Steve and Jose
July 2 - August 12, 2011
A Narrative: Our final 24 hours in Kerala - a police
officer intimidates us, but doesn't keep us from
fulfilling our networking, distribution goals
By Rev Steve Parelli,
Written around the time of our second week in Goa, the week of August 7, 2011
Transposed to this web page on August 10, 2011
Royal Goan Beach Club, Baga, Goa, India
|A Narrative: Our final 24 hours in Kerala - a police officer intimidates us, but
doesn't keep us from fulfilling our networking, distribution goals
Attempted plans to meet a gay Catholic young man of Ernakulum
Matthew (not his real name), a closeted gay Catholic young man of Ernakulum, Kerala, who had heard
about our being in Kerala, the most southwest state of India, through a women’s rights activist of Trissur,
contacted us by mobile. This was the only gay young man we met in Kerala, India, who was not married,
who was out to himself and who was decidedly living as a gay man. (We met other gay men in Kerala, who
once they knew we were gay made it very evident to us that they were interested in same-sex sex, but none
who fit this description as not married and out to himself and decidedly living as a gay man.)
After our time in Trivandrum, we moved our base of operations to Kottayam, about an hour and a half from
Ernakulum by train. Once in Kottayam, we made plans to meet Matthew first in Ernakulum and then in
Kottayam, but both times the plans had to be changed and it looked as if a meeting would not take place.
Our final networking, distribution and meida-related activities in Kerala
However, our final hours in Kerala proposed an opportunity to meet. Our train to Goa, our destination for
our two-week vacation, left from Ernakulum around 2:00PM in the afternoon; if we were to take the 9:30AM
train from Kottayam (which arrives at one station, while our train to Goa departs from a second station) we
would have three hours in Ernakulum. We did just that and accomplished three things while in Ernakulum
between trains (and train stations): (1) We met Matthew for the first time; (2) we rendezvoused with our Fort
Koshi auto-rickshaw driver whom we had met during our 2010 visit to Fort Koshi; and (3) we placed packets
of news releases with copies of the Malayalam book in the mail boxes of more than twenty newspapers and
TV stations at the Ernakulum Press Club.
(What a full day of Other Sheep networking our last day in Kerala had become! Before boarding the 9:
30AM train in Kottayam, and while Steve was finishing the packing at the hotel, Jose made an early morning
run by rickshaw to a college campus where he deposited 10 copies of the Malayalam book with a friend of
the college student who was requesting the books; and on his way to the train station (where Steve had
arrived minutes earlier with part of the luggage), Jose (with the remaining luggage) had his driver go by the
Kottayam Press Club and there Jose deposited packets of the news releases with copies of the Malayalm
book into the mail boxes of the newspapers and TV stations of Kottayam.)
Our meeting with the gay Catholic young man in Ernakulum
Upon our arrival in Ernakulum, around 11:00AM, Matthew was waiting for us on the platform. But when he
did not see us approaching from where we should have disembarked the train, he phoned us. We were out
of his sight-range, at the far end of the platform where we had disembarked from our first-class car, going
through our four suitcases, one at time, in search of our Kerala receipts folder. The evening before, Jose
had emptied the last of his Kerala receipts from his wallet to the receipts folder, including the train tickets he
had purchased that day in the morning for our Ernakulum-Goa overnight express. We were presently in
search of our train tickets to Goa; if only I could remember in which suitcase I had packed the folder!
At last, without any further delays we phoned Matthew to pin-point his location in the train station and we
finally met. We were all so happy to meet at last. He was very much taken with Jose’s good looks, and let
me know just how lucky I was. Even so, he showed equal interest in us both and was more than socially
appropriate in how he engaged us both in dialogue and eye contact, something not all gay men are able to
do when they first meet Jose and me and are admittedly “smitten” to some degree by Jose’s looks and
As we made our way to the Ernakulum Press Club, we presented Matthew two packets of material which
included the Malayam book on the Bible, sexual minorities and inclusion – one packet for him and one for
his same-sex partner. He was very much interested in, and grateful for the resources we gave him.
Matthew had told us a few days earlier by phone that he has a life-partner. They aren’t able to live together
and they are both closeted as gays and, of course, as a couple. They see each other publically and
privately in places, times and situations that would not expose them as lovers.
When he saw how freely and publically we are as a gay couple, he just marveled at the reality of it. It was all
too foreign to him in practice (though not in concept) – a gay couple acting like any other heterosexual
couple. He was so moved by our presence as an out-and-open couple that he just had to verbalize what he
was feeling. To be a couple in India like we are a couple in the United States would surpass his wildest
dreams. For a moment, as the three of us traveled together in the auto-rickshaw with our luggage piled
high behind our seat, he just looked at us and took it in: something to behold, an openly gay couple.
He had told us before meeting that he was an average looking young man and not strikingly handsome.
And so he was, average looking like me. But also like me, he was especially loved by one other person who
found him especially attractive, like Jose does me, a lovely person and that one-in-a-life-time person who
makes the perfect significant other for that right someone, the partner who loves us.
The Muslim straight man from Fort Koshi
After depositing our packets of news releases and the Malayalam book into the media mail boxes at the
Ernakulum Press Club, Matthew, Jose and I waited in the shade of trees outside the Press Club building for
our rendezvous with our 2010 Fort Kochi rickshaw driver, a kind Muslim straight man with whom we had
become so attached the previous year that we asked him to meet us briefly in Ernakulum. He was glad to
and made the thirty-some minute trip from Fort Korshi to see us.
A micro-picture of Our Other Sheep summer ministries
There we all were, our last hours in Kerala, outside the Ernakulum Press Club – our first auto rickshaw
driver, a stranger to us, who transported us from the first train station, waiting to carry us on to the second
train station, holding our four suitcases; our second auto rickshaw driver and personal friend from last year
from Fort Koshi happy to see us again; and Matthew our new gay friend from Ernakulum; and Jose and me
– – All of this was a kind of micro-picture of what Jose and I do in ministry through Other Sheep: old and
new friends, both straight and gay, religious and non-religious, with whom we network and take interest in
for the work of inclusion; suitcases we constantly lug around with books and other materials for distribution,
always in transition from town to town, catching trains and other means of transportation; strangers looking
on, wondering curiously about this interracial foreign two-some who are busily coming and going; and the
Press Club – the media (and whatever other means: seminars, printing, etc.) that will help us get our
message of inclusion out to the widest audience possible.
Giving our Fort Koshi friend two copies of the Malayalam book
We gave the Fort Koshi auto-rickshaw driver two copies of the Malayalam book: one for him and one to
deposit at the Kodor House in Fort Koshi where Jose and I had lodged the previous year while doing
distribution work in the Ernakulum area. We told him there were several people who worked at the Kodor
House who would perhaps be interested in learning that the English book we had showed them the previous
year was now in Malayalam.
I rode with our Fort Koshi dirver, and Jose and Matthew with the luggage and other driver, to the train
station. About an hour or less before our train was to depart, we said our good-byes and parted, both
parties having other obligations to meet. Our being together was short but sweet.
An extreme case of diarrhea: Steve is sick, weak and pale, trying to rest at the train station
During this whole time – our last hours in Kerala – I was not well. In the middle of the night in Kottayam,
about 2:00 in the morning, I had an extreme case of diarrhea. As it will, it left me weak and pale and unable
to sleep (as I made repeated trips to the toilet). I ate only toast for breakfast and took the medicine our
doctor had prescribed for us back in America for such cases as this. I had been up all night (first packing
late into the night, then suddenly terribly sick). All I wanted to do was lay down and rest. Our 2:00PM
sleeper car couldn’t get here soon enough. Upon meeting Mathew and then our Fort Koshi friend, I told
each how sick I was and apologized that I was not myself (though very happy to be with them each).
After saying good-bye to our friends at the Ernakulum train station, I attempted to rest as best I could,
situating myself first in this waiting area of the station and then in another waiting area. Finally I found a
small eatery that caught a breeze of cool air, the fans overhand helping. I sat there and ate two oranges
that Jose had purchased outside of the station for me, the only food I felt safe eating. At times, I rested my
head on the table. Jose, not able to find any electrolytes (to help me from dehydration) in the station, left
the station a second time to make the purchase outside.
A Muslim brother and sister engage Steve in conversation while Jose goes for electrolytes
At the table next to me, there sat a brother and sister, in their twenties and Muslims. The young woman
caught my eye, we smiled at one another, and then she engaged me in conversation, her brother joining
her with questions and comments. Sick though I was, I wanted to be polite, the foreigner always happy to
oblige if able. After establishing where I was from, what I do (“I work for human rights” – the short version)
and my age, they wanted to know who the man was who was with me a moment ago but now had left. “His
name is Jose,” I said. “He’s my husband.” And with that, the conversation took its usual course and became
a small discourse (by way of questions and answers) on homosexuality as a sexual orientation, equality
marriage in America, reproduction and depopulation by default “if everyone becomes gay,” how do you
have a family and “Oh, you have children from a previous marriage, and what about your children now,” and
what we were doing in Kerala with Other Sheep, our organization.
When Jose returned, I quickly introduced him to them and happily he was able to take over the conversation
while I, under Jose’s instructions and with his help, added the electrolytes (a mix) to a bottle of water.
Shortly thereafter, the brother and sister left, having thanked us for having spoken with them.
Getting ourselves and luggage to track two for our 2:00PM train
As the two o’clock hour approached, we left the eatery, returned to where the luggage men had left our four
suitcases on a huge mail-bag-like flat cart, waited for their reappearance, and preceded with them to the
overhead walkway that led to an outer platform and track number two. Like something out of an old black
and white India jungle movie from my youth, the two men carried the luggage on their heads, their heads
made flat and wide by a deep red turban wrapped round their head.
I took the first bench seat (with back support) I could find. The bench situated me so that my back was to
track number two. I sat there, waiting for our train to arrive. I was sick, and faint, I was tired and worn. I
hadn’t slept much for more than 24 hours. And on top of all this I was emotionally stressed out.
Trouble with the authorities – the police officer who intimidated us; and Jose’s cool, direct and determined
On the prior day, when we had arrived back from Kannur to our Kottayam hotel in the early morning, the
woman in charge, who ran a tight ship, informed Jose that the police had come by and asked for Jose to
phone the police. (While we were in Kannur, she had phoned us to inform us we could not extend our stay –
if perchance we were planning to – because all the rooms in the hotel had been previously booked. We’re
not sure, but there may have been a connection between her telling us we had to be out when we return
and the visit the police officer had made that same day asking for Jose. Either way, she didn’t inform us
about the police until our return to Kottayam from Kannur.)
I was at an Internet café when Jose, who had just purchased our ticket for Goa, phoned me and told me he
had just gotten word from our hotel that the police “were looking for him” the day before (while we were in
Kanur) and left a message that he was to phone the officer at the number he had left.
We met up in our hotel to decide what to do. Within 24 hours we would be leaving the state of Kerala for the
state of Goa. What do we do? Do we lie low and not return the call? Or, do we return the call? Jose made
the decision that he would phone. From our hotel room he phoned the number and got the officer. The
officer spoke no English. Jose tried the same number two or three times with the same results: the person
that answered the call (whom we believed to be the officer) spoke no English. Later in the afternoon, while
we were checking into a new hotel by way of the train depot as if we were leaving town (we had a scheduled
seminar in the evening and felt it best to stay in town one more night), Jose spoke with an ally in another
part of town who was willing to phone the officer’s number to learn what he could. He phoned the officer and
told the officer he was phoning for us on our behalf as a translator. He said he knew nothing about us
personally and so was not able to answer the officer’s questions which amounted to where are the we from
and when are we leaving town. When our ally told us about his conversation with the officer, we realized
that the police officer was acting on his own, and not in any official capacity. He was hoping to intimidate
us. I had experienced this same thing in America (of all places), where a young officer from Cortland, NY,
had phoned me in my home in the Bronx and threatened me as a police officer. I obtained his name and
district and phoned his supervisor who informed me the officer was not acting in any official capacity,
apologized on behalf of his subordinate and asked me to report the incident in writing to him, which I did.
That American experience served us well in realizing what was occurring here in Kerala with this police
officer. (The officer, we assume, was asking for Jose by name, and not for me, thinking Jose was Indian and
spoke Malayalam. Just a theory; we don’t actually know.)
You can imagine how all of this was very harrowing: A police officer on our trail (albeit acting unofficially with
the hope to intimate us); moving to a new hotel for our last night in Kottayam; back-and-forth to the copiers
and stationary store (I was creting more than 50 packets of several documents to leave at the Press Club in
Ernakulum and Kottayam); a seminar that evening that a student initiated and arranged (no one attended,
complications had occurred); phoning the last contact in Kottayam who wanted copies of the book - making
arrangements to meet his friend, the contact person being out of town; packing our belongings so that our
Pres Club packets were kept neat and ready for distribution.
Jose was “cool, calm and collected” about the police having looked for him at our hotel and having left a
number with orders for Jose to phone the police. Jose told me, as we sat in our hotel room, hostages to the
four walls, our location known, and deciding if we should return the officer’s call, that whatever the outcome
we knew we were being subversive and so in the style of Gandhi and King we should submit to the
authorities. (Our worse imagined scenario was we would be told to leave India immediately and therefore
miss out on our two-week vacation time in Goa, our lodging already paid for in full, and that visas to India
would be denied us for a period of some years.)
Jose was remarkable. He was bold and decisive. I was scared to death and certain Indian authorities would
hold us back, tie us up with red tape, and, at the very worst, bring charges against us and escort us out of
A similar incident in Africa in 2007 turned out to be only a rumor
In 2007, in Kenya, Africa, a similar situation occurred. Only in Kenya it was rumored that the police were
looking for us. A newspaper reporter supposedly had information that the police were looking for us. At
that time, Jose was sacred and told me he wanted to leave Kenya immediately, cut our trip short and return
to America. I told him, then, that we would be acting on rumor only. He insisted that I take him out of the
country or that he would leave without me. I told him we must question the source ourselves, and not go on
hear-say, before we make our final decision. He agreed and we phoned the newspaper with which the
reporter was associated. It turned out the reporter was either misquoted or had his story wrong and
therefore denied any basis to the rumor that police were looking for us. Jose was still uneasy, but agreed
he could stay on in Africa.
That was Africa, and it was easy enough to be brave in the face of rumors and hear-say. So, in Africa, I was
cool-headed and decisive. But this was India and there was no rumor, only fact that the police had visited
our hotel a day or two earlier, spoke with the front desk, and left a phone number to call, asking for Jose by
name. I was running scarred, but it was now Jose who was cool headed. (Boy, did I love him for it!)
Jose’s overall fortitude and his decision to return the police officer’s phone call
There we sat in our hotel room, on the two chairs at the table – the chairs pushed back a bit, as if to
breathe. The whole room, formerly bright and happy with activism, food and drinks, had become a cell filled
with foreboding emotions.
But Jose was present in his thoughts. It was at this point that he decided we should, indeed, phone the
police number he had been given by the front desk. I sat motionless in fear. He placed the call. I had told
him he should call since the officer had asked for him by name. I was acting more cowardly than
logistically. The person who answered did not speak English. Jose spoke slowly and clearly, identifying
himself as the person who was told to call the number he had dialed and that it was a police officer who had
left this number to call. The person on the other end did not speak English. Jose eventually hung up. We
looked at each other, our questions pretty-much unexpressed. He decided to try again. He did. He got the
same response: no English. He may have tried a third time. I don’t recall.
We decided we had done what the police had asked: to phone at such-and-such a number. Now, with a
clear conscience, we decided to lay low. We would pack our belongings, immediately check out, and move
to another hotel for our last night in Kottayam.
A men’s choir singing loud and full as we pack our bags
As we hurriedly went about our packing, there came a melodious sound of a men’s choir from a church less
than half a block away. It was the very first place we had distributed literature in Kottayam, on the afternoon
that we had arrived. There was a committee meeting of area lay leaders taking place in the sanctuary of the
church and, having stopped to visit the church, we had been invited by one of the lay leaders standing
outside the church to go, get our packets of material, and distribute them to those in the meeting. Of
course, we did just that. The lay leader who welcomed us told us he was an evangelist.
Now, coming from that same church was, for the first time in our hearing, the voices of men singing. It was
rich and full. They sang hymn after hymn. These were all hymns which were familiar to us that we had sung
since our youth. You might think we took this as a good omen, as a sign that the angels of heaven were
watching over us. For me, it had just the opposite effect (as most things do – the effect it had was more
about where we were at the moment than what the music itself might hope to create for us). The singing
Christian men said to me (in the context of police requesting our compliance): ‘What are we doing? There
they are, these Indian Christian men, so perfectly contented, singing their hymns. Why are we here to upset
their spiritual equilibrium? They are happy enough, let them be. In fact, what if they are happy because
they are right? What is this pie-in-the-sky we hope to accomplish in Asia, the inclusion of sexual minorities
as equals within society and the church?’
I had to smile at myself for my thoughts. I shared them with Jose: “That singing, as remarkable as it is, and
as wonderful as it might seem . . . well, it just doesn’t fit right now!” I laughed in spite of myself. Hymns or no
hymns, my focus was this: If we could just get on board that 9:30AM train without any trouble with the
And we did; or did we?
We had first class tickets from Kottayam to Ernakulum. We boarded the train in Kottayam without any
hassle. Everything was routine, although there was this on-going sense of being ill-at-ease, a bit on guard,
watching our backs.
The police officer who entered our first class train compartment as we pulled out of Kottayam
And then it happened. As I sat in our compartment at the outside window, with Jose seated next to me and a
businessman seated across from us, there appeared in our doorway of the compartment a police officer in
uniform. He stopped short of entering the compartment. He looked at Jose and me. There was a second
officer standing behind him. Then he proceeded to fully enter the compartment making his way slowly but
decidedly to our end of the compartment as the second officer waited outside in the narrow hall way.
I told myself he’s a conductor, . . . no, he’s security, . . . no he’s police, . . . who is he, why is he here and
what does he want? Without a word he bent over the seat across from me, reached for an item from some
belongings on the seat, adjusted the belongings and left them there as he found them; he exited the
compartment and moved on with the other officer down the walkway. His police cap (yes, he was police, so
Jose and the businessman confirmed it) sat there on the seat with his other belongings, a very small amount
of items. I looked carefully at the officer’s cap across from me. I wanted to erase it from my mind. I don’t
recall if the police officer returned to the car. He must have for his belongings. Or, perhaps we had
disembarked at Ernakulum for our connecting train before the officer had returned. Either way, he did not
indicate that we were of any concern to him. It was all very nerve racking, to say the least, but we did make
it to Ernakulum without incident, and here I was, sitting on the platform, with my back to track number two.
Tears of relief at the Ernakulum train station
We had made it. It was minutes before 2:00PM, the magic hour that would put us on the over-night train to
Goa, two states to the north of Kerala, hopefully out of the reach of local police. I was faint and sick. I was
tired and worn. Jose, on the other hand was herculean in his outlook. He was a fortress. We would make it
he insisted, and he acted like it. He was very believable.
I sat alone while Jose stood with the baggage men and our luggage. My back was to all the activity
happening on the platform. My feeling of solitude was a welcomed feeling. Solitude felt safe. Then, in the
distance, I heard it. The train’s whistle. The train was approaching. Never was there ever so beautiful a
sound. The police officer had truly intimidated me; but he had not accomplished his objective: we did not
stop short of any single plan we had in networking and in distribution in our final twenty-four hours of work in
Kottayam and Ernakulum.
As I heard the train’s approach a second time, silent tears warmed both sides of my face. The warmth
against my face that the tears casued was a somewhat strange feeling to me. I must have felt warm tears
before, but for some reason these tears felt extremely warm against my skin. Perhaps because I was sick,
my body temperature and the warmth of the tears were more extreme in their contrast than usual. I don’t
know. I just know I’ll always remember that warmth and the relief that I associated with the warmth; that
realization that Jose and I were going to be OK.
At last, we board the train in Ernakulum for Goa
The luggage men were extremely efficient. They knew from our tickets where to board the train for the
correct sleeper car; they got our luggage on board in a timely fashion and directed us to our proper seats.
All I wanted to do was lie down. The car was packed with people everywhere. At our place, the third tier
above was empty; a couple people seated below were actually taking our reserved seats; however, I
indicated that I needed to lie down and wished them to keep our seats for which they were grateful. They
made room for Jose to sit with them while I climbed to the top of the car to lie down and sleep. No five-star
luxury car could have felt any better. I lay on my back with my left arm draped over my forehead. For a
second time I felt that unusual warmth against the skin of my face caused by the silent tears I cried.
Following the pull of gravity, the tears made their way to my earlobes. I was happy to cry. It was a natural
expression of relief. At last, all my fears over the authorities, the stress of the last twenty-four hours, and my
sick, faint body, found a place of rest. It was mid-afternoon at last, the hour I was eagerly praying for. Yes,
the train was carrying us to Goa. I was relieved. I was God-ward in my thanksgiving, and I quietly verbalized
my attitude of gratefulness. A single thought captivated my mind: keep going towards the goal; the doors
that will open to us will open.
The people below were all talking; it wasn’t long before Jose had them laughing. The train had found its
chug-along rhythm on the tracks. The world as we knew it as activists seemed to be back in place. And this
one thought kept repeating itself: go towards the goal, the doors will open; go towards the goal, the doors
will open. And I fell asleep peacefully – sweet, beautiful, wonderful sleep – the kind that is peaceful.
By Rev Steve Parelli
Written around the time of our second week in Goa, the week of August 7, 2011
Transposed to this web page on August 10, 2011
Royal Goan Beach Club, Baga, Goa, India
|This web page was created on August 10, 2011, in Baga,Goa, India, in our room at Royal Goan Beach Club.
This web page was published on August 11, 2011, from the lobby of Royal Goan Beach Club.
Visits to this web page:
Steve & Jose's Other Sheep
Asia 2011 Ministry
India, Singapore and Nepal
Table of Index
India (Index Page)
July 2 - August 12, 2011
- Young Lay Leaders Conference
- Day 2 - Jose presents
psychological dynamics of
church bias towards
- Day 3 - Future projects
Singapore (Index Page)
August 13 -16, 2011
- Steve & Jose present "Is There
Such a Thing as 'Ex-gay'?"
- Steve & Jose present a
Powerpoint on their India 2011
Nepal (Index Page)
August 17 - September 1, 2011
- "Putting a Face on
Homosexuality" - Meeting with
Nepal Evaluation Report: