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First Words


First words. Some self-introducing to do -- which, for me anyway, is usually an awkward business. Hulloos. I'm Jay Vithalani, the newest "kid" on the POZ blog block. I'm 37-years-old (will be 38 next month). I'm a gay man. I'm a graduate student in the humanities -- trust me, you don't want to know in what specific field, at least not yet. And I've been HIV-positive for just over five years now.


If you're still with me, let's pretend this is not a bad first date but a neutral or ambiguous speed-date encounter. Moving along, then. I was born and grew up in Bombay (I persist in calling it that, not Mumbai, for reasons that will probably emerge at some point) in, well, simpler if not better or worse times. About all that growing-up stuff. Adapting some words from an essay I wrote a few years ago, about coming to these United States: "My education and upbringing were of a peculiarly 'Western' kind. English is my first language. (I refused, on principle, to give the TOEFL exam when applying to American colleges and graduate programs, with some interesting consequences; but that's a story for another time.) I went to a school which used, until the eighth grade, only American textbooks, and then to another for high-school which based itself very seriously on British models. I grew up watching American TV shows -- many, still too many TV shows - and listening to American pop music. Jackson Pollock and Jon Stewart are not 'alien' to me; neither are Emerson and the Emmy Awards."


I was an undergraduate at Amherst College, majoring in English and philosophy; I spent my junior year in England. Then a stint at Harvard for a PhD in English (which I didn't complete). I moved back to Bombay in the late 1990s and worked in the test-prep business -- tutoring kids for standardized tests like the SAT and GRE -- for a few years before a couple of freelance gigs as writer and editor. Back to the U.S. in 2005 -- Iowa City for a few years, and now in the Boston area again.


So, yeah, I've moved around a bit in the last 20 years or so. And no, I'm not really as dull as this summary makes me sound. And yes, my accent is a bastardized mixture of generic American, clipped British, and upper-middle-class Indian.


Major omission in this mad-dash-through-the-decades outline: any mention of family. That will have to wait for a while.


Nabokov once said that Mnemosyne, the muse of memory, was a very careless girl. Which is a fancy though beautiful way of saying that memories, and the stories we tell and re-tell based on these, are notoriously prone to error. So, apply the caveats by all means; I do. Nevertheless, certain snapshots from my past are incredibly vivid to me, and it would take a pretty powerful psychic crowbar to prise them from my head. Like the one about masturbating in the bathroom after watching My Beautiful Laundrette at age 15. Or the ones about hearing the news at 18: that Magic Johnson was HIV-positive and that Rock Hudson had died of AIDS. Or the one about my first Boston Fourth of July, sitting by the Charles River, at 22. Or the one about meeting P, looking at incomprehensible paintings, and asking her out to dinner ("I'm not hitting on you; I'm gay; and I'll pay") at 27. Or the one about my final session of psychoanalysis at 31. Or the one about the night of the Iowa caucuses, 3 January 2008, celebrating Obama's victory, at 35...


But enough of these "snapshots." Too many of them already -- "lurid, rapid, garish, grouped, / heightened from life, / yet paralyzed by fact." Those words are from Robert Lowell's great poem, "Epilogue" -- and certainly, the irony of quoting from a poem so titled in this self-introduction is not lost on me. But Lowell goes on:

All's misalliance.

Yet why not say what happened?

Pray for the grace of accuracy

Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination

stealing like the tide across a map

to his girl solid with yearning.

We are poor passing facts,

warned by that to give

each figure in the photograph

his living name.

The snapshots have become, or at least aspire to become, by poem's end, paintings and photographs.


And so it is with me, gentle blog reader -- your new and shy poor passing fact. In the weeks and months and years to come, I hope to give many figures in many photographs -- the old and the new, both mine and those of the world at large, spontaneous as well as rigidly composed, not only sad but also giddily happy -- their living names.


Next up: Why I decided to come out about my HIV-positive status. And why I wanted to start blogging on POZ. And a collection of more-or-less random facts about myself -- you know, the are-you-a-cat-person-or-dog-person variety. Stay tuned.




Show Comment(s)

Comments on Jay Vithalani's blog entry "First Words"

Welcome, and looking forward to reading more. Staying tuned!

Jay: Glad to have you aboard, I look forward to reading more! - Oriol

Hey Jay,
Glad to see your blog.
Definitely staying tuned for more.

Big BIG thank you to Genie (see her comment above); she took the pic of me on a sunny June day; one of the few photographs of me that I actually like!

Nerd alert: two links. First one is to Lowell's poem, second is to the Vermeer painting Lowell (probably) refers to.

This is without a doubt the most interesting, well written blog entry I have read on this site, ever. How I would love to sit down to a fine dinner in Boston with this gentleman, as his history resonates no nicely with mine. I also must give note to the fact that he downplays the whole HIV thing so nicely, and plays up the glorious nature of living, in such a fine fashion.

Go forth and be fruitful, I know you will!


YEAH!! Finally an educated immigrant with some brains!! Did you get your HIV like those from the slumdog millionaire slums? Just wondering....
You seem to be a looker, a cooker and a hooker all rolled into one, between all your educational efforts, it's a wonder how you got that nice bum of yours screwed and got this horrific illness---you should have more all the ball to use a rubber!!

What an ugly hatefull comment; which serves no one. I can't even begin to imagine the darkness of your heart.

I was grabbed by an excerpt from your blog in an email from, thinking how remarkable it is to find such wonderful writing in an AIDS blog. You've got me hooked, and I'm looking forward to seeing if you can deliver on the promise of your first entry. I'm not surprised to learn you're a fellow Amherst alum!

First of all, if you're a Humanities student for real. Do you know the Rosicrucians? Second, no mention of a true love or a Iowa marriage to a man? You know you can marry a man there now? Lastly, as we look forward toward your prose and yearn to hear of some real meat in your stories. Tell us something we are dying to read. Random facts about how you became poz is fine.

What a great introduction. It is exciting to meet someone with such an interesting background. I look forward to spending more quality time with you.

Oh, grow up, if the Indian man has had this for 5 years now he's gonna have to get thick skin biatch!!! For yourself, you're probably an old jaded queen with a 2 inch pecker!!! :) And that's the truth biatch!!!

IF your friends with Herpes (HSV-1, HSV-2), HPV (Human Papillomavirus), HIV or any other STD, please ask them to check out

Jay I also look foward to reading your thoughts and don't pay to much attention to the dude tring to push your buttons, for I remember the first time I came out to a family member about HIV or the unseen virus and my family member stated " How does it feel to get what you desire". At first it hurt but because he lived in a small town in like Ryan White he only new what he knew and learned from his community. I recovered from the comment and it made me stronger and prepared me for the future to fight a good fight to keep my sanity and honor. Since you have join up with POZ inc I hope you search for the truth pretaining to HIV or the unseen virus and check out AIDS INC. For many mistruths have been stated as facts that just is not true and this times many are asking for the truth related to this word called AIDS for the scienctist and AIDS Leaders.

What was that all about? To say that you have some issues that should be taken care of is an understatement.

Not only racist, but homophobic, and HIV phobic! How your comment got through the moderators is a mystery.

Do yourself a favor, apologize to this man who is offering insight into, not only his world, but experience of being gay, and having HIV. If an apology is not in you, then you should offer the rest the respect and just don't read or reply to any of the blogs.

Additionally, don't come up with the freedom of speech excuse. There's nothing in the constitution about the right to be an a**hole.


Looking forward to your blogs. Sounds like you'll have a keen perspective to share with us. As for the offensive comment above. You'll notice he's in the minority. Probably trying to get some attention, negatively or positively. Although he was successful at it. I doubt it will help him suitably.

Welcome and good luck!


wow so sweet n great dear n thanking u very much n i can hope bette future..................

Cheers to our New Blogger! Off to a Great start and I look forward to reading more. Best Wishes & Thank You in advance for sharing your life and perspective with all of us.

Your blogging provides a healthy alternative to the other viewpoints here.

Jay - I'm new to this site but have been POZ for 15 years. It's refreshing to be able to read your blog and share intelligent opinions with like minded people. There will always be the those who show their ignorance and prejudices, but thankfully there will be more like yourself who are willing to share their thoughtful and encouraging aspect to our lives.
Look forward to hearing more from you.

Hey Jay, your writing is making me all wet and hot and bothered, would you like to hook up? Your the best blogger here since Greg Louganis (and he got me going too). Whatdya say?

Can I have sum curry with that rice?


Our speed date begins now. I don't know you
but I love you. What a heart you have! Your like the proverbial 'kid in a candy store', your eyes popping, full of wonder and excitement at new sights and sounds. The sounds of gay men chattering, endlessly. I hope you enjoy your new home. Your like a breath of fresh air in a sometimes stuffy environment. Keep the wind blowing.


Can I have some rice with that curry? You sure are handsome-wouldn't mind getting sum of that!!

When in Rome, do as the Romans, eh?


This is an interesting blog you have and hopefully will continue on with your dry sense of humor and sanity. I also want you to know that many of the queens here want to get in your pants!

hey jay, so which part of india are u from? do u travel this side of india? wud love to meet ya and share sooo many from mumbai...and its pretty lonely here to be gay n poz

Hi Jay,

Your blog is really interesting. For the first time i actually felt good since i was diagnosed in 2012 Jan. I live in Mumbai. Just would like to know if i can chat with you else where. This being a public forum i want to restrict myself.


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This page contains a single entry by Jay Vithalani published on October 5, 2010 11:49 PM.

"Why did you come out?" "Because." is the next entry in this blog.

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