I’m running. I have been running. All my life, I have been running after my goals. But so far, they have eluded me.
Ma asked, “What happened to the exam you appeared for?”
“I’m awaiting the results of the interview, ma.”
“Good. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”
“Yes, yes, hopefully.”
In the beginning, I never knew that it would be this difficult to stay with a decision. I now do. Ma worries, as she must. But I can’t turn back, not now.
All I did was telling them the truth.
“How could you do so? How could you be this?”
“I did nothing. It is what I always have been.”
“So you, like, you…”
His face had contorted by now and I expected a filthy finish to the sentence. But he didn’t finish it, instead turning round to walk off, warning me not to call him ever again.
All they did was shunning and ridiculing me.
When you grow up as one among many kids in a middle-class joint family, you learn some things, like adapting to the norms and making do with what you have, instead of whining. Not because whining doesn’t help, but because after an extent, the adults in your family are helpless. Economists call it a resource crunch. I call it life. It is what it is, no? Things change once you have your baptism in the big, bad world. Out of home, studying in a new state, the basics of adaptation that you were taught come in handy. As does the love for the written form. A graduation for the sake of a job is good, but what about the things that make you feel more than alive? In your own way, you become a creator. You can conjure anything. Writing has the ability to do that. It is love, therapy, trauma and glory all rolled into one.
I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. It is a year to the day since I told the world what I was, what I felt. I told them I’m gay, simple as that. The responses, well, they reiterated the importance of the word unfathomable. Shock doesn’t even begin to cover what I saw in the eyes of those around me. My hopes evaporated like naphtha on a table top. I knew I was in deep trouble.
“There’s a proposal from a good family for you, son,” father’s voice had the trademark equanimity. Ma was in the kitchen, preparing breakfast and coffee for us all, and, doubtless, smiling to herself at this development. My head started spinning. The hair on my body stood up. I dared not getting up from my chair for fear of showing him what had gripped my mind.”
“A proposal for your marriage.”
“Uh, you know how I feel about marrying, papa. I don’t want to.”
“Yeah, why should you marry?” Ma started her hijack attempt.
“There is no question of the family name not being carried on. There already are three kids in the house. What difference..”
“No difference. None.” Her eyebrows were fluttering with a lightning speed now. More trouble. Father’s eyes were glued to the TV news. Let mother and son handle this.
“You can’t do one simple thing for our sake?” The con had started.
“It is not a simple thing, ma. It is my whole life. The way you’re putting it across, it looks like I’m being asked to provide tuition to auntie’s kids. Do something for a while and then stop it. I can’t simply undo a marriage, ma.”
“Then it’s good, no? Why do you need to undo it? There will be proper time before marriage for you to get to know…..”
“I’m gay, ma.”
“What?” Her eyes narrowed. Even papa turned his face away from the TV to look at my face.
“I’m gay, ma. I’m a homosexual.”
“How could you be a gay? How could my son be something like that?”
I had no answer to that. My eyes were locked in the middle distance, the mind pondering the state of affairs.
“I am what I am, ma. But I was, am and will always remain your son too. My sexuality doesn’t change that. I still love you both.”
“There has to be a way around….this, son.”
“It isn’t an ailment, Sudha,” father spoke for the first time in many minutes, his voice soft, devoid of bias. His eyes were a potpourri of emotions. Mother came to the living room to take a seat by father’s side.
“I am not going to marry. I do not want to ruin the lives of everyone in this family. Please understand that.” I looked at them, then stood up and walked out, the cacophony of the television anchor echoing in the room.
I think papa knew it. Call it intuition if you will but fathers have a way of knowing what their sons are up to. I didn’t want to keep anyone in the dark, least of all my parents. But I have always been unsure around my sexuality myself. And it is only now that I have started accepting the fact that my feelings are completely normal. Unless you accept and understand your own self, how can you expect others to? It is going to be difficult in the future, more difficult than now because of the societal attitudes, even if the Supreme Court strikes down that controversial law.
“But why won’t you join the state electricity board? It is a dream job.”
An arch of the eyebrows and a goofy smile was all I could offer him.
Baljeet was a clerk in our office. And he was looking at my refusal of jobs from his viewpoint. To him, the jobs that I let go were the pinnacles of achievement. By passing them over, I was shooting myself in the foot. Sometimes, I find it ridiculous how people jump to conclusions. I want to join a central government PSU. That has been my goal all along. I will have to let go of the easier options if I have to catch one of the bigger fishes. The problem is, success isn’t necessarily a result of one’s determination. The road is more potholes than asphalt. So, people get the chance to mock and ridicule me. And once in a while, my own doubts start creeping up on me. I don’t want to be one of many though. I want to be better. And better, to put it simply, isn’t easy.
Also mixed in this dilemma is my writing. An unfinished novel and a blog, crying for attention from readers, are all I have to show for my troubles. But I can’t give this up either. I did tell you what writing is. Putting one good sentence after the other might be a lot like an arduous pilgrimage but, using the same analogy, the end is worth it here too. When you see what you have accomplished, even if it is a mere 1000-word article on the paradox that is arranged marriage, it does provide a sense of contentment that can rival the best.
But the same contentment is elusive when you are struggling with a post. If your protagonist is a homosexual facing indifference and scorn, what’s new in that? How are you going to give him an arc that satisfies the boundaries of a short story? How are you going to make sure that the story doesn’t look artificial? How are you going to search for the elusive?
“Where did we go wrong?”
“Why do you say so, Sudha? You know we did our best. And look what a fine young man he has grown up to be. He does all that is expected of a gentleman. If only we ignore his sexuality…..”
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on my parents. I was sleeping in my room in the afternoon and the power cut meant my sleep was disturbed. To top it all, they were talking about me. A part of me wanted to close my ears and not hear one word that was being said. The other prayed, “God, let them see my revelation for what it is.”
“But we can’t, can we? We can’t, I can’t forget the plans I had made for his marriage. I can’t ignore that my son, my own blood, is, is…”
“…different?” father completed her sentence.
Ma made a sound.
“It is what it is and we can’t undo it. This isn’t something that we can change. And imagine how he’d be with a girl? Both their lives would become living hells, not to say our own.”
“I still don’t get it. Maybe….”
“There is no maybe, Sudha. No maybe now.” He sighed.
“Let’s have lunch. I am famished.”
The month is about to end and I haven’t worked out how to fully flesh out the story. The idea, like most things in writing for me, was a message from the subconscious. But even after 15 days, the finish line was at a distance. I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. If only I had written the story earlier, if only I had grabbed the half-chances fate offered me, if only! Struggle as a graduate, struggle as a writer and struggle as an outsider in a different state. It has defined my life. I need to find a way — a way out of my writing slumber, a way out of my underemployed status, a way out of the constant struggle.
Contentment is elusive, but isn’t that the fun thing about chasing it?
In India, we have informal channels of messaging that are faster, and apparently more reliable, than anything official. It wasn’t a surprise then that the news of my coming out had reached my friends before I did. They were talking about me as I entered the café. This is roughly how it went like.
“He’s gay, you know?”
“I always knew he was wrong. Something about him seemed off from the beginning.”
“So what if he is gay? Is he harassing you?”
“Have you seen how he looks at the members of the football club? Good God! I used to think that such abnormal people were in the West only. Where is our culture going? These people should be locked up in jails.”
“Oh please, stop your lecture and let him be. It is his private life, what do you have to do with it?”
The coffee was excellent, the perfect mix of ground beans and creamy milk, a rich fragrance travelling up and settling itself in my nostrils. Of course, it was another matter that I didn’t take a single sip. I couldn’t wait to get back to the confines of my room.
But hey, wait a second! Why should I hide? Why should I confine myself? What it is that I did wrong? I believed in people and I told them the truth about me. Why should I be unfairly judged for that? Why can’t they accept me for who I am? I look the same as them. I worked day and night to ensure that Phukan’s marriage function was a success. I donated my blood to Nazar’s father when he had that accident. How am I worse than a straight guy, then? How?
Heck, who am I fooling? In my heart of hearts, I knew this would happen. I can’t pretend otherwise. Forget it, I should just go home and sleep.
“You had your dinner?” It was ma. “If you don’t want to eat, it’s fine. But don’t make me feel that I’m the reason for your sudden loss of appetite.” She closed the door. I heard the splat-splat of her plastic sandals fade as she went to the kitchen. I didn’t have any option now.
A minute later, we were sitting on wooden stools in the kitchen, eating in silence. Father walked in too, grabbing a plastic chair from the courtyard. In the light of the candle, their faces were not very clear. I looked from ma to papa to ma again to gauge whether this was a repeat of the morning’s proceedings. Finding nothing on their poker faces, I decided instead to focus on the warm, wet, spicy mashed eggplant that ma had prepared. Guards up, though.
Papa spoke first.
“Look son, we don’t want to come across as orthodox. After all these years, you, me and your mother, we know each other. You are our son and we will support you no matter what. This isn’t to say that we aren’t heartbroken. No. We are shattered. And yet, we know you’ve made a brave choice in following who you are and what you want from life.”
My eyes were transfixed on his face. I was noticing every single tick and twitch, the way his lips were moving, the way he was holding back the tears.
He continued, “Be warned though, son. The world might not understand you. You will face hate and contempt. But you have to understand that this is the way it is. Acceptance, as and when it arrives, will be sweet. But don’t lose sleep over it.”
I would like to say that tears were flowing down my cheeks and I hugged him and ma. But in truth, nothing like that happened. I nodded a few times and kept eating. Father smiled, got up, took the chair and went off to sleep.
“Good night,” he said.
“Good night, papa.” A smile crept across my lips.
“You need more water?” Ma asked.
“Uh, yes.” I could see she was smiling too.
I thought of the million things that had to happen for me to be in this place, at this time. To be born at the time that I did, to develop an affinity for reading and writing, to be able to clear the entrance, to be able to summon the heart and the motivation to keep reading articles and journals even when there were no immediate prizes. I did not take the easy way out, because I didn’t want to. I like a grind, I like the smell of sweat after a hard day’s work. There will be many more days like that, there will be more struggle. In the meanwhile, people like Baljeet will keep questioning and mocking me. Like my protagonist, I need to believe too. I have to have faith in myself. There is no reason why tomorrow cannot be brighter than today.
I mightn’t have set the world alight with my work yet, but I will have to keep working. I am going to finish this story today. I wouldn’t stop soldiering on. I am going to keep fighting till I reach a stage in life where I can pause, take stock of things, and be content with what I see.
After all, contentment is elusive, but isn’t that the fun thing about chasing it?
Thanks for reading.