Of Masks, Manoj and Survivor’s Benefits

It was around 11am. I was busy putting down some traps to kill a ravager in Horizon: Zero Dawn when Alok came in and told me that my father had asked me to get ready to go to the LIC office with him for some work. I am pretty used to these kinds of errands, so I got ready and we left. 

On the way I discovered the actual mission for the day – to update NEFT details in an insurance policy my mother had taken years ago in my name so that I can get survivor benefits. My father assured me that it was a two-minute thing. They would just ask for my details and update it into their system. It did make sense to me. I had no idea what was in store for me. 

We reached the office in Hazratganj. I walked up to the reception and there was a gentleman already there. 

“My policy has…”

“SIR PLEASE PUT ON YOUR MASK! WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MASK ON” the lady at the reception roared. I was impressed by this. The man fiddled through his pockets and found a mask. He immediately put it on and continued. 

“Ma Povify hafhmmanured, faat dhu hai dhu naaw”

“What? I can’t understand what you’re saying sir”

“MA POVIFY HAFHMMANURED, FAAT DHU HAI DHU NAAW”

“Sir, I really can’t understand what you’re saying”

The man slides down his mask to his chin and screams “My policy has matured, what do I do now?”

“Oh! Why are you screaming then? Did you get it from here? Do you have the papers?”

“Yes, I have the papers”

“Okay so go inside, Mr. Asthana should be able to help you”

The man darts inside and I step up to present my case. I was wearing a mask and gloves just to be sure. 

“I have to update my N.E.F.T details in my policy”

“Sorry sir? What details?”

“N.E.F.T?”

“Sir? Okay what is the problem exactly?”

“I got this message that says I have pending survivor benefits”

“Is your NEFT updated in our records?” she said NEFT like a word not an acronym. 

“Ahh, no that’s exactly what I need to get updated”

“Oh! Then go to our branch 226 which is near Leela Cinema. They have our NEFT cell that will help with this” she said physically pointing in a direction. 

“Thank you!” 

Back to the car, I told my father what all happened. He was not very happy that I didn’t ask her about how many prior survivors benefits I had missed in the past. Nevertheless, I googled and found the branch to be in Halwasia Market, there was no trace of Leela Cinema on map and the map location for Halwasia market showed it in the middle of a street in Aminabad which I knew for sure was not where Halwasia market actually was. Unsure of what to do, we decided to head towards this marker and figure out. 

I called up the number on LIC website and nobody answered it. We reached the main junction of Aminabad and realized the lane it was pointing us to was very narrow. It just seemed like a really bad idea to even go there. After thinking for some time my father decided not to enter it and asked me to do some more research. Everyone that we asked on the way from Hazratganj to Aminabad about Leela cinema had no idea that the place even existed. Still both of us felt we have heard that name so many times in our past that it had to be a real place. 

A little more search revealed the address of a coaching center which said “Behind Leela cinema” so we figured we should try this. While going there, we passed the office we just went to and my father stopped the car asking me to go and ask that lady again for the exact directions to that place. I on the other hand had no such plan. 

“Let us try this marker, it is right here. If we don’t find it, I will come back and ask her”

So, we began moving again and then it struck me, we were going in the same direction she had pointed to. I jumped up and said, “Yes! We should go this way; it should be there somewhere” confusing my father as to how I suddenly got that epiphany. Just to be sure, my father stopped at a DTDC office and asked me to inquire. I did and the man at the desk confirmed that the lane behind the main Hazratganj lane has the LIC office right opposite the old Leela Cinema. 

It indeed was there. It was the correct branch. I sprinted up to the first floor and right at the lobby was a small desk with a sanitizer and a thermometer. Behind this desk sat a very thin man in his late twenties with Ajay Devgan hair and moustache, a white and beige check shirt tightly tucked in his blue denims. He seemed very busy but was pleasant to talk to. 

“Yes sir? Where do you have to go?”

“I have to update NEFT in my policy”

“Okay enter your details here in this register and then go that side” he told me very politely pointing to his right.

I followed along and entered an office so absolutely ancient that I wondered if these people were part time paleontologists as well.

“Sharma ji…yesterday I was looking for the policy document for that old lady whose husband died and look what I found!”

“Aaaaaah! Looks like from a Hypsilophodon from the early Cretaceous era”

“Oh well well! That makes sense, I thought it was from an Ornithomimus from Late Cretaceous” and both of them laughed.

Anyway, apart from old furniture, even older people and millions of wires that nobody knows where they go, there were just cabinets and cabinets of files with ghosts of people trapped in them still waiting for their claims. 

I looked around to find an approachable face. My eyes made contact with a couple of people just chilling at their desk but as soon as our eyes met, they swiftly started looking at their screen appearing to be very busy. Finally, I found one guy angrily stamping away documents on a desk with no computer so nothing to hide his face behind. 

“I need to get NEFT updated in my policy. Whom should I meet?”

He looked at me without breaking his rhythm and pointed in a direction with this nose and eyes. I confirmed if he was pointing towards the lady sitting at the absolute end of the row. He nodded still stamping. I took a deep breath because that lady had sensed this and was now very nervously clutching her mouse and her eyeballs were going bonkers on the screen like she was watching a tennis match on 4x. 

“Hello. I got a message that my survivor benefits could not be credited to my account because my NEFT was not updated. I need to update that”

“What is the policy number?”

I told her the number and she opened up a page and checked the details. 

“Your policy is fine. Just the NEFT is not updated. You should do that”

“Ahh! Yes, that is the plan, but I don’t know how to go about that”

“Go to the other side and meet Mr. Pal from NEFT cell. He will help you”

“And one more question, how many prior benefits have I missed?”

“I can’t tell you that right now. First update NEFT then we can sort that”

I got up and walked out of the office back to the Ajay Devgan lite who seemed like he would just break into “Ek aisi ladki thi…jise main pyaaaar karta tha” any moment. As I crossed him, he gave me a smile and continued what he was doing. I returned the smile and continued walking. 

I discovered a mirror image of what I saw earlier but with younger people. Mr. Pal however seemed like he had been here for a while. He had a swag, a kind of air around him that govt officials develop just by being in a position for many years. I think tube light lit damp offices with the stench of pan masala and dirty urinals, old furniture devoured by termites barely held together by the two hundred layers of varnish with their code hand painted on them in white, constant screaming of a dying dot matrix printer pleading to be euthanized, flickering CRT monitors with cards of solitaire burnt in the screen envious of the newer slimmer screens on certain computers, contribute a lot to that air, that character. 

He picked up his lunch box and stormed out brushing my shoulder while I locked eyes with the lady who was sitting right opposite his desk. She looked at her watch and smiled. 

“Oooooo Pal sir is hungry today. He left five minutes early. Why don’t you sit and wait because this will take some time” she told me with a very pleasant smile while working on her computer. 

“Won’t you all go for lunch now?”

“yeah we will…”

“How long is lunch here usually?”

“Ummm about 30mins but to be honest work doesn’t begin before 45mins”

“I guess I would come back later then”

I got back to the car and told my dad what happened. We decided we should go and finish some other tasks while these guys finish their lunch. We headed to the BSNL office to get our FTTH (fiber internet service) disconnected. 

We came back in an hour and to my dismay, Mr. Pal hadn’t returned from lunch while everyone else had come back. I asked the lady again if she knew when he would be back. 

“He should be back any minute now. I suggest you wait”

I plonked on the chair by his desk and waited for him. In about ten minutes, Mr. Pal showed up making a beeline towards his desk. 

“Hi. I would like to update my NEFT…” I began telling him my concern, but he seemed very busy just settling in and showed no sign of listening to me. I decided to wait till he settled down. He adjusted his chair about three to four times before finding that perfect spot, opened cabinet on his right and put his lunch box in it, sanitized his hands and switched on his monitor. For the next five minutes, he logged into various pages and systems by entering his username, password and fingerprint on the biometric sensor. He then picked up a stack of files from his right and neatly arranged them on the left of the monitor. Then he picked up a fresh stack of papers from the desk on his right and put it in front of him. I kept waiting expecting him to look at me and acknowledge my presence, but it didn’t seem to bother him that a person was sitting a couple of feet away from him.

“Excuse me? I need to update my NEFT in my policy. I have been told I should do it here.”

“What? NO! You don’t need to be here. Take a form from Manoj, he must be sitting outside at the entrance and HE WILL BRING IT TO ME!” he almost screamed at me without making eye contact. 

I walked back to Manoj furious that he made me run around when he could have just told this to me when I had walked in.

“Do you have the form for updating NEFT?”

“Ah! Yes, I do. Here..” he handed over the form to me along with a pen as politely as he could. I decided to hold back my anger and just get it done somehow. I filled up the form and gave it back to him. He gave it a good read.

“Now I just need a copy of your photo ID and a cancelled cheque”

I went back to the car, tore out the last cheque from my cheque-book thanking my stars that I had one left and came back up. I had photocopies of my Aadhaar Card. I handed it over to him and he gave it another thorough read. He dropped the form in a stack on his left and gestured to me that I was good to go.

Relieved I turned around and began walking away when I felt like I should have asked for some kind of receipt or evidence that I applied in the first place. I turned around again and asked him if there was a receipt involved and how much time it would take to get updated. He again picked up my form and read it thoroughly for the third time.

“Does this signature match with the one in your policy?”

“No. I am not sure actually. It is a very old policy.”

“How old?”

“I don’t know…pretty old I think”

“Well then it will be rejected if the signature doesn’t match.”

“Is there a way I could work something out? Please help me out” I asked him meaning every word of it because I did not want to come back here. 

“You’ll need to get the signature verified. Go in there and meet Mr. Saxena. He should be able to help you”

I went back to the old office and asked the angry stamping guy for Mr. Saxena. 

“Actually, you should meet Mr. Rastogi” he told me pointing to a cabin with a queue of people. I joined the queue. 

I heard someone cross from my left and reach Mr. Rastogi’s desk like there was no queue. 

“Have I made some mistake?” he asked Mr. Rastogi who now seemed like a deer in front of headlights. 

“Arey, hello sir! How are you?”

“No, I was wondering if you’re upset or something. I have been calling you since yesterday, sent you messages. Neither did you answer my calls, nor did you reply to my messages. So, I thought I would rather check on you personally”

Mr. Rastogi had indeed been just avoiding his calls. It was all over his face. It took him a minute to gather himself, smile and come up with an excuse.

“Arey sir! This whole Corona thing has been driving me crazy. I don’t touch my phone without sanitizing my hands and the phone. So often I don’t answer it because I can’t just keep sanitizing it over and over again”

“That’s alright. But I need an update on the thing we talked about. It is kind of important. The client has been asking”

“What were the amounts?”

“One was around 50lakhs and another about 84lakhs”

“Yeah, I will get that sorted today itself”

“Please answer my call next time” the man told him with a big menacing smile. Mr. Rastogi returned an anxious smile and continued to solve the problem of the first man in the queue. 

I figured I should check with him in case I discovered end of the line that he wasn’t the right person. I told him I wanted to get my signature verified to update NEFT on my policy. He immediately pointed to a lady at the end of the room opposite the lady I met earlier. I thought I should may be check back with the lady I spoke to in the beginning. 

“I need to verify the signature for this form” 

“She will do it” she pointed me to the lady Mr. Rastogi pointed me towards. I went to her and explained my situation. 

“Nothing will work today. The servers are down. And anyway, it isn’t my job. Mr. Saxena does it”

“Where does he sit?”

“Oh, he has been transferred to another branch”

“Who has replaced him?”

“No one yet”

“So, basically this can’t be done at all till someone joins?”

“I don’t know about that. Please come again later when the servers are working”

I took a deep breath furious at so many things and walked out. 

As soon as I sat in my car, my father understood that something was wrong. I still had the documents in my hand. I told him what happened. 

“But it is a quick thing. In my branch, he just asked me and typed it out in the computer. It was done. No forms, no cheque, no fuss!”

“Can we then go to your branch?”

“No, this policy is from this branch and can only be updated from here”

“But they don’t want to. I don’t even know how the signature looks like or when was the policy taken or what kind policy it is”

“Can’t they just input the policy number and check all that out?”

“But why don’t we call the person who gave us policy?”

“Arey let’s not go there. Let me call my branch manager and see if he can help”

He called his manager Mr. Nigam who assured him that Mr. Rastogi should be the right person to talk to. My father just stepped out of the car.

“Let me see how they don’t do it”

He stormed in the office, without any entry in the register or any conversation with Manoj. I guided him through to Mr. Rastogi’s desk which still had a long queue. My father just walked past the queue straight to his desk. 

“Mr. Nigam asked me to speak to you. I need to update NEFT details for my policy number *********” my father just recited it out like a schoolboy reading in the morning assembly. 

Mr. Rastogi lifted his head up, gave me a very dirty look that clearly said, “You didn’t have to get your father involved!”. He extended his hand, took the document from my father, opened a page on his computer, showed me the signature, which was very close to my signature, but I could tell someone while filing the policy had copied it. He then circled it on the form, stamped it, signed on it and scribbled something.

“There you go. Your signature is verified. Drop it by Manoj and you’re done”

“Can you also please tell me if we have missed any prior survivor benefits?”

“Sorry, the server is down today. You can come back another day and I would be able to check that for you but not today”

My father took the form, walked back to Manoj, gave him the form who happily nodded reading it again and added it to a pile on his left. He then took out a receipt book, wrote a receipt and gave it to me. Mr. Rastogi stepped out just then and stopped by to talk to my father. 

“Take my number. In case this doesn’t get through, call me up. Although, it would be done in a week. I usually don’t answer my calls because of this whole Corona thing but you can try and also drop in a message maybe.” 

My father saved his number, thanked him, took the receipt and walked back to the car with an air of victory. I walked close by still wondering what just happened. While I was being all polite and following the protocol, my father stormed in with authority looking like someone who would make a call and get Mr. Rastogi transferred to Balia or Bahraich and he got away with it. I suddenly felt like an alien in the city I grew up in. 

“He took you for a kid and thus was harassing you. Did you see how he just did it when he saw me?”

“Look at me! I am a 33year old man with a bald head and more gray than black in my beard. How does anyone take me for a kid? People mistake me for a forty-year-old but never a young kid. Even if I was a kid, why would they harass a kid?”

“It is not how you look son! It is how you speak to them. If you’re unsure and polite, they think you don’t know things yet…”

“Well then henceforth, if there is anything to do with the government, you are doing it not me”

“Deal!”

It was almost 4pm and I was dying of hunger. In a normal situation we would have eaten something out but that was not an option. My father sprayed sanitizer generously on my hands, his hands and everywhere else he could, started the car and we drove back home. 

Of bubble wraps, matrimony and rainbows: Part III – A ray of hope

Continued from here

“Himanshu, he passed away this evening”

I felt like someone pulled the bed from below me and I fell straight on the floor. I called her and ran out of the room into the balcony. My hands were shivering, heart racing, and mouth was drying up. I wasn’t sure if what I read was indeed true. 

She answered my call but could barely talk over her uncontrollable crying. She told me he was found unconscious in his room and declared DOA in the hospital. They suspected cardiac arrest as the possible cause of death. I somehow knew better. I couldn’t talk to her any further. I told her I’d call her back the next day and disconnected while she was still talking. She called me a couple of times, but I didn’t answer. I had no idea what to say to her. I was not in a position to console anyone at that point. She stopped calling eventually.  

I kept sitting in the balcony. I was still unable to process it all. I called his number; it was switched off. I sent him messages. I didn’t want to believe what she told me. But obviously none of them were delivered. 

It didn’t make sense. It seemed too harsh. Unfair. 

I called up Shruti. She didn’t answer. So, I left her a bunch of messages. 

I didn’t know how to bring myself in terms with it. Not a tear came through. I felt asphyxiated. I went to my room, got the iPod out and put the earphones on. I didn’t press play. 

I just sat in the balcony just looking at the iPod for a long time. I just wanted him to speak to me through those headphones. There were so many things I could have told him in our last phone call. I also hated him somewhere for not giving me a call before doing what he did. I could have talked him out of it.

Rest of the kids (my flatmates) found out something was wrong. They woke up and came out in the balcony. They had all met him at some point. After sitting with me for a while, they insisted I went back to bed. 

Safal hugged me tight and slept next to me. I eventually passed out with the iPod in my hand. I woke up absolutely disoriented. All the kids had gone to college. I called up my mentor and told her I won’t be able to come to college that day. I called up the cousin again and she started crying hearing my voice. 

I found out his mother had decided she didn’t want to speak to or meet anyone from his ‘gay’ life. I had been specifically told not to come to Surat for the funeral. In my head I wasn’t even sure if this was all true. What if his mother had somehow brainwashed him to stay in Surat and start a new life and she told everyone that he died?

We had not even had out first fight. We hadn’t broken up only to patch up again, hours later. We hadn’t made those silly plans of staying together and telling our parents about us. We hadn’t met each other’s friends so that we could bitch about them later. Whatever time we had spent together, we had spent most of it just escaping from our respective worlds. We were just busy helping each other accept things. Accept ourselves for who we were and accept each other. And feel normal. 

Shruti called me after reading all my messages. She was also devasted. She repeatedly kept asking me if I was ok and if I wanted to let it all out. I didn’t know how to let it all out. I just could not. I was numb. Couldn’t feel anything. I just stayed in bed most of the day. My mentor came home to see me if I was ok. Eventually everyone else came back. And I could see life was just so normal for all of them. I didn’t have any idea how to deal with it all. Funny how while growing up, we are never taught how to deal with grief.

All my closer friends believed he wasn’t somebody very important in my life otherwise they would have known about him. When you have very old and close friends, they know everything about you. You can’t just make up stories. You can’t hide anything from them. I definitely was not ready to explain anything to anyone. My only way out was to behave as if he was indeed not such a close friend. Just an acquaintance whose death you feel yet you don’t feel it. I had to be back to my normal at the earliest.  

I held on to that iPod like my life depended on it. It stayed with me throughout. Every time I put the earphones on, I wished he would speak to me or I would find a recording of him in it. I never heard him again. I used to check his Facebook page every day and find messages from all the people I had heard about from him. He hated most of them. 

As time passed, it got easier for me to believe that he was hiding somewhere and would come back one day when the time was right. I never found closure to the fact he had died but I also in a way accepted that I would probably never see him again. I don’t even know if that makes sense to read.

A number of times I felt his presence around me. I smelled thinner. I always looked around but could never find any source of that smell. Certain other times, I did find something being painted around. Slowly I started to like it. I had no control over it. Just randomly at some point during my day, I would get a strong whiff of thinner. I would just pause, take a deep breath, smile and continue. Somewhere I knew it was all in my head. It was just more comforting to not think with logic. 

The irony was I had a great support system around me. Abhishek stayed across the street, I used to meet Stephen every day in college, Kasturika and Shruti were a phone call away, so were Chaitra and my other close friends. I just didn’t have the strength, courage or the will to test out my relationships. Just because I hadn’t told them one small thing that I should have probably told them long ago. I didn’t know where I would begin the conversation. I felt so lonely even though I had the best friends in the world. It is excruciating to go through it all by yourself. 

I went back in my shell. And I didn’t come out to anyone after that. At least for the next three years. I moved to New York a year from then. I never felt his presence again from the day I landed in New York. In fact, I wished for it a lot of times. But it never happened. And I took it as a sign that I had to move on. I stopped using the iPod. But kept it safe in a corner. 

I had promised myself while moving to New York that I would start afresh. I had the chance to live in one of the best cities in the world where no one knew me. I could be anyone. I could be myself. 

I lived in Newport, New Jersey with a few Indian guys. In a very short time, I got very close to two of them. They treated me like family. We would have dinner together, watch movies, go for walks, cook or just banter. They never let me spend any money because I was a student and younger than them. Initially I tried to insist but I gave up and went with the flow. The two years that I stayed in New York; they were a very important part of my life. They even gifted me a suit for my graduation and were there to cheer me up. 

Except they were bigtime homophobic. Every little conversation that came even remotely close to sexuality made them extremely uncomfortable. And there I was, back to the exact same life I had in India – pretending to be straight. In my class, technically I never lied about my sexuality. Just that nobody really asked me anything and I never explicitly told anyone. 

We had a really good-looking Italian guy in our class, and he had beautiful blue eyes (No, not Stefano! He’s a sweetheart!). Once I told him he had beautiful eyes. “You’re a man. I am man. What’s wrong with you?” he replied with such a disgusting face that I apologised for complimenting his eyes. For most of the year he didn’t speak to me. Until graduation when he apologised for his behaviour.  I didn’t care about it by then.

Shruti became the only person with whom I would share everything, big or small, be it the first time I went to a gay strip club or a date with a handsome forty-year-old doctor in Washington. The funny part was, I was very happy however things were. I went to parties, met a lot of good and bad guys, went on interesting and disastrous dates and did all that I wanted to do. Just had to laugh at a lot of really unfunny sexist pervert jokes every now and then to fit in. 

One evening in February 2013, I was on the night shift at the edit lab. I used to work as Teaching Assistant when I was not working as a PA. There was this very pleasant looking Italian guy working on Edit Station 5. He was editing his semester project. He came to me complaining that the machine just shut off. I went to check and found the cable unplugged. I plugged it back, switched it back on and came back to my station. 

Sometime later, he came to me with the same problem. I went back to the edit station and plugged the machine back. 

“Can you not unplug this? It is kind of important to run the machine” 

“Man, I swear I didn’t do it. I just happened by itself” he told me really earnestly. I decided to not push it then but keep an eye on him. I just kept walking around observing him while he worked. 

Just then I saw him cross his leg then straighten it. His shoe hit the power cord and unplugged it. The screen went black and he turned and looked at me. I smiled and explained him what was happening. We both laughed a lot at that. 

“Sean Miyakawa” he introduced himself.

“I know. I have your ID card remember? Himanshu btw” we shook hands.

The next few nights we talked more and got along well. We used to eat together, and I used to let him work for a little longer after the edit lab hours so that he could finish his project on time. We had a lot of fun conversations after that. Astonishingly, he used to tell me a lot of things about his life that I thought were personal. But that meant he trusted me. And it gave me the confidence to open up more.

On my birthday, I got a text from him at midnight. I was just finishing my nightshift along with my birthday buddy Zachary. I told him to show his face if he really wanted to wish me since he stayed close to the school. 

“Hellllloooooooooooooo” I heard a voice as I locked the main door of my school building. He was actually there to wish me on his cycle. 

“Man, my girlfriend is kind of not very happy about me leaving the apartment at this time. But I couldn’t bear the thought of you guys celebrating alone”

“Sean, how can two of us be ‘alone’?” I asked him pointing at Zach.

“But it’s his birthday too. So, it doesn’t count. Where do we go?”

We figured the only place open at that point was iHop. We had so much fun that night. It was just the three of us there and the waiting staff was very thrilled about it somehow. We ate some really bad pancakes, had terrible coffee and walked around for some time. 

It is amazing how little gestures make so much of difference in your life. In the days to come, we became really good friends. I discovered that his close friends and family called him Orso, which means bear in Italian. And at some point I started calling him Orso as well. We kept meeting every now and then. He even proposed the idea that I should shoot his thesis film and I agreed. From then on, Orso and I used to meet every day to discuss the shot breakdown of his film.

One evening we were too fried and decided not to talk about work. He told me a lot about his life. And it was my turn. I had the chance of being honest in a friendship that I knew was going to last for years to come (I was so right). The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to just tell him everything upfront. 

“Man, there is something I need to tell you. But I am afraid it might just change everything between us” I told him and immediately regretted saying it. I didn’t have the courage to actually say it. I wanted to chicken out so bad. 

“Come on man! You can trust me. And I assure you nothing you say or do will change anything between us” Orso assured me while we walked on the 14th Street towards 6th Avenue. 

I continued walking still unsure of how to say it. My heart was pounding through my ears. My feet felt really heavy. I had a tingling sensation in my hands. 

I had two choices. To lie and the pretend like I had done all my life with everyone back in India or New York for that matter. Or speak the truth and take the plunge. If he turned out to not be ok with it, then I would know I was right all this while to not tell anyone and would continue the life of pretence. But if he did turn out to be cool with it, then I would have one more friend in life who would know everything about me. 

“I am not really straight…” it was the second time in life I was saying it. 

Or maybe third. Back in school, a guy who everyone used to bully for being very effeminate somehow seemed like the right person to talk about it. He was well known for all the funny sexual stories and conversations he could come up with. But every time anyone asked him if he was gay, he outright denied it. We talked a lot and I felt I could trust him. So, one day, I told him. He said he was cool about it and promised to keep it a secret. 

I moved to Mumbai after school. Abhishek and some other friends of mine took a gap year to prepare for medical/engineering exams. One day, I got a mail from Abhishek about how that guy from school was laughing and telling everyone I was gay. But Abhishek also asked me not to worry because nobody really believed him, thanks to his image in class. I let it go but it never really quite settled in. I wanted to break his face. I was convinced that it was in my best interest to stay low and think more before trusting anyone again. To be fair, of all the people I could have told it to, I had chosen the worst person. I had somewhere asked for it. Sorry Abhishek. 

“Aww man? That’s it? I was worried what it could be. The only thing that it is going to change between us is that we are going to be way closer friends now than before. We’re brothers now man!” and he hugged me. 

“Are you sure?” 

“What? Of course, I am sure. What’s even the matter with you? Come on we need to celebrate. What’s around here?”

We looked around and there was this really sad deli next to us. We walked in and decided to get us hot chocolates. We took a sip and discovered the worst hot chocolate we had ever had. 

“Oh man! This is so bad that I will never forget it, I think. But it works because I don’t want to forget this”

The next few months changed everything in my life. Orso and I spent a lot of time together. Almost all the time. Which meant I could be myself almost all the time. I could joke about things, talk about what I felt, and not to forget all the gay jokes Orso would crack. Our relationship went on to get stronger and deeper with each passing day. I shot his final film and discovered how well we got along professionally as well.

 Then I fractured my foot, shot Colour of War in LA (you can read all about it here). 

As the time to return to India was coming closer, a strange sense of loneliness and fear began looming over my head. I had to go back to the same life, be with the same people who didn’t know anything about me. Except it was not their fault. They loved me. I loved them. Still the idea of being amongst them made me very uncomfortable. I knew I had to fix this.

Upon my return I began my mission of coming out to people one by one. I stayed in Lucknow for few months. Started off with Abhishek. I think I made him walk around for two hours in the sun but couldn’t get to actually saying it. At some point, he lost his patience and really pushed me to say whatever I wanted to say. And when I told him, that asshole just laughed for a minute. That was new for me. But post that, we talked at length about everything. I was so relieved. I really needed him by my side.   

“I always knew you were gay. Who spends that much on shoes?” are his golden words I would never forget in life I guess. 

Next was Kasturika. And it was a really big deal for me. We have been best friends since 1996. We have grown up together and have no memory anymore of a time when we didn’t know each other. After coming out to her, I discovered there were more levels of our friendship that we could unlock. 

With each person that I came out to, the time it took me to utter the words reduced drastically. I moved to Mumbai and came out to Chaitra on our very first meeting. 

Stephen was in Mumbai for a few days and was staying with me. One night he stepped out to meet some friends, got drunk and came back home really late. I had to wait outside my apartment for over an hour because he had the keys. When he got back, he was extremely apologetic and really drunk. 

Right before we went to sleep, he started talking to me and told me how he knew nothing about my life except my work. He went as far as accusing me of being devoid of any feelings. He was very emotional and concerned. I promised him I would tell him everything once he sobered up. 

Next evening, I took him for a really long walk around Inorbit and told him my life’s story till date. Technically, we had been very good friends till then, but I think that day was when I would say we actually became friends. In his words, “I am not interested in the good stuff. That’s what everyone projects. Give me all the dirt, all the fuck ups and you can be my friend. If you can be vulnerable in front of me, be rest assured, I would die for you”. 

“You’re not straight right?” Pooja asked me one day. 

“No. But how did you find out?”

“I read all your blogs. It’s the way you value your relationships with your male friends, it made me wonder.”

“Just that?”

“No, a lot of other things. But it does come through your writing and expression. Also, I have a gift that way” she told me batting her perfect eyelashes. 

When Ms. Desai talks, you have to just give in. She turned out to be an amazing friend who stood by my side in all my ups and downs. 

Having come out to all my really close friends, I began expanding the circle. I didn’t leave any opportunity. Whenever I saw a window, I grabbed it and came out to that person. From school friends to cousins to colleagues. And magically, everyone just turned out be cool with it. 

I had to tell my cousin, Nidhaan aka Kukki bhaiya. He was supposed to leave for New Zealand, and I thought I would wait till the end and then tell him. So, in case he turned out be not okay with it, he wouldn’t have to be around me. However, I love him a lot. He has been a very important part of my life from childhood. It was very difficult for me to just be around him and not be honest. 

One evening, a few weeks before his departure, I gave him a vague heads up that I wanted to tell him something important. But it took me few hours before I could actually muster the courage to say it. It was very important how I did it because I didn’t want anything to go wrong where family was involved. He on the other hand had contemplated all sorts of possibilities of what it could be. 

“That’s it? I have been losing my shit here thinking you’ve done something very serious and need help with something. Come on!” 

“What? What would I do?”

“I don’t know. Killed someone, stole something or have a case on you for drugs”

“Do you even know me?”

“I do. But I always think of the worst. Btw, I have always known it”

“That I know. I still had to officially say it right?”

To my relief, he too turned out be super cool. He did confess though that a lot of it was because he had stayed in London and it was me involved. Had I probably come out to him few years ago, his reaction would have been different. The last two weeks of his stay were so much fun. 

I came out Ishaan (after Gujjubhai’s shoot) then Goldie (during Reporters’ shoot) then all the actors of Reporters. I told Evan, my first assistant because he worked very closely with me. I came out to Sai who I knew was going to be cool about it.  I also came out to Sameer who was not such a close friend back then. Though that changed soon.

In a matter of two years, from living a life of pretence and fear I was now learning to be comfortable in my own skin. Every affirmative response instilled more confidence in me. I felt so lucky to be surrounded by people who were just so loving, supportive and positive. 

The change became apparent in my personality. I developed a voice. I no longer just stayed quiet at homophobic, transphobic or sexist jokes. I became a lot more sensitive towards people of my community. I got more comfortable with other shades of the rainbow. Eunuchs became transgenders for me. And I learnt to respect them. Actually, I learnt to respect every shade of humanity because I slowly understood it is a difficult cruel world for everyone who’s even slightly unconventional in any way.

The more I got comfortable with my own self, the more I could understand others around me. I just got better in general at understanding the complexity of emotions. The world turned into shades of grey instead of black and white.

In 2015, I fell in love again and asked him to move in with me. By 2016, we had adopted two cats, moved to a bigger apartment near film city, I had bought a car and was shooting a period show with Goldie. Life seemed to have finally turned around. I even went to Lucknow with him just to gauge if my parents liked him as a person or not. My mother absolutely loved him while my father wasn’t very impressed with him. She didn’t even ask me why he was living with me. I thought I was getting closer to the point of telling my parents. 

But things went south between us. And at one point, they got physical. I had to stand up for myself. I had to protect myself, emotionally and now, physically. He moved out and disappeared from my life. I continued to stay in the bigger apartment and since I was now in love with the cats, I kept them too. 

Then one day, my mother casually mentioned the word ‘marriage’ in a conversation. And I woke up from my dream. 

“But dad, I am not even close to being financially stable enough to get married”

“From where I see it, that’s going to take a little while.”

“Thanks for the faith in me”

“No, I didn’t mean that. What I meant is, it might help you. Two is always better than one to deal with life”

I kept quiet.

“I am not saying you have to do it right away. But start thinking about it”

I started thinking about it. Every time I had to visit home, I would spend days and nights rehearsing the conversation I wanted to have with my parents. I would convince myself that I had to do it. However, as soon as I faced my parents, I couldn’t say anything. All the time that I stayed in Lucknow, I kept thinking if it was in fact possible to marry a girl? That did seem like a very easy way out. It seemed like such a bad idea to disrupt the peace and happiness of my home. 

Then I would come back to Mumbai and right from my ride back home from the airport, I would curse myself for even considering the prospect of getting married. And the rehearsal would begin again. It was like Mumbai’s air made me feel liberated while Lucknow felt like I was chained.

As time passed, the pressure kept increasing. Not just from my parents but also from my grandparents, aunts and uncles. And to add to it, between 2016-2018, almost all my friends got married. With every wedding card that came to my home, my parents levelled up in their strategies. 

The casual jokes turned into light indirect nudges. Those nudges became direct statements. And before I knew, my parents started sending photos and biodata to me. Every time they would send me photo of a beautiful girl, I would ask them if she had seen my photo. 

“That is not our problem. You tell us is if you like the girl. She will definitely like you”

“What time-period are you guys living in? I am convinced if you ask her, she would outright say no to me”

“Don’t talk nonsense. Tell us if you like anyone.”

I tried to buy more time by declining offers left right and centre, for all sorts of weird reasons. Educational background became the easiest way out. Until one day my father called me up and took my class.

“Don’t act so arrogant just because you’ve studied in the USA and have travelled a lot. If a girl is intelligent, she will fight right in. Stop disrespecting them.”

And from that conversation, my parents stopped listening to me. Every phone call became a monologue. They would tell me about all the prospects, send me photos and expect me to respond. Except I never responded. They would turn deaf whenever I wanted to say something.

Then my father signed up on various matrimony websites and sent me username and password to manage it myself. I opened one of them once and realized how much my parents were bluffing about my income, weight and complexion.

“Dad I haven’t been 65kgs in years. I am six feet tall and if a six feet tall guy was 65kgs, he would look one fourth my size. I am definitely most certainly not fair, and my income is far from being 50-60lakhs a year. At least be scared of the income tax department if not God. You do my taxes for God’s sake”

I almost felt like they made a profile based on who they wished I was. Except I realized that how they see me like every north Indian parent of a male child. 

2017 turned out to be an absolute disaster. The project I was working on was cancelled early. I hardly got any money after a year’s worth of work. I had to undergo knee surgery at the end of the year which further put me out of work for almost a year. I was broke, financially, physically and emotionally. 

As soon as I was back on my feet after my surgery, the conversation about marriage was back too. The pressure got insane by end of 2018. Every conversation with my parents turned out to be about marriage. No matter what I talked about, they found a way to connect it to marriage. 

I desperately wished if they would just ask me how I was instead of constantly just worrying about my marriage. 

“You keep talking about marriage like you have lots of money stashed away for it” I asked my parents once

“Arey it will all be arranged don’t worry” my father replied very confidently.

“Then how about arrange it now and help me. I could use that money right now. I can get married with my own money later”

They never had any answer to that. I slipped into depression. I would stay home curled up in bed, didn’t answer any calls and bailed out on all plans to meet anyone, even the closer people. I had to borrow money from my parents most of the time. So, I borrowed just the exact amount to make it through the month. Which meant I never had a penny extra to buy anything or go out and eat. Financial dependence on my parents didn’t help me fight my case against my marriage. I wanted to get back to work but I didn’t do anything to get more work. I just wasted days and days lying in bed wishing everything would change magically. 

Luckily things did change. By September 2018, I began getting work again. That helped me get back on my feet and rebuild my self-confidence. On New Year’s Eve, I shared a long post (you can read it here) about how my mental health had been all throughout and promised myself that I would get out of this misery and make things right. One of the first steps in that direction was to come out to my parents. And this time I knew I had to actually do it. 

I visited Lucknow in February 2019 to attend Anurag’s wedding. One afternoon while my parents were casually chit chatting about marriage plans, they began showing me photos of girls from various matrimony apps, telling me about each one of them and what my mother thinks of them. It was one of the most heart-warming, magical little moments of my life. The happiness in their eyes that I was at least patiently talking to them about marriage was out of this world. I was almost getting in the flow and letting it be just to see them so happy and excited. Just then something inside me snapped. I knew if I didn’t do it then, I would never be able to do it ever again. 

My heartbeat began to rise, palms began to sweat, and my mouth started to get really dry. I had rehearsed this conversation a million times in my head. Yet I had no idea what was the word I wanted to begin with. I walked over to the fridge, took out a water bottle, gulped down half of it, closed all the doors and came back to my seat.

“There is something you guys need to know”

Unlike what I imagined; my parents began to smile exchanging looks. It took me a second to understand that they were assuming I was going to open up about some affair that they didn’t know about. I felt a lump in my throat. Took a couple of more sips of water. A part of me was still telling me to stop. There was still time. I could rethink this. 

“I don’t want to get married to a girl”

“If you don’t want to get married to a girl then who would you marry?” asked my mom still a bit smiley. 

“A boy”


In March I visited Lucknow again to check on my fifteen year old doggo, Knowey. He passed away in my arms. And I don’t know after how many years, I cried. I cried for everything that I did not cry for in the past. I just let it all out. After sobbing for I don’t know how long, I felt light. I buried my doggo and felt like the circle was complete. I had brought him home when he was a little ball of fur and I sent him away when he was reduced to a small pile of bones and skin. I found closure to a lot of things.

October 2019

Continued…

“Then let me make it very clear that ‘you marrying or living with another guy’ is also not going to happen” she closed the conversation and left the room. 

I took a deep breath and continued packing. When I left, I touched her feet and she blessed me like usual, as if nothing happened. I got in the cab and left for the airport a little more broken this time. I was going further and further away from home.

As soon as I reached Mumbai, I went to meet Sameer. We were walking around when I got a text from my father saying his reports were normal and he was back home. I told him not to stress about anything and just rest. 

“You should also contribute towards it”

“I do my best”

“I think you can sometimes avoid reacting to your mother’s innocent arguments”

“Except all arguments are not so innocent. Some have larger implications”

“Who said innocent arguments have simple solutions? I am just saying to consider her position as well”

“I do that always. But somethings are just beyond me.”

“She has sacrificed a lot for you. You’ve been her biggest project in life”

“I know that, and I have always been grateful for that.”

“May be this is the moment when you can do something for her”

“What do you mean? What should I do? Get married?”

“I don’t think I need to spell it out. There’s no point of this conversation if I have to.”

“But that is what you mean right? Tell me clearly then. You think I should get married?”

“I think you are wise enough to choose what’s best for you. All I want is your mother and you to be happy and healthy. Good night”

With this last message he kept his phone aside. Whatever I sent next; he did not read. I told him I would send him an email with my side of arguments in it. I wasn’t sure if it was the passive aggressiveness that was bothering me or the fact that I had just lost the support of my father in this battle I wasn’t sure I was ever going to win.

I did not go back to Lucknow for Diwali. Phone conversations continued to be the same. My mental space got messed up day by day; all the more so having lost an important support. It started to hamper with my regular functioning like taking lectures or going for any meetings. I began avoiding phone calls again and continued to stay home as much as possible. Except it got worse just staying home all alone. So, in a desperate attempt to change my mood, I would step out and plan to meet someone. As soon as I would meet anyone, I would realize it was a bad idea. 

Every time I met Kasturika or Abhishek’s parents, I found them to be so happy and content with their lives. Like they had ticked the last box of their to-do list. The way Abhishek’s mother would call up Shruti a million times during the day or Kasturika’s mother would constantly be on a video call to see her grandson. The sheer love they had for their son-in-law/daughter-in-law. It looked so complete. As happy as I would feel seeing my friends happy, a sinking feeling would soon creep up inside me that I might never get to experience this. 

It also made sense to me what my mother was really fighting for. Unaware of the fact that in this whole fiasco, I was the one at the losing end in any scenario. If I married a girl, I would have to give up my identity, my happiness and everything I had worked so hard for. Not to mention, I would have ended up ruining the life of another person and severing my relationship with my parents because I would never be able to forgive them for what they did to me. If I did hold my ground, I anyway would have damaged and probably destroyed my relationship with my parents while being tagged as ‘the only child gone rogue’. 

Then came December and one evening my mother called. Except this time, she sounded like she was willing to talk. She was focussed, calm and open to a discussion. I took that opportunity to tell her everything that I had planned to write in the mail to my father. I explained it to her how she was expecting me to take my life’s biggest decision based on the society that she lived in. For me what mattered was the society I had to live in and there everyone knew everything about me. Just like how her society would not accept me marrying a man, my society would no longer be okay with me marrying a girl. I told her how hard I had to work to gain the support and respect from everyone around me and stand up for myself. 

She listened quietly. 

“Everything was going great until this problem came up”

“It is not a problem and it didn’t just come up. It is who I am, and this is how I have always been”

“Literally everyone I meet, that’s all they ask about. I don’t even know what to answer…”

“You’ll know what to answer when you’ve accepted it yourself”

I felt so good after that hour-long conversation with my mother. It was the first time I had talked to her so openly about it. I slept like a log that night. 

My next conversation with her was exactly how I always remembered talking to her. She was happy, relaxed and comfortable. I felt so overwhelmed. It felt like I was speaking to my mother after months. I saw a ray of hope. I thought if I could do a couple more of these heart to heart sessions, I would surely be able to make her feel better about it. 

I went to Delhi for a shoot and stayed with Shruti and Abhishek for two weeks. We celebrated Christmas together, baked cookies and talked our hearts out. Then one night my phone beeped. It was a message from my mother.

It was a contact of a girl.

“Talk to her and be nice”

“Why?”

“For your marriage”

“But I am not going to get married. I am not talking to her or any girl”

“We want you to get married. Understand?”

“Yeah sure, now you guys will force me to do it?”

She saw the last message. Then her last seen didn’t change for the rest of the night. I fell right back in the pit I had almost climbed out of. Abhishek and Shruti sat with me for a long time. I didn’t even know what the matter with my parents was anymore. 

In my next conversation, she talked usually like that conversation over messages never happened. And it always drove me insane when my parents behaved like nothing was wrong.

I got back to Mumbai. As I was about to open my apartment door, I heard Chhotu talk loudly with someone. I understood it was my sister-in-law. I walked in and saw him in a very bad mood.

“She was asking if I know anything about your marriage plans”

“What did you say?”

“I said neither do I ask you about all that nor do I care. I stick to my business and my life and let you stick to yours”

I was so proud of him. I felt a rage build inside me. I felt intruded. She didn’t have the guts to call me and ask so she was poking Chhotu to say something. Except I decided not to react. Because I knew my family would find that also ‘innocent’. 

She continued to message ‘Good morning’ and ‘Pranaam’ for many days after that. She would send me pictures of my mother. Then I discovered she was staying in Lucknow and had joined my mother’s parlour to help out. Which meant there were always enough people to influence my mother’s thought process and remind her of my marriage. 

My conversations with my parents stayed cold and distant. A family friend’s wife called me asking about my wedding plans because my mother told her what she told everyone else – “He doesn’t listen to us, but he would surely listen to you”. She offered to set me up. It took all of my strength to stay patient and polite. But she did get my point and never called again. 

“I am setting you up now. It is getting very late” my mama ji (maternal uncle) called one day. 

“Why?”

“What do you mean why? Your mother is so worried, and you don’t care. I am fixing up your marriage. I have some very good prospects.”

“Okay cool. Then let me know the date, I will reach the venue”

“What? That’s not how it works.”

“Yeah exactly, that’s not how it works!”

I had successfully offended him. That meant he never called up again. I threw my phone in rage and screamed as loud as I could. I hated myself for being like that. I had never been rude to anyone before, specially not my parents or family. And with time, I was becoming this person full of anger, hatred and frustration. I felt like I was in the middle of a mob that didn’t understand my language and wanted me to jump off a cliff just because they believed it would make me happy. 

I used to think the most painful part of the deal would be the coming out. I was wrong. The most painful part of the deal is to see your mother cry and plead in front of your relatives, family friends, parents of you friends and sometimes directly to your close friends to talk to you and convince you to get married. When your friends call you and tell you how miserable your mother was, how she was not really listening to anything but just saying what she had to say and how they had never seen her so broken and in pain before, you can’t help but hate everything. Hate yourself for putting your parents through all of it. Hate this society for being so insensitive and devoid of any humanity and always poking its nose in other people’s personal lives. It breaks you. It tears you. You want to just somehow put an end to it.

And then comes the scariest part. When you begin to sympathize with the ones who decided to end their lives. You start to get a sense of the extent of trauma they must have gone through and their helplessness. You feel empty, exhausted and incapable of coping any further. You start to believe that this fight would never end. Everything you say or do starts to seem pointless. You begin to slip down a very dark slippery slope. 

If you’re straight, then there is no way I can make you understand what it is like to live your life seeking acceptance from your family, friends and at some point, society. If only I could define the feeling of living in the constant fear of people finding out and then abandoning you. And this fear never leaves you. It affects your personality, your work, your relationships and your health. Everything you do, everyone you meet, everywhere you go, it follows you. And what follows is guilt. Of lying. Of hiding something. Of constantly pretending like everything is ok. When it is not. Your insides are screaming but you’re smiling outside sipping coffee in Starbucks talking about the upcoming Nolan film. There were so many times when I almost just screamed out in public “I am gay, and I don’t give a fuck what you think”. But that was not the truth. I did give a fuck. That was the problem all this while.

The idea of calling it quits started to seem really comforting. Though I never really planned it or even seriously thought about it, there was a constant thought of how it would be if I were gone. I even planned the letters I would leave behind for people. I planned it well as to how Shruti and Rahul would get my social media account passwords along with a letter of how much I loved them and how I would always look out for them wherever I would be, the things I wanted tell Kukki bhaiya, apology to Orso for breaking my promise of never committing suicide, more apologies to Kasturika, Abhishek, Chaitra and Stephen. What I could never really plan was how to write a letter to my parents. In fact, the only thing that kept stopping me from actually doing anything further was the thought of what my parents would go through when they would get the news. It seemed too harsh of a punishment. 

I was under constant anxiety. Every time my phone flashed ‘Mummy’ or ‘Papa’ calling, I would get cold feet. Most of the times, I didn’t answer it. Then I would build up a lot of courage and will before calling them back. Most of the times, I couldn’t talk for more than few minutes because I would get this very strong feeling that no matter what I said, I was only causing disappointment to them. Talking to anyone didn’t help either. I shared my anxieties, frustrations and pain with all my close friends at every point, but nothing seemed to ease my pain. They were always there with me, for me and yet I didn’t know what to do to make me feel better. The only time I felt relieved was when I would dream of a world without me.

I found it difficult to drive or concentrate on anything. The only time I got any relief was during shoots. As soon as I reached set, I gave my phone away to Rahul or Evan. Somehow in my head, the phone signified everything that was wrong with my life. I often would get anxiety attacks during my shoot but luckily I always had Rahul around to support me and pull me out of it. He always understands when I am anxious or distressed and shields me taking charge of the shoot above and beyond his regular responsibilities giving me some slack to gather myself again.

It was January 2020. I was determined to not start the year miserable and anxious. I was also beginning to feel scared of my own self. I was inching closer to quitting. I decided I had to put an end to this pain. A friend of mine had shared a contact long ago that I knew would come in handy now. 

I parked my car in a narrow but beautiful street in Bandra and walked up to the big wooden gates. Told the security guard who I was there to meet. He asked me to wait for a few minutes. A girl walked out of the main door. And the guard signalled me to go inside. 

It was a very simple but pleasant room with very few things. Very unlike how I had imagined it. I felt easy though because there wasn’t must to distract or intimidate me. She sat across me with a very warm pleasant smile. 

“Hi”

“Hi”

Both of us kept quiet for a second. 

“Ahh. Is this your first counselling session ever?”

“Yes. So, I am not sure how to go about it.”

“Okay. Let’s just start with what made you seek professional help?”

“I don’t think I have an absolute answer to that”

“That’s ok. Let’s start with what all has been up with you?”

“Yeah. I can do that.”

A week later

I was just browsing through Tinder when a profile caught my attention. Very well-articulated profile description about the kind of guy he was looking for and what all he liked and disliked. It was the same guy from my school. I took a moment to read through it all, took a screenshot and swiped left. 

Fin

I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every person who has been with me and helped me stay strong, sane and positive. There’s still a long way to go before my mother would probably begin to understand and accept it. But till she doesn’t I am going to keep trying and stay put. 

The reason I decided to write about some of the most personal and vulnerable moments of my life was to make everyone understand that not everyone who seems fine is actually fine. Sometimes it is not easy to ask for help. That being said, I also want to emphasize on the importance of seeking help. If you feel you can’t cope with something all by yourself, talk to someone and share the load. Trust your relationships. Have faith in your friends. They love you and want to help you. 

The only reason I am here writing about my story is because at every point I had some one standing by me be it Shruti, Orso, Kasturika, Stephen, Chaitra, Sameer or Rahul. You can have the best friends in the world but if you don’t tell them you need them, they would never be able to help you out. 

And don’t feel ashamed of seeking professional help. Sometimes, you need intervention of an expert more than love and support. There are a lot of resources available if you need them. 

Stay strong and stay put. This too shall pass. 

Onwards and Upwards!

Of bubble wraps, matrimony and rainbows : Part II – The rock-bottom

Continued from here.

2010 – Noida 

“I am addicted to Toluene”

“What? How do you get it?”

“Thinner? The whitener that you get where the powder and thinner are separate? Most of the stationary shops still keep it for people like us. We throw away the white bottle and inhale the transparent thinner”

“Okay. Why are you telling this to me?”

“Because I like you. And I want to be honest with you.”

“Thank you for that. I think I like you too”

He smiled. I smiled back. It had just been fifteen minutes of our first date after almost a week of texting.

By the time we said goodbye, many hours had passed. I never knew there could be so much to talk with someone on the first meeting. The more I tried to think of his thinner addiction, the more reasons I found to still like him. There was a lot more to him.  

We continued talking for weeks to come and met many times and before we knew it, we started to feel a certain sense of commitment towards each other. Both of us deleted our online profiles and gave up on all the other guys we were talking to. He was intelligent, very compassionate, caring and sarcastic. I had so much to figure out in life and so did he, but it seemed like a good start for both of us.

His mother was in town for a short surprise visit and he insisted that I dropped by to say hello. It seemed like a very harmless idea. And I have always gotten along well with mothers of my friends. He opened the door and whispered in my ears 

“She knows about us”. 

I froze. I was not ready for this. I didn’t move for almost a minute. I even contemplated running away. I wasn’t even ready for my best friends to find out about my sexuality when I was absolutely sure they already knew, let alone the idea of meeting my boyfriend’s mother as her son’s ‘boyfriend’. I felt palpitations building up. I was going to throw up.

“Come on. She is cool. Don’t worry. It will be fine” he assured me and dragged me inside the house. 

“Namaste aunty” I croaked. My tongue had fallen into my stomach. I think my blood had no pressure. I signalled for some water. 

“Namaste beta. He talks so much about you. I am so happy to finally meet you.”

I wasn’t expecting to hear that. There was a lot of calmness and warmth in her voice. It definitely helped me calm down. It seemed like it would be a normal conversation. And it did turn out to be one. The evening went really well. His mom and I got along. We laughed so much over things he had done in his childhood. We even ganged up on him and pulled his leg for a while. I didn’t know I could ever have this. It felt like something I could only have dreamt of. I was chilling with a middle-aged person, aware of not just her son’s or my sexuality but also of the relationship we had. Except I had no one to tell this to. 

2019 

Continued…

“See how happy all your friends are”

I felt that maybe it worked. Maybe she did see how my friends are okay with me being myself. 

“You should also get married to a girl. It will all be fine. It’s just a mental block. You’ll also be as happy as they are”

My heart began racing really fast. I felt a sinking feeling. Just when I thought I have a fairy-tale life with my parents being ok with me being gay, reality hit me hard. Something told me, it was going to be a long and tiring process from here on. And I was right.

“Mummy we have talked about it. I have already told you everything”

“I know you’ve told me everything. But I am telling you it is just a matter of changing your perspective”

“It is a lot more complex than that. It…”

“No, it is not. Just think about it. Get married, have a child then anyway nobody has time for anything else”

“Why are you not understanding that it is not just about me? There is another person involved. How can I ruin a girl’s life?”

“Ruin? Why would you ruin her life? You’re such a good and educated guy. Any girl would be lucky to have you as her husband!”

“That’s not how it works. All these people are happy because they are married to the person they wanted to marry. Not because…”

“I know how it works. You’ll have to get married” she said with a tone of finality and left the room. I had never seen my mother talk so defensively. She didn’t even let me finish my sentence.

I got back to Mumbai and began prep for a web series I was supposed to shoot. My mother and I would talk every few days just to check on each other but nothing more. We had both sort of reduced our interactions to bare formalities and pleasantries. This did not bother me so much at first. Little did I know.

I went to Bangkok for the shoot and was there for over sixty days. Like any other shoot, this too was very hectic with very little time to worry about anything. I had paused everything else going on in my life and just shot for all the days I was there.

I got back to Mumbai mid-July, reached my apartment and passed out. Woke up in the morning to find out my grandfather had passed away. I booked the next flight out back home.

My grandmother suddenly seemed very old and fragile. I sat with her for a very long time as she cried holding on to me tightly. My bua then helped me take her to her room. Everyone else was sad but relieved that my grandfather was free of the pain he had to go through for all these years. And all these years, all our energies at home were centred on taking care of him. Now that he was gone, all of us suddenly realized that my grandmother also needed care and attention. 

“When are you getting your son married?” one of my distant aunts poked my mother as I crossed them unaware of them sitting there. 

“Perfect timing chachi ji” I murmured under my breath. 

“Of course, I will get him married. Very soon in fact. And when I do, you all will get a proper invitation” my mother reassured them all with a lot of pride. I just walked away unsure of how to react. 

“I think he got embarrassed” said the aunt seeing me leave and they all laughed.

I am the only son while my uncle has two sons. One of them is of my age and other one is three years younger. Both are married and the younger one has a daughter. Whenever the whole family gathers, this becomes a major eye sore for everyone that the eldest son of the family is still unmarried. 

Later in the evening, I ran into my sister-in-law.

“Bhaiya can I ask you for a favour? Please don’t say no”

I knew perfectly well what was coming but I had no way to escape.

“Tell me” I said putting up a really fake big smile. 

“I don’t want to be the eldest daughter-in-law. It is too much of responsibility. I want someone to come and take over as the eldest here. Get me a nice and sweet sister-in-law please”

“Yeah I will just order one right away from Amazon. I have prime. Should be here in a day”

“Arey bhaiya! I am not joking. I am telling you seriously. Your mom is so worried about you. Don’t you want to see her smile?”

I found it very difficult to keep my fake smile on. But I didn’t want to continue the conversation. The thought of just lying, laughing and getting away from there asap did cross my mind though. All I had to say was “Oh of course! Just wait and watch. I will find the most beautiful sister-in-law for you” and she would leave my life alone. Except I could not bring myself up to do that. 

I was also scared that my words would be used against me. My mother would straight away get to printing out the wedding cards leaving the details of the girl blank to be filled later just to expediate the process. 

But luck was on my side and she was called by someone from the kitchen. She ran away smiling at me. Again, I understood very well that she was just doing what she has learned from everyone around. Still it was very difficult to stay patient. 

It got very suffocating very soon. No matter where I sat, someone would creep up and start a very innocent conversation about where I was and what was I doing these days jumping straight to when I was getting married. I was running out of excuses to save myself. 

The problem was the sense of ownership they felt. It felt like they all had contributed towards my education or upbringing and now they wanted to exercise their rights as stakeholders.

I decided I had to get away from there. I told my father I had work in Mumbai, and I won’t be able to stay for all the thirteen days. He agreed. I left in four days when all the primary rituals and ceremonies were over. But not without the guilt of leaving behind my parents in such a state. 

2010

“Hello bhai. What are you doing?” said a very chirpy Shruti from the other side. She stayed in Dehradun back then.

“Hi. I want to tell you something important that I haven’t yet told anyone”

“Yes bhai, tell me” 

She had no clue what was coming her way. Nor did I.

I was aimlessly walking around the sector 18 market in Noida just beating around the bush. I was scared out of my wits. The very idea of this going wrong gave me chills. I kept telling myself to have faith in my relationship. After a fierce battle with myself, I blurted it out.  

“That’s cool bhai” is what she had to say. 

I kept quiet. It was not the reaction I was expecting. It was just way too casual. Way too easy. I was prepared for the worst. This was not even a scenario I had rehearsed for. At the same time, it did seem like the ideal response. The one I should be getting. 

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am absolutely sure” 

I just took a very deep breath and slowed down. A smile made its way on my face. I knew this was going to change a lot of things for me. We didn’t mull on it for too long and moved on to talking about the amazing guy I was seeing. She was so thrilled to meet him and happy for me. And life seemed so normal. Every time I spoke to Shruti, I forgot how brutal the world really was. 

It went on to be our secret for many years to come. 

One afternoon, he and I were just lying around lazily in the balcony. The rest of the kids were in college. He took out a small packet from his bag. It had a brand-new iPod Nano. 

“My brother got it for me. I actually don’t listen to music as much. I don’t even know what all to put in this”

“Are you kidding me? Give it to me if you don’t want it. There’s so much music I can add to it”

“Haha oh you wish. Nope. This is a gift. I can’t give it to you. But you can probably add that music for me?”

“Sure. But can I borrow it sometimes?”

“Hmmm let’s see. I think that can be arranged” he said smiling playfully. I couldn’t help but kiss him. 

2019

As time passed, my conversations with my mother got more and more weird. A couple of times she tried to talk about marriage, but I absolutely very firmly just denied it. Henceforth, every time I talked to her, she sounded like she wanted to say something but was not able to. 

“Hello”

“Hello. ummmm ……. how are you?”

“I am fine. What’s happening there?”

“okay………………..are you at home?”

“No, I am out for some work. Will be back in sometime. How’s everyone there?”

“hmmm……………….no, everything is fine here…………………”

“Okay….”

“…………………………. yeah….ok……..*sigh*………finish your work, get back home…………I just thought I would check on you…………”

“okay bye?”

“………………….yeah bye…………”

Cold, dry, devoid of any warmth. Just plain simple words. She always sounded like there was something on her mind and she just did not want to talk about it. She also sounded extremely sad and hopeless.

When it got difficult for me to bear, I called up my father. 

“Is mom ok?”

“I mean you know what’s up with her, don’t you?”

“Yeah I do but…”

“Yeah so it is what it is.”

“Okay but should we talk to her? Explain it to her? I don’t even know what to do at this point”

“Let her take her time.”

And he disconnected the call on the pretext of being busy. Most of my conversations with my father turned out to be exact opposite of those with my mother. They were quick and to the point. Though they too lacked the usual warmth and comfort. 

Slowly this started to bother me more and more. I began dreading calls from home just because I didn’t want to hear my mother sound like that. It began to build up as a constant stress for me. I distracted myself by doing all sorts of things so that I didn’t worry about it but every time I would go to sleep, or would be driving alone, all the conversations and thoughts would come back to me again and again. I would start to feel suffocated like they were real people around me forcing me to get married. I don’t even have a count the number of times I have screamed my lungs out while driving in an attempt to get the voices out of my head. They always got louder than my screams.

Being the only child means your parents are your primary and only support system in the name of family. Everything else, every other relationship builds on that foundation. And I was slowly losing that foundation in my life. I started to feel extremely vulnerable and weak.

I had to go back to Lucknow soon, and it took me a lot of strength to do that. As soon as I reached home, I could smell the stress. I could just see what it must be every evening. My mother sitting blank on the couch while my father busy on his phone. Hours of this and they would go to sleep. My father would go to sleep while my mother stayed awake just thinking and thinking. 

I pulled up all the patience I could gather and tried to get things back to normal by talking like usual, fooling around and just generally appearing cheerful. It helped a bit but was definitely not a solution. Every time I would be alone with my mother, I would feel that she wanted to talk to me. Except she never did. Nor did my father. They talked about everything else but what was bothering them. 

Then one day, my mother decided to say it. 

“Will you do something if I ask you to?” she asked me smiling.

“No, I won’t” I answered with a smile.

“But you didn’t even listen to what I was going to say”

“I know what you were going to say”

“You’re just worrying for no reason. It will all be fine. Trust me”

“You don’t even know what you’re asking of me.”

“I know. You’re a mature and intelligent guy. Try to change yourself. You can do this much for me right?”

“Mummy, it is not something that one can change. It is defined for a person like the height or blood group.”

She kept quiet for some time like she was trying to find a way out of the logical reason I threw at her.

“How about you get married for the sake of everyone and then get divorced? At least I would be able to say that we got him married but it didn’t work out.”

“Are you even listening to yourself? Why would I want to marry just to get divorced? What makes you think divorces are that easy or any less embarrassing than an unmarried son? And I am surprised at the how insensitive you are about the girl who would be caught in all this for no fault of hers?”

She again kept quiet. After sitting and pondering over something for a while, she composed herself again and changed the topic. I wasn’t really interested anymore to pretend nothing happened. I stepped out of the house to go visit my friends. 

Few days later, my cousins Priyanshi, Pratyush and I went to watch a film. 

“Bro. What did you tell your mom? Did you say yes?” Priyanshi asked me very concerned about something.  

“Ahh no. Why would I ever say yes? Why are you saying that?”

“Because I have been asked to send some pictures of yours. Click them or source them. Without your knowledge. She said she spoke to you last night”

I told her about the whole conversation between my mother and I. She was equally surprised at the prospects that were being considered. 

I couldn’t concentrate on the film anymore. Something inside me was boiling. I just had to get back home.

As soon as I got back, I went straight to the bedroom to find my mother doing something. She smiled when she saw me.

“If I am not listening to you, what makes you think Priyanshi can change anything?”

“What happened?”

“You tell me what happened? In our last conversation, did I ever say yes to getting married?”

She kept quiet.

“Did I?”

“No. But what happened?”

“Then why would you ask Priyanshi for my photos. Ask me if you really want my photos.”

She just kept quiet for few minutes then spoke in a very calculated manner.

“I never asked her to send me any photos. You can check my phone. Must have been your grandmother. She was talking about it the other day when Priyanshi had come home”

“No. She specifically said you”

“But I never did. Why would I do that?” and with that her tone changed from guilty to really angry and defensive. Hearing that my father walked into the room. 

“What happened?” asked my father. Both of us stayed quiet. He asked again. 

“I don’t know why she is saying I asked for the photos. I never did. I had just said click some pictures while you guys are out. Just generally”

“Yeah sure”

“But what exactly happened here?” my father asked again shocked to see my mother and I so angry at each other. 

“Alright fine. I will not talk to anyone anymore” my mother screamed and sat on the edge of the bed.

There was a very long and uncomfortable silence in the room. I looked at my father and explained it to him in a very calm and patient tone. 

“All I told her was that if I am not listening to her, then there is no way I would listen to Priyanshi even if she does tell me to get married. She needs to stop asking her for my pictures or anything about my marriage”

My father turned to my mother in an attempt to reason with her. 

“yeah so what’s the problem here?”

“It must have been your mother who asked for the pictures. I never did” 

My father looked at me. It was my turn to be calmed down. 

“Yeah. Amma does that. The other day itself she was talking about it”

I could see how desperately he was just trying calm both of us down. My mother left the room. I kept sitting quietly for some time. I took a deep breath and felt like shit. I didn’t even know what I was angry about anymore. For all of my life, my mother and I have been on the same team always. When I was young, my father had to be away a lot of times. The locality we lived in didn’t have kids of my age to play with. The older ones didn’t want me to play with them. The only option I had was to be home and around my mother. So, I would just sit on the kitchen counter while she cooked and either do my homework or just play with utensils like I was cooking too. For all the years of growing up, my mother was my friend.

This turned into a much a closer deeper bond between us. To the point that whenever either one of us would be low, the other one would call up just to check on the other. There were times when I had called and interrupted arguments between my father and her. I have no memory of ever having any kind of argument or disagreement with her. 

I went to the other room and lay next to her hugging her. She began slowly brushing through my hair. We didn’t say anything and just stayed that way for a long time. Neither of us had anything comforting to say to each other. 

My mother is a very mature, intelligent, patient and compassionate person. She has only helped people all her life. She has been there for everyone in the family. I have never seen her talk ill about anyone no matter what a person had done. 

“A person will have to answer for his/her deeds. We don’t need to spoil our karma by talking about it”

All my life I have always looked up to her wishing that I could be like her. While my father gets excited about little things and gets shattered over small troubles, my mother stays rock solid no matter what comes. We have made through some of the worst times only because my mother had the patience and far sight to keep calm and keep pushing.

I had never seen my mother be so absolutely rigid about anything. And she has visited Deva Shariff (shrine of Haji Waris Ali Shah near Lucknow) with me. Anyone who has known her, would know what a big deal that is. I also never knew something like marriage would become such a deal breaker for her. The person I had grown up with, my best friend whom I could say anything to, seemed to have gotten lost somewhere. I needed to find her again. 

2010

A few days later, I got a text from him. 

“Can you come home today?”

“Yeah sure”

I reached his place and saw two small bottles on the table.

“I need you to do something for me”

“Yes, tell me. I’ll do anything”

“I want you to see me at my worst. If you still feel you love me and want to be with me, I promise I will quit this forever”

“What?”

“Yes. I am going to do it now and I want you to be with me through this”

He opened up one bottle and poured a little bit into a plastic bag. Then he covered his nose and mouth with that bag and began to inhale it. 

“Is it really necessary?” I asked him. I was freaking out. I didn’t know how to stop him. Half of my brain wanted to test this out too, but the other half wanted me to just smash the bottles on the floor. Though I didn’t want to find out what could come next.

He held my hand very firmly. Looked at me while sniffing and I could see his eyes had tears in them. I held his hand back and just sat next to him. I understood I had to do it. I took a deep breath.  

It takes around half an hour to forty minutes to inhale two bottles of thinner. And the high comes almost towards the ends of the second bottle. I think that was because he had been doing this for a very long time now and had built up a great deal of tolerance. 

The high of thinner was nothing like I had ever seen. I knew very well how people could behave once they were piss drunk or high as fuck on weed. But this was something I had never seen. He couldn’t speak any coherent words as such. Was just smiling and holding me. He didn’t even have the strength to get up and walk around. I tried to talk to him, but he just didn’t respond. He continued to blabber gibberish. Though he didn’t leave my hand and I felt he was well aware of me being there. 

Though, just in a few minutes I could see it wear off. Slowly I saw his eyes beginning to focus, his body eased up, clear mucus began to flow out of his nostrils, there was a bit of drool too and he began sweating profusely. 

“I am sorry. I am so sorry. Don’t hate me. Don’t leave me.” He just kept repeating with tears flowing from his eyes as he held on to me tightly. He still wasn’t able to speak very clearly. I held him back and reassured him. I wiped his face over and over again.  

“Don’t worry. I am not going anywhere. I am here. Do you need anything? Water?”

I gave him some water which he gulped down fully. He seemed to gain some more consciousness. 

“What do you need to feel better?” 

“Let me take a shower. I will be fine.”

He slowly walked to his washroom. I just sat in his room and tried to make sense of everything that happened in the last one hour. I stepped outside and called Shruti. Though I realized there was nothing that call would do except get her worried sick. Still, I told her everything. She told me to just be strong, stay put and call her if anything went wrong. I agreed to do that. I got back in the room and he was back from the shower.

His eyes were red, but he was clean, looked fresh, absolutely sober, how I knew him. He dressed up and just sat near me. I held him tightly and we kept sitting like that holding hands for a while. I didn’t know what to say to him. But I sure didn’t want to leave him. 

“Will you promise me you’ll quit this?”

He nodded his head in agreement and buried it in my chest. I had never seen him so weak and helpless. I kissed his forehead. He began to cry again. 

“I am not going anywhere ok? I am here with you and will always be here.”

“I love you”

“I love you too”

2019

That argument left a knot somewhere in my relationship with my mother. I had lost my temper on her for the first time. And it was constantly bothering me. I returned to Mumbai and got on with my usual life except with an extra helping of never-ending anxiety. What scared me the most was a possibility that what if it got to a point where I would have to choose between my mother and my identity. 

“Hello………..where are you?”

“Hello. I am at home. How’s everything there?”

“It’s all good…. what I wanted to ask you is why don’t you at least get your janeyu ceremony done? I mean it was supposed to be done at your wedding, but I don’t know when’s that going to happen”

“What happens in that ceremony?”

“It is almost like wedding. Very similar rituals.”

“I mean if it is absolutely necessary then yeah, we can do it. But I don’t see the point”

“You’re ok doing the ceremony but you don’t want to get married, won’t you?”

“No. It is something that will not change no matter how many times you ask me.”

“Yeah well. I can’t fight my fate. It is what it is. I am just unlucky.”

“Just because I don’t want to get married, now you feel you’ve been unlucky?”

“I mean what’s left anyway. What more could go wrong?”

“So, everything I have been and done so far doesn’t matter because I won’t get married?”

“That’s how it is. That’s how it has always been. Anyway, you go have dinner and sleep.”

And she just disconnected the call. I felt a pang of anxiety build up in me. I could feel my heartrate shooting up. I started to get a tingling feeling in my hands and feet. I took my car out and just drove through the western express highway. I reached worli sea face, parked the car and just walked on the sea face with music blaring through my earphones. 

My head was just flooded with questions. Why was it just so difficult to understand? Why wasn’t my mother even making an attempt to accept it? Why wasn’t my father helping her understand? Why were my relatives so absolutely hell bent on my marriage? Why would they just harass my family all the time about it? Why was everyone talking about the wedding ceremony as marriage and did not give a fuck about the actual life beyond it? 

Having always grown up hearing how lucky my family was to have me, that conversation was like a tight slap that woke me up. A part of me knew very well that it wasn’t exactly what my mother meant. The worst or best part of knowing someone from your first breath is that their words don’t change anything. They sure do hurt though. I was surprised at how blinded she had to be about the social relevance of a wedding ceremony that she just risked damaging my mental space and beliefs. 

What started as a flood of rhetorical questions about things I can’t change eventually lead to questioning my own self. Why did my life have to be so complicated and unusually eventful? Be it my career or my personal life, why did everything have to be an adventure? Having done everything right all my life, why did I still feel I was disappointing my parents? 

I desperately wanted someone to just appear from somewhere, hug me tight and tell me they had convinced my parents and fixed it all. But obviously nobody appeared. I had to do it myself. All the vigorous walking eventually tired me out and made me calm down. I sat there for a couple of hours just listening to the ocean waves. A friend of mine had forwarded me a video of an Indian father giving a speech about how he accepted his son for who he was and what all he went go through. I watched it and imagined that may be one day, something similar could happen in my life too. 

I travelled around for shoots in the coming weeks and my conversation with my parents continued to be mechanical and forced. I was slowly slipping in a pit. I had made it through all my life hiding my identity but was losing my sanity trying to stand up for it. 

End of October, my father was down with dengue and admitted in hospital. I had rushed to Lucknow and used to stay with him during the nights. One afternoon, my mother was there as well along with my cousin. He had shaved after a really long time. My mother was thrilled to see him clean shaved. She immediately began raving about how good he looks clean shaved. He on the contrary was not happy about it and told my parents how his parents didn’t like this look either. He had shaved just because he wanted to feel his face for once. My mother outright revolted against the idea of him keeping a beard. And I for some reason couldn’t see it as just about the beard.

“Let him keep his beard if he wants to and if his parents are ok with it”

“But this looks so good. You don’t need to grow that beard again”

“It is his choice. And if his parents like it, then let him. I am here to listen to you and shave when you want” I almost screamed at that. Yes, my parents hate when I grow a beard. Every time I visit home, I have to shave it off. They somehow don’t want me to look old. They want me to look like how I was when I left home, I guess. Except they also want me to get married, get settled and give them grandchildren to play with. Without looking like my age, which is 32 by the way. No, it’s not confusing at all. 

My father sensed my hostility, and immediately jumped in to balance it out. 

“She also has some right on him being his aunt”

“Of course. It all comes down to YOUR right on people. Their choices have no values. Is it?” I protested but very loudly. 

An eerie uncomfortable silence crept through the ward. My cousin decided to ease it out. He began talking about something else and everyone welcomed the change of topic. I stepped out to catch a breath. 

I was hating myself for always getting so angry so easily. Things that I could handle patiently were making me go absolutely insane. What was bothering me more was that my parents were somehow not addressing this head on. They were being too manipulative about it. Everything they said seemed like an indirect remark to me. Even if they didn’t intend to. I was slowly finding it difficult to differentiate between threats and just plain banter.

It was time for me to leave for Mumbai. I went back home to pack and my mother cornered me again. 

“You didn’t answer my question” she said in a very calm voice which made me very uncomfortable. 

“Why don’t you talk to papa about it?”

“Why should I? Did he give you birth or feed you or took care of you? I did. So, leave him out of this. It’s between us.”

“Mummy how many times will we go through the same conversation again and again? It won’t change the reality or my answer. It is what it is. If you want to understand it, I can help you but if you’re going to be so adamant…” I replied in equally calmly. 

“…I understand it all. And I know what’s right for you. Just…”

“Not going to happen!” I told her very firmly but calmly.

“Then let me make it very clear that ‘you marrying or living with another guy’ is also not going to happen” she closed the conversation and left the room. 

I took a deep breath and continued packing. When I left, I touched her feet and she blessed me like usual, as if nothing happened. I got in the cab and left for the airport a little more broken this time. I was going further and further away from home.

2010 

Nothing was the same again for me. I was scarred forever. I could not get those images out of my head. I still can’t, a decade later. But I had discovered a new strength in me. I had discovered I could still feel love looking at the monster that he had become. I wanted to be with him, but I never wanted to see him or anyone in that state ever again. 

He didn’t inhale thinner after that. I knew because he told me every time, he took it. And I could feel the change in him. Over the period of time, the smell of toluene stays in the person’s breath. And if the person had taken it recently, you can feel it prominently in the breath. 

We never spoke about that day. But we had found a new depth to our relationship. We began spending a lot more time together. We felt a lot more at ease with each other. He seemed much happier and confident. He started spending his time researching for event management courses for himself. He was a hospitality graduate but because of everything he had been through in that industry, he wanted to switch. 

 “I am going home for some time. I need to resolve some things with my family before I can start afresh”

“For how long?”

“I think a month. It may take more. But I will do my best to come back as soon as I can”

“Alright, I guess. Will you promise me you won’t take thinner?”

“Himanshu, the only reason I am going back home is I now have the courage to face my brother, sister-in-law and mother. I have not taken it for the last so many weeks. I am sure I can do without it. I want to straighten things out with them. There are a lot of issues which we as a family have not yet resolved since my father’s death.”

“I understand. I trust you.”

Both of us smiled looking at each other. He reached out for his bag. 

“Here. You can have this while I am gone. But it is still not yours. I will take it back” he told me handing over his iPod.

“Are you sure? You don’t need it while traveling?” 

Even though I asked him that, I didn’t mean it. I just grabbed it like a greedy little kid. 

“Chances are I will lose it. At least it will be safe with you” he told me as I hugged him tight.

The next few weeks went by like a breeze. We kept talking every day. I missed him a lot. He extended his stay beyond a month because it was taking time for him talk it all out. In a really long conversation one evening he told me how he didn’t feel like taking thinner anymore and felt so much better without the dependency on it. He also told me how things were getting better between him and his brother and his sister in law. He wasn’t very sure of how to it was going with his mother though he was adamant he would fix it all. 

From whatever I spoke to his mother, everything seemed fine, but he always told me somewhere deep inside, she believed had he not been gay, he would have had a better life. She believed all the boys he dated just ruined his life. She was happy about me being around, but she didn’t really trust me much yet. Fair enough though. I knew that opinion would change. 

Two days later, at around 2am, my phone rang, and it was his cousin. She always texted or called at weird hours to check on me and just crack really lame jokes. She was the only cousin he was close to and the three of us hung out sometimes. I disconnected her call and went back to sleep. I got a text immediately. 

“Did he speak to you today?”

I opened it with one eye and replied.

“No not today. We spoke day before. Had a long conversation. Why?”

“Himanshu. He passed away this evening.”

To be continued…

Of bubble wraps, matrimony and rainbows : Part I – The Liberation

Everyone around keeps saying how 2019 passed in a blink for them and there was so much they thought they would do but they could not. When I think of it, it indeed feels like it flew past but not without shaking things up in my life, for good and not so good. Around beginning of last year, I decided to share everything about my personal life and mental health, and not only did it help me gain the courage to keep going on but also, my story helped a lot of others who were fighting similar demons in their lives. What follows next is along the same lines but probably a lot more personal this time and I think there is going to be no turning back from here. 

If you read this and don’t already know about it, please don’t feel betrayed. If you believe I should have told you about it or if you asked me upfront about it at some point and I denied it, then all I have to say is I am sorry I wasn’t ready then. It takes time and a lot of work to find yourself. Hope you understand it and see me for who I am. 

There comes a point in everyone’s life when they begin to see their parents as normal human beings with flaws and limitations. It is not an easy feeling. Because since your childhood you always believe your parents to be these magical beings capable of anything and whatever they say or do is right. Being the only male child in a semi-urban middle-class north Indian family wraps you in a bubble of comfort, safety, affection and infinite tolerance. You live your life free of any conflicts with your parents till about you cross thirty. There exists a mutual sense of acceptance and sacrifice towards each other. You as a child understand and cooperate while the parents do their best to give you the best of everything they can get. 

The problem with this setup is, when the conflict does arise, neither of the parties know how to deal with it. They expect the other to budge while pretending to be ok with anything. Both sides expect that the other one will happily sacrifice for the sake of everything that they have done in the relationship. Just that some conflicts don’t have a solution as straight forward. What follows is a long excruciating phase of coldness, confusion, complicated arguments, long stretches of silence and a great deal of miscommunication. 

While my mother never made any attempts to hide how much she has been dreaming of the day she will get to marry her only son, my father succeeded in making me believe that he doesn’t care much about it. He has always maintained an image of his as someone who believes in pursuing the life one wants to lead, and if they have space for marriage then great, otherwise it doesn’t matter. One must follow their dreams and work towards making a difference in this world. Deep down inside, he too just wanted a simple beautiful middle class brahmin girl to be his daughter in law who would be a homemaker and take care of me, them and give birth to their grandchildren. Exactly how everyone around him has done it.

By the beginning of the 2019, the pressure on me to get married had reached the point when my parents had made my profiles on all matrimonial websites and that too, the paid ones. I was running out of excuses to avoid the conversations. With each passing day I was being cornered. It was affecting my life more than it should. It was suffocating me. I always felt like I was surrounded by this deafening noise. I was in two minds. Half of my mind wanted to run away from everything while the other half wanted to give in and just get married for the sake of shutting everyone up. Somewhere inside I knew I had to do what was right. 

One afternoon when I was in Lucknow to attend the wedding of a friend, while my parents were casually chit chatting about marriage plans, they began showing me photos of girls from various matrimony apps, telling me about each one of them and what my mother thinks of them. It was one of the most heart-warming, magical little moments of my life. The happiness in their eyes that I was at least patiently talking to them about marriage was out of this world. I was almost getting in the flow and letting it be just to see them so happy and excited. Just then something inside me snapped. I knew if I didn’t do it then, I would never be able to do it ever again. 

My heartbeat began to rise, palms began to sweat, and my mouth started to get really dry. I had rehearsed this conversation a million times in my head. Yet I had no idea what was the word I wanted to begin with. I walked over to the fridge, took out a water bottle, gulped down half of it, closed all the doors and came back to my seat.

“There is something you guys need to know”

Unlike what I imagined; my parents began to smile exchanging looks. It took me a second to understand that they were assuming I was going to open up about some affair that they didn’t know about. I felt a lump in my throat. Took a couple of more sips of water. A part of me was still telling me to stop. There was still time. I could rethink this. 

“I don’t want to get married to a girl”

“If you don’t want to get married to a girl then who would you marry?” asked my mom still a bit smiley. 

“A boy”

I saw their smiles fade away. I said it faster than my brain could process it. But there it was. I felt shivers in my hands and feet, my ears were red hot and I think I could hear my heartbeat from outside as well as inside. To have lived with it for over eighteen years, it surprisingly took really few words to say it. I could have passed out. I could have died. But nope. I just sat there. 

My father immediately began fidgeting with his phone avoiding eye contact while my mother kept looking at me with an expression of shock and betrayal. I continued to speak in the most calm and polite manner possible explaining how this does not change who I am, the fact that I haven’t done anything unsafe or dangerous and the fact it was something beyond my control. I told them I didn’t bother about anyone else finding out, but I was always scared of them finding out because I could just abandon anyone else and not care about it. However, I couldn’t imagine life without my parents by my side. And that fear stopped me from coming out to them all this while. 

They quietly continued listening. I further told them how most of the people in this country decide to either not tell their parents or just end their lives. Those who choose to sacrifice their happiness and get married either end up with extra marital affairs or a really messed up married life equally ruining the life of the girl who was at no fault. I told them that the only reason I could muster the courage to say it out loud is because of the relationship I have had with both of them and I had faith in them that they would accept it sooner or later. Silence continued.

“Do you have someone in your life right now?” my father asked. 

“No.”

I offered them to watch the episode of Satyamev Jayate about this issue. They agreed to watch it. But halfway through the conversation with the gay guy, my mother walked away. My father told me to stop as he doesn’t need to watch it. I felt the air grow heavy in my home. For the first time I felt as if silence had mass. I knew I had just turned my life upside down. 

I thought I must give them some time alone to talk about it freely. So, I stepped out and went to my aunt’s place nearby. When I got back at night, things seemed slightly lighter. My mother was attempting to sound normal asking about food and stuff. My father was busy just researching and reading about it. I sat next to him. 

“Are you physically and sexually fit? Do you have any trouble?”

“umm. No not at all. Everything is fine”

“Have you seen a doctor or psychologist about it?”

“No, I haven’t, and I didn’t need to but if you want, we can go to one. Meanwhile, you should read the statement released by Indian Psychology Association about this prior to the scrapping of 377” 

I open the letter and give him the phone. He read it through but didn’t say anything. 

“Have you shared this with anyone else?”

“Yes. Some of my close friends know about it”

“Now that we have established that you don’t have to get married, let’s get rid of the matrimony apps, what do you say?”

“Yeah definitely”

He opened his phone and started deleting accounts, deleting subscriptions and apps from his phone. I didn’t know how to react to it. As much as I wanted it to all go well, I didn’t expect it to get sorted so easily. It was all so ceremonious. 

I had told my close friends earlier that I might come out to my parents and I think they all had a heart attack. Abhishek, Shruti, Kasturika and Shashwat were holding their breath till I messaged them that it was all ok. Abhishek called up Shruti from office and told her he couldn’t concentrate on work. She asked him what Shashwat was up to. 

“He’s sitting next to me breathing heavily” Abhishek replied. 

They were more anxious than I was at one point. Basically, we all came out to my parents together. I don’t think I have words to express how grateful I am to have such amazing close friends. I am who I am today because they have been with me throughout the process of me finding myself. Yes, special mention to Shruti for being there from the absolute beginning. 

Later at night, I happened to have a chat with my mother. She asked me if I was running away from responsibilities or was scared of what lies beyond in a married life. I assured her that it was nothing of that sort. Then my father walked in the room and told my mom she should try to accept it as it is a God given trait and nobody has any control on it. I figured he was through with a lot of his research. Which gave me a ray of hope that may be, it will all be good.

The next day seemed slightly lighter. Conversations had resumed instead of the eerie silence; I could see my mother faintly smile every now and then and my father was just going about his daily business of phone calls. I took a deep breath. 

Late in the evening I got back home and saw my parents just quietly sitting in the bedroom. I sat next to them. My father began talking.

“Why do you think your mother and I are so worried about you?”

I took a moment to answer that.

“You’re worried about my health and safety”

My father smiled and a tear rolled down his right eye. 

“Yes, you’re right. In all of this, what is important that you understand what exactly we are worried about. It is not about society or the fact that you have a different sexuality. But about the fact that are you ok?”

“I am fine. As I told you, there is nothing to worry about. I am absolutely fine. I have been in terms with this for a while. Was just very difficult to tell you. But I am fine with it.”

“I understand how much stress you must have been under. And it makes me so sad to realize how much pressure we were putting on you. We are sorry for that. Had we known; we would have never put so much pressure on you for marriage. We were just doing what we always thought is the right thing to do.”

My mother stayed quiet while my father continued to speak with tears flowing. I stayed fixed unsure of what to do or say. 

“I won’t lie. This is the most difficult for us to understand and come in terms with. We will need time to really understand this. But what we can assure you is that we will not put any pressure on you to get married. A lot of people don’t get married. Life works just fine for them.”

“We are also not very hell bent on the whole idea of grandchildren. We understand there are various other ways like adoption, surrogacy etc. All we want is that you be with us. And you be happy. Rest we don’t care about anything else.”

I kept sitting and looking at him. Any given person at this point would have broken down by now. For some strange reason, I did not. I still don’t know why. This was the moment I was thinking about every moment for last so many years. And now that it was here, I did not feel like breaking down. I guess the years of keeping it together and toughing it out eventually made me that way. I just kept staring at my father in disbelief. He was talking like the man I always knew him to be. My mother was just quiet. 

“We don’t want to lose you. You’re all we have. We have lived all our life just for you. And this can’t be something that takes you away from us. We just want you to promise us one thing.”

“Anything you want”

“We don’t want you to get in a relationship or marry a man. I don’t think we are ready for it.”

“Yet…you’re not ready for it YET” I immediately added. 

“Let’s just take one thing at a time. For now, let’s not talk about marriage or relationships. Let’s just work out me being me here. There’s time for other things.”

“Is there someone in your life already? If yes, then tell us now. Let’s get it all cleared up right now”

“No there isn’t. But I know there will be. And it will be as normal as anything. You’ll meet him, like him and we will all be like a family”

I saw my father go silent at this and shift uncomfortably. I could see that this thought was a little too much for him at this point. 

“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I want you guys to know that I am the same person you’ve known all along. And I will be the same. This doesn’t change our relationship. Maybe it makes it better but nothing more.”

I moved forward and hugged my father. He smiled and I felt him ease up. 

We had dinner and my mother went to sleep. My father and I however, continued to talk till about 5am. He told me stories about people he knew who were gay or bi. We discussed how life can be really difficult for a gay person. He expressed his concerns over health and safety. He insisted that he didn’t want me to become an icon or an activist but just keep it easy. I understood what he meant though. I assured him that whatever I do, I would never embarrass him. 

I discovered how easily I could talk to my father about anything be it sex, relationships, mental health or just history. I somewhere knew this well that I could talk to my father about anything but hadn’t really put this to test till now. The more we talked, the more I felt thankful for being his son. We also talked about how it is not very easy for him or my mother to accept and get used to. He asked for some time and I assured him that they could take as long as they wanted, and I would be more than happy to provide whatever information they may need. I offered to answer any number of questions they may have. I just wanted them to understand what it really is and feel proud of me. 

The next few days went by pretty easily. Life was back to normal. My parents were back to normal. We were laughing and talking like usual. And before I knew it, I had to get back to Mumbai. 

On my trip back to my apartment from airport, something felt absolutely different. Mumbai felt different. I reached home, put my bag aside and just sat in my room. Everything that happened in the last few days came back to me. I felt a strange kind of peace around me. Like someone had turned off loud music. I could hear the fan. I had not heard the fan in years. When you are constantly occupied by a thought, there is very less chance you’d notice things around you. 

This whole incident also brought me a lot closer to my parents. I felt it. I could talk to them without any guilt or fear. I could just be myself. And to me, this had seemed like a far-fetched dream up until now.

This is the most difficult thing I have done so far. It took me everything I had to push myself and face the biggest truth of my life. And only after doing it I realized something very strange. I felt and understood why people would not do it. I developed a new perspective. I used to look down upon people who lied to their parents or partners. Except I could see why some people would choose to not do it. Because it is fucking difficult. I can only imagine what would one go through if their parents are not as chill as mine and if they didn’t have a healthy communicative relationship as I had with my parents.

I had only imagined how it would feel after I have come out to my parents. The real feeling was way better than my imagination. It was like sixty percent of my brain’s processing power was now available again to me. Like someone had taken a big load off my back that I was carrying around for all these years. And strangely enough, my face cleared up. I felt a change in my health. I felt better, lighter and healthier.  Everyone I met told me how different I looked and how happy they were to see me like that. Never had I thought coming out would change so much in me physically and mentally.

In a month from then, I made another trip to Lucknow for Holi. I bid adieu to my beloved doggo Knowey but that’s a story I would tell you separately. The air was different in my home now. Or at least I felt so because I could breathe. However, I did know that my parents were still struggling with the idea no matter how much they say they are okay with. I wanted to help in whatever way I could. 

I decided to invite all my friends over for a small Holi get together. The idea was to make my parents see how my friends behave with me knowing who I am. I thought if they would see my friends loving me and laughing with me like nothing is wrong, they would get some assurance that maybe it is not such a big deal. 

That evening was the much-needed break. All my close friends came over, we ate, laughed, and talked a lot. My mother has seen all of them since my school days and she loves to see them all grown up and settled in their lives. Gives her a great sense of satisfaction. She had a great time. 

As the roar of laughter faded away when all my friends left, I was in the bedroom when my mom walked in.

“See how happy all your friends are”

I felt that maybe it worked. Maybe she did see how my friends are okay with me being myself. 

“You should also get married to a girl. It will all be fine. It’s just a mental block. You’ll also be as happy they are”

My heart began racing really fast. I felt a sinking feeling. Just when I thought I have a fairy-tale life with my parents being ok with me being gay, reality hit me hard. Something told me, it was going to be a long and tiring process from here on. And I was right. 

Continued here

Of endings, beginnings and everything in between

I wish all my beloved family and friends across the world, a very happy new year. May this year bring the best of health, happiness, success and love in your lives.

Before 2018 ends, I want to share something with everyone.

2017-18 seem like one long year to me. And these two years have been the most testing times of my life so far. I hit some all-time lows professionally, physically and as a result, emotionally. Of course the tough times teach you the most valuable lessons of life. These two years did that too. 

However, that’s not the point of why I started this trail of thought. For the longest I debated if this needs to go public at all. 

I decided it totally should. 

In 2017, I shot a project that was supposed to give us a lot of visibility, credit and money but instead it was shut abruptly and everyone on board took a major hit. I gave over one year to that project obviously saying no to a lot of things. And because of a weird legal loophole, I ended up not getting paid for the whole year. At the year end, I took up a travel show which lead to an accident and I had to go through a knee surgery which lead to six-eight months of recovery/rest and no work. So the money I did end up getting for the earlier project was consumed in lying in bed for months. 

For a person who has always been a workaholic, a year of sabbatical can be very challenging to cope with. By the time I recovered to begin working again, it felt like I reached a station when the last train left hours ago. No leads, no projects, not even conversations. Just a long stretch of uncertainty. It felt like I was back to 2013 when I had come back from New York.  

I spent weeks just locked in my room, in my bed unsure of what should I even do. I would just let the phone ring and not answer it. I wouldn’t know what to say or talk about. If at all I answered the call, the first question would be what have you been doing. If somehow I would dodge it by some vague generic answer, I would end up hearing what all the other person has been doing and it would make feel so useless and stupid. 

Most of my time went by doing financial calculations to make sure it all adds up and I make it through the month. Every expense as little as few hundred bucks would lead to me doing and redoing the maths in my head to make sure I am not messing up my budget.  

I would feel lonely and would desperately want to meet friends. But as soon as I would meet them, it would hit me how well they are doing in their life and how I have ended up to be a loser. So I would rush through the meeting and then head home, back to my room, back to my bed. I would get panic attacks, anxiety and restlessness leading to sleeplessness and thus worse mental health. 

The whole bedrest thing resulted in me gaining a lot of weight. Half of my brain would want to go and do something about it. The other stronger half would say, just eat what you feel like. Staying happy right now is most important. You can lose the weight anytime you want once you’re out of this mess. 

A lot of you would think why didn’t I seek professional help. I couldn’t afford it. It was just beyond my reach to afford a good psychologist to have regular sessions.

When you upgrade your lifestyle based on the money you think you are going to earn but you don’t end up actually earning it because everything went south, you end in the most weird situation of being “Urban Poor”.

You have a car, you live in a 2BHK house, a fancy phone and what not, people find it funny when you mention you are in a financial crisis. If you take a financial hit, you wouldn’t just throw the things you already have. I did definitely consider moving to a cheaper house but the whole transaction of moving seemed so much more expensive that paying a higher rent seemed to make more sense. 

And of course, you’re hopeful that this situation is temporary. You’ll soon get a big project or those projects you’ve been talked to so much about would materialize. So you tend to push through. 

But it doesn’t get any better. The burden keeps mounting.

And that’s when you start to question every life decision you took, every choice you made including the career you chose. You wonder if you’d have had a job today, you’d be so happy and relaxed. 

You start to feel how people around you, your  friends, peers moved so much faster and figured out their lives while you’re still living the life of a struggler. You see your friends take vacations, buy a house or just shop for things they want, eat wherever they want to and it does some serious damage to your self-confidence. The smallest things can do the maximum damage actually. 

For the longest, the assurance that you’re chasing your dream and doing what you always wanted keeps you sane and going. But there comes a time where this also stops to make sense to you. You wonder if creating beautiful imagery and telling good stories is even worth all this stress and struggle.  You start to think that you could have done this after earning hell lot of money. 

You start to convince yourself that quitting (and not just professionally) is the best possible idea. Your brain starts to play games and you end up falling in this dark pit that’s impossible to find out. You don’t even know how to seek help. The worst idea for person with no guarantee of work or financial improvement is to take more loans. You end up in a catch 22 situation. You want to take a time machine and go back and say yes to every project you said no to in order to say yes to something else that either never happened or didn’t end up paying you. 

When you hit your lowest and it is impossible to go any further down, you realize you only have one choice – to get the fuck up again. And I don’t think doing that alone is possible. I have always been surrounded by people and luckily nice kind people. But in this unusual turn of events, I discovered very few of these people were good listeners.


Which is why I want to thank some extraordinary people in my life who made sure they pull me out of the black hole. My biggest support, my hope and source of energy have been my parents. They supported me like nothing ever happened. They made me feel how proud they were of me and how this would all pass. I think I didn’t end up doing something stupid or didn’t give up only because of them. 

My friend Stephen went out of his way to help me in every possible way even when he wasn’t in the country. He made sure he was there in any and every way possible even if not physically around. And I don’t think I would ever be able to thank him enough. 

Shruti has always been my kid. I have protected her from everything. However, this time she put a shell around me so strong that I felt secure in it. She understood every little nuance of my thought process and made sure she said the right things, made me do the right things and turned out to be my biggest support in despair. 

Orso, Sameer, Chaitra, Sai, Priyanka, Supriya and my little sis Priyanshi, all turned out to be the therapists that I otherwise couldn’t afford (ok Sai was not so much of a therapist but he still was just there no matter what haha). Listening to me for hours without a sign of tardiness or judgement was something that probably helped me the most.

I also want to apologize to all the people that I probably couldn’t be there for because I didn’t have anything to offer. I was empty, broken and of no use to anyone.  Now you know why I was so out of reach. 

To all those who are now upset that I should have told you, I have no excuse. Sometimes it is not easy to reach out for help out of context. I probably could see how much was on your plate already and didn’t want to trouble you for it. To certain others, well, I did ask for help but you clearly didn’t see it. Though that’s ok now. 

But like 2018, that phase is over for me. I am feeling myself again and ready to put up another round of fight. I am not sure how 2019 is going to be but I am sure I am now ready to deal with it. Once again, a very happy new year to everyone. Thank you for putting up with me and I promise I will be a better person in the year to come. 

I also promise that I am going to work very hard to help people around me who might be in a fix like I was in and may need help. In the long run, I definitely want to make the lives of upcoming freelancers easier. 

I will make sure I spend time trying to listen to people, understand and do my best to help the ones around me. If there’s something you just want to talk about, please feel free to call or message. 

Also, I do want to request you all to do all of these more often :

Listen –It might be few minutes for you but it could be life saving for someone else. You’ll probably save a person from quitting. Nobody should ever have to quit. Also, listening is not always about finding solutions. A lot of times just sharing one’s thoughts leads to the obvious solution. 

Be kind –It is just a matter of choosing your words carefully. What you say without much thought can trigger an ocean of emotions in someone else. Everyone is fighting a war you don’t know about. Least you can do is be kind. 

Reach out –If a close friend or loved one seems to be keeping low, reach out. If you sense unusual change in someone’s behaviour, make sure you do your bit to understand what could be causing it and see if you can do anything about it. Just make sure you spend enough time with the people you love. 

Open up –Nobody wants to be vulnerable to a really strong defensive person. If you expect a certain person to share what they are going through, put your guard down. Show them that you’re also not really perfect. Trust is a two way street.

Express –It is never inappropriate to tell the people you love how much you love them. I find it sad to see how many people around me have trouble just saying that they love the person. You might be saying the most obvious thing but it would make another person’s day bright. It could be the brightest thing of a person’s day.

And finally I would say don’t quit. Take a break. Cool down. But never quit. Not after what you’ve already been through. It will all be worth it. You’re not alone. Keep fighting.

Of baggage tags, x-ray scanners and 24-degree Celsius

All incidents mentioned in this post are true and happened as is. They have not been exaggerated.

I thanked my Ola driver, took my bag and stepped out. As I approached the gate, a long queue was ahead of me. The person at the end of the line had five passports. The security guy was having a tough time matching the name on the ticket and that on the first passport. Four other gentlemen were surrounding him. He kept going back and forth between the two documents. The people behind were getting impatient. The security guard at the other gate stepped up his game and invited people from my queue to come to him. I went over and made my way through. I looked back and nothing had moved in that queue.

I have been attempting to live like old times. I don’t keep my earphones plugged in drowning the ambient sounds and the world around me by music when in public places. I also try to keep the phone use to minimum when in public except when it’s something important or work related. This however has suddenly made me aware of the utter chaos our world is now.

When I was traveling from Mumbai, I saw some brand-new kiosks that had been installed at T2. They now print your baggage tags as well. I was delighted to see this. I printed my boarding pass and the baggage tag, tore out the stub that goes behind the boarding pass and was about to peel off the tag to put it around the bag when a representative from my airline stopped me saying “Sir the people at the check in counter will do this. You don’t have to do this”. I was confused. He pointed to a long queue for self check in baggage drop.

“But I have already printed my baggage tag…I don’t need to get in the queue”

“This is the queue for that sir. The normal check in queue is on the other side” he replied smiling ear to ear.

I sighed and dragged myself to the line. I spotted the automatic self check in counter. But it was being operated by an agent. The people weren’t allowed to actually use it. The time taken to check in through that was exactly the same as other counters if not more.

Anyway, back here at Delhi T3 airport for my return flight, I continued to make my way forward though the painfully slow line. The person in front of me kept stalling because he was too busy looking at his phone. I could almost hear people honking behind me. When I reached the end of the line, it took a while before my turn at a counter.

The check in counter right in front of me had a family. The father was talking on the phone. He was coordinating some big conference. The elder daughter was on her phone chatting with someone and listening to music. The mother was nagging her for something while the son (probably six or seven) was not very happy and kept angrily bumping into the mother only to be pushed back again. The lady behind the counter was furiously typing something. She would have to ask the man something three times before he would get off the phone momentarily to answer her. He tucked the phone between his head and right shoulder to put the bags on the weighing scale. The lady behind the counter again said something.

He took the bag off and continued talking on the phone walking away. His wife called him back to sort the problem first. The agent continued typing. She then walked over to another counter to another agent who was also religiously typing on her computer. She halted that check-in process to check something and then came back on her computer and typed some more. The man was still on the phone, now even louder as he opened two of the bags and began shifting stuff from one to another. The mother had finally grabbed the attention of the girl and the nagging was now a heated conversation. The girl kept shrugging, rolling her eyes, sighing, mumbling something and then texting again. The father would every now and then ask the daughter or mother something about the clothes but neither of them really came forward to help or gave a straight forward reply. They continued arguing. He packed the bags and put them back on the weight scale. He suddenly realized his son had walked away playing with a trolley. In his crooked posture of holding the phone between his head and shoulder, he lunged forward, grabbed the boy and dragged him to the family. And he continued talking fixing his posture and holding the phone normally.

Luckily the next counter called me because I was almost ready to go to him and snatch his phone away. I handed over my boarding pass. The agent typed what seemed like a long essay on the computer. Like she had to hack into the system every-time to check someone in. It took Harshvardhan Kapoor less time to hack into Mumbai airport system in Bhavesh Joshi (don’t ask me why I’ve seen that film).

From whatever little international travel, I have done, I know for sure (have paid attention to this part) that in London, New York, Helsinki, Milan etc. the agent never has to type so much. Even at Air India counters in NY and Milan. It’s mainly scanning the barcode on the boarding pass, scanning the passport and visa, a few clicks may be, printing the baggage tag, attaching it and done. I never understand why we are so much in love with this typing business. The boarding passes do have barcodes that are eventually scanned at the boarding gate.

The security check line was no surprise. There were ten counters open and all of them were flooded with people. Nobody was moving. Right ahead of me were three ladies traveling together. One of them was extremely particular that nobody breaks through the queue. She had some infection on her nose which left small brown dead skin patches right on the tip and edge of nostrils. One would almost want to scratch it off. I probably would have if it was on my nose. She kept reminding people very politely that there was a queue. She also made sure her co-travelers understood the procedure of getting through security check.

“Keep the laptop out in the tray ok…”

“I know…” replied her friend in a not so happy tone opening her bag to take out the laptop.

“And if you have any liquids, put them out as well…”

“hmmm…”

“You can put your phone in the bag. That’s ok…”

“yeah…”

“But make sure you have your boarding pass”

“I have it.” she answered while opening zips after zips inside her bag. It had multiple levels of compartments. The laptop was found three levels down on the right side. I actually was tempted to ask which bag that was. It was so much organized.

“Don’t put it in the tray. It will need to be stamped. Excuse me sir…there’s a queue. Yes, over there…yeah so don’t put your boarding pass in there”

“yeah I didn’t put my boarding pass” the friend replied, holding on to her last bit of patience.

“You want me to hold your boarding pass. I am afraid you’ll leave it in the bag” Her politeness could make people lose their mind.

“No. It’s ok. I got it” She continued to stay patient, polite and determined to find all her electronic devices in the maze her bag was.

“Can people not see the queue?” she complained to her other fellow traveler.

I started to wonder why the line was not moving at all. The bags in the scanning machine hadn’t moved. I looked for the guy on the console and spotted the problem right there. He was so busy talking to the guy on the scanning machine behind him, the guy at the end of his machine to organize the bags exiting and the guy frisking people that he wasn’t moving the belt forward.

He was doing something very similar to what a lot of actors in various sitcoms do. When they are eating as part of their scene, they keep fidgeting with the food but never really eat it. They just keep saying their lines but never ever sip the coffee or take a bite. Further, a lot of times, one of the actors would ask for something to be done quickly but suddenly it will lead to a really long conversation and everyone would forget there was something urgent needed to be done a minute ago. The guy was talking, laughing, looking at the screen but not pressing any buttons. He would turn again and make a point, laugh some more and continue staring at the screen.

He managed to move one bag forward. Then got up suddenly and walked over to the guy at the end, patted his back, ruffled the bags on the end, turned around and walked back to his seat. He then spotted an old register. So, he picked it up and began aimlessly flipping through it. He got up again and went to the machine behind him where another man sat. The two of them joked about something in the bag and laughed again. He walked away from there and just aimlessly began to wander around the area. He had a nice wide smile on.

For almost 15mins the scanning machine stayed unmanned and surprisingly nobody in the queue complained. A person walked through but had his phones in his pocket along with his wallet. He was sent back. He tried to put his things in his tray but the lady in front of me shooed him away for he was not in queue.

The guy frisking realized that nobody was coming forward anymore. He looked around and understood what was happening. He called the guy at the console over, gave him the metal detector and he went over to the scanning machine. Suddenly the bags began moving. Our hero however, now was chatting his way through frisking. A poor man kept holding the titanic pose while our gossip queen wouldn’t shut up. He just had so much tell everyone. And they seemed to be all happy things. I somewhat envied him.

I was early to the airport. I wasn’t even remotely worried about missing my flight. Nor was all of it annoying me. I was now a part of it. I walked over to get frisked and finally got to hear some of his chatter. His accent and surname Singh told me he was a fellow Jaunpuriya.

“…I don’t like to brag but I have always been upfront about all of these things. You can’t make me do things. I told him very clearly that if he talks to me again in that tone, it’s not going to end well. His face shrank like a dry date…”

They all laughed. He frisked me and then right before he was about to stamp my boarding pass, he drifted into a very deep thought. He just kept staring into nothingness, smiling. I kept looking at him. It took him few seconds to come back to his senses and stamp it. While I was packing putting my things back in my bag, I heard a familiar voice. I looked and saw the same family taking their things from the nearby counter and no prizes for guessing, the guy was back on the phone.

“Hello sir. Welcome aboard” the usual pleasantries were exchanged, and I was at my seat. I usually never have to use the washroom during domestic flights, so I love to take the window seat and go off to sleep. Most of my travel is at such odd hours that I end passing out even before take-off. Today, I was well slept and thus absolutely aware.

While everyone was still settling in, I heard a ‘ting’. I looked around and saw the light blinking above a seat much ahead of me. A man wearing a dark gray suit and gold watch sitting in the aisle seat had requested for some assistance. A very pleasant looking air hostess attended to him. He described something for few seconds while the hostess listened very intently nodding along. She then explained something back to him, smiled and walked away swiftly.

She started looking for something in the small luggage compartment in the end where the crew often keeps their stuff. She walked over the pantry area and opened a couple of compartments but still didn’t find it. She then walked across the plane and met another hostess and described something in her ears. She understood and walked at the rear end of the plane, quickly went through a lot of shelves at the back and then walked back to the tell her she didn’t find it. The former hostess walked back to the customer and explained why she couldn’t find what was asked for. Instead she offered two bottles of water. I hope that compensated for what the man was looking for within seconds of entering the aircraft.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. My apologies for the delayed take off due to the air traffic congestion at Delhi airport. However, we are expecting to make up for the loss and land on time…”

“The outside temperature right now is -60 degrees celsius but for your comfort and convenience, we are maintaining a 24 degrees celsius in the aircraft…”

What? Is that something to brag about? Of all the breakthroughs in technology that have happened in air travel since Boeing 707, maintaining a comfortable above 0 temperature is something that needs show off? How about “Ladies and gentlemen, I am not flying this thing anymore. It’s flying by itself now, I am resuming Game of Thrones. I have a lot to catch up”

And is it only the customers that need it? The crew and pilots are all immune to it? How about you don’t maintain the temperature! Tell people to carry their down jackets, quilts, furs and hiking gear. Get some bonfires going. I am sure some people will opt for it if that results in lower air fare. Also, 24 is quite warm. How about 21?

The cabin suddenly filled with smell of food. My seat was at a very strategic point (unintentional) where the service begins. When food is being served in a flight, I get a little worked up. I have to look like I don’t need this meal really, yet I am just hungry for some reason and want to just eat it. I so want to be part of the people who say “I never eat in flights. The food is just so bad!” but I always end up being the one who opens his tray when the attendant is two rows away.

I keep an eye on the hostess/steward to know when he/she is going to ask me. I make sure I am either looking away, reading or watching something on my iPad when asked “Excuse me sir, veg or non-veg?”. I usually then turn around acting very relaxed and say “Veg. Thank you”. Yay! I totally nailed it. I made them believe I wasn’t hungry but since they insisted, I decided to eat. They serve the food which is always at 400-degree celsius. How is it that the butter is always frozen while meal is always scorching hot? I put the butter on top of the meal and in 30seconds it melts. It takes me probably five minutes to finish the meal. And then I wonder why they can’t just take the trash from me immediately.

“Your baggage will be available at belt number 12. I repeat belt number 12”

I grabbed my bag and walked over to P7 west wing while booking an Uber. There are now dedicated elevators that only go back and forth between arrival and P7 where Uber pick-up zone is. The elevators have big yellow warnings about this in English and Hindi. I got into an elevator. A young lady walked in looking at her phone. Followed by a couple both lost in their phones. They stood in it and suddenly realized it only goes to P7. They opened the doors and rushed out. Two more people, looking at their phone, were now standing by the door.

“This only goes to P7?” one of them asked. I nodded yes. They let the door close. Suddenly it opened again.

“This goes to P9?” he asked me again.

“It’s the same elevator buddy. I am the same person.” I replied. He got furious. And pressed the button a couple of more times opening the door again that was almost closed.

“You need to move over to the other elevator to go to P9” I told him pointing away firmly but politely. He kept looking at me for few seconds and walked away. I think he is a frequent traveler on Mumbai local. Usually, after two-three Borivali trains, a Virar slow shows up.

“This only goes to P7?” another lady asked me walking towards the elevator.

“Yes” and I closed the door. Luckily, I made it to P7 this time.

You have been matched with an Uber XL at no extra cost. Ravi in his Chevrolet Njoy was on his way. He was in the airport itself. I was relieved. All he had to go was to come to the parking. I settled at the waiting area staring at my Uber moving around the airport to come to me.

“You need a car? I have Uber and Ola of my own. I can get one for you right now. That’s why I never book it through their app. I always call one of mine” the man next to me asked me.

“No thank you. My cab is already on its way”

I could see Ravi taking the turn towards the entrance of the parking to come to P7. Suddenly he continued to drive away back towards highway. I called him.

“Sorry sir. I don’t know how to come to P7. I took the wrong turn. Will take a U turn and come back”

He went all the way to domestic airport, took a U-turn then another U-turn to come back. Meanwhile, the gentleman next to me was loudly yapping on his phone.

“Arey I will come out to the main road. Autos here have to pay an entry free. They charge the customers. Domestic is easy that way…the highway is so close by. This international airport is a mess. There’s no way you can come and pick me, right? Ok. I will walk out and figure something”

Another gentleman came and sat next to me. The yappadoodle asked him too if he needed a ride. But I think his earlier conversation didn’t help his case. So that guy also refused. He got up, fixed his shirt and walked away.

My Uber was now almost going to turn towards the parking when I see it missing the turn again. I called him.

“Sorry sir. I missed the exit again. I am now at the departure. The road on the outside.”

I considered canceling but thought it will probably be faster if I just go upstairs to departure and meet him. I told him to wait. I walked through the whole of airport but there was no way for a person to walk out to the outer road. He called me again and told me that the policeman is asking him to leave. He ended up taking another long U-turn. I told him to come to the departure lane.

He made it. I was finally on my way back home in car the size of my bathroom. When I was almost reaching my home, say about a kilometer away, his phone began ringing. And I can’t explain how absolutely shrill and brain damaging ringtone that was. It was a pickup request. Except he wouldn’t accept it. I stopped at the Oberoi signal on the highway followed by the Oberoi signal on Film city road, Dindoshi signal, Gokuldham signal, the whole congestion of Gokuldham market and the phone kept ringing. He neither silenced it nor did he accept the request.

“That’s a pick-up request, right? Why don’t you accept it?” I tried to intelligently solve the situation.

“First I will drop you sir. Then I will pick it up. I am new, so I don’t know how to do both.” And just like that, it kept ringing slowly lobotomizing me.

“Can you silence it?”

“I don’t know sir. This is my first day.” He tried pressing the volume buttons, but the thing didn’t shut up. Seemed like it was my destiny.

I turned through Riddhi garden road towards my lane. Some school bus decided to stop and wait. The phone kept ringing. I looked around. It was too narrow for the bus and the incoming car to cross at the same time. The car reversed. The bus passed and kept moving ahead of us. It dropped a couple of kids and turned right where I had to turn as well. It got stuck again because of an oncoming Innova.

The phone continued to ring.

I asked him to end the trip, jumped out of the car and walked to my building. It kept ringing for few minutes in my head.

Reached home and dropped flat on my bed. A loud angry meeeeooooowwwwwwwwwwww broke the silence of the house. Shamsher was hungry. His plate was shiny clean.

Bhopal, Air India and ‘Sir’

What you’re going to read is not an exaggeration. Sometimes you see things that don’t need any exaggeration to narrate.

 I reached Bhopal airport exactly an hour before my flight. At the check-in counter, I was told I am 3kgs overweight. I protested that I am at least 10kgs overweight but that shouldn’t be a problem to take the flight. She clarified that it was about my baggage.

“Please shift some stuff to your hand baggage”

“I am willing to pay for it. Don’t worry about it”

“But sir, if you can just work around, it should come within the 15kg limit”

“I neither want to open my bag here nor do I want to carry extra weight in my hand baggage”

“Then you will have to go to the ticket window and pay for it”

I left the check in counter and looked for the ticket counter which was at the entrance. As I was crossing the second checkpoint, the guard stopped me.

“Sorry sir, you can’t exit once you have checked in”

“I am not exiting, I am just going to pay my excess baggage”

“I can’t allow you to cross. You won’t be allowed back in”

“What? Why? I have a valid ticket. I mean I am not excited to walk all the way there either. If you can arrange for the excess baggage fee to be paid right here within your Lakshman Rekha, then it would be the best”

Confused but determined to do his duty, he calls out to his senior from the main entrance. A little older guy walks up. The guard explains him his problem. He seemed equally perplexed by this turn of events. I don’t think anybody in Bhopal has ever paid excess baggage. After much thinking, he suggests something even more ridiculous.

“Can you call someone from the Air India counter?”

“Why should I call? You call someone from Air India”

“Sorry sir, but you’ll have bring someone from the check in counter to go with you”

I looked back to notice the guys at the check-in counter were witnessing my situation all this while. I noticed a senior guy walking past with Air India tag. I asked him to help me out.

“I will come with you. Don’t worry”

And with him, I made it to the ticket counter where a lady was busy chatting on her phone. Upon noticing me, she put her phone aside and took my excess baggage slip.

“Sir our network is down. I will have to make a manual receipt” she told me clicking vigorously on the refresh button.

She picks up the phone on the counter and dials some colleague of hers.

“Ma’am, network is down so should I just make a manual receipt for excess baggage? hmmm…yes….yes…excess baggage…yes…network is down since morning…ya….ok…alright ma’am…no no it’s excess baggage…yes…Ok…fine ma’am. “

She kept the phone and began looking through the drawers for something.

Drawer 1…Nothing…2…Nope…3…Nope…4…Na…5…Not here…6..Not here as well. She turned around, darted through the room to the other side and began looking in the drawers of another desk.

In the fourth one, she found a leaflet that I remembered used to be how flight tickets were issued before 2006. She flipped through it and settled in her chair to fill it. She suddenly realized she’s missing something else. Again, she got up and began her dramatic Hindi movie style search for something. None of the drawers had it. So, she just reached out deep into her bag and found a pen. She also managed to find an old booklet which was filled to copy from it.

“Sir I would need the ticket”

I opened it on my phone and gave it to her. She continued filling the booklet like school kid copying homework.

I handed her the money as soon as she was done writing.

“Oh yes…no…change…wait…sir…let me finish this…will then take the money”

She continued to read the first page for next five minutes. Then she flipped the page to she second carbon page and read everything. Then she read through the third page followed by fourth page as if making sure that nothing changed in the carbon copies. She opened the first page and would flip back and forth comparing between first and the subsequent pages. Satisfied that she did indeed fill it right and the carbon worked just as it should have, she tore apart all the four pages from the booklet and lay them next to each other on the desk. She scanned through them again.

If you know me, I don’t need to explain how my patience was being tested all this while.

She got and reached out to another person walking around in the airport.

“Avinash sir, we hand over the last two pages of the manual excess baggage receipt right?”

“Wait. Let me come over there.”

He comes in with the swag of Robert Langdon and both of them sit to decipher this mystery.

“So, this booklet has four pages. I think we have to give the last two pages to the customer” explained the lady.

“See, this booklet has four pages. The first page is to be filled by your hand ok?”

“Yes sir. I have done that”

“Did you fill two booklets? Why will you book two booklets”

“No sir. That one is an old one. I was using it to fill this one”

“Okay. So the first one is filled by hand ok? And the rest all get filled up because they have carbon behind them. Ok?”

“Yes sir”

He flips through the pages to read them all.

“You didn’t fill the name?”

“There is no column for name sir”

“Come on…so what? You have to fill the passenger name somewhere. Now let this one go but in future, if you fill this up, make sure you write the passenger name”

“Ok sir. Which one to give to the passenger?”

“So this first one filled by hand goes in the registry. The second one goes in this drawer. The third one and fourth one will go at the check-in counter.”

“Yeah so the last two will be given to the passenger”

“They go to the check in counter”

“But sir the passenger only will take it to the check in counter”

“Ah! Yes yes..so you give this to the passenger”

“Ok thank you sir. I wasn’t sure which one goes to the passenger”

“No problem. I am going to have some tea”

She begins another desperate search in the drawers. Luckily the fourth drawer had the stamps. She stamps all four of the pages and staples the last two pages again and hands them over to me. I offer the money again and she returns the change to me. I requested her to give me my phone back. She did.

This whole incident took 35mins by watch.

I reach the same checkpoint and the guard or the Air India personnel are nowhere to be seen. I reach the check in counter and hand over the booklet. She looks at it like I gave her Ramayan written on parchment paper.  

She turns left and screams “Sir…Sir….Goel sir…the number on the cover page, we log this in, right?”

“What is it?”

“Manual receipt”

“Upgrade coupon?”

“Yes”

“For Lucknow flight?”

“Yes sir”

“Manual upgrade coupon?”

I interrupted before she can say yes again, “No it’s an excess baggage receipt”.

What can you possibly upgrade in a flight from Bhopal to Lucknow in an ATR jet?

“Aah…ok..so what’s the problem? Just enter the number on top”

“Ok sir”

He looks at me saying “This whole computer thing is very recent. We used to have everything manual sometime ago” and laughs out loudly. The rest of the ground crew around him follow.

I finally get my boarding pass and thanking my stars, I make a run for the security check. I made it to the flight.

Nudity, Anesthesia and Patella – Part 2

Continued from here.

I woke up and look out of the window. Beautiful white snow had covered everything in Rovaniemi, Lapland. I was sleeping in Stephen’s room because my roommate, who was my second camera op, would keep the lights on till late to copy cards and charge batteries. I checked the time and realised I must head to my room and get ready for breakfast. We were staying in a beautiful luxurious hotel that had big cottage suits with huge glass windows to see the northern lights. I opened the main door and it was half snow half ice everywhere. There were wooden steps leading to the main road. On each side of the steps was a deep pit of mud covered now in fresh snow. I locked the door and turned to slowly carefully step down. A thought crossed my head – What if I slip and fall? I stopped for second and took a deep breath. If I do it carefully, I can make it back to my room without trouble.

They put gravel on the steps and slippery ice to prevent people from falling. I could see the gravel on the steps. I took my first step landing my right foot on the first step and it slipped. I slid off the stairs with a sudden jolt and nothing around to hold on to. In a flash, I felt my knee cap pop out to its right. Now that has happened numerous times with me. My body’s immediate reaction always is to fall flat. It immediately release the pressure from my knee and the knee cap goes back to its place. With the snow, this turned out to be tricky. I spun around slipping through the ice landing in the pit, flat on my face with my knee hitting the icy ground. It popped back in place giving me relief from that excruciating pain it causes. But I felt it wasn’t the end of it. The big question was I had to now climb back up and still make it to my room. My phone was in my pocket but I was all zipped up. It seemed impossible to find it.

I looked around and discovered that my room was actually right next to me. The pit separated the two cottages. The way through the main road made it seem far away at night. I decided it would be wiser to just climb out towards my room. I slowly got up. I had landed on my palms. They were now red and hurting very badly. The good news was I could stand. My right leg shivering and a little numb. I limped around the pit and found a less steep side up. The snow was fresh so it was easy to climb. I made my way up and opened my room, dragged myself to my bed and just sat there breathing. What just happened? Did I just manage to injure myself on a shoot in Finland? In the middle of nowhere? I took off my jeans to look at my knee. It was swollen. I went to the washroom and put it under running hot water.

A normal person would have just gotten up, hurled a few abuses and walked his way out to his room uninjured. The other possibility being you crack open your skull by hitting your head on the stairs and then the stones and ice. But thanks to my luck, I was now tied naked to a table with intact skull in an OT with a shitload of medical equipment beeping and wheezing around me while some doctors take selfies with my cut open knee as they try to fix it. Such is life.

“…he started screaming at me. I told him that even though he is a doctor, he can’t just shout at me like that. Next time he does it, I will throw something at him I swear”

“I know…he’s just an asshole. The other day he got an earful…”

Two nurses were very softly gossiping away with some serious conviction in a corner of the OT. I could hear the doctors murmuring. Nothing seemed like going unusual. There was a calm vibe around. Chill scenes I tell you.

“How are you holding in there buddy?” came Dr Sawhney’s voice tearing through the silence. The two nurses shut up immediately. I told him it was all good and asked him how was it going down there. “Almost there…almost there” he replied and continued to murmur with the other doctors. He probably did that just to remind the gossip girls they were in the middle of a surgery. And no they weren’t two girls. One of them was a guy.

After what seemed like ten minutes, I heard “Ah….beautiful! Come see this. The patella is tracking so beautifully now. Let’s take some more pictures” and everyone gathered behind Dr Sawhney to pose.

“Take some closes as well” he insisted. I looked at the clock and discovered it had not even been an hour since I was brought in here.

“Himanshu, your patella is now absolutely stabilized. It went better than I thought”

“Thank you so much doctor. That’s some relief to hear you say that” I replied. It genuinely felt so good to know it was over. Then I heard a sound I was least expecting but I should have. I looked at the lady doctor who was right by side.

“Is he stapling it?”

“Yes…”

“How many?”

“7-8 on one side, about 3-4 on other” she told me with a little wince.

“Show also the pictures as well” Dr Sawhney requested her.

A phone was brought to me with pictures of my knee. There was one big clean incision and every muscle inside was off white. I couldn’t make out much if it was fixed or not. But I was surprised that there was no blood anywhere. Later, google told me what Tourniquet really does is it depletes the area of blood by putting three times the pressure stopping the circulation. It helps doctors perform the surgery without worrying about blood loss. It’s also easy to see things clearly.

They removed the screen that was blocking my view and I was surprised to see both my legs were stretched out straight covered with a green sheet. It was a surprise because before I was given anaesthesia, my right leg was folded up while left was straight out. Post anaesthesia, I kept getting this ghost feeling that my legs were still in the same position. To see your legs in a different position than how you feel them can be a tricky situation.

Doc then showed me x-rays of my knee at every stage. They bent and checked to see if the movement is not restricted. I could see my knee cap was now resting absolutely in the centre in all the scans as opposed to on the far right off the socket in older x-rays.

My knee cap had this problem from a very long time. When I was young, it would dislocate but wouldn’t cause as much of pain to really ring any alarm bells. As I grew up, the problem got worse but the idea of a knee surgery was still not considered to be a safe option. I met with an accident in 2007 and the best solution to fix it was to perform a surgery. Yet the senior doctors at that time considered that healing should solve it and one shouldn’t hinder with complex joints like knee. Ten years later, I can now say it didn’t heal.

Thanks to that condition, I always lived in constant fear of dislocating my knee. I would walk slowly, be extra careful on stairs, never jump or run. There were times when my brain would suddenly remember the feeling when knee twists if I would be walking with people behind me. As if one of them kicked my knee from behind. It would get so fictitiously painful that I would physically just touch my knee to believe that it still is intact. To avoid situations like these, I never walked with people walking immediately behind me. I would always stand with my right left loose so that no one accidently hits it. It was a 24×7 stress on my head.

These x-ray scans just told me, that trauma was over. That after I recover this time, there will be no more random knee twists and the unfathomable pain that makes you want to throw up and haunt you for days and nights. It was something. I was still processing it all. Like a curse was now lifted.

“Once the effects of anaesthesia wear off, you’ll need to pass a lot of urine. We’ve given you a lot of fluids during the surgery. You might experience pain in your bladder but worry not it is normal. If you feel that you’re unable to pee, let us know and we’ll fix a catheter” explained Dr Sawhney.

I almost jumped hearing the ‘C’ word.

“Fix a WHAT? I don’t think that will be necessary. It should be fine without it”

“Hahaha that’s the best part of catheter. Nine out of ten times we don’t actually need to fix it. The very mention of it or bringing it in the view of the patient does its job”

My right leg was now bandaged and put in a full length brace. It looked three times the size it was before the surgery. I couldn’t move a toe or anything. They transferred me back to the stretcher, I thanked all the doctors and was wheeled out in the observation area. I was freezing again. The same doctors came by and set up all the equipment around me including the blower to keep me warm. I was supposed to stay in this room for over an hour.

Dr Sawhney called up my father and made me talk to him. I told him it all went well. He sounded relieved. Everyone left me alone to rest. Like I was even tired. Or maybe I was. I lifted the bedsheet slightly to have a look at my leg and realized they didn’t put back my pajama. I touched the skin on my thigh where I had no sensation and it felt like I was touching another person’s body. Surreal.

I continued to just stare at the ceiling wishing to sleep but could not. Suddenly, my heartrate monitor which was beeping rhythmically started wreaking havoc. I thought everyone will come running but nobody did. On the contrary, a nurse just came by, reset it and found out one of the sensors was pulled out. She put it back on my chest.

Instead of holding on to the skin fully, it caught half of my hair and was now pulling it. I thought I should inform her but she left. It kept pulling away the hair slowly increasing the pain. At one point it got super painful so I just pulled it off and the machine went mad again with beeps. I was amazed how confident they were that nothing was wrong with me. She again came strolling to reset it. I told her what happened and she put it on clear skin this time.

I was surprised that I had no thoughts at that point. I was just blank. I had never been this blank for a long time. I was kind of enjoying this oblivion. Another patient was brought next to me. She had a surgery of her ear. The doctor was extra friendly and chirpy. She joked around with all the nurses. The nurses seemed to not like her much. I could see them going ‘Ooooooh look at Miss I-AM-SUCH-FAB-DOC hop, skip and jump out of here’.

Another patient was brought with some gastro related surgery. The nurses made a face when they were told the patient will pass stool now. They looked at each other as to whose duty was it. A senior nurse sped up and closed the curtains around the patient.

It reminded me, I was neither hungry nor thirsty. It was 2pm and I hadn’t had a drop of water since 6am. My last meal was the day before. Yet I felt just fine. Wait. At some point, I will have to let go of what I am fed here. Will I have to use a pot? Oh Wow. I somehow was convinced that the biggest challenge was the surgery. It was slowly becoming clear to me that shit was about to get real.

I started feeling a tingling sensation all over my lower body. I tried moving my left toe. This was funny. In my head, I was just wiggling my toe but I could see the whole foot flap around like crazy. I didn’t want to risk wiggling my right toe. In the middle of this whole wiggly business, it was time for me to be taken to my ward. An hour had passed just like that.

Back in my ward, I had to be shifted to my bed. The four ward boys picked up each corner of the bedsheet and put me right between the bed and the stretcher. Happy with their achievement, they decided to wheel the stretcher away.

“STOP. I am in the middle. You need to shift me all the way on the bed” I told them and my own helplessness struck me. I couldn’t even shift on my own at that point.

“What? Really?” one of the men lifted the bedsheet on the top to check if that was really the case. I again got nervous. The bedsheet was all that was covering me. All that realization of privacy not being a problem anymore had vanished and there I was all paranoid again. They realized the problem and shifted me again to the centre of the bed. A strange sense of fatigue began taking over me. Shortly before I was feeling absolutely fine but now I felt all my energy had vanished. Head and eyes started to feel heavy yet I wasn’t sleepy. Speaking seemed like a task. I just lay there still, breathing deeply.

My father came by to check on me. And right behind him came my mom. She was half crying half smiling. Caressing through my hair, she asked me if everything went well, if I had any pain, if I was feeling nauseas or dizzy. My father jumped in and consoled her that everything went perfectly well. The doctors were very happy with the result. And she should just let me rest. That calmed her down and she sat next to me.

Then came Shashwat all smiling and happy.

“Aur bhai. How did it go? You feel alright? Let’s see how it looks” and he began to slowly uncover the sheet from my right toe.

“Don’t open it please. That’s all that’s covering me” I feebly tell him.

“What? That’s all? They were going to put a brace and all right? What happened to that?” and he pulls the bedsheet uncovering my entire right leg.

“STUPID GUY. STOP. I MEANT AM NOT WEARING ANYTHING EXCEPT THIS BEDSHEET” I scream on top of my lungs. He immediately puts back the sheet.

“Oh achha. Sorry”

He walks away and starts to fidget with his phone. And a sense of guilt overcomes me. I should not have screamed. I start to wonder what is with me that’s making me so irritable and sensitive about it. I just stay quiet for some time. I should take it easy.

A young nurse comes in with a very innocent smile.

“Hello. You want to have some water?” she asked me very calmly and sweetly. She had a south Indian accent. I nodded a yes. She brought a glass of water and I felt my mouth wanting to soak away the whole glass. Like an influx I began desperately sipping the water. She immediately pulled away the glass.

“No. Not so much. Just a couple of small sips. We’ll give you soup in some time”

Whatever water got through felt like heaven. My head landed back on the pillow with a thud. The tingling sensation had now reached its end. And my bladder was waking up. In about ten minutes I started feeling like I hadn’t peed in a week. I pressed the nurse call button and asked for a pee bottle. I prayed to the Almighty that I don’t have to use a catheter.

A very humble, pleasant looking man came with the bottle smiling. He politely requested everyone to move out and closed all the curtains.

“Take your time son. I am standing right outside” he told me handing over a weirdly shaped bottle with a flat bottom. The shape immediately made sense. Then I let it go. Take it from me. Very few things feel as good as peeing after a surgery. It probably went on for fifteen minutes. I thought the bottle would overflow but it had some capacity. Mamu took away the bottle, cleaned my hands and tucked me back in. The effects of anaesthesia were completely gone.

Which also meant, the pain that I had royally avoided so far was starting to poke my knee. First with little pins. Then with bigger needles followed by knives. And just when I thought that was it, came spears and bludgeons.

It would hit me in waves. Each wave more painful than the other. I asked my father if the drip had any painkiller and turns out they did give me some painkillers (paracetamol) after the surgery. Somehow, it wasn’t working. It grew worse in the next half an hour.

To the extent that I couldn’t hold it together. I began howling in pain. My mother’s face lost all its colour. My father talked to the nurses and on duty doctor. They thought it was normal to feel pain. One of them even questioned my father “Is he a very pampered kid? Can he not bear some pain?”. May be I am a pampered kid. And maybe I don’t deal well with pain. How about helping me instead of judging me?

They had planned a course of painkillers that would increase in dosage gradually. But I was in agony. Every now and then the pain would subside letting me breathe then suddenly it would hit me hard again. The spasms were very random. No fixed rhythm.

I was tired of keeping my hands on the sides. I wanted to raise them above my head. But the moment I would do so, my knee would feel a pull and start to hurt. So I would again bring them down. But then my arms would hurt. I felt absolutely trapped and end of my wit.

“This is ridiculous. Why would they not give me stronger pain killers? If only the pain is  constant and slightly less than this, I can bear it. But right now, I cannot bear it.” I cried to my dad in pain.

Very calmly my dad replied “It’s not ridiculous. It’s just a standard procedure. They cannot suddenly give you more pain killers. There has to be a certain gap. Too bad it is not working but it is still in your system. Just try to tough it out for some time. They will add another dosage soon.”

My knee was feeling very tightly trapped in something. Like it was hurting because the brace was too tight. I complained to the doctor on duty and he gave his usual reply

“That’s usual. We can’t open the brace. Is there any other problem?”

“Yeah. The damn tv has no HD channels” I almost replied.

Finally my dad called up Dr Sawhney who immediately spoke to the nurse and asked them to loosen the brace because it must have swollen. She loosened it a little bit and like magic my pain subsided. Still a lot though. But now borderline bearable.

I looked at my mother and could see her freaking out. I knew she would not leave if I continued to be in so much pain. I closed my eyes and began breathing deeply. The nurse came by and added another dosage of painkiller. It had very little effect though. I acted like it worked. I faked falling asleep.

My father then convinced my mother that I have gone to sleep and she should leave. She was reluctant at first but eventually agreed and left. As soon as she left, I woke up and told my dad that it was still very painful but less than earlier. He checked with the nurses again and there was still time before they would give the final dose. So he started talking to me about random things to divert my attention. I explained what all was happening in the OT and how they clicked pictures etc. He began telling me stories of days when he was a medical representative. Two hours passed.

At around 11pm, sister came in with Tramazac. Within a minute of her injecting that, I felt the pain reduce to a little prick. The dosage was really strong. I could feel it. Strong painkillers make your head feel light and give you a sort of high. Like I know what being high is. Still. I can guess. The relief was so quick that I fell asleep in no time.

Bright lights. Beeps. Walking on the road. Jumping. Free fall. And I woke up with a jolt. Breathing heavily, I looked at the clock. It had hardly been few minutes since I fell asleep. I felt extremely exhausted and a little bit disoriented. I continued to lay still. In some time, I began to fall asleep again.

Concrete. My shoes. Free falling feet. Crash. And I woke up again with a sudden jerk in my right leg.

Shit.

To be continued….

Nudity, Anaesthesia and Patella – Part 1

The alarm went off at 6am. It was a little strange waking up this early but not for a shoot. My mom was up already. I realized I should have woken up a bit earlier. I went to the kitchen and had few sips of water. Didn’t want to push my luck. As I turned on the shower, it struck me that it was my last shower for the next few weeks. I didn’t even know how I was going to make it through. My brain doesn’t function if I don’t shower. But then, I won’t need my brain to function much.

I called up the hospital and confirmed the reservation for my ward. As I packed and prepared to leave, I noticed my mother was worried sick by now. My father therefore decided she wouldn’t come along. Instead, it would be best if she came to visit in the evening when everything was done. She tried to argue a little but realized it was for the best.

I didn’t listen to music on the way to the hospital. Nor did me and my father talk much. I was sort of enjoying the peace. I was in a weird state of mind. The idea that you won’t walk for next few months can take some time to settle in. But I also liked the thought of my knee fixed once and for all. I was trying to plan it all.

While at the billing counter, my father took a selfie with me. It was so badly timed, but it did lighten up my mood. The photo came out as bad as cute the gesture was. Once we finished the billing and paperwork, we were taken to the ward. It was a twin sharing with no other patient in it. I could pick the bed, so I picked the one by the window even though I didn’t have to stay there for too long. If everything were to go by the plan, I was supposed to be released in 48-72hours after the surgery. I really hoped that it went by the plan.

A nurse came in with my wrist tag, hand sanitizer bottle and a box of various kinds of drips and injections to be kept by the bed. She also gave me a XXL sized gown and pajama. I was expecting it to be like those big one-piece gowns you see in movies and tv shows. Instead the pajama had an old school nara (string). I wondered what would patients with one or both hands in cast do? I was then asked to lie on the bed so that they could conduct some preliminary tests and ask me some questions.

A young doctor came and asked for my blood reports. He noticed that my platelet count was below 1,00,000. He made a note of it and continued asking questions.

“Do you consume alcohol?”

“No”

“Do you smoke?”

“No”

“Any drug usage?”

“No”

“Are you on any medication?”

“No”

“Are you diabetic?”

“No”

“Any history of surgery?”

“No”

“Any allergies?”

“No”

He left the room. And came another doctor. Who repeated exactly what the earlier doctor did. In the same manner, in the same order. And another doctor followed her. Did the same thing. Then came another. Asked the same set of questions. Obviously, I was getting a little impatient. But in total seven doctors (or droids?) came by and asked the exact set of questions in the exact order. The last one didn’t have to ask complete questions.

“I don’t consume alcohol or drugs. I don’t smoke. I am on no medication and not a diabetic. I have no known allergies.” He smiled, made note of all of those and continued to take my blood pressure. It was normal.

Then came the floor manager. Very smartly dressed in a long snug kurta and churidaar, high heels and long earrings wearing a very strong refreshing citrusy perfume. She had a tablet in her hand (the device!). “You see, if you are diabetic, alcoholic, smoker or allergic to something specific, it might change the course of your surgery. More doctors will need to be appointed and the procedures will get longer often resulting in increase in the charges. We want to give you the correct estimate and ensure no unnecessary procedures are done. Thus, the charade of questions. If you need anything, please feel free to contact me” she said handing over her business cards to everyone in the room.

As soon as the floor manager left, came another nurse to take blood samples. I pointed to my right hand but she, like every nurse in my history of blood tests, lifted my left hand. And exactly like every time, she poked two-three times unable to find the vein. She then settled for my right hand. I had already given blood samples twice in last three days. She had to find a new spot to poke. I am not scared of needles but yeah, it’s not the best feeling.

One of the doctors came back and told me I would need a set of X-Rays to be taken before the surgery. Following him a was ward boy with a wheelchair. I smiled and said I could just walk to the imaging center. “Once you’ve changed into the patient gown and worn that tag, you are not allowed to just walk around. The only way you can be transported to anywhere is either on a wheelchair or a stretcher” he replied in a very mechanical way. I complied. More droids?

Upon my return from the X-Rays (which went pretty uneventful thankfully), I was greeted by a nurse with a trimmer in his hand. I pulled my pajama up to reveal my leg.

“No no, you need to take it off. I need to clean the entire area”

“What? But the surgery is only of the knee…”

“Yeah…but it’s the norm. Let’s hurry up. We don’t have much time”

“Can you at least pull the curtains around?”

He sighed and reluctantly just pulled around the curtains leaving some gap. I kept looking at him waiting for him to realize that he needs to close it all the way. He looked back at me with the expression that clearly said he won’t do anything further in that regard. I started to feel a little annoyed now. Why would they disregard a patient’s privacy like that?

I slowly pulled down my pajama and he just yanked it off my legs. First few seconds of that trimmer on my legs and I knew I was going to get severely scratched. I could see marks like when you scratch your dry skin in winters. He ruthlessly continued to trim every nook and corner of my right leg and groin.

“Mamu, is it done?” shouted a nurse from between the gap. I panicked and covered myself with my pajama. “Don’t come here. I am not done yet” shouted Mamu back snatching away the pajama from me and continuing the trimming. She left closing the gap in the curtains to my relief.

“Hello Himanshu, hope you’re doing good. I will see you in sometime” greeted my doctor from the other side of the curtain looking for an opening to peep in. I again tensed up and almost lost it. WHY THE F**K DOES ANYONE NOT CARE ABOUT PRIVACY HERE? I was soon going to arrive at the answer myself. He left though without opening the curtain. I could hear a doctor and nurse talking to my dad and it was freaking me out that if one of them decides to just open the curtain, what would I do? Luckily nobody did.

I had to bear fifteen minutes of painful scratching of my skin before I could wear the pajama again. Though, I would say, there were no real scratches or cuts. Just a lot of dry smooth skin now.

“You’re NBM right?”

“NBM?”

“Nil by Mouth? You’ve not had anything for last six hours, right?”

“No. Nothing.”

“Good. Your reports came in. We are going ahead with the surgery. Your platelet count has risen.”

I was put on a stretcher and taken down to the operation theater. I crossed so many patients on my way in various conditions. The view of the world from a stretcher is surreal. Everyone looks at you like there’s something wrong with you. Random people crossing make sure they look at you in the eye as if asking what’s wrong with you. The stretcher keeps bumping here and there and you wonder if the ward boys really care about you or not. Then you notice they make sure it bumps into them and not anything else. Everything starts to slow down. You realize no matter how well you prepared for it. No matter how easy the doctor made it seem, you’re still scared out of wits when you start to hear the commotion of a busy operation theatre with all the beeps and hisses.

I was stopped at the entrance of the main OT and was greeted by a couple of doctors who were not only super good-looking but happy, calm and pleasant. One of them, who later I discovered was the physician, started explaining me that the platelet count has risen to a safe level and I should not worry about it at all. I requested to use the washroom.

When I came back from the washroom, I found my father waiting there. He asked me if I was ok. He was told by the hospital staff to come and meet me before the surgery. Both of us wondered if this was just a protocol they follow or was there something serious. The same doctor explained that it is just a protocol. As harsh as it may sound, they don’t know what the outcome would be in the OT. So, they prefer that the close family meets the patient before the surgery. Also, it often increases the confidence of the patient and calms him down. Often, not always though.

My father is a very calm person when it comes to medical procedures or probably any kind of emergency. Having a background in science and medicine, he not only understands how it all works but also understands the psychology of both the patient as well as the doctors. He was the perfect mediator between me and the hospital. I need mediation. I can suddenly be very impatient and vocal about things. He knows it well. I think it was indeed a good idea to not have my mother around. She is the strongest human being I know but when it comes to me, she becomes very vulnerable.

I was wheeled to the inner section of the OT and I crossed two open doors where I saw doctors performing surgeries. One of them had something going on in the abdomen. I took a deep breath and continued staring at the ceiling. My OT was much bigger than the ones I had seen on the way. But it was freezing.

I noticed the operation table was barely wide enough to hold a person. Obviously, it wasn’t for comfortable sleeping. The physician was joined by two more lady doctors, who were again, strikingly good looking. One of them, older than the other, told me she was going to administer anesthesia and it would cause tingling, pricking and a little bit of pinching in the beginning followed by a surge of heat and loss of control over the lower body. But it’s going to be absolutely controlled and I should not be worried at all.

Their tones were all so confident and calm that it put me to a lot of ease. The main surgeon, Dr. Gurvinder Singh Sawhney, joined and he’s a very talkative happy guy. So he just resumed talking to me like it was just another day. He has a million stories for every incident.

“You guys take some pictures of this surgery. Because this guy is a cinematographer. He’ll make it big one day and you’ll want to boast that you fixed his knee. Also, not to forget, the surgery itself is not so common” chucked Dr. Sawhney.

They made me sit up and uncovered my back. The anesthetist announced that a needle prick is coming up. And a second later I felt a little burning prick in my lower spine. A couple of more followed. Then I felt a thicker needle being inserted but didn’t feel the pain. It just felt odd. What followed next was big jolt down my spine and lower body like they pumped lead or mercury or something. I felt it go through my body all the way down. They made me lay down again.

“It’s all good. Don’t worry ok? Himanshu? It’s all fine” she told me caressing my forehead and arms like a mother assuring her child. They adjusted me on the table, put up a screen right over my chest to block my view of the surgery and two extended supports were fixed on each side for my arms. On my right arm was fixed a blood pressure monitor and my left arm a vein flan was fixed for the drip. They put heart monitor sensors over my neck and chest. My arms were now locked in that position. Like Jesus on the cross.

By now, I was shivering due to cold. They wrapped a number of bedsheets around my face and fixed a warm blower. The younger lady doctor was responsible for monitoring my vitals. I noticed that everyone was going about their business like every day. They were cribbing and gossiping about other people in the hospital, sharing stories about very trivial mundane incidents and laughing about them. Their mouths and faces were doing whatever, but their hands were working like a machine very meticulously doing everything.

I had lost sensation in my lower body. In my head I could feel my legs in exactly the same position as they were before the anesthesia just that I couldn’t move it anymore. It didn’t feel odd. It was a new feeling. This was my first experience with anesthesia ever. The younger lady doctor picked up a small plastic cap and started rubbing it softly on my stomach slowly going down asking me “Can you feel this?”.

At the edge of where my pajama was, I could feel the numbness begin. I felt someone open my pajama and pull it down. I went silent. I wished they could have waited for it to become completely numb before pulling it out. I wouldn’t have realized it. Now I was aware that I was lying naked on that table and a bunch of people, ladies inclusive were just walking around doing stuff.

They continued to talk to me like nothing happened. Like I was still wearing clothes and sitting normally next to them. And this slowly took my attention away from my nakedness. It is then I realized that their job is to save lives. It doesn’t affect them if people are naked. They signed up for this when they began their career as a doctor. It’s not about anyone’s privacy in a hospital. It’s about saving lives, fixing problems and helping people get back to a normal life again outside this hospital. I took a deep breath and relaxed.

It takes about half an hour to prepare for a minimal invasive arthroscopic surgery. The cold slowly stopped bothering me. The rhythm of the beeps and whooshes in the OT started to put me to a sort of half-sleep. As the procedure continued the room went quiet. The last thing I heard was them putting the tourniquet and Dr. Sawhney checking to make sure the pressure on it was three times my blood pressure. I would feel a little shake every now and then when they would adjust my leg, fold it or stretch it. I could see a blurred reflection on the light above me of my knee and I knew the surgery had now begun.

To be continued…

Five Slices of Me

Being a cinematographer, I naturally think of moving images first. But I have always loved photography as much even though I never tried my hand at proper studio photography. Recently a thought crossed my mind and here is the result.

The series has five stages starting from extreme close going all the way to a full wide shot like a track back shot. Each stage as a little story to it.

Model 1 – Nirmit Gire (@nirmitgire

1/5 – Window to the soul

He’s a very determined headstrong guy with a knack for adventure. Willing to teach and help others, he loves to make friends and socialize. Being well traveled makes him sensitive yet sensible.
Check out the upcoming posts to know more about him and some other interesting souls!

2/5 – Up-close

I met him first at an ad shoot directed by @saipawar4 two years ago. And we got along pretty well. It doesn’t take much to be yourself around him. In last two years I have seen him grow as a person and it’s a great feeling.

3/5 – It’s worth the story

“Pursuit of your dreams can take you to far away places. But like everything else, it has its pros and cons. Ten years ago, my sister moved to Australia for her education. Shortly, after I moved to Canada. Being students, neither of us could afford frequent trips back home, leave aside the idea of planning it together. We kept missing each other for eight years until in December 2017 when me and my parents finally visited Australia for her engagement. We were all in the same room after almost a decade. It felt so complete.”