If I say one word about caste, I am probably going to be lynched! I will leave that topic completely, there are far more erudite people and scholars who have discussed and dissected it. Caste has remained alive because it is interwoven (rather desperately) in our lives, birth to marriage, death of course and everything in between.
But this is not about caste. It is about diversity: Gender, race, sexual orientation. The last one really unnerves men and women. It will always remain a matter of conjecture, how many men and women are caught in dissatisfied marriages forced on them because they are not sexually compatible and unlikely ever to be.
Since we have a social ban on pre-marital intercourse (outside the metros definitely), I have seen pathetic situations where the woman is lamented as frigid or the man as impotent because there are no fireworks in the bedroom. Probably, the people themselves are confused about their sexuality as they simply had no opportunity to explore. The lack of chemistry, they blame on themselves or the partner for not being attractive enough.
Children are born, dinners are eaten, TV watched and life comes to an end. How unfair is that! If only there was a safe space to date, dissect, disagree (or not) and choose to leave without a character stain! If your choices are not heterosexual, then the world shrinks even further, leaving you alone and rudderless.
Let me call her Karen. I will give the lady the benefit of anonymity since our fears, prejudice and bigotry makes mobsters out of us. She came in as a colleague in one of my multi-national jobs. Now Article 377 was/is in full force. But there were a handful of gay men (with partners) who had come to work, braving the not-so-subtle anti-gay environment. I was shocked to see how it fuelled acute homophobia in the office, especially amongst men who huddled away in macho groups.
Rarely would they accept dinner invitations or drag in a female partner with them to prove that they were straight. I was horrified enough to challenge them and ask if heterosexuals went and grabbed everyone at any party? So why would it be different for our lovely colleagues?
Since they had been warned (probably) of our Indian prejudices, I think I was welcomed with a sense of relief that I was contrary to everything they had expected. I was not the only one, I am glad to say there were a few others like me. But not the majority. So in the view of the macho mob, I was the gora chamcha! Never mind.
Karen was very new, a bit older than us. Smart, witty, with a ready laugh and very, very good at her work. Much before she arrived, I sensed some whispers around me. Since I was considered a sycophant with labels of my own, I wasn’t made party to the lunch time nudging. But I found out: Karen had a long time female partner. They would be living together. Her partner had responsibilities and Karen was fully committed to them as any person in a meaningful relationship would be.
Karen’s face was scrunched up with unspoken tension when she walked into the area where we all sat. She stood in the doorway, hesitant to approach, unsure and her eyes took in the room. Her face was proud, her chin up and I loved the colour of her hair: caramel and almond. This, a lady who was respected for her choices in her own country but had been made to feel like an outsider in ours.
I do not know where I got the idea, probably because I was closest to the door. I just walked up to her, called her name, gave her a big hug and introduced to the team in which I worked. All I remember is the quick relief that flooded her face. We talked about our work. That was it.
It took a gesture of simple good manners to overcome prejudice, a barrier we create in our minds and which we should be ashamed of. I was probably too proud of myself of breaking rules, taboos that I went a step further. During one of my work trips, I went and stayed at her house. I drank a lot of good wine and regaled them about North East of India, which in my opinion, still is the only liveable place with its combinations of fresh air, great food, and simplicity.
This is a good place to end the story? Not really. Envy reared its head. Not able to stomach the fact that I had been welcomed by people with so-called gora power, I had people nudging and winking at me, “Eh heh, so this is why you never got married!” There! Boom. I couldn’t be a tolerant human being really who didn’t care about people’s personal lives. I was probably in-the-closet lesbian myself!
This is who we can be: bigots who allow rapists of little girls to get away but label everyone else just to create an acceptable argument for our prejudices. But the reality is out there and it is not going to change. What would these people do if one of their kids grew up and expressed a different choice? Would they kick the child out of their home and their hearts? So why can’t we respect someone else’s child and the path they choose to be on?