My Sons Have Embraced Me: Gay Maths Professor in Kolkata

Prof Pratulananda Das, Jadavpur Univ, has found peace after coming out to his family and the mathematical community.

Updated
LGBT
5 min read
“If someone had to accept me, they would have to just as I am, sans a mask.” – Prof Das. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)

He’d told his best friend he liked men.

His best friend suggested marriage and made him meet the woman he ultimately married. That would make him ‘normal’, the well-wishing best friend had thought.

But there is no ‘normal’ here, only different from you, says Professor Pratulananda Das simply.

“There is no ‘normal’ here, only different from you” – Prof Das. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)
“There is no ‘normal’ here, only different from you” – Prof Das. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)

For Das, who teaches mathematics in Jadavpur University, what started as just an idea about his sexual orientation has now become a full blown crusade where he has come out to both his sons as gay and also, to the world.

And he has never felt this good.

Of Finding Solace in Research and his Sons

From a very orthodox family, Das was one of twins born to his parents. By the age of 17, he was perplexed as to why he couldn’t get attracted to girls like the other boys did.

In February 1994, he moved to University of Kalyani for his doctorate degree under a very renowned mathematician – Prof BK Lahiri.

Prof Das with Ashok Row Kavi, a prominent LGBT rights activist. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)
Prof Das with Ashok Row Kavi, a prominent LGBT rights activist. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)
During this period, I read articles about Ashok Row Kavi and still remember how badly I wanted to have a copy of Bombay Dost (India’s first LGBT magazine) in my hand. I was pretty clueless about counselling centres.
Professor Pratulananda Das
The cover of an issue of <i>Bombay Dost</i> – India’s first LGBT magazine.
The cover of an issue of Bombay Dost – India’s first LGBT magazine.

Tumbling along life, his marriage proved to be a struggle. While he had tried to express his concerns before the wedding to his wife, he hadn’t succeeded and like many others of the LGBTQ community, he worked on a relationship based on friendship and respect – but no attraction.

“After the birth of my sons, I tried to find the meaning of life by bringing them up.”

But depression took hold of the mathematician who tried to fill the void in his life by taking solace in research and his kids.

Poster of the movie <i>Aligarh</i>, which was based on homosexuality.&nbsp;
Poster of the movie Aligarh, which was based on homosexuality. 
In 2010, reading about Prof SR Siras of Aligarh Muslim University in the papers shocked him.

How Alan Turing Inspired the Jadavpur University Mathematician

A nervous breakdown and a mild stroke later, Das came across the book The Enigma; it was on the only open gay mathematician Alan Turing in 2013.

“If someone could have the courage to come out and pursue scientific activities without being looked down upon by his peers so long ago, then why couldn’t I have the same courage? I decided not to live my life wearing a mask and when I returned, I properly came out to my wife, my relatives and eventually, to the public.”
Benedict Cumberbatch starred as gay mathematician Alan Turing in the 2014 movie <i>The Imitation Game</i>. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)
Benedict Cumberbatch starred as gay mathematician Alan Turing in the 2014 movie The Imitation Game. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)

The equation with his wife has since changed for the better and he calls her support ‘rock solid’. His mother, who had once scolded him for being effeminate as a child, was surprisingly supportive and wanted Das to ‘just be a good father.’

His biggest strength comes from his sons who have embraced him completely. Das recently blogged about coming out to his kids. From the fear of being looked down upon by his students, the mathematical community and loved ones, the biggest realisation Das had was that being gay was normal.

“If someone had to accept me, they would have to just as I am, sans a mask.”
Prof Das with Laxmi, a renowned LGBT activist. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)
Prof Das with Laxmi, a renowned LGBT activist. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)

Though there are no statistics, the mathematician believes at least 10 per cent of the population should be LGBTQ (as also been corroborated by most of the statistical analysis done so far). However, more than 90 per cent of that population remain closeted, resulting in no real statistical analysis.

Why ‘Elitism’ is the LGBTQ Movement’s Biggest Problem

What is the most important realisation Das has had about the LGBTQ movement, though? Its nature has mostly been elitist.

“The crusade needs to go into the grass roots to have true momentum. Instead of cozy conference rooms, we should try to bring ourselves, our existence, our struggle and our rights before the masses. For many, it may be a topic to dwell upon, do research and write books on, but for me and people like me, it is about our right to live peacefully.”
“Instead of cozy conference rooms, we should try to bring ourselves, our existence, our struggle and our rights before the masses.” – Prof Das. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)
“Instead of cozy conference rooms, we should try to bring ourselves, our existence, our struggle and our rights before the masses.” – Prof Das. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)

Das has become a guardian figure to those students and alumni who wish to share their struggle with identity. “Sadly, many within the community are torn in the belief that it is unnatural. Those who do cross the hurdle face a hostile family and society. Ignorance to this science-backed way of life is the bane of our country.”

The community has a lot to be optimistic about. The LGBTQ movement led by pioneers like Ashok Row Kavi, Laxmi Narayan Tripathy, Aditya Bandopadhyay, Harrish Iyer, Sridhar Rangayan and Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil has made strides ahead and the teacher is hopeful.

The LGBTQ movement led by pioneers like Ashok Row Kavi, Laxmi Narayan Tripathy, Aditya Bandopadhyay, Harrish Iyer, Sridhar Rangayan and Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil has made strides ahead. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)
The LGBTQ movement led by pioneers like Ashok Row Kavi, Laxmi Narayan Tripathy, Aditya Bandopadhyay, Harrish Iyer, Sridhar Rangayan and Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil has made strides ahead. (Photo Courtesy: Pratulananda Das)
“When I came out, the student community really appreciated it. That gives me hope –because to achieve a great society, we need the youth to be accepting.”

(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)

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