Monday, September 7, 2015

The Song of Dusk

It’s Sunday afternoon and I watch a quarrel of sparrows around my feet, pecking at grains scattered by the local grocer. I perch on my favourite bench under a tree near my house with Dr. Amartya Sen’s book on justice beside me. I had often quoted his works in my lectures. My students knew that the only way to get the usually calm and gentle Prof. Arvind Kulkarni animated was to argue against Dr. Sen’s theories. I chuckle to myself, I have always been passionate about his works. These days new-fangled professors of Economics are using computers in their classrooms to explain concepts, in my days the blackboard and chalk had to do, that and our passion for teaching. I fondly conjure up in my head the faces of some of my favourite students all doing extremely well in their careers now. They meet me every once in a long while at my home and we get nostalgic about our college years. I am getting so woolly-headed now.  Why only yesterday I stirred up my Nescafe with a tea-spoon of salt! I am so thankful to have led a healthy life-style. My body, though nothing worth ogling at for decades now, doesn’t bother me much. “Health is wealth, boy!” my father used to proclaim energetically every morning as he exhorted his two sons out of our bed to put on our jogging shoes. He never tasted a drop of liquor in his life and neither have I. Not even when Rohan got married to that plump girl from down the road and I wanted to end it all. Isabgol takes care of my morning movements and the occasional sniffle is handled by Dr. Pradhan’s ministrations.

The rains have departed this year and the second Bombay summer is on us. But my large flat in Dadar is breezy even on the warmest of days and I never feel the boil.  I can’t stand air conditioners. I look around and spot Mrs. Pitre on her evening toddle. She avoids looking at me. Ever since her husband was thrown out of the society’s chairmanship for misappropriation of funds the Pitres have been keeping aloof. She could chatter the hind legs off a donkey, that one. Why, two months ago one morning, she had kept me uncomfortably standing in my pyjamas for half an hour listening with feigned politeness to an endless diatribe on how “these accursed homosexuals” should all be sent to America so they could stop “corrupting the youth of India”! My crime had been that I had gone to retrieve my newspaper at the exact same time that she opened her door to retrieve hers. She raved against the Delhi high court judgement reading down the anti-gay law. By seven I was ready to kill that woman; I had not had a word in edgewise for thirty minutes except ‘uh hm’s and ‘ah’s.  Finally I pleaded pressing work and escaped. Thankfully I had kept my homosexuality under wraps from everyone in my building. They thought of me as an eccentric professor of Economics who was married to his books. Kailash had to hunt for a place to stay in the middle of the night in 1975 after his neighbours caught him stark naked nuzzling the neck of a sozzled taxi driver on the staircase. What a scandal that was. He died not long after, poor man, after being badly beaten by thugs one night inside a public urinal. I used to warn him against going to such places but he was driven by the fire in his loins. The police registered a case against person or persons unknown and relegated it to dusty shelves in the backroom. I believe that is where the case file is lying till this day. Life, I ruminate, with its many hues. Mine hasn’t been too bad, I reckon. It could have been far worse. It could have been like Madan’s. They took him to Dr. Poduri for electroshock therapy for years. He couldn’t recognize any of us in the end. A length of clothes-line ended his misery, poor man. His wife upped soon after and got married to a fat banker and migrated to the States. His helpless parents passed away shrouded in loneliness and regrets. Dr. Poduri died of AIDS, I recall to my belligerent satisfaction, which he acquired from all those visits to the nubile whores of Kamathipura. His son is now a pilot in the Indian Air Force. And a handsome piece of goods he is too! He is single, I smile to myself, even at his age...

I met Rohan a year after I came back to India from the University of Glasgow armed with a Masters degree in Economics. I had always wanted to be a lecturer in college. This career has suited me admirably. It has proffered an excellent pokey umbrella against any prying busybody of an aunt or neighbour with a perpetual matchmaker’s bent. I was loath to “come out” as the kids nowadays say. I was born in the “closet” and shall remain there. Rohan’s case was different. His parents were wealthy and could afford two cars when most of us didn’t have any. He was five years older than me and a loner. I would spot him in his expensive suits every morning as he drove by to his father’s office. In the evenings he would shut himself up in his room, till we met that is, buried in books. And so it was, in the Asiatic Library one Saturday afternoon long ago, that fate brought us together.  I had helped him find a book on Egyptology and I can safely say that Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep were our match makers! Those two gentlemen served in antiquity under pharaoh Niuserre and were buried together by their families. Their tomb depicts them embracing and kissing nose to nose. On that sultry afternoon so many years ago Rohan was searching for a book on those two ancient officials. I had no idea who they were before that day but when I found the book for him in a forgotten shelf the blurb clearly mentioned homosexuality. I remember glancing through it before handing the book to Rohan. I remember the little quiver of excitement in my loins. I remember our eye contact and the instant knowledge about the deepest recesses in each other’s hearts.  I fell in love with him at that moment.
But those were closeted times. No one dreamt of “gay rights”, Stonewall had not happened. The only gay men I had met before Rohan were the ones at Glasgow. And I could never feel at ease with their open display of sexuality and unbridled promiscuity. To me gay love has always been something to be professed in private to the object of one’s affections, being no business of the neighbours or the government.

We met almost every evening after that fateful afternoon, Rohan and I, discussing everything under the sun. We came to love each other deeply and passionately. Yet he was convinced that he had to eventually get married to the girl his father had set his mind on to keep the bloodline moving. “And what about her vagina, Rohan?”, I would rebuke him scathingly. He would shudder and say, “Let’s not talk about sex with a female”. We used to sneak up into all kinds of odd places to satisfy our carnal desires. The top of Rajabai clock tower, for instance, before the watchman locked the door for the night. And through one of the back doors in the Bombay University campus building which happened to be conveniently left open for us to tiptoe in and cavort night after passionate night. Once a year, for two months, his parents went to the US to live with his elder sister. That is when we would cohabitate in his quarters playing ‘house’. I was the wife who would make him tea every morning the way he liked it – black and sweet, having packed off their resident cook and cleaner to his village. It was a pleasant arrangement, one that both us looked forward to all year round. Rohan’s business suffered because we were always together on those two months, on and off bed. Our libidos were at their peaks and we could not get enough of each other’s bodies.

I shift a bit on my bench to ease my back and look down at the sorry bump between my trouser legs – the old dog has been comatose for years now. Time emasculates the best of us. The grains have all been pecked up from the ground and the host of sparrows have deserted me.

This happy state of affairs went on for several years and the sun shone brightly on our forbidden love. But right from the first day I knew, both of us did, that every dawn must be followed by dusk. That ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ will need to be sacrificed over the altar of marriage. Society demanded it of people like Rohan. His father was anxious that his only son settle down and take charge of his business fiefdom. The last few months leading up to his marriage saw a million tantrums thrown by me. I raved and ranted against his decision. He would patiently hold me in his arms and plead, “I shall never leave you Babu you know that.” I locked myself up in my room the day Rohan was to get married and he came home to cajole me to attend the wedding ceremonies. He wiped my tears, dressed me up and dragged me to the reception. I stood around painfully not speaking to anyone, staring at the stage. Bejewelled wife was smiling away to glory glad, I was sure, to have got one as handsome as Rohan, not to mention the collective riches of their families that totalled up to a ludicrously large sum. And Rohan, I could see, was stoically performing his duties. Afterwards on my way home I had bought a bottle of sleeping pills. I had planned to escape into oblivion that night.

The sun’s all but disappeared and I stand up to walk home. I feel a little giddy and get a faint twinge of pain in my chest. Dr. Pradhan had examined my heart just a week ago and found it fit as a fiddle. I am not worried. Heart attack is the best way to go, I reckon. I walk up to my second floor flat and make for the toilet. My bladder isn’t what it used to be. I have to go several times a day now. I could hold it for hours on end in class in those years. The doorbell rings and I have Chumkee standing outside with a broad smile on her face. She touches my feet with her fingers reverentially. “Good evening professor uncle!” she chirps as she makes her way to my kitchen. Her mother has kept my house for me for years. She is old and infirm now and insists that her daughter continues to do so. I had taken charge of her daughter’s education soon after her birth. Her father was a drunkard and had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Chumkee could speak excellent English and I had made sure she never lacked school and college books any time in her life. Twice a day as she comes into my house she touches my feet. In the initial years I was disapproving of her expressions of gratitude but her mother insisted she paid me her respects daily in the traditional way. “I don’t feel I have done anything great by sponsoring Chumkee’s education”, I would remonstrate mildly, “I believe every child has a right to it and a lot more”. Chumkee’s mother refused to accept that I was anything other than a saint for them. Chumkee is 22 now and holds a first class maters degree from the same college I used to teach in. I have advised her to study further and get a Ph.D. in Botany, a subject she adores. I shall arrange for her to get a guide so that her research work can begin, I have assured her. She is only too happy to follow my advice, much to the delight of her mother who could never see the inside of a schoolroom in her life. Chumkee chatters on as she cooks dinner for me. I sit on my wooden rocking chair by the window in the living room, the food smells wafting around my head. I like my life to be predictable. These days I abhor surprises. I look at the framed photograph of Rohan kept atop my box television. He is smiling at me; in the background are the hills of Mussoorie. That picture was taken a year before his marriage.

It was one of the hardest nights of my life, harder than the ones my parents died. The night when I clutched the bottle of sleeping pills, the night when Rohan would go out of their bridal room and drive aimlessly around for hours before knocking softly on the door of my house. I was wide awake and I heard the knock. I tiptoed to the living room, careful not to wake my parents, and let him in. I was still holding the bottle of pills as I pulled him into my room and shut the door. One look at them and he turned white, he snatched them away from me and threw them out of the window.

He confronted me angry and weeping, “You aren’t going anywhere Babu, you hear?!”

I wanted to beat him, the blood rushed to my face. “I’ll do as I damned well please”, I thundered as softly as I could. “You don’t care about me anyways, you’ll be glad I am gone.”  

He slapped me at this. The first and last time in his life he had raised his hand on me.

“I love you. I want you by my side always. And I want you to get that into your head before you think of taking those pills.”

“Go get that woman by your side! That woman you got married to a few hours ago.”

“I have a duty towards her Babu.”

“And none towards me?”

“You are my life, she is my responsibility.”

“I am your whore, your side-fling.”

He clapped his palm over my mouth, dragged me silently out of my house and softly clicked shut the door behind us. Bundling me into his car he drove us to Marine Drive. We talked till the crack of dawn. His marriage was to last ten years but would never be consummated. His wife was happy performing the social role and blowing his riches. I think she knew. In the end she got married to someone with a lot more money than Rohan – I don’t blame her one iota; she didn’t deserve the kind of loveless life she was living. Rohan was free at 45. By then his parents had gone but their business empire was flourishing.

Over the next years we came ever closer to each other. We still lived in our own houses, but would spend most of the time in each others. I think his relatives knew exactly what was going on and turned a blind eye. We were invited together to his family ceremonies. Unhappily, both of us were by the side of my mother when she breathed her last and later, my father.

Chumkee finishes her affairs in the kitchen and takes my leave. Memories come trooping in. Every morning I would leave Rohan snoring by my side and put on my jogging shoes. By the time I would be back home and into the shower breakfast would be ready. Sweet black tea with butter paraathaas for Rohan and coffee with dry toast for me. Some of my fondest memories are of us sitting at Marine Drive watching dusk turn into night. As the years passed more people flooded the promenade in the evenings but we were oblivious to their presence. Our favourite spot was over the rocks by Hotel Oberoi. I gazed at the fading horizon, the lights of passing water vessels, the twinkling of stars and revelled at the million pieces of love that Rohan showered on me merely by his presence in my life. He was my mentor, my area of calmness, my eternity. We would sit in companionable silence side by side for hours on end staring at the dark waters.  To this day darkness holds a special promise for me. I don’t fear it. The cocoon of Rohan’s love keeps me safe in the darkest of the nights.

On rainy evenings we would sit by the window and watch the rolling grey clouds shower their manna over Mumbai. Rohan loved to hear me hum snatches of love songs. His favourite was one by Lata Mangeshkar from the 1972 Hindi movie, Annadaataa, The Provider of Sustenance. It goes thus,

The dark shadows of the nights burden the heart;
Neither burns a wick of light nor is there a companion;
I fear not even as the lamps die;
The dawn is ever there for you.

More often than not we would dine at the Taj, Rohan gorging on the desserts and I on healthy greens. We grew older and Rohan plumper, I would chide him for eating too much and exercising too less. He would smile at me and say, “All the more of me for you to love my dear”.

Rohan had turned 65 that year and all that day he complained of feeling uneasy. Concerned, I made him lie down in the evening instead of us going down to the Drive. We had kept the lights in the house off since switching off the lights meant that we switched on the night. I had given him a glass of water to drink and had turned towards the window humming his favourite song. He called my name once and was silent forever after that, moving on into the darkness where I couldn’t follow.

My eyes search for the calendar on the wall. That was twenty years to the day. I suddenly feel weary sitting on my rocking chair. Has it been two decades already? I had thought I would die of grief in the first two years. But I have survived. I have dragged on, painfully at first till the wounds scabbed over and now with his memories filling my life. In life Rohan had assured me of his love and protection, in death he had bequeathed me his fortunes. I lacked no material comfort. But the deprivation in my heart would not be filled in this lifetime. With Rohan the song died on my lips. The dusk still brings with it the deep night and I search endlessly in its depths.

Monday, March 5, 2012

An excerpt from my novel in progress

I am attempting to pen a novel. The following is an excerpt from one of the chapters. This is draft#1:

Dombivali railway station on the outskirts of Mumbai is slowly shaking off its slumber. I reckon the time is past 5 on a cold winter morning. The date I don’t know, I am past caring about such trivialities. I hear my husband’s wracking cough by my side. I fumble as I wrap his torn blanket closer to his shivering body. I am not used to staring only at darkness all the time. We were too poor to be able to afford any treatment for my eyes for all those years and a few months ago the light went out of them completely. Pain courses through my hands as they protest my feeble efforts of adjusting the blanket. Arthritis has claimed most of me, now I cannot stand without assistance.

My husband has been by my side for the past 60 years, right from the day he first saw me, Parinita, a 16 year old chit of a girl sitting demurely at our marriage “mandap” by a holy fire. An ancient Hindu ritual had both of us walking around the fire and the same ritual put a very scared underage girl to service the sexual needs of a man fifteen years her elder that very night. It was when I felt the sharp pain of him inside me late that night did I realize that this was what marriage was all about – pain. What love there was in me for this man decreed by society to be my lord and master died with that pain. His lustful face, which cared only for his own pleasure, strangled all the happiness and joy which had been alive in me till that night. In a few hours I grew up from a giggling girl playing with Maths and Literature into a weary old woman wrapped in yards and yards of blood spotted Benarasi saree. My father had paid a fat dowry to this son of a tailor so that he could get rid of this ugly daughter of his who only cared about useless things like “education”. My lord and master cared little for my pleasures, whether mental or emotional. He considered his duty fulfilled by living with me in a one room tenement in a poor part of Dombivali. His earnings were meager and we eked out a living. He would not hear of me taking up some work to supplement our income, for in his opinion women were best left in the kitchen and used in bed.

I feel the begging bowl by my husband’s side. Some kind soul has dropped a coin in it in the night. Hopefully we will be able to buy some bread and tea from the station food stall. If his cough allows him my husband will sing bhajans and beg by my side till afternoon. When my pain allows me I will raise my palm mutely and hope to get a few coins from people on that railway platform. A year ago when we first came to live there after being thrown out of our house, my husband would say that we would soon move into an old age home, as the months wore on that hope died in him. I hoped my end would come before him. Many, many years ago, in another life it seems now, I had spotted an injured crow on the road. It was simply sitting there with its eyes closed. It would not move even when I picked it up to nurse it between my palms. I felt I was in the presence of Death that day; this bird was calling Death to come and carry it away in its black embrace. I was too young; I could not understand then how any living being could give itself up so completely to Death. That day, all those years ago, the crow died in my hands without a struggle. I completely understand that crow’s actions now. I, too, await my appointment with Death. The alms I get every day will help my husband stay alive after I am carried away in Death’s lap. I understand now that I had been preparing for this day, this realization, from the moment when I was told that my Swapnil was snatched away from my bosom forever.

Of all the things that my husband has given me in my life, Swapnil is the only thing I am thankful for. I was seventeen when he pushed his way out of my emaciated body. The delivery was very painful and the midwife did all she could. Later, I was told that Swapnil was to be the first and last gift for my lord and master – my young body was broken, it could no longer perform its wifely duties. My husband was very angry; he had wanted to rip more gifts out of me. All I managed to give him was a thin, dark-skinned, wailing mite. I had failed in my duties as his slave. He would still have his way with me on the bed every night, but he would do so with curses. He used his hands on me regularly, but that was later when he started to drink every day.

To all the world Swapnil was an ugly toddler. His father would barely look at him, preferring to relinquish his patriarchal duties to me. Swapnil was my pride and joy. I would never let him out of my site as a toddler. Swapnil’s sensitive soul would get traumatized every time he would see his father beat his mother. I would try to hold back my screams and tears, for his sake and mine. Swapnil would be forced to see what no child should ever have to – his father raping his mother every night. This went on, night after night, for years and years. I taught him how to speak in English when he was three, and would narrate works of Literature I had read in another life. Swapnil was reading Dickens when most children of his age and social background were lost in cheap comic books. I would teach him whatever the municipal school could never. Swapnil won first prize in a poetry recitation contest when he was twelve. The prize was just a small plastic pencil box cracking at the corners, but to mother and son it was as if the emperor had presented his most precious possession. Already Swapnil was showing signs of getting impatient with the levels of intellect of the neighborhood children of his age. Our life was hard and our neighborhood rough. I wanted my Swapnil to go to a good school in Mumbai and onwards to a college. I wanted him to move out of the influence of his drunkard father. I wanted to nurture Swapnil as only a mother can. I wanted to cushion my precious from every hard knock that Life would inevitably deal on him. I wanted him to live my dream which I could never. In his teens, every afternoon mother and son would sit on the kitchen floor bent over books on Algebra and Science. I taught him to love the literary masters of Marathi, Hindi and English. With some scrounging and saving by me I managed to get him to be a member of a library in Kalyan, not far from where we lived. I instilled in Swapnil that if we had some spare money we would always spend on books. The “ugly toddler” was growing up to be a thoughtful and intelligent teen right in front of his fond and proud mother. I would forget all pain and hurt of my marriage when I would hear my Swapnil reciting his poetry and prose compositions to me every evening. That, I decided, was the true purpose of a woman’s life – to nurture.

In my marriage, sex was synonymous with torture. Sex was an act of violation performed on my person. Sex was a degradation of my body and soul. My Swapnil would sometimes have queries about the biological aspects of sex as all teens do. The discussion of these sensitive areas of life was never a taboo between mother and son. However, Swapnil seemed to push his sexual feelings deep within himself as he coursed through his teenage years. It was common knowledge in the neighbourhood that my husband would drink and have his way with me night after night. If people would talk about it in Swapnil’s presence he would get up and leave without a word. He was ashamed of his father, I knew. He loved me more than anything else in the world.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Best Friend - A Short Story

I sit at the counter of my father’s book shop staring vacantly at passersby. It’s only six, three more hours to go before we close for the day. Dad and bro have gone to meet the parents of the girl my bro is going to marry next month. It’s been such a long struggle finding another match for bro. His first marriage was a disaster, dissolving within 4 months. They wanted him to sell our bookshop and invest the proceeds in their garment business. Those loud fights and the humiliation he suffered all those months took a toll on his health. He is a gentle creature who hates a raised voice even. I seem to have got his traits, except that those have been multiplied manifold in my genes. I can’t stand arguments, I can’t stand loud music, and I can’t stand boisterous games. I seem to have carved myself right out of a friend circle because of my shyness. At 24 I have a grand total of two friends – my bro and Hercule Poirot. Ofcourse I like Miss Marple as well and Detective Inspector Dermont Craddock. But I like clever Monsieur Hercule Poirot the most.

Ever since I can remember I have loved the smell of books. In my teens I fell in love with Enid Blyton’s Frederick Algernon Trotteville and Georgina. I roamed the Secret Island with Jack, Peggy, Mike and Nora, later joined by Barney. The works of Agatha Christie caught my fancy when I was 16. I have read and re-read her books countless times. My room has so many of her treasures. My bro never disturbs me when I am reading, even when I keep the bedside light on till three in the morning.

My bro is very handsome. He always was. As a child I didn’t see much of him since he studied at a boarding school. But ever since mum was killed in the car crash all those years ago he came to live with us. He used to say that he hated having to live in such close proximity with so many boys. They would tease him unmercifully and pull his hair. His studies suffered and he got more marks at school since he came to live with us. Dad didn’t pay much attention to him. Dad was a changed man after mom died. In the mornings dad would make a bowl of porridge or corn-flakes for breakfast. My bro would eat from my bowl. Dad never objected. Sometimes bro would be naughty and spill some on the table but dad never seemed to mind. He seemed to be lost in his own world. I have seen him crying in front of mom’s pic for years after her death. I guess he is mourning still. He never smiles or laughs.

Me and my bro have always been very close. In fact it was he who found me a rare early edition of Murder of Roger Ackroyd. He put it on my table one night and I was thrilled when I woke up in the morning. I rushed into the bathroom to thank him. He was taking a shower humming to himself. He laughed and dragged me under with him. He would often give me baths and oil massages. I came out to him when we were having a bath one day. “Bhaiyya!”, I said, “I am a homo.” He did not blink an eyelid. “So do you masturbate thinking of men?”, he asked. I said, “yes, bhaiyya, I do”. That was it. He never questioned me anymore about that. It brought us even closer to each other after that. He watches me masturbate every morning and night and passes me the hanky to clean up afterward. He is never shy of undressing in front of me. Why should he be? He is my bhaiyya after all. I have read of incestuous relationships but we are not into having sex with each other, we are just comfortable with each others nudity. Being in the bathroom together is an everyday occurrence for us. He is my best friend, is my bro.

As I said, my bro is handsome and in college he used to get numerous letters from gushing female classmates. He enjoyed all the adulation and would tell me about their curvaceous assets and what he would do to them once he had them in their bedrooms. We both knew that he would never avail of such opportunities. My bro is a master at fantasizing but truth be told, he is as decent as an angel. No wonder girls would fall for him by the droves. We would talk about how our fantasies were different – his strictly heterosexual and mine completely homosexual. We would discuss how I could get a guy to our bedroom when dad was at the shop. Finally, when I was 19 I managed to get one thin, bespectacled classmate of mine from the college. The first thing I did when I got him inside was to take off his spectacles. He wore thick milk bottle glasses and without them he was half blind. Which was just as well, since he couldn’t spot my bro standing in the semi dark behind the bathroom door he had kept ajar! Afterward we laughed about it, my brother and I. But sadly, I could not get that classmate for sex again. He started calling me “weird”. I wonder why. I tried to get him to talk to my bro but he refused. Silly boy! I am sure he would have liked my bro.

Next I got another guy, a married one this time, to bed one afternoon. A most hideous experience. He stank! And in the end he wanted money. I was terrified. I called out to my bro. Then it was his turn to be terrified. I have never seen a man dress up so fast and leave. Haha! That was it. My bro has forbidden me to get guys home unless he has okayed them first. He is so protective of me!

I was down with jaundice and typhoid when my brother was getting married. So I couldn’t join the celebrations. I was sad that I could not be as free with my bro after his marriage. But he assured me that he would take his wife into confidence and be my best friend as always. Dear bro!

Why do bad things happen to good people? His marriage was a disaster. He told me that his wife would not even let him fuck her on their bridal night. All she did was talk of was money and business. Sick bitch! Spoiled my brother’s happiness. I would kill her if I could!

After his divorce my bro and I talk late into the night about his future plans. Dad seems to be sliding further into depression. He has taken to drinking which is alarming. My bro takes care that I never got depressed. He screens my fuck buddies with a hawk eye. Ever my protective brother!

I can see my father coming back to the shop. He is alone. It’s about time, I think to myself. I want to be out of this shop and go home.

I unlock the door of our house. It’s dark inside. “Why haven’t you switched on the light?” I ask my brother. He doesn’t reply. He sits on the rocking chair with a gentle smile on his face. We have hung a family portrait above the rocking chair. Funnily it has just dad, mom and me. But bro says that he didn’t want to be photographed so they kept him out of the shot.

I place my shoes on the shoe rack. It's just my shoes kept there. In fact I have never seen my brother’s shoes! “Let me make some macaroni for us”, I quip. He nods. I make it and pour it in a large bowl. There’s just one spoon. We eat using the same spoon. Afterward I wash up.

His side of the bed is always made. He never wrinkles it as he sleeps. His clothes on the hanger are always ironed. Funny, how I have never actually seen his clothes get dirty. I lie down on my side of the bed and put on the reading light. He never puts on his. In fact there is none on his side of the bed. As I said before, he never disturbs me when I am re-reading my favorite Agatha Christie – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Light of Another Day - A Short Story

I can hear my ma wailing still. They took my daddy away. All those men in khaki uniforms. They barged into our shack in the evening and dragged him away in handcuffs. For all his wild rages he went meekly with them. For the first time in my life I could actually see him blubbering in fear. They said that he was a monster for having killed his own son. The newspapers and the television crews came next. Ma was too shocked to respond to their badgering. No one took much notice of me, a deformed deaf-mute ten year old girl.

Oh Bhaiyya! Daddy hurt you with an iron rod for refusing to give him twenty rupees for a drink. You collapsed on the ground but you still crawled over me and shielded my body to make sure daddy didn’t use the rod on me. I held you and was so terrified that I couldn’t even cry. You groaned in pain till you could feel no more. Even then you shielded me from the angry rod.

The neighbors said that I was a witch. The day I was born daddy lost one of his legs while crossing the railway tracks. With that accident he lost his job at the factory where he worked and took to drinking and beating ma. The municipality midwife who delivered me whispered sympathetically in ma’s ears that unfortunately I was a girl and a deformed one at that. Soon they came to know that I couldn’t speak or hear. Of what use is Asha who is so ugly that her ma and daddy wish that she had been a still born? At least the men would turn their eyes away in disgust and not go after Asha when she gets older, intoned my aunt. Perhaps Asha should, my aunt said, in the true spirit of her name wish for an early death for herself before she looks more and more like a witch as she grows older.

Love! This word I have experienced only from you Bhaiyya, my elder brother, in my ten years on this earth. If only I was more deserving of being loved! I wish I could have been born a pretty girl so that my parents could have felt proud of showing me off to the world. But you Bhaiyya, you loved me anyways. You held me in your strong arms and protected me from the violence of our daddy. You took all the thrashings so that I was untouched by his rages. You ate less so that I could eat my fill. You carried me to the municipal garden in the evenings so that I could play among the flowers. You made me feel that I deserved to live and that my ugliness was of no consequence. You cleaned and bathed me when I was ill. You kissed me goodnight every night. You got me books so that I could read far beyond what others of my age were reading. On many occasions I knew more than my teacher at the municipal school! If God gives life and nurtures that life, Bhaiyya, you are my God.

Tonight as I walk towards the railway tracks to join you I feel that it’s the most natural thing for me to do. Who else on this earth will love me like the way you do? How can I leave you alone when you have always been by my side? Who will make little garlands for you and draw stars for you? Even Vishal is not where you have gone now. It’s a starry night and the millions of stars in the Milky Way are twinkling down at me walking bare feet to meet you wearing the same frock and hair band that you had given me on my birthday. The sharp stones prick my feet and make them bleed. But I am not afraid; soon I will have no feet and no need of blood.

Do you remember how you met Vishal for the first time on a night like this? You and I were sitting by the highway watching cars and trucks whiz past us. Suddenly one bike shuddered to a halt by our side of the road. Something was broken with the engine. A well-dressed youth got off and wheeled it right by us. He sat on his haunches and tried to coax it to start. Bhaiyya you were always so good with engines. You went over to the stalled bike and helped. Within no time the bike was raring to go. The youth was thanking you profusely. You shyly refused his offer of money. Just like you Bhaiyya to do good deeds for strangers. And he became friends with you. Right there. Who would believe that my Bhaiyya from the slums would be friends with a high up man? I felt so proud of you Bhaiyya! His name was Vishal and he was a year younger than you. So that made him seventeen.

Bhaiyya, till that night, I had never really known you to have any friends. Our neighborhood kids were too rowdy for you. You had always been gentle and shunned their boisterous play. Vishal took instantly to you. It was strange for me to see Vishal coming to that spot night after night to meet you. He would always bring sweets for me. He called me his little angel and liked to ruffle my curls.

In the months that followed you and Vishal started meeting each other more and more, even during the day. The neighbors found it odd that a well-dressed man would walk up to our shack and whizz off with you on his bike. Sometimes I would come along as well. I would see the light in your eyes as you waited for Vishal to come and meet you. With him we went to some of the grandest places in Mumbai and ate the best food. He would never, ever make us feel that we were different from him. Vishal even learned a bit of sign language so that he could keep me amused. On Raksha Bandhan day that year and for the next two years both of you tied threads of brothers’ love around my wrist.

Frequently, on hot summer afternoons, Vishal would stay at our shack when there was no one but you and me. Daddy would be out on the railway platform begging. I would play outside in the shade by our door. I swore my silence to both of you when you told me that this was to be kept a big secret from everyone. In the evenings before ma came back you and Vishal would take off on his bike but you would always be back by 9 pm because you had to get me to sleep by 10 and you knew that I could not sleep without you by my side. I could see the stars twinkle in your eyes in those nights. It was a light of pure joy and contentment and I was happy for you as only a sister can be. You would hug me to sleep and I knew that you were hugging Vishal and me together in your mind. Stars, you would say, are making light during the nights so that the days could be brighter.

Everything was to turn right for the three of us. You said that you and me were going to live with Vishal soon, that the two of you had made all the plans to get married to each other. I had never heard of two men getting married. But, I guess, it’s all right if they loved each other as much as the two of you did. I would gladly bless you at your wedding. As long as my Bhaiyya and his beloved were happy I didn’t care what anyone else thought.

Just last week Vishal had to go to America for six months because he wanted to be a pilot. Before leaving, Vishal gave you a mobile phone so that you could talk many times every day. I can feel it vibrating in my frock pocket now. I press the green button and drop the phone among the stones – I can’t use sign language on the phone. Bhaiyya you had said that you would teach me how to send smses tomorrow. I must go and meet you. You will be so lonely. The stars above are still twinkling like they always did when you used to walk holding my hand along the highway. Their lights still shine heralding the light of another day.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tutool - A Short Story

This is the story about a boy in Kolkata named Tutool. All of 10 years of age. His tale of shame has long been pushed into the closet by his ‘respectable’ neighbours. After all, who wants to have the son of a drunkard and a mad woman in “bhodro shomaaj” (respectable society)?

It was a chance meeting with Tutool that I had, oh!, more than two decades ago. I was in Kolkata attending a dear friend’s wedding. The ‘pandal’ (tent) to shelter the ceremonies was being set up on the roof of the ten storey building called ‘Doya Shaagor’ (Ocean of Mercy). That building faced a five storey one called ‘Durga’. The two buildings constituted ‘Shetola Society’. The festivities were a source of great joy to everyone. The neighbourhood children made a bee line to the cooks busy rustling up Bengali delicacies to feed 250 guests of the bride and groom. All kinds of exciting smells wafted out of their enormous frying pans and vats. I was 16 at that time and more than a little bored with the state of affairs. My friend was ensconced with all his numerous relatives getting ‘made up’ for the big night of ‘mala bodol’ (exchange of garlands). He had no time for me just then. I was wandering all over the roof top trying to spot any handsome hunks through the apartment windows, preferably in a state of undress. I remember that I was perpetually horny at that age: I would masturbate five or more times with wild fantasies canoodling in my hormone charged brain. I had gone to Kolkata in the hope of seeing some hot Bengali hunks naked! Don’t ask me how I intended to view such a glorious spectacle, those days I was mentally undressing every hunk I saw on the road. A perpetual pornographic movie used to play in my fertile imagination.

That hot Kolkata afternoon I was particularly interested in the bathroom of an apartment on the 4th floor of ‘Durga’. A man seemed to have entered and shut the door. Unfortunately, because of the harsh noon sun’s glare, the inside of the bathroom was practically invisible. Still I persevered in my fervent efforts to spy on an unclothed specimen of a male Homo Sapien through the small bathroom window. I was already half aroused in expectation.

Suddenly my glance fell through the wide living room window of another apartment in 'Durga'. A woman was repeatedly hitting a sofa with a stick. The building was close enough for me to hear that she was screaming something in Bengali. My friend had taught me a smattering of that language but I couldn’t make out the words of the woman. Intrigued, I moved to get a closer look. The woman, about 30, had her red and white Bengali ‘saree’ in disarray, her hair flew every which way and she seemed to have red vermillion smeared all over her forehead. As I watched, a man entered the living room and attempted to grab her stick. He was screaming too. In hellish fury the woman charged upon the man. Finally I could get her words, “Bastard! You are a devil”, she was screaming. The man was holding a bottle in his left hand and he kept taking swigs out of it.

Ofcourse I had heard of domestic violence before, but this was the first time I was witness to the horror being played out in front of my eyes. I didn’t know what to do. Was there someone I could call? Maybe I should go there and stop them.

“Don’t worry babu”, Kanai, one of the cooks, quipped consolingly behind my back. I turned around in surprise; I had not noticed him sneak up. Kanai continued, “They are always at it, that ‘paagli’ (mad woman) and the ‘maataal’ (drunkard) husband of hers. ‘Bhogobaan’ (God) knows why these ‘bhodro lok’ building people still allow them to live here.”

“But there must be something someone can do, Kanai!”, I was beside myself with worry, “I mean, aren’t there doctors who can take care of her?”, my shocked brain was desperately trying to search for quick fix solutions to the domestic crisis that was unfolding.

Kanai snickered, “Naa babu. Those two are always at it, hammer and tongs. We enjoy the fun.” I couldn’t, for the world, imagine how anyone could possibly call such a hideous spectacle ‘fun’. I turned away from Kanai in disgust.

I resumed staring at the violence in the apartment in a sort of horrified fascination. The man slapped the woman hard. I flinched as the sound resounded around me. The woman howled more obscenities. He tore at her ‘saree’ and took another swig from the bottle. He couldn’t seem to get any more from the bottle, he snarled his displeasure. With an oath he brought the empty bottle down hard on the woman’s head. The woman didn’t seem to feel anything, she kept hitting at the man with her bare fists. He began dragging her by her hair into the bedroom. I heard him scream “Maarbo” (I’ll kill you) repeatedly. A small figure of a boy wearing shorts and a t-shirt appeared on the scene. He was clutching at the man trying to stop him from dragging the woman. The man gave a back handed slap at the boy. The boy flew with the impact into a corner of the room. I screamed, in a terrified, impotent sort of way. The man seemed to realize the enormity of what he had done. He released the woman and barged out of the living room on to the stairs outside the apartment. The woman was on the boy consoling his anguished wails.

I turned around, pushed Kanai aside and ran down the stairs two at a time. I had to go to that apartment. I had to do something. This was outrageous.

The apartment door was thrown wide open. The woman was lying on the floor apparently unconscious. The boy was sprinkling water on her face trying to revive her. I knelt beside the boy, his forehead was cut and bleeding. He turned and saw me kneeling beside him. His teary eyes widened in surprise.

“Dada” (elder brother), he mumbled in a small voice, “my father has beaten my mom again because she protested when he hit me. She is mad, you know”.

I looked at the wiry frame of that little boy and I didn’t know what to say. There must be some words of consolation, I thought to myself, which I can utter at this point. But there were none. What can you say to a little boy who is trying to revive his mentally disturbed mother from a swoon after his father has smashed her with a bottle on the head? It was uncivilized, inhuman, and barbaric. No one should have to see this. This boy was living it. This little boy who had just called me his elder brother. This chit of a boy who I had not seen before that day. I shivered at the enormity of the responsibility that the boy had placed on me with that one word.

“What is your name?”, I whispered.

“Tutool”, he answered, his brown eyes peering into mine. He gave me a half smile and continued tremulously, “I have seen you in the other building with the marriage family. You are from Bombay, right?” I nodded.

“Your forehead is bleeding, Tutool”, I examined his wound, “Do you have Band-Aid in the house?”, I asked.

‘Wait dada’. Tutool got up slowly and walked to a wall cabinet. He took out a packet and gave it to me. I tore out a strip of Band-Aid and put it over his wound. Tutool stared at me.

“Dada no one comes to this house because my mother is ‘paagli’ and my father is ‘maataal’”, Tutool’s hurt face bore full into mine. “I am paaglee’s son and may spread the disease to other children, so no one here plays with me.”

I hugged Tutool. I had tears in my eyes. “I am your Deep dada, Tutool. And I am here now.”

Tutool’s mother was showing some signs of coming out of her swoon on the floor. In a few minutes she was sitting up mumbling to herself. She seemed to realize that a stranger, me, was in the room. She stared at me.

“Ke?” (Who is that?), she asked.

Tutool hastened to reply, ‘Deep dada ma!’.

The mother said something I couldn’t understand, Tutool got up to close the main door of house. The mother got up and walked to the kitchen. She seemed not to notice the state of her hair and dress. Presently she brought out two ‘thaalaas’ (steel dishes) and laid them on the living room floor in front of where Tutool and I were squatting. She went back and got a pot of rice and daal. These she served us.

“Khe nao beta” (eat my sons), she cajoled us.

Out of politeness and feeling very uncomfortable I began shovelling the food in my mouth. Tutool ate chattering with his mother in Bengali. She seemed to like her son talking to her and her face softened in affection.

I looked at the mother lovingly watching her son eat lunch, like thousands of mothers watching their sons eat at that very moment in Kolkata. Yet, this mother was different. This son was scarred. This scene was blighted. Their future was dark. And I was a mute spectator by virtue of the fact that I was made the ‘dada’ by little Tutool.

“I have manic depressive psychosis Deep beta but my son here is healthy”.

I looked up startled from my rice plate at the woman who had just spoken to me in flawless English, as sane as any woman I had ever met. I had my mouth full of rice and couldn’t think of a reply.

“I worry about my son. His father is an alcoholic and a violent man. In one of his violent episodes he may harm my child and I may be in an unconscious fit at that time.”

The very hopelessness of her words made a chill wind blow in my heart. I looked at the small head of Tutool bent over his rice place and I looked at the bedraggled woman who had just uttered words of the sanest mother I had ever heard. I felt helpless and afraid. I wanted to do something for these two people. Carry them away to Bombay; keep them in my house, anything. Anything I could do to snatch them out of the grasp of this accursed house. Could I tell my parents I wanted to keep them with me and take care of them for ever and ever? That I wanted to hold Tutool against my heart and rock him to sleep every night and tell him that he will never have to be sad again? Could I? What would my parents say? I would get this mother to a Psychiatrist in Mumbai and she would get cured. I would ensure that Tutool got a good education. I would set all these wrongs right. The brute of a husband would never get to see his wife and boy again. I resolved all of these in my head right there. I had no idea how I was going to carry all this on my shoulders. But I resolved.

After we finished eating, the mother carried the plates back in the kitchen. I followed her.

“Aren’t you going to eat, maashimaa (aunty)?”, I asked her. “Not now, beta. I have to wait half an hour after I take my medicines.“

“Then I’ll help you wash the dishes, maashimaa”, I offered. She laughed and hugged me. “Naa re beta! You go and play with my Tutool”.

I went back to the living room and saw Tutool sitting over a book. “What book is that Tutool?”, I asked.

“Enid Blyton, The Secret Island, dada”.

His face had lit up with the childhood joy of exploring the mysteries of a make believe world. I understood completely, that book was my favourite not so many years before. Tutool suddenly gave me a hug.

“Thank you dada!”.

I kissed his forehead and hugged him back. I wanted this moment to last forever. I wanted no dark clouds to cast shadows over the lives of Tutool and his mom. Today, chance had decided that Tutool and I would be brothers fighting a cruel fate. And this day had perchance shoved me into their lives. Maybe, today, the gods had decided that they needed help at last. Maybe, today was the day when I was to pay my debts from a past life. But the gods had not cared that I was only 16 and dependant on others for my own survival. A feeling of helplessness oozed through my bones and brought with it a sick feeling of unease. Was I upto the onerous task?

The hours flew. The husband did not return. The mother said that there were no chances of him coming before the following morning. She seemed very lucid and did not have any attacks of her illness. She even groomed herself well and appeared like any of the thousands of ‘normal’ mothers of Kolkata. At 4 she made tea for all of us and we sat, cross legged, in companionable silence on the drawing room floor drinking the sweet concoction with plain Parle biscuits.

The marriage ceremony of my friend was to be conducted that evening from 7. I wanted both mother and son to attend it with me. Even my most fervent entreaties wouldn’t bring her to come with me, but she was all encouragement for her son to go with me. Tutool changed into a fresh pair of shorts and a bright t-shirt and we walked hand in hand merrily to the function.
It was my first glimpse of a Bengali wedding, and evidently, so was Tutool’s. The two of us held hands throughout and ate a sumptuous dinner together. It was close to midnight, when I went back to drop a sleepy Tutool to his house. His mother met us at the door smiling. There was no sign of her husband and I was relieved.

I touched her feet at the door, “Maashimaa, good night. I’ll come again tomorrow”.

Arrangements had been made for the guests to stay at a hotel nearby. I went to my room and fell on the bed already asleep.

It was nearing ten the next morning when I woke up from my dreamless slumber. I languorously stretched on my too soft hotel bed. I rang for the tea and it arrived with an assortment of exotic biscuits. Remembering the plane Parle biscuits that we had had the previous day, I stuffed the entire tray full of biscuits in a bag meaning to take it for Tutool. I hurried through my toilet and got out of the hotel room.

Knowing that my friend wouldn’t be expecting me (Ha! He would be ‘busy’ with his new wife!) I made haste towards Tutool’s building. There was a crowd of people at the entrance. I pushed past them and attempted to walk up to Tutool’s apartment. I was blocked by a posse of policemen.

“What happened?”, I asked, alarmed, to the nearest man in uniform.

“The mad woman killed her drunkard husband last night. She has been taken to the lockup this morning”.

The cold wind which had blown in my heart the previous afternoon turned into an icy blizzard.

“And the child?”, I asked frightened.

“We are all virtuous people, we don’t let such filthy kids stay in our building complex”, answered Mr. D.K. Das, honourable chairperson of the building committee of Shetola Society.

“That boy was despatched (sic) by train to his maternal grandmother in Chinsoora village of the 24 Parganas. Durga Durga! Such filth should not corrupt our angelic little children in this society”.

Thus did the honourable Mr. D.K. Das cleanse the merciful ocean of 'Doya Shaagor' and restore the sanctity of the Goddess most powerful, 'Durga'.

Another noon was about to break outside, I walked under the sun away from the buildings towards the rudiments of a garden. The blizzard in my heart blew the hard heat of the sun away. As I sat near a bed of roses, all I could feel was little Tutool blankly watching rows and rows of rice fields from the train, rushing towards his darkness.

If you are reading this Tutool, after all these years, dada says sorry he could not snatch you away from the darkness. Your dada was too puny to be able to do that.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dusk - A Short Story

I was in the 2 by 2 (yep, you read that right!) compartment of a local train coming home from CST. A guy jumped in just as the train was leaving CST station and stood very close to me. Youthful in his looks, with a pleasant demeanour, he caught my attention immediately. As per the timeless ritual his hand brushed my privates. As luck would have it, my boss called me on my cell at that very moment and I had to answer.

After I had finished my cell-phone conversation with my boss he continued his advances. By and by he asked me, "where are you getting down?", in English. "VidyaVihar", I answered. "Then I, too, am getting down there today", he said smiling. He had a soft, honest face and I did not get perturbed by this development. "I am Amit. And you?".

"Deep", I said.

At Vidya Vihar we walked towards the RajaWadi garden. It was past 7 pm and a murky dusk had already settled in on this November Saturday evening. Amit was born and schooled in Kashipur. His father was a headmaster in the school he studied. His first realization of the fact that he was gay came at the tender age of twelve. His cousin brother, who had spent a dozen years on earth as well, liked to spend a lot of time with Amit. They would sleep in the same bed and one thing led to another. Amit fondly recollected the days, months and years that he spent loving his cousin. They had never heard the word "gay", yet their thoughts and acts together were the same as any homosexual teen in Denmark.

"It was always Vipin", sighed Amit, sitting down on the park bench, "morning, noon and night". I sat beside Amit. He seemed to have lost himself in his thoughts; I don't know if he remembered that there was I, a stranger, sitting by him listening to his reverie. "Vipin on my bed. Vipin hugging me. Vipin giving me paroxysms of pleasure with his mouth. I love you Vipin!" A single tear rolled down his eye. "That dreadful evening! The evening it all ended. Vipin fell over the rooftop trying to retrieve his kite. I can see it Deep! I can see it happening in front of me. Oh God! He is falling now!" Amit's anguish was so powerful that it seemed I was transported to that place and time. Suddenly I was no longer sitting on a stone bench at RajaVadi garden in Mumbai on a November evening in 2004. Suddenly we were back in Kashipur. I could see Amit's love,his very heart, falling to his death. Vipin smashed his head on the culvert and died instantly. In his breast pocket he had a picture of Amit and him together.

Amit had to stop narrating at this point because he was so choked with emotions. I patted his arm in consolation. "I was 20 at that time. Over the next few months I nearly lost my mind with grief", continued Amit morosely. "I was brought to a local hakim. He prescribed marriage". I could barely manage to whisper my protests to that. My parents would hear none of it." Amit's voice dropped to a dry rasp. "I pleaded with my illiterate mother to let me off. I wanted to kill myself. Seeing my suicidal tendencies my father got even more alarmed. They snared a demure lass of 16 from the next village and sat me down with her in the marriage `mandap'. I didn't know what was happening to me! In my pocket I still had the picture of Vipin and me as the lass put the garland of marriage around my neck. Later that night, when I saw her undress I puked and started sobbing hysterically. She got scared and ran out of our bridal chamber to my parents." Amit was silent for a while as the memories got too much for him. He seemed to realize then that there was me sitting next to him on that bench. He clutched my wrist. "I couldn't help it Deep! I just couldn't get myself to touch Geeta. Please forgive me God. I couldn't touch her!"

One day, as Amit came home from work he found Geeta hanging by her neck in their bedroom. The whole village came to watch their sorrow and condemn Amit and his hapless parents. The police got involved since they suspected that it was a case of dowry death. They interrogated Amit and his old parents for 7 long days and nights. When they were let go, the villagers wouldn't let the family stay in their village. Amit's father committed suicide by drinking Phenyl. His mother just gave up living over the next few months. Amit was left all alone with a set of hostile neighbours. When things got too much for him he ran away to Mumbai. That was a year ago.

Amit got a small photograph out of his breast pocket and proffered it to me. It had a beautiful lad holding Amit in his arms looking at Amit's eyes. The photograph was smudged with tears. "I have kept Vipin close to my heart Deep! All this time".

It was getting darker and we got up. "Time to go, Deep!", said Amit suddenly, "time for me to go". He suddenly seemed in a hurry to leave the garden. He seemed to realize that he had been talking to an absolute stranger and probably felt embarrassed. "So where do you live Amit?", I asked. "Some way down", Amit said gruffly, "some way down".

We got in the train at VidyaVihar together. I was going to Mulund – my home. Amit, I still wasn't sure. "Do you know what day it is today?", Amit asked me in the train. "It's the day Vipin was snatched away from me". I was shocked and felt very uneasy. There was something amiss in the way Amit was sidling away from me towards the door. The on boarding crowd at Ghatkopar pushed us apart. The train gathered momentum. Suddenly I heard cries of "gir gaya!", he's fallen down! I pushed my way thru till the door way. Amit was lying by the tracks, his head a bloody mess, the speeding train already sending the dreadful site receding into darkness.

I can never forget that murky evening till the end of my days. The day a homosexual man lost his life on the alter of a murky custom called heterosexual marriage.


I read a report on a gay old-age home project being initiated by Prince Manavendra of Rajpipla, India. In the report, the prince was very hopeful about his project. It set me thinking. Loneliness, coupled with, old age is a very real possibility for many of us. Would I like to be banished to an old age home years from now?
If I find my soul mate and get married to him, will both of us stay in that old-age home?

One sees so many types of loneliness.

Lonely is the widowed mother whose children are abroad and who lives in a one room tenement in the heart of Mumbai.

Lonely is the derelict beggar on the footpath of a busy highway waiting to cross over to the other side where the garbage bin overflows with last night's delectables.

Lonely is the recovering drug addict who has been thrown out of his house by his family for stealing.

Lonely is the ten year old kid, recently orphaned, who sits by the kitchen of the orphanage watching the boisterous play of the inmates.

Lonely is the gay man, on the brink of adulthood, listening to his parents talk about his marriage with a buxom belle from his village.

Lonely is the old gay man watching, with rheumy eyes, the party animals smooching passionately on the dance floor.

Today I sit by my window watching the Mumbai rain, wondering if anyone's ever going to call and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. I read "Sons and Lovers" for the hundredth time. I look at two grey pigeons in amorous pursuit of each other on the roof top of the next building. I spy, with bated breath, thru the window as my handsome next door neighbor walks out of the bathroom wearing only a small towel around his middle. Will he or won't he, take off his towel? He draws the curtains, oblivious to my stare and arousal. The skies are overcast. The roads are starting to flood. I think of the gay couple who have decided to spend the next 5 days together in a neighboring hill station. They had called me in the morning in great glee. Their lives' ambitions are getting fulfilled. I bless them, as only a true friend can. They are the same age as me and have been very lonely before they met each other.

There is love in this world, I decide. It's rationed though. Some of us get left sitting on the sidewalk.

The Gay Pride Parade in Mumbai on Sunday, August 16, 2009. One small march for queens, one giant parade for gay-kind (apologies to Neil Armstrong)

1500 homos marched in Mumbai. So what's been achieved? What's the use of such tiny parades? Some of my straight "friends" have asked me the "purpose of making such a public display of our sexual preference". "Keep buggering each other in your bedrooms", they argue belligerently, "Who the hell cares?"

So what if those pansies braved the heat outside their closets?

Many who donned masks at the start of the parades, decided to take them off, both literally and figuratively. So what? The general populace saw that the sum total of the sample called the "queer population" consists of "ordinary people" and not just those who dress up in garish costumes and make sexual statements publicly. So what? Some scared young-man sitting quietly in front of his TV on Sunday evening in the closeted comfort of his home had a flicker of hope in his heart. So what? So what if 1500 species in the animal kingdom have been proved to show homosexual behaviour? So what if a 5000 year old Indian treatise on sex clearly mentions homosexuality?
Demonstrations and public display of emotions may be distasteful to many. After all, it is easier to maintain status quo in this country and for all the macho guys to giggle derisively at homo jokes. Easier for all the people with "family values" to turn their noses up in disgust when they see a miserable queer being bashed up by the police in some stinking public loo. Easier for the heterosexual married people to think of some murderous homos preying on little kids. After all, it is best if homos are thought of as paedophiles and locked up. Lock them up! Punish them! Who the hell cares? Most of us are straight anyways.


OK, so it's all right that ugly, dark-skinned brides with poor fathers should be doused with kerosene and set alight just after they are married and can't afford the "required" dowry. It's all right that little girl children should be butchered as soon as they turn 2 days old. It's all right when women are not allowed to go to school or vote. It's all right that "lower cast" kids should be banished to some filthy municipal school. Who the fuck cares? After all, it's "them". It's not me. I am safe. I can sit in the comfort of my house, watch the news channels and say to myself, "It happens to THOSE people. I don't care!"


That bride could be your sister. That girl- child could be yours. That woman could be your mother. That kid could be you. You will care then! Your passions will overflow into "embarrassing public display of emotions" when your twin brother is being bashed up in that loo.

Many years ago one thin gentleman had decided to make salt at a beach himself when it was more fashionable to get it from the British. That thin gentleman, with a walking stick, marched a long way to show those Indians ensconced safely in their British houses that it is better to be unfettered.

These 1500 people who marched in Mumbai on Sunday have also shown us, the gay and the straight, that it is better to be free. That it is better to care. They have lit a tiny spark, just like that thin gentleman, with a walking stick, had done so many years ago, by picking up a handful of salt in the beach. The spark became a blazing inferno of independence. Aren't we all glad it happened?

What is the use of the ugly duckling? ONE DAY IT WILL BECOME A SWAN!