A few evenings ago, I met a gay friend, all of 30, for coffee, and as we got discussing our respective single lives in the bustling national capital of New Delhi, he mentioned, a note of bitter sweetness soaking his last words, how he was frequently propositioned for sex with single men in Delhi, who were horny as hell and literally could do anything for a blow job. What was surprising was that many of them wouldn’t want to reciprocate the same, insisting that they were ‘straight.’
I think of pleasure, its principles and how we are in complete denial of the fluidity between the sexes. I think of a very dear gay friend whose life was shattered beyond repair by his partner of over a decade who decided to marry and father children agreeing to obey his parents, never looking back, once. Or a
woman whose story inspired Sita’s Curse, Neeti from Jaipur, who at 17, was married to an impotent man fifteen years her senior, who practically raped her every night and forced her to watch porn, and paraded her to an aging Godman, to plant his seed in her womb, as a divine intervention. Her son is ten today. I wonder if Indian families are to be blamed for this stifling, stereotypical mindset conditioning or the hypocrisy that exists in society that places marriage at the center of heteronormative behaviour. How conforming is considered safe, and the frightening weight we attach to relatives, neighbours, bosses, jobs and friends.
I think of men I have been romantically involved with my 20’s who could never tell their families about us, one of them once telling me that because my mother had remarried and my father was now a South Indian, that made us not the ‘usual family’.
I think of approval and what part it plays in the future of relationships of the heart? What rules men and women? Their bodies, or their hearts? Integrity, or fleeting passion? Or, the pressing need to be what others’ perceive of them.
I wonder what if the man who demanded oral sex could ever go back and tell his wife he was living a lie, everyday. If my friend’s lover could break out of his own shackles and accept himself, if the man who dumped me in my 20’s and had an arranged marriage with someone from his own community could ever think of me as the woman he loved, and not the sum total of my parents. If Neeti’s spouse showed himself to a doctor and sought treatment for battling erectile dysfunction, rather than torturing his wife for years, in the darkness of his bedroom.
I think of India as a whole, and how we live double lives, so easily. How hearts are broken, everyday.
The way we persecute single women. A young lady I met last evening spoke about how she was often teased about ‘pet palna,’ being a mother to her dog, August, whom she adopted from Frendicoes. She’s single, successful, living alone in Delhi, works in an NGO, pays her own bills and yet can’t understand why she’s singled out regarding her parental love for her dog, by women at times, and while she has a boyfriend, she is always told that she is most likely filling in a void since she is unmarried and sans kids, an anomaly in a country that places a high premium on motherhood – a convenient cover up for a woman’s life, a sign that she is sacred and has followed the route most taken and one that is sanctioned, and a power tool that we invest in the hands of men, mother-in-law’s and society, at large. Her landlord, also raising eyebrows when her lover comes home from Kolkata and stays back on holidays, and since she has two other single flat-mates, he’s always warning them of a ‘hadsa.’
‘I feel sick when I hear that word, you know… like keeping single women as tenants is a crime, and as if we are doing something shameful, and disrespectful,’ she looks away, the Diwali lights shining softly in her soft, brown eyes.
All of October we have celebrated many of India’s biggest festivals celebrating the Mother Goddess. We have fasted and prayed, and decorated our front porches and balconies. We have purchased more than what we needed and spent much more than we deserved to. We would smile, and tell our children that Goddess Kali is the embodiment of Shakti and that she represents goodness and strength, like Durga Mata who slayed the evil demon, Mahisasura. We have eaten and made pretty rangolis, and taken pictures for social media posterity.
We did all this, while in a small crowded by lane, a woman is teased by a bunch of men on bikes, her scarf dropping to the ground. Because she dared to wear a short skirt. A jealous lover will throw acid on a woman on her way home from work, carrying vegetables and medicines for her sick father. Because she said no to his sexual advances. A woman will be raped by her newly married husband. Because he’s impotent and can’t get it up. A young working woman will be paraded to a pundit by her mother. Because she’s turning 30, soon and has a younger sister, who needs to settle down. A woman will be sent dirty texts by her married, older boss. Because she’s in for a promotion. A housewife will be called a ‘moti bhais,’ by her husband as she serves steaming hot pakodas to his boozing pals. Because she put on weight after her C-section, and gave up working to raise her child. A woman will be asked by a prospective groom if she’s a virgin. Because she’ a media person, and comes home late. A woman will be asked to shut up by her father, when she asks for her inheritance to do an MBA she has always dreamt of. Because she is not supposed to ask for her equal share in a household where she’s the only girl, and must never bring up money.