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HAPPILY NEVER AFTER

A close encounter of the intimate kind opened up a whole new world for the writer, with abundance of both joy and heartbreak, and changed his life forever

I’m probably a coconut when it comes to emotion. The overall tough impenetrable exterior that keeps the whole world and all there is to it at bay. Thirty years on this earth has made me cold to most things, to the point that I’m concerned it’s pathological. In part, it may be how I was brought up: duty first and self, second. That meant a lifetime of putting my emotions on the back burner and focusing on the task at hand. It was a tough call to make, as I risked coming off as cold and unaffectionate (followed by a lifetime of compensation and self-deprecation). But in the long run, it meant good schools, top degrees with honours, the ‘Sharma-ji-ka-ladka’ that everyone compares their kids to, the big dog in the yard… and it was all worth every second of it.

And then you happened.

I suppose the only thing we had in common was Maharashtra: you from Nashik, me from Mumbai. You the Maratha, me the southern immigrant. You the atheist, me the devout Lutheran. We could not have been more different persons. Maybe that’s why we never spoke much to each other, even though we lived within a kilometre of each other, and our paths crossed almost daily. I suppose we treated each other with a subtle animosity and regarded each other with professional contempt.

In spite of all that, you had my respect. Your research was something you worked on tirelessly, day and night, blood, sweat, and tears. When you spoke about your work, you lit up the whole room, and spoke with the fervour of an evangelist. When your work got international acclaim, I could not be happier; nobody deserved it more. I must admit, I was surprised you asked me to join you in celebrating your success, it was quite unexpected.

After one too many drinks, and as the party cleared out, we finally got talking. I forget what we talked about, but what followed after was etched in my memory forever. As I was about to call it a night, and bid farewell, you leaned in, held me in a passionate embrace and kissed me. And I kissed back.

Am I gay? This was something I had never considered. Did I give in because I was vulnerable? Maybe. The year 2014 was particularly bad year for me. I felt broken, I felt alone, I was cold in the dark. But in that moment, pain and sorrow all melted away. It was warmth on a cold night, it was silence in a marketplace, it was as though the whole world fell to pieces, leaving me and you, and that moment. Why I did not make love to you that night, I don’t know. But I knew, deep down inside, it was the start of something beautiful.

We met many times since then, chatting about our likes and dislikes, our joys and sorrows, secrets we’d take to our graves. I suppose this was a necessary buffer, a chance to space it out, savour each moment of our unconventional alliance. Finally, though, on a warm summer night, we made love to each other. I’d never seen another guy naked in real life, let alone do what I was about to do next; yet as you approached me, I couldn’t help but surrender myself to these newfound desires.

That night began the first of many such “encounters” that summer, the heat doing nothing but accentuate the passion we shared for each other. I introduced you to my family that year, and boy did they love you! It was almost too good to be true, and I was inclined to come out to my family. I was unmindful of the consequences, what it would constitute, what it would mean, what would others say. I’m glad I didn’t.

For as much as this unusual love story had its happy ending, I suppose I was unmindful of what you were going through. Here I was, building castles in the air, while silently the realist in you had been awoken. You knew the task was difficult, the road far too uphill, and I guess that was something you didn’t sign up for. While we fought, and argued, and made up, I didn’t see the more obvious threat looming on the horizon.

You received your call to the West, a chance at a new life, minus all the red tape that binds us here. It was an opportunity for us to finally be together, open and free. Or so I was led to believe. As you set off from Indian shores, so did our hopes of ever being together. As I reached out to you, I was met with stoic silence. I did everything in my means to contact you, yet you were distant, far away, and silent. Silence. Silence. More silence. It ate me from the inside, and it took every ounce of energy to stop it from destroying me further.

I was broken, and I doubt I’ll ever be the same again. You’ve clearly moved on, or so your friends tell me. Two years down the line though, I suppose I am free of you. I’ve spent that time on me, discovering the beauty in myself, coming to peace with myself, and lastly, accepting me for myself. Today I stand strong and tall, I can look myself in the mirror, and be proud of what looks back at me. ‘Coz while I didn’t get me my happily ever after, I can only say, “… picture abhi bhi baaqi hai, mere dost!”