Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
- Jules Renard

09 December, 2009

Beyond Divides

It had been four years since Sumit Sharma had flown off to New Zealand for higher studies in psychology amidst a lot of opposition from his family. Although the force of the apprehensions that Sumit's parents, Naresh and Smita Sharma had, had long since reduced, their shadows had never quite left their lives.

The day when they would finally witness the impact life abroad ('Across the seven seas', as Naresh put it) was only two days away when they got the phone call. Sumit's name was taken so often in conversations that when Smita heard over the hone a voice that said, "Hello, Ma! Sumit here!", she almost certainly thought she was imagining.

"Sumit... is it really you?" she asked in Marwari, her voice half-choked already.
"Yes, Ma! How are you doing?" Sumit responded from thousands of miles away.
"Just waiting for you dear..."
"Ma, Guess what! I passed! With distinction!"
"Congratulations!" The one thing Smita and Naresh had agreed upon was the immense number of opportunities available abroad. Smita could literally visualize the great door opening in front of her eyes.

"I need to tell you one more thing..." Sumit said, his voice abruptly changing tones.
"What, my dear?"
"Er... I have married."

Immediately the world came crashing down on Smita. Although she was much more understanding than Naresh, being a typical Marwari, she shunned even inter-caste marriages with all her fiber. And here, her own son, marrying a total foreigner!

To confirm her worst fears, she asked:
"Is she a foreigner?"
Now, it was the turn of Sumit's voice to break.
"Yes, foreigner. From New Zealand... Here itself."

Later that evening, verbal fireworks exploded in the Sharma household three months prior to Diwali.

"I'd told you... time and again I'd warned you NOT to send the bloody rascal in that White nation..." Naresh's rage-filled voice continued. "Here in India, he wouldn't even glance twice at a single girl... but there... in the Western nation where there is no such thing as 'culture'... he meets a ruddy witch who casts a spell on him and claims him for herself... How COULD he marry such a characterless girl!"

Smita decided against pointing out that Naresh hadn't seen the girl yet, and so, couldn't really call her 'characterless'.

"He's coming day after tomorrow, right?" Naresh fumed.
"Yes —"
Before Smita could even breathe, Naresh had finished his next statement: "Is the girl with him?"
"Er... Yes..."
"Now I'll get to see that darned New Zealander..."

The day finally arrived. Forgetting completely his son's outstanding achievement in his academics, Naresh was only searching for a mass of blond hair, or a body sporting negligible clothes, or any other indicator of what he pictured as his lone son's bride. It was only him and Smita on the airport — their daughter Vrinda had been conveniently cooped up in the house — permission for her 5-day Field Trip duly revoked.

And then, they saw him. Sumit. However, Naresh couldn't pin-point any of the signs he had shortlisted; only a friend of Sumit's he recognized as some Alex from a picture Sumit has sent over the e-mail about a year ago.

Before Sumit could even open his mouth for pleasantries, Naresh demanded:
"You married?"
"Yes," Sumit replied in a small voice.
"Where is the bride?"

Sumit paused.
"Where is the bride?" Naresh repeated, his voice and blood pressure both rising.
"The bride... the bride is none other than Alex here..."
"The bride... is Alex..." Naresh's eyes slowly moved from Sumit to Alex and finally zeroed in on him.
"Alex is... the bride..." he repeated, the wind knocked out of his chest.

"I... I kept this hidden from you all these years, forgive me... but... I'm gay. A homosexual."

A torrent of thoughts followed that pronouncement in Naresh's head:

He remembered overhearing Sumit profusely saying 'No' to somebody over the phone many years ago, and after the call ended, silently crying in a corner...
He remembered himself saying two days ago how Sumit "wouldn't even look at a single girl"...
He thought of himself opposing inter-caste marriages, but seeing his son break barriers of not just caste, religion, region or race, but gender too...

But then his brain had had enough. It protested by deciding to simply stop Naresh's heart from pumping. A heart attack.

It took Naresh two months in hospital to come to terms with his son's truth, but with a lot of help from his psychology expertise, Sumit finally managed to convince Naresh to accept Alex as a 'daughter-in-law'.

Last heard, Vrinda was allowed to go to England to pursue Oceanography; and Sumit and Alex were "living happily ever after".