As the clock struck five Rohan got out of bed and looked outside his window. The full moon had hung low on the horizon last night. Now the sun was preparing to rise. The flowers in his garden danced slowly with the passing breeze and their fragrance lingered along. ‘Has it been really that long?’ he thought going to the window. He had met Aryan in the library three years ago. Later when he thought of it, it sounded such a cliché thing. Meeting in the library, kissing after a few cups of coffee, sleeping on fourth date, morning breakfast. But it was not. With every act followed the fear, the guilt. They were outsiders, unaccepted. Everything they did was to be a secret; they belonged to a cult and had to remain where they belonged. Though both were out to themselves (and to each other) no one in the whole world knew they were different. Friends and family were important. They couldn’t let them go. And family and friends wouldn’t let them be themselves.
After two years of dating when the word started to get out and they were confronted they decided to come out and face the facts. There was no escaping and they decided it would be much better to let the people close to them know that they loved each other. Those who were not OK with it could walk out of their lives and they pretty much knew most of them would. What they didn’t know was that who would stand by them. A year ago Rohan and Aryan decided to invite everyone for the Holi* party and tell them that they were not ‘more than friends’. They were boyfriends.
Rohan woke up at four thirty in the morning on Holi. It was the best time of year; March, celebration of life, colours and love. Aryan still laid asleep, his lower body was covered with a soft blanket while his chiseled torso was unclad. His black hair fell softly on his forehead, lips curled in smile of some pleasant dream. Rohan got out of bed and sneaked in the drawing room where he had colours hiding below the sofa. He passed by the dressing table and got a glimpse of himself wearing shorts. His hair was messy and cheeks were shaved. He smiled with the idea of colouring Aryan in bed. He got the colours from below the sofa and hid it behind him just in case Aryan was awake. Stealthily he came in the room. Aryan had covered himself completely now. Rohan came closer and slowly lifted the blanket. Aryan was not there. ‘What the…?’ he thought and turned. Too late. Aryan was standing before him with a mischievous grin, his hands behind him.
‘No Aryan, don’t even think of it,’ he began uncertainly.
‘Why big guy? It’s OK for you but I can’t do it?’ Aryan’s grin widened and his hands came out dripping red.
‘No, it’s just that…’ Rohan backed.
‘Just what, my love?’ he came closer.
‘What’s that behind you?’ Rohan pointed with a scared look.
Aryan instantly looked back and Rohan ran past him laughing.
‘That trick won’t save you today,’ Aryan followed him and caught him in two long sprints. ‘Got nowhere to go baby!’ he said and threw his hand softly on Rohan’s face making it red. Rohan rubbed the green colour he had on Aryan’s face with his both hands. They looked at each other, and rocked with laughter till their stomachs hurt. ‘Happy Holi Rohan,’ Aryan said amidst laughing hiccups. ‘Happy Holi Aryan,’ he replied stifling his laughter. They came closer when the laughing fit subsided and their lips met slowly, their tongues explored familiar territories like new. They tasted each other and Aryan was reminded of orange juice, sweet and sour and tantalizing. They stiffened and hardened, it was pure joy. Their hands explored every part of other, touching, caressing, massaging, taunting. They kissed passionately as they moved from drawing room to bedroom. They lay on bed feeling bliss till sun came and shone on them from the window (where Rohan would stand a year later gazing at the horizon) for a wonderful day ahead.
They got up and showered together, kissing and loving again and then went out to play Holi with their friends. They visited everyone they knew in town, painting them with a million colours, dancing, discussing nothing and everything, taking them to visit others, painting them and so on. Lots of sweets and snacks and sherbets and some thandais# at every house made this day what they always do, a blissful festival. They invited people close to them in the evening at Rohan’s house (they still lived in separate houses or so everyone knew) and came back painted and looking like coloured freaks. They showered again and got most of the colour off. Some was still left on their ears and face and their hands were totally black.
Just before people started coming they looked each other in the eye, smiled and kissed softly. Rohan said, ‘no matter what happens today, I love you Aryan, I will always love you.’ Aryan smiled and whispered in his ears, ‘I know you will and so will I. I love you too.’ And they both knew that they were right. People started coming and amidst chatter and occasional laughter Aryan and Rohan were worried. They passed on the food, made some jokes, smiled and greeted everyone appropriately but they were worried. They knew many would leave never again to return in their lives and it was scary. Losing the people they cared for. They would be dead for them or maybe worse, a taboo. They would never mention their name ever again. Both the guys knew that and tried whatever they could do to release their tension.
Aryan went to his parents who were booming with laughter after few shots of thandais and called them in the bedroom. Across the room Rohan was talking to a woman and followed them but waited outside nervously. It was better that Aryan handled his parents first. He could not clearly hear what was happening inside and that made him more anxious. Then he heard sound of a crash and another and another. He went in to see that Aryan stood close to his father, his head hung low and cheeks red. It was not a crash; Aryan’s father had slapped him. His mother was sobbing softly by the end of the bed. Aryan’s father was abusing him furiously and stopped in mid-sentence as Rohan opened the door. ‘What do you want?’ he snapped angrily.
‘Wait outside Rohan, I’ll manage this,’ Aryan said in a quavering voice.
‘Manage this? Manage this? There is nothing to manage, you faggot!’ his father roared.
Aryan was glad music in the guest room was louder than his voice.
‘Please uncle, don’t,’ Rohan came in the room and closed the door.
‘Who the hell are you to tell me how to treat this worthless son of mine?’ he roared again.
‘He is my boyfriend. We are dating for over two years,’ Aryan said. His mother started sobbing more noisily.
‘Boyfriend? Ugh! Are you mad? I’m going to kill you both,’ he slapped Aryan and his face contorted.
‘Enough uncle,’ Rohan came by Aryan’s side.
‘How dare you?’ he said and raised his hand to slap him but Aryan caught his hand in mid-air.
‘Don’t even think of it,’ he said, his voice coming on the angry edge.
‘So this is what it has come to? What next? You will slap me now? We taught you, cared for you, loved you unconditionally for this day? What a great son you have been! You spoiled our name faggot! But don’t worry. God will take care of you and people like you. You will burn in hell,’ his father roared and turned away in utter disgust. ‘Mala, let’s go,’ he said to his wife. She looked at him with swollen red-eyes and said something unintelligible.
‘What?’ he roared back.
‘He is our son,’ she said stifling her sob.
‘He is no son of mine anymore. And if he is yours I am not your husband,’ he said and left.
Aryan’s mother looked at her son for a second before she ran out sobbing. Aryan crashed on the bed heavily, hid his face and wept. Rohan stood there watching him, his heart pumping madly, tears building up but he was unable to move. After hours or minutes when Aryan’s weeping turned into hiccupping sobs Rohan gave him a glass of water.
‘C’mon man. It was not that bad. You just got three; we still have to see my ma going into full tantrums,’ Rohan said sitting beside him.
Aryan looked at him sadly and turned away. After a minute or so he said, ‘Will we go to hell? Does God really hate us?’
Rohan put his hands on Aryan’s shoulders and hugged him. ‘Look,’ he said ‘there is no God other than life itself. And as long as you love life in all its forms you are safe.’
‘Fair enough. But does that mean I have to love you as well?’ Aryan said with a smile.
‘Till the end of my life,’ Rohan said.
‘Till the end of my life,’ Aryan agreed.
Rohan now called his parents in the room and his father sat on the bed staring at the ceiling and his mother, as he had predicted, was throwing full-on tantrums. She begged him to visit some Baba and get his grace. ‘The disease will go away, and you will live happily. You will marry a girl, a beautiful girl and have wonderful little children,’ she said as she threw her hands in all directions and made whimpering noises.
‘Ma, it’s not a disease and even if it was I will choose it in all my lives to be with Aryan,’ he said.
‘I don’t know what to do? My son! Please God, don’t be so cruel! What have I done to deserve such fate? I visited your temple everyday and I fasted and I never turned a beggar away. This is what you are giving me for my piety? Please don’t do this to me! I’ll go to Haridwar** and will invite five hundred one, no no, one thousand one Brahmins for feast. Please save my son! Please God!’ she sat with a thump and began praying.
‘Ma, will you stop that?’ Rohan said.
‘Stop what? Oh my God! You do not know what you are saying. There is some devil in you. You are possessed,’ she began praying more furiously.
‘Stop everything you are doing. Your trading with God, this praying, everything. I am not haunted or possessed. I am fine,’ he said irritably.
‘Fine! How can you say…?’ she was interrupted by her husband, ‘he is not possessed and he is not sick. There is nothing you or anyone else can do.’ He looked out the window into the night.
‘You men are stupid! You don’t believe in anything. I tell you, I am going to Babaji first thing in the morning. He will know what to do. He is a miraculous person. He will surely cure our son,’ she said.
‘He cannot be cured. Let’s go,’ he stood up and looked Rohan in the eye, ‘I love you son but I cannot support you. Perhaps I am too weak, too human. If you need anything call me otherwise you will have to be a stranger for me, for my family. I am sorry I can’t be with you.’
Rohan saw genuine tears swell in his father’s eyes and for first time after he had hit puberty. He felt so much love for his father that it hurt to know he won’t be there with him anymore. Rohan’s father left and his mother prayed and urged for him to come with her to visit Babaji. He denied and she left promising to drive whatever demon haunted him out.
‘That was intense,’ Aryan came inside.
‘Yes,’ Rohan replied, his eyes swelling with tears.
‘This is too hard,’ he said. ‘Yes,’ Rohan looked at him.
‘Relax Rohan. It’s OK if you cry.’
That was the cue. Rohan broke into soft sobs, his shoulders shaking and voice faltering as he said, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to us.’
‘It happens to everyone Rohan. Life gives us many jolts before we come on track,’ Aryan hugged him.
‘Let’s tell these people together. Those who want to stay can stay and those who want to leave can just do whatever they want,’ Rohan said standing up. They kissed for a second and came out and stood in the center.
Aryan said loudly, ‘friends, we wish to tell you that we are gay and love each other. We will understand if it shocks you and you decide to break all contacts with us. Those who are not OK with it can choose to leave. We won’t judge you.’
The guests were taken aback by such a blunt statement. Some had heard rumors about it but thought it was just gossip. Now this direct confrontation was shocking. They did not know what to do. Should they stay? Should they leave? After some initial shock and indecision a man stood up, muttered something unintelligibly and left. One after another people started leaving and the hosts realized only two girls and four guys were left in the end smiling at them.
‘You people are staying?’ Rohan asked.
They all said they were.
‘We kind of already knew that,’ Sameer said.
‘And wanted you to come out,’ Shweta said standing up.
‘So you are not leaving?’ Aryan asked astonished.
‘We love you jerks and will stand by you no matter what,’ Sneha hugged them.
‘I will stand too but I am so high right now my head is spinning.’ Vinay said with red eyes.
Rakesh and Sonjoy came and hugged them. ‘We are proud of you,’ Sonjoy said.
‘We all are,’ Rakesh added.
After that they danced and drank long after midnight and left late in the morning with a mess behind which was cleaned by Rohan’s maid who continued to jibe about drunkards. Aryan and Rohan started receiving calls for therapy and one night Aryan’s mother called to say she loved him but she could not go against her husband. Aryan replied he understood and they talked for more than an hour. She also talked to Rohan and told him to take care of her son. Rohan’s mother on the other hand after Babaji’s tricks failed left going to his ashram and started searching for another enlightened master to cure her son. She once heard someone say that an enlightened master won’t change anyone because they can’t see anything wrong with anyone. After that she never spoke of her son.
Rohan looked back in the room. Aryan slept peacefully, his black hairs falling on his forehead. He went to bed and stood by Aryan’s side, he leaned and kissed him softly on the lips and felt the kiss back. He whispered, ‘I love you Aryan.’ Aryan opened his eyes and smiled. Sun rose and birds left their nests to explore the world as their bodies and minds became one.
*Holi is a festival of colours celebrated generally in March. It marks the end of harvest season when grain comes from fields. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holi
**Haridwar is a major Hindu pilgrimage, located in Uttaranchal. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haridwar
#Thandai is a cold drink made with mixing cannabis leaves in milk. Other main ingredients include almonds, saffron and sugar. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thandai
Homosexuality is still a crime in India and many other countries. People are fighting to change the laws. For more information please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_India