Farsi: A Lost Language of Gay Delhi

Indian coffee house in DelhiDr. Himadri Roy
provides interesting insights into how the mode of communication of LGBTs in Delhi changed between 70s and 90s

Farsi is supposed to be the communication code amongst the LGBT community of Delhi. It is said to have originated during the rule of the Sultanate Dynasty in Delhi, with Hijras (who enjoyed the privileged position of controlling harem) using Persian. However, during the British rule, intermingling of the Hijras of the community was restricted due to the strict imposition of Section 377, which had made homosexual practices a criminal offence. It was during this time that the hijras germinated the seed of Farsi to keep themselves protected.

The purpose of protecting oneself continued even after independence. It was during the rise of the Communist party ideology that the language was revived again. As the contemporary political scenario was totally different, people were more open to new ideologies. This gave birth to a phenomenon called the “Red Rose Table”. In the early 1970s, a table in the Indian Coffee House situated in Mohan Singh Place, Baba Kharak Singh Marg of Connaught Place, was chosen as a mode of identity. But it was no longer a domain for hijras alone, the whole LGBT came together to discuss about identifying themselves in seclusion with the usage of Farsi. It was then the modern form of Farsi became the mode of communication. Very interestingly, as “Red” represented the colour of Communists, onlookers usually considered that probably they were discussing something political. Most of their discussion forums were socio-cultural and psychoanalytical. This developed in a very fast pace but soon disappeared with the emergence of the new term AIDS during the 80s. Soon this “Red Rose Table” became a historical past.

Cruising areas developed gradually in several parts of the city from parks of North to South Delhi, from the East to the West Delhi. Soon with change of time, public loos were also used as cruising places for more widespread choices. Amidst all these explorations, the risk factor of security still haunted the LGBT crowd. So the usage of Farsi really brought a tremendous sense of satisfaction amongst the LGBT people. The time unfolded so fast that by the first half of the 90s of the last century, NGOs started doing their part of duty to protect men who had sex with men. As a part of the job profile, they needed to acquire this language, and this acquisition led the NGO workers to perform their duties in a more prolific manner.

As with every language, Farsi also had a subtle difference between the first language speakers and the second language speakers. The first language speakers were considered to be the privileged ones who were sure about their sexuality and knew exactly what they want out of their sexual partner, whereas the second language speakers were those who tried to explore various means of sexual pleasure and were perplexed about their own sexuality. As their characteristics varied, so did their intonations of linguistic communications. The former category had more strength and fluency than the latter. The latter would very necessarily mix the position of the verb and that would affect the connotations of the syntactical structure. For instance, if a bisexual partner was seen by his gay sexual partner in a park with a girl, then the former would exuberate his angst in his sentence, “Harami giriya ka bachha, aane de aaj. Niharan ke saath chipakna bandh nahi kiya toh meri bhi naam Nirmal nahi!” [Bastard top, let him come today. If I can’t stop him from mixing around with his girl friend then I’m also not Nirmal]. Note here few things, first of course the angst is shown in the usage of abusive word ‘saale’, then note the noun ‘giriya’ it simply means ‘the person who penetrates his male sexual partner’ and the word ‘niharan’ meaning ‘a girl’. But very interestingly, this syntactical structure not only throws light on the angst but also a sense of jealousy and self-pride of sexuality.

It’s very important to note that Farsi, like any other language, also has nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and other parts of speech. Interestingly, the syntactical structure is that of the common Hindi language speaker, not of that which relates to Persian. It developed a typical colloquial communication skill. The LGBT community continued with this skill of communication for a long time safely.

Nouns like panthi, koti, niharan, dhurani, jogta, danga were used with simplicity to mean the ‘man’ in a gay relationship, the ‘woman’ in a gay relationship, the girl friend of the gay partner, the gay partner who has a girlfriend, the ‘female’ in a lesbian relationship, and the ‘man’ in a lesbian relationship, respectively. The first two were used for gays, the third and foruth were for bisexuals and the last two were for lesbian people. Even the genitals also were talked about very openly in Farsi –like the penis was termed as lickum, or the breasts were termed with fruits, a huge breast would be termed as nariyal (coconut) and small-size breasts were called as anardana (pomegranate seeds).

Verbs were always used to complete the sentence, like kartali used for clapping hands, or nath utarna used for losing virginity. Adjectives were rampantly used to talk about genitals mostly and the physical and sexual depictions, for instance, aadiyal means big, or nathi means small. Hence if someone says, ‘meri panthi ka toh adiyal lickum hai’ means ‘my man has a big penis’. Chissa was used to mean someone having a smooth or silky body.

But with the impact of globalisation, the socio-political scenario in India changed drastically and Delhi being the capital city of the country, the consequences were so vividly rapid. One such consequence was the emergence of cyberspace. People who were first or second language speakers but considered to be educated and learned, gradually stopped venturing into cruising areas. So the usage of Farsi saw a big blow from the educated LGBT people.

The form of communication through Farsi converted immediately into internet communication modules and the conversation thus became abbreviated form of English. The exclusivity and the uniqueness of Farsi as a mode of communication of the LGBT community lost its glory and halo. The following is an example of communication in a social networking site of LGBT cyberspace:

X: Hw r u?

Y: f9. u say?

X: asl?

Y: 22/male/Del

Y: n u?

X: 23/male/Del

Y: Top or bot?

X: Vers. N u?

Y: Bot.

X: place?

Y: Yeah! Bt only betn. 2-6pm. Wil tht b f9?

X: Sure. 2day.

Y: wow! Gr8!

X: leave ur add.

Y: B2B 1406/D, SFS Flats, Mayur Vihar I.

X: C u thn at 2-2:30.

Y: Wil wait 4 u.


Very interestingly, abbreviated English has been used today by everyone as the sms language. Anyway, few of the words like asl simply means age/sex/location, top or bot or vers was once panthi or koti or dhurani when farsi was spoken and used as a means of communication. As one can notice, cruising has shifted from public loos and parks to cyberworld. LGBT community feels much more secured today into this cyber mode of communication. At the very onset it was just a group chat in particular rooms of cyberspace, but as time rolled by it shifted to exclusive LGBT social networking sites. But the motive remains the same- looking for sexual gratification. At the beginning it might be a blind-date but latter with technological advancement, it became very obvious as pictures and photographs could be uploaded by anyone having an account in the LGBT networking sites.

As a matter of fact, Farsi died and decayed slowly as time passed by. First the AIDS-phobia and later globalisation, both strangulated it to death and people who considered themselves as educated were the first losers of this linguistic battle. Today, when the history of this language is delved into, the remnants might be excavated from those people who were part of the LGBT community from the 1980s. They still know the language very well, and in some cases may be communicating very fluently in an exclusive meeting of groups or friend circle. Beyond them, the hijras still continue to use it in their mode of communication. As a consequence, Farsi –the exclusive language of LGBT community– returned back to square one. The way it started from the domain of the hijras went back to them again.


Dr. Himadri Roy is an Associate Professor in the School of Gender and Development Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi.

Himadri Roy