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.”
“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.
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.
“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”
“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.
“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.
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.
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!