A late-night rendezvous twelve years ago led to a beautiful and strong partnership shared by the power couple Keshav Suri and Cyril Feuillebois today. Keshav Suri, the Executive Director of the Lalit Hospitality Group, has credited a lot of his successes and inspiration to his husband, the founder of a high-growth cosmetic company, KronoKare.
We had the good fortune of having Cyril join our QueerTWENTY icon, Keshav, for the interview. The comic interventions and romantic declarations interspersed with sincerely expressed views on issues of privilege and inclusion made us feel like we were watching a classic Julia Roberts movie.
Understanding the integral role that humor and love have played in their relationship, Cyril stressed how important it was to have fun in a long partnership like theirs. When asked, Cyril described Keshav as a "very instinctive, very intelligent, and very analytical" person. Keshav appreciatively responded that Cyril had made his life easier in every possible way. He felt honored and lucky to have had Cyril's companionship through the years, especially during the recent lockdown. Calling the 12 years a beautiful journey, Keshav couldn't help add in, "may we go on for a hundred more."
Keshav acknowledged Cyril's role in checking his privilege when Cyril asked him, "What have you done to make things better in your country?" This prompted Keshav to step up and be one of the first petitioners to decriminalize homosexuality in 2018. They recognize that they have been fortunate to get support and love from their families and have not directly encountered any homophobia (or, as Cyril calls it - human stupidity). This also makes them very cognizant of the fact that both come from very privileged backgrounds. Keshav considers it his duty "as the ones with the privilege to make a vast difference to those who don't."
Keshav has painstakingly built the queer ecosystem in India through his efforts via the digital program 'It Gets Better India,' the Keshav Suri Foundation, and corporate policies of equal treatment and inclusive employment at the Lalit Group. Keshav has committed to "using whatever platform we have while checking our own privilege... making sure we do not come across as saviors".
Decoding the need for safe spaces for the LGBTQ community, Keshav tells us how Kitty Su, India's first queer-friendly nightclub, was initially meant to be a safe space for Cyril and him. It was designed to be an inclusive space. However, with the vagaries of Indian law regarding homosexuality, the concept of Kitty Su soon "snowballed into this safe space, where LGBTQ people find space for artistic expression." It has shone the spotlight on the art form of cross-dressing in India and mainstreamed multiple talented artists such as Rani Ko-HE-Nur. Keshav and Cyril have made it a point to always try and promote performers who represent the entirety of the LGBTQ spectrum.
An Indian corporate leader, Keshav, has been appreciative of the progress made in conversations surrounding inclusion at work, especially highlighting the FICCI task force for inclusion, which he chairs. An essential element for encouraging inclusion in corporations is 'pink money' - the loss of which is a significant cost to the Indian economy. Cyril was also quick to point out that, in the current pandemic, people have become more aware of what they are spending their money on or whom they are supporting. When corporates demonstrate the values they stand for, it immediately draws the modern consumer towards them. However, if other organizations completely disregard human dignity, equality, and environmental sustainability, then their brand equity is at serious risk. As a business steward, Keshav's commitment towards empowerment and supporting the less privileged has stayed strong. The Keshav Suri Foundation provides a platform for meaningful dialogue to break stereotypes, accept, and mainstream the LGBTQ community. During the lockdown, it has been actively reaching out to marginalized groups to provide food, medical supplies, and mental health counseling. Calling the pandemic a "litmus test for corporates," Keshav is waiting to see how corporates maintain their commitment towards inclusion, considering during a downsizing, these budgets are always the first to be cut.
Looking forward, Keshav hopes to see people outside the community take a stand beyond just being allies but move into being accomplices. Accomplices in marching with the community, demanding equal rights, developing the ecosystem, and being acutely conscious of the products they consume and brands they endorse. After all, making informed choices is the precursor to educating others.
Keshav attributes his source of motivation to his husband, family, teams at the Lalit Group, Keshav Suri Foundation, Kitty Su, all the queer heroes out there, and the countless human stories of support that have come through during the lockdown. Especially in times like these, when it becomes easy for mental health to be negatively affected, Cyril and Keshav have been each other's strength. They have businesses they love and are surrounded by people they love, and that, as Cyril says, is what real success is for them. On a lighter note, both Keshav and Cyril are looking forward to more traveling and collaborations on side projects. And on a larger scale, apart from marriage equality in India, Keshav is excited by the prospects of parenthood someday, which Cyril counters with the grander challenge of world peace.