stated with the smile of a man who is either an egregious idiot, or pretending to be. 'You see… there are degrees of unnatural.'

'Golly,' Frankie whispered, wide-eyed with admiration. 'You are so well informed! 'I've always imagined something was either natural or unnatural. That there are degrees of unnaturalness is intriguing.' –

'Consider a shirt made of cotton and nylon, that's 50% unnatural, but in this case nylon makes the garment stronger. But when a man's behaviour is unnatural, it affects his entire being and those around him. That's why the British, who made India the world's greatest democracy, declared that men who choose to be homosexual are criminals.' He paused and demanded with a smug smile, 'I hope you are not suggesting that the British could ever be wrong?'

'I wouldn't dare,' Frankie giggled. 'So—if it is a choice, that means you could choose to be homosexual if someone offered you a million dollars, or to avoid torture… or something like that?


'Yet you are saying that some men do choose this path to destruction. Why?'

'Because they are degenerate, and should have been put down at birth.

'Gosh. Is infanticide legal in India?'

'I meant abortion, which is legal if the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped. Well, homosexuality is just such an abnormality and if it could be determined in the womb, then an abortion would be instantly approved. As well as that…'

'Speaking of wombs,' Frankie interrupted, 'have you heard of the psychobiologists Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman?'

'No. Should I have?' Sushant grinned widely showing perfect teeth. He was enjoying the argument, wanted to prolong it, and was not one to concede defeat without a fight.

'In their book, Born Gay, they produced serious, evidence-based science proving that sexual orientation is determined in the womb and fixed at birth. It's not a choice.'

'Rubbish! Homosexuality is the result of bad parenting and an unhealthy, godless environment.'

'You are misinformed, because loads of studies have shown that the popular idea of environment – parental upbringing, peer norms, the family home, schooling – have no effect whatsoever on sexual orientation! The idea that distant fathers or overbearing mothers sabotage their sons' sexual development is not borne out by evidence, and the children of homosexual fathers and mothers are usually heterosexual. Don't you find it astonishing that so many researchers got it so wrong?'

'Not at all. They are probably all homosexuals promoting their life choice.' Sushant's smile was impish.

'That's a possibility, I suppose.' Frankie nodded as if accepting the point. 'But did you know that at conception all foetuses are alike, apart from some having a 'y' chromosome? And if developed in a test tube they would all become female.'

'Surely not!'

'Surely yes. But if, during pregnancy, the brains of foetuses with the 'y' chromosome get the correct doses of sex hormones from the mother, then the clitoris lengthens and curls into a tube that acts as a combined sperm-duct and urethra, and the ovaries descend to become testicles. And later on, at puberty, the voice box enlarges and the brain sees females as sexually attractive instead of males.'

'Never heard such rubbish.'

'That's so sad, because if you haven't heard it then it can't possibly be true.' Frankie gazed down at his feet, apparently abashed for several seconds before looking up with a gleam in his eye. 'As you know, Sushant, we are all different, and the brains of foetuses are too, and that's why some male foetuses absorb too little testosterone in certain parts of the brain, so they don't achieve full masculinisation, and part of the brain remains a little bit female, and the neural circuit that promotes sexual desire towards women is not laid down, so the foetus develops into a man who is attracted to other men. That means it isn't a choice. So can't you see that discriminating against same-sex-oriented men is as stupid as discriminating on the basis of eye colour or ethnicity?'

'Facts, science, reasons… what have they got to do with anything?' Sushant paused for a wide smile. 'Here, in India, in the real world, homosexuals are a disliked minority, and no government who tolerates them will be re-elected. Where I live, if people thought I considered homosexuals to be normal they would shun me in the street, my wife would be ashamed, and if I so much as looked at a man she would tell the world I was homosexual and demand a divorce! And she'd get it! along with the house, my sons and all my money! So you see, it is very, very, very important that I disagree with you.' The smile this time was tinged with sadness.

'I see… your personal health, welfare and happiness are more important than the happiness, health and welfare of about ten percent of the population?'

'Absolutely! And now…' He turned the full force of his dark-ringed, intelligent tired eyes onto his young tormentor. 'Are you homosexual?'

'I'm a man who only responds to questions to which there is a useful and informative answer. If you tell me you are heterosexual, what have I learned about important things such as your honesty, taste in music, ideas about pollution and conservation, how you treat you wife? The only thing your being heterosexual could tell me is that you belong to the group of humans that contains the most murderers, wife-bashers, child molesters, drug addicts, thieves and scoundrels. Which of those describe you?'

'You are a singularly irritating young man.'

'Why?' Frankie suddenly slapped his knee in delight and declared in a hushed whisper, 'You're a Muslim!'

Apparently shocked, Sushant sat upright, eyes slits. 'How dare you…'

'A Christian, then?'

'I most certainly am not! Why do you say such offensive things?'

'Because you're obsessed with sex and want to force everyone to conform to your narrow opinion of what's natural. That's classic Muslim and Christian behaviour. No self-respecting Hindu or Buddhist would entertain such intolerant ideas.'

'I am proudly Hindu.'

'Really? Because while preparing for this trip I read up on Hinduism, and if I recall correctly, the Hindu religion is a non-dogmatic faith, so there's no official Hindu dogma or position on the subject of homosexuality. In fact, the Hindu Scriptures declare that homosexuality is an orientation that is karmically predisposed, and not a matter of choice. People are born that way—as every homosexual will testify! And as you no doubt know, in the Acharyas and Alvars, which discuss everything conducive or problematic to spiritual life, they never mention homosexuality. If they had considered it was a problem they would certainly have mentioned it.' He paused to gauge the effect of his wisdom, but Sushant remained impassive, only the suggestion of a twitch at the corners of his mouth suggesting otherwise.

'I would have hoped,' Frankie continued, 'that as a father responsible for teaching his sons the right way to live, you would emulate the magnanimity, compassion and high-mindedness of Ramanuja, who did not find offensive the temple carvings of men engaged in sex, or a carving of a woman being pleasured by a dog, carved on a pillar of a mandapa in which he used to teach in Srirangam. And nor did his followers for thousands of years. I reckon the world would be a better place,' Frankie continued placidly, 'if we all followed the example of Hindu sages instead of outdated, unjust British laws, and if we abandoned judgment of others in favour of practicing loving kindness and compassion towards all beings.'

Sushant nodded sagely. 'And what would you have told me had I been a Buddhist?'

'I'd have said that homosexuality is not specifically mentioned in the Buddha's discourses, so wise people assume it is meant to be evaluated in the same way as heterosexuality. In Buddhism it is not the object of one's sexual desire that determines whether a sexual act is right or wrong, but the quality of the emotions and intentions involved. Where there is mutual consent and where the sexual act is an expression of love, respect, loyalty and warmth, it would not break the third precept, which is a vow not to engage in actions such as coercive sex, sexual harassment, child molestation or adultery. Buddhism's rational approach to ethics and the high regard it has always given to tolerance, has meant that homosexuals in Buddhist societies have been treated very differently from how they have been in the Christian West or Muslim Middle East. I suggest your intolerance is a result of lingering Victorian British prurience and prudery in the education of upper class Indians.'

'Thanks for realising I'm upper class,' Sushant said with an amused smile. 'And now, if you've finished filling my ears with nonsense, I'll fill yours with sense.'

'I'm all ears.'

'Religion, as I'm sure a young man of your intelligence realises, is but a tool to keep the masses believing there are gods in the sky taking care of them, and if their lives aren't perfect, it's probably their own fault for not being sufficiently devout. But that Ok, because in their next life they will be reborn in a much better condition. In fact the more stoically they suffer now, the better will be their next life. To spice up the message and keep them quiet we give them festivals and holy days with songs and dances and statues of gods to admire in garishly painted temples. It's a tried and true method of crowd control that's worked since humans started asking the purpose of their miserable lives, and will continue until they stop being so stupid and realise there is no purpose.'

'So you're a cynical Hindu?'

'I do as my neighbours do because, as the Buddha so wisely advised, refraining from doing things that will put you at odds with social norms, will free you from the anxiety and embarrassment caused by social disapproval. In other words, when in Rome do as the Romans do, unless you're looking for trouble. Which brings me back to homosexuals, if they'd just act like other men instead of drawing attention to themselves, then no one would give a toss about their sexuality.'

'I agree with you there, but surely the Hindu Precepts and Buddha's five or however many-fold path, and injunctions to practise loving kindness and compassion, are good things?'

'Of course they are; they stabilise a country and that's good for commerce. Only a fool would make laws that encourage civil strife. However, I think this do-good nonsense has gone too far and is the cause of our major problem—too many people. We're drowning in humans, as is China and much of Africa because we're obliged to show empathy and cure the sick and feed the starving hordes. But when a government makes laws to reduce populations, the bleeding hearts decry our heartlessness, so we stop before there's insurrection. In a natural world those best able to survive will, and the rest won't. It's that simple. It's why those of us who think about things instead of simply believing supernatural gibberish, are unconcerned that half the country live in filthy slums in abject poverty; they don't live very long… at least that's the theory, but somehow it only seems to make them tougher.'

'Poetic justice. Doesn't it concern you that when the world's climate becomes hostile to human civilization, these tougher people may end up replacing you?'

'Good luck to them! I certainly don't want to be here when it all goes belly up. Meanwhile, I intend to live in the present, not waiting for life after death in order to have fun.' With his second genuine smile of the flight, he said softly, 'Arguing with you has been a great pleasure, Frankie. Thank you.' He slipped back to his aisle seat, opened his briefcase and immersed himself in a paperback novel with a half naked female on the cover.

The remainder of the flight was as eventful as one would expect when sealed in a metal cylinder for interminable hours, so it was with relief that an announcement during breakfast informed them they would be arriving in approximately forty-five minutes, the temperature in Bagdogra was twenty-six degrees, showers were expected and local time was six thirty a.m.

As soon as breakfast was cleared, Sushant slid across to sit beside Frankie and said softly, 'I apologise for my criticism of Australia. It is all the things I said, but it is also a wonderfully free and open country in which I felt, for the first time in my life, able to be truly myself. That is a most precious thing. Here in India no one feels free to deviate from what is expected by tradition, religion, family, mother, wife and friends. Here, we are all prisoners in spirit, mind and body. The other wonderful thing about Australia is the space. Even large cities seem half empty, they are places to wander, gaze, relax and breathe freedom. I have become increasingly allergic to the crowds in my country but there is nothing I can do about it. If I had religion I could tell myself it is the will of the gods and I am their willing servant, but…' he stopped, took Frankie's hand and gazed into his eyes.

Frankie's penis sprang to attention. Really, this man was far too masculine, handsome and sexy to be let loose in public. He held Sushant's gaze and managed, just, to refrain from kissing him.

'Thanks, Sushant. I guessed you were just as nice as you look, I'm really glad to have met you, even though you're pretending to be homophobic.'

'Ah, yes… regarding that. During the last few hours I reviewed my opinions and realised they are the result of only reading and listening, therefore they lack validity.' He frowned as if debating whether to continue.

Frankie smiled encouragingly, deciding not to speak in case he broke the spell.

'Without practical experience,' Sushant continued in a rush, 'my opinions are not worth considering, so I was wondering…'


'If you would like me to show you around Gangtok for two days and we could get to know each other better, and…'

'Isn't your wife waiting for you?'

'Two more days won't matter. I'll tell her I have business in Gangtok. She'll probably be pleased, I'm sure she has a lover. So...' he squeezed Frankie's hand a little, 'Will you accept my invitation?'

Frankie could see no reason to refuse, so agreed it was essential to have practical as well as intellectual experience, and he too would benefit from it, so he accepted the kind invitation. 'Do you know what I'm looking forward to most?' he asked innocently.

'Seeing the city?'

'Learning what it's like to kiss a man with a beard,' Frankie whispered.

Sushant pulled his hand quickly away and gazed around, terrified in case they had been overheard. When he realised all was safe he subsided into uncontrollable giggles. 'I could never have talked about all these things with any Indian I know, or had such a fine discussion and… everything.' He swallowed and composed himself. 'I will wait for you at the exit of the airport, we will take a taxi together, and do you want a modern tourist hotel or a Sikkim Inn?'

'An Inn.'

'Excellent. Me too. They don't have security cameras and Internet and all that crap. Ah… the next two days are going to be perfect.'

Frankie passed through customs and immigration at Bagdogra Airport without difficulty, his Travel Agent having correctly completed the Visa and Inner Line Permit required to enter Sikkim. The air was clean and fresh; it had been raining but now the sun was shining and the whole world was perfect.

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