By Rohini Banerjee:
Editorial Note: Every time around Valentine’s Day we celebrate only one kind of love — the heterosexual kind — and queer love is hardly mentioned. Not all romantic love occurs between straight men and women, and there are so many alternate forms of love that are equally important and beautiful but law and society denies individuals the right to express it freely. So, this year on Valentine’s Day here’s a series that celebrates all love as equal and explores the experiences of couples and individuals who identify differently.
That they are sharing their stories is also a strong sign of how the winds of change are here, and how more and more people are refusing to let silence be their only option. Even while anonymous (their choice, no one has the right to ask otherwise), it is heartening to have them share the story of their love with us which is sure to give others reading these stories some hope too.
Atharv and Bhaskar (names changed) are a gay couple based in Bangalore and chose to remain anonymous for this interview. They are both in their mid-20s and continue to find it difficult to come out to their parents and friends, because of their strict Brahmin backgrounds. Their parents have tried to get them married off (to women), and with each passing day, it gets harder for them to keep up the ruse. But despite these struggles, their love for each other hasn’t waned even a bit in the four years they have been together. Here, they open up about their relationship, Valentine’s Day, and what it’s like being gay in a largely homophobic country:
How did you two meet and realise your feelings for each other?
Atharv: I was in college, and had gone for a gig at a club with a few friends. He was sitting alone near the bar with a drink, and I was instantly drawn to him — and not just because he was really attractive. There was just…something about him and I couldn’t look away. He saw me staring and I suddenly felt really embarrassed and also scared. I had recently come to terms with being gay, and was very jumpy about it, and thought that he was probably straight and homophobic and would get mad at seeing me staring. I tried to walk away, but he caught up with me and struck up a conversation. I was slightly drunk, nervous and very queasy about my sexuality so I blurted out that I was gay. But he smiled and said that it was okay, that he was bisexual — and I couldn’t believe my eyes because I had never met a queer Indian before. After that night, there was sort of no looking back. We talked a lot, shared a lot, and ultimately I realised that this was it; he was the one. It sounds almost out of a bad romantic comedy, but that’s how it really happened!
Bhaskar: Now when I look back at that night, I remember little else beyond meeting him. I vaguely remember that I’d had a bad day, and needed a drink, and hence had landed up at that club, and then, suddenly, there was him; all doe-eyed and scruffy-haired and looking fidgety and awkward, scared that I caught him staring. I remember thinking “he’s adorable!,” and I just had to go up and talk to him. Once we talked, I was further charmed by him; not only because he was adorable, but also because he was really smart. The way I connected with him, both intellectually and emotionally, I don’t think I had with anyone before. Soon, I asked him out, and we started dating.
Both of you come from conservative families, which is why you haven’t been able to come out to your parents and peers. Is that hard and exhausting?
Atharv: For me, it definitely is. If my family finds out I’m gay and in a relationship with another man, I can’t even imagine what they might do. From a very young age, they’ve tried to suppress mine and my sister’s sexualities. They didn’t let us make friends with the opposite sex (ironic, when I come to think of it now), didn’t allow us to date, and have always strictly enforced that we will both have arranged marriages. They’ve even tried to arrange my marriage with a girl, but thankfully I wormed my way out of it. Because of their suppression, I didn’t realise I was gay till I was 19 or 20 — which happened only once I went to college and discovered queer literature and movies. It’s really hard hiding from my parents sometimes, and to constantly lie to them. I see my friends introducing their girlfriends or boyfriends to their families and sometimes feel really sad that I can’t do the same — that my relationship with Bhaskar is still illegal in this country. But that’s what life is like here, and I guess we have to accept it.
Bhaskar: Although I knew I liked both men and women since I was 13 or 14, I had only dated women up until I had met Atharv. Before him, I was too scared to act upon my attractions towards men, which is why my parents are still happy in the knowledge that I am straight. I don’t know whether I can ever tell them, or whether they will ever take it well. I really do want them to approve of my relationship because it’s so important to me, but I also want to shield him, and this beautiful thing that we have between us, from the rejection we’ll inevitably get.
What do you like best about each other, and what’s one thing that annoys you about each other?
Atharv: I like so many things about him that the list is endless. He’s so kind-hearted, so genuine, and so incredibly intelligent and talented. He always knows the days when I’m feeling low, and will surprise me by doing something sweet and romantic, like cooking me something I like, or taking me to a place I love. There’s so much warmth and beauty within him, that sometimes it overwhelms me. One thing that annoys me? Maybe the fact that he takes too long in the shower (laughs). Jokes apart, everyone has one or two annoying habits, and he has them too, but I never get annoyed by them, I only find them endearing.
Bhaskar: Like I mentioned earlier, we connect on a deep intellectual and emotional level, and that’s something that is really rare for me. For a person who has had to hide an important part of his identity almost all his life, it’s hard to find someone to open up to. But he’s that person. He gets me like nobody else does. He deals with my crazy workaholic habits, my strange quirks and never complains (and in fact, likes it? I don’t know how). I like everything about him. Annoying? I don’t know what’s annoying about him. I’m racking my brains, but I can’t come up with anything about him that annoys me.
As a couple who have been together for a while now, what are your thoughts about Valentine’s Day?
Atharv: This is weird, but we hardly celebrate it. I know that many couples do, but it always seems like such a straight thing to me. I feel like our love would never be accepted into the traditional understanding of Valentine’s Day. People will look at us strangely, and might even get violent if we had a candlelight dinner at a restaurant together, or held hands in public. So I don’t know how to do the usual Valentine’s Day things with him. But that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate our love. We do that all the time, actually. I don’t think we need a special day for that.
Bhaskar: Growing up, Valentine’s Day was supposed to be such a big deal. Boys in my class would buy cards and flowers for the girls they liked and write bad poems and songs for them, but I was never really into it. Maybe, I hadn’t found the person I wanted to do all of that for. But now that I have that person, I still feel slightly ambivalent about the occasion. Actually, public displays of affection make me nervous, because I am constantly scared that people might respond to it negatively. In the years we’ve been together, we’ve treated 14th Feb as any other day. But like Atharv said, we don’t need a special occasion to celebrate our love — we do that almost all the time. On anniversaries, we do something extra special, but other than that, every day is a joy when I’m with him.
What are your thoughts on Section 377 being reconsidered by the 5-Judge panel?
Atharv: It really gives me hope, you know? I nearly cried when I heard the news, and I have my fingers crossed about the verdict. If the ruling is favourable, it might just give me the courage I need to come out.
Bhaskar: Same here. If the ruling is favourable, I might think about coming out to my parents. At least then, they can no longer say that my relationship is illegal (even if they’re against it). But more than that, this verdict is really important because I’m sure there are countless others like us in the country who have to hide who they are all their lives, and 377 being dismissed will be a huge victory for all of us.