I remember the first time Ankur kissed me. We had been talking for a few minutes, when he came and sat right next to me. He put his hand on mine, and slowly brought it up my arm. By the shiver of his hand and the silence in the room, I could sense that he was as nervous as I had been. The phone had started ringing; but in my head I could barely hear it.
He brought his hand to my neck and kept it there gently for a few very long moments. I saw the trepidation in his eyes, and my lack of response probably made him more nervous. He clenched his teeth, shut his eyes and in a swift movement, kissed me. I’d never kissed a guy before, and didn’t know how to react to it. He lead me on, taught me. He brought his body forward till I could feel his throbbing heart on my chest. Then, as suddenly as he had come, he pulled himself away.
“I … I … I’m really sorry” he said.
I sat at my place, and just looked at him incredulously. I was coming to terms with the enormity of what had just happened. The images of my classmates cracking gay jokes ran through my mind; then the memory of watching images of the colourful ‘pride parades’ in the papers, and my father’s sneering. The only thought running in my head at that time was – am I … am I gay? I was as fearful as I was confused, as terrified as clueless. I didn’t know what the truth was; in one moment I didn’t know who I was. The only true feeling I knew was of my heart pounding uncontrollably, and the heat in my ears. Suddenly, every other thought moved into the background. I moved ahead and kissed him.
We spent the next hour together, keeping an eye out for his mother. We made up the bed before she was supposed to arrive - placed the pillows neatly back, made sure that there wasn’t a single wrinkle on the bedsheet and picked up whatever had fallen on the ground. We just didn’t speak or look at each other; at my end, I was extremely overwhelmed.
After we were done, I went to the bathroom and switched on the shower. I vigorously rubbed every part of my body that he had touched; I felt soiled, polluted. I took some paste and brushed my teeth to get rid of the taste, his taste. I patted myself dry, went back to the room and put on my clothes. Then I left in haste, not turning back to say bye.
I reached home and went straight to my room. Mom probably said something when I entered; but I didn’t hear. I locked my room’s door, put on the AC and slept. I wanted to sleep through it, forget it as if it were a dream.
When I woke up, the shock still hadn’t gone away. Every time I thought of those moments, it felt like something was biting at the ends of my nerves. I felt at ease in my bedroom’s darkness, but mom soon came knocking.
“Ishaan beta, dinner’s ready!”
I didn’t want to go out, but mom knocked again after a few minutes. I finally got up and went into the dining room.
While eating dinner, dad asked innocuously “How was your day?”
“He’s been sleeping the entire evening!” mom interrupted.
“Was just a bit tired after walking in the sun in the afternoon” I said, quickly finished my dinner and went back into the darkness of my room.
I went back and checked my phone for who had called earlier – it was Resham, my girlfriend. I dropped her a message.
“Hey, feeling a bit down today. Talk to you tomorrow”
I switched on the computer and frantically read about AIDS. To my horror I discovered that AIDS is more prevalent among homosexuals. What was worse was that I couldn’t get tested before nearly a month. It would be one month of uncertainty – like waiting for a judgement from God. There was, of course, an easier way. I could have just asked Ankur if he had AIDS. But I couldn’t imagine going close to him again.
My phone started ringing again. Resham was calling me. This time, I picked up the phone.
“Hey shona, what’s wrong with your health?” she asked.
“Nothing much, just a bit of headache. Probably I ate something wrong.”
“Did you see a doctor?”
“It’s a minor thing. Am sure I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
“Okay. Take rest! … and listen, have you talked to Ankur recently? He’s not been picking up his phone either.”
I stood up at his mention. My heart started pounding faster – not only because I feared that Ankur would eventually tell Resham, but also because Ankur was my childhood best friend and I didn’t want to see him feel bad. I needed to talk to him, and soon, to prevent both situations.
“No. Haven’t met him since a few days” I said.
“Okay. Will go meet him tomorrow. Anyway, good night now!”
It was ten, mom and dad were asleep in their rooms. I picked up the house keys kept above the cabinet in the hall, locked the house from outside and walked over to Ankur’s place.
It had been eighteen years since we’d known each other. We’d grown up as best friends, gone to the same school and even the same college. As Resham would often put it jokingly, we were closer than a couple. What had happened in the afternoon, however, was something I was never prepared for – though I should have seen it coming! Ankur and I used to sleep on the same bed often, and he would put his arms around me. I asked him about it the first time he did it, and he said it was a childhood habit of putting his arms around the pillow that he hadn’t got rid of. I made my peace with that explanation.
I opened the door to his house’s garden and made my way to his room’s window. I knocked on his window, and whispered his name.
The lights of the rooms switched on – he came and drew the curtains open.
“Hey …” he seemed to be a little shocked to see me “… what are you doing here at this time?”
That was an awkward question. I had met him like that at ten several times in my life. He’d never seemed surprised before.
“Just wanted to ask if you’re okay. Resham said you aren’t picking up your phone” I said, wanting to sound as if nothing had happened in the afternoon.
“Yes, yes. What would be wrong with me! I was just having a bit of a headache” he said.
“Oh. Okay”. I obviously knew he was lying, I could tell that from his twitching of the shoulder – he had never been able to lie to me. I said “Good, then. Just wanted to check. Will leave now. Good night!”
I turned around and started walking towards the gate. “Ishaan!” he called out. I turned to look at him.
“Mom, dad and Nidhi have gone out of station for the night to attend a marriage. Do you want to come in?”
I closed my eyes, and stood there for a while. I knew the implication of Ankur’s invitation. But I also realised that Resham had been my life for the past couple of years. Ever since we first met on the first day of college, we grew into adults together – looked out for and protected each other. If I were to accept Ankur’s invitation, it would be betraying Resham ….
Or perhaps not. Our worlds won’t change – and my love and care for Resham won’t diminish – by this one night of transgression. I opened my eyes to look at Ankur. Something within me wanted to be with him and feel him touch me. I felt lust like I’d never done before. It was the most powerful romantic emotion of my life.
“Okay” I said.
He smiled. “Come in at the door. I’ll open it.”
I went into the house, and to his bedroom. This time, Ankur was more aggressive and forceful than he had earlier been. My heart was pounding again, but there was no fear this time. I accepted my attraction towards him.
When we were done, he got up to take a shower. He entered the bathroom, switched on the shower and stood under it with the door open. I lay on the bed, looking at him. I’d seen him naked before – of course, that was when we were still kids – but not like this. He now looked much bigger and stronger than earlier – his arms bigger, legs thicker and his shoulders broader.
He turned around. “What are you looking at?” he asked mischievously.
“Just looking at how different you now are from what you used to be.”
“Or maybe it’s just your vision that’s different.”
I smiled, then I closed my eyes and lay on the bed. I felt a certain peace, a contentment that I hadn’t experienced before. It all now made sense to me – my best friend, now my lover and probably my future life partner. Plus, homosexuality isn’t a big deal anymore, is it? Plus the greeks and the romans were also fine with homoerotic relationships. And so I made my own peace.
“What’s the time?” he asked from the bathroom.
I looked at the bedside table. “Five” I said.
“Wow” he said.
I sat up. Mom has the habit of waking up around five. If she wakes up, she’d notice me having sneaked out of the house.
“I need to rush, Ankur!” I said, as I jumped up from the bed and put on my clothes.
He came out of the bathroom, clad in a towel and put his arm on my shoulder. “Stay longer” he said.
“No, dude. Mom’s going to kill me if she realises I sneaked out like this!”
I put my shoes on quickly, dashed to the door of the house and sprinted to my own. I quietly opened the door to my house and peeked in. All the lights were switched off, so I realised mom still wasn’t awake.
I closed the door behind me, kept the keys on top of the cabinet and headed to my room. There, I tucked myself inside the blanket. At that time, I saw the lights come on in my parents’ room. It had been a narrow escape!
The next day was one of the most beautiful days I woke up to. I woke up late, drew open the curtains, went to the garden and basked in the morning sun. Mom made tea, and I sat peacefully in the garden and read the newspaper.
The I came back in the room and the realisation dawned on me that I had to tell Resham. Of course, all that happened the previous day did not lessen my love for her, but it made me realise that I’m not sexually happy with her.
So I decided to meet her for lunch in the afternoon. We met at her favourite restaurant, by the lake side – had a good lunch, her favourite mutton curry with appam. Then we sat down on the banks of the lake.
“Hey, Resham …” I said, holding her hand “… I need to tell you something.”
“Go on …” she said nonchalantly.
“I … I slept with Ankur last night”
She turned her face towards me with a probing expression “You sleep over at his place often … why would you tell me about last night specifically?”
“Well … because this time it was more than just sleeping together. We had sex.”
Her eyes became bigger, like they usually do whenever she’s surprised. There were a few moments of awkward silence, and I still wonder what was going on in her mind at that point of time. What do you do when you realise that you’d been living an illusion all your life? And worse, where do you pin the blame when the other person cannot be blamed? Where is that hook on which you can hang the heavy coat of disappointment, and move on in life?
I tried to break that moment of silence “I’m sorry, Resham …” I said “… and I understand that this is really hard for you.”
She closed her eyes, then asked “So you’ve known you’re gay all this while?”
“No, Resham. I absolutely loved you … I mean, I still love you …”
She opened her eyes, red with … Anger? Disappointment? “I should have understood when people told me both of you were gay!” She got up, and started moving towards the lake.
I followed her, and held her hand. She tried to free it, but I held on. “Resham, what are you punishing me for? I love you, and I will love you for the rest of my life …”
She calmed down, not trying to free her hand anymore. “There’s a voice inside me that says that I’ve done really wrong to you. But then there’s a voice which says that I committed to loving you, and I still do – and that’s a commitment I’ll keep. Always.”
She came forward and hugged me. I could feel her quietly sobbing, so I put my arms around her, my hand caressing her head. We stood like that for at least another fifteen minutes.
Finally, she moved back “It’s getting late. I think I should leave.”
“I’ll drop you home” I said.
We walked till the parking, got into the car. In the forty minutes it took us to reach her house, we did not talk once.
When we finally reached, I asked her “So, is everything okay between us?”
She turned to me, and with a calmness that I both respect and fear, she said “It’s probably never going to be okay. But that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. See you in college.” She said, kissing my cheek and then leaving the car.
As I saw her go, I felt something beautiful come to an end, an end that I wasn’t perfectly comfortable with. But I also felt like a tremendous burden had been lifted from my shoulders. This part of the task was done, complete. Now I was free – a free bird to pursue my own aspirations, my own desires.
“Do you want to go somewhere for the winter break?” I asked Ankur, sipping on tea in his room.
“Go where?” he asked, switching channels on the TV.
“Shimla? Dalhousie? Maybe even Neemrana” I suggested.
“Sounds good. Who all?”
“Well … I was thinking just you and me” I said.
“Ha ha …” he laughed (perhaps scoffed) … “That’s a good idea.” Then he turned to me “… but no.”
“But why?” I protested “I mean, so many couples do it! Why can’t we?”
“COUPLE?” he said with those big eyes “We’re not a couple, Ishaan. Don’t get me wrong, the sex is really good but that doesn’t make us a couple. Being a couple is … too serious!”
I was slightly taken aback at what he said. In my mind, we were a couple. Sex for me couldn’t happen outside a serious relationship anyway. A slight hint of betrayal was rising within me, so I sought to extinguish it fast.
“We’ve been seeing each other for over four months now! If we’re not a couple now, when will we be?”
He turned back to the TV and fidgeting with the remote control “If you ask me, never. I mean, I really like you, Ishaan – you’re cute and we’ve been friends since before we remember. But I really tend to get bored of the same person – need to keep moving.”
I was shocked now. Shocked beyond words. It felt as if whatever I had lived for the past few days was a lie.
He looked at me and my expression “Oh! That probably didn’t come out right! I meant to say that I’ll always love you, but I’m 21! It’s hardly a time for me to settle down with a person!”
I was angry – very angry. But I also couldn’t shout at him, because what he said made sense; and I should have guessed it. A relationship that started with sex, and whose raison-d’etre was sex would eventually run out of steam. I just saw something more meaningful in it that Ankur didn’t. So, I simply got up and left.
As I was walking back home, a part of me felt extremely humiliated; almost as if I’d been rejected; or that I’d been told I’m not good enough and that people needed to move on from me.
I took out my phone and texted Resham “Hey”
She replied quite promptly “Hey Ishaan. Whatsup?”
“Want to meet you. Free now?”
She didn’t reply as immediately as she had done earlier. So I kept the phone back in my pocket. After a while, it beeped. I took it out excitedly.
“No” was her reply.
“Still angry?” I replied.
This time the answer came back sooner “Not that. Just busy with other things”.
I kept the phone back in my pocket. I suddenly felt abandoned by both of them; felt a rage seething through my body.
I was home alone for a couple of days since my parents had gone to my grandparents’ town. I went to my room and lay on the bed. I wanted to get back at Ankur, wanted this pent-up anger to go somewhere.
I remember Ankur introducing me to some of his gay friends. I texted one of them - “Hey, how’re you?”
There was no reply. I paced in my room, but my phone didn’t buzz. I don’t know if you have ever experienced absolute frustration. That kind of frustration where you don’t want to do anything because you’re single-mindedly obsessed with something. That kind of frustration where you want to throw things around because you feel that will get rid of the rage. That kind of frustration where you also want to sit down, cry and shout your guts out. That kind of frustration where you don’t want to be still, even for a second!
The phone beeped.
“Hey! How come you texted today?”
“Am home alone. Do you want to come over?”
It’s been over two years now, since that day of indiscretion. Even though at that time it seemed that life was over and hopeless, I have since then discovered that it was a momentary downside. I felt so terrible, so stifled that day because I had nobody to speak to – because my emotions had nowhere to go but fester within myself. I’ve made friends – gay and otherwise – with whom I can share what I want to. Being out to some people, yes, has been helpful.
I’ve met many guys since then, and I feel comfortable with who I am. But a part of me still feels angry … maybe not angry but disappointed … with Ankur. Because we hang out in the same social circle, I get to see him very often. At those moments, I think how he must have moved on, must be seeing other people. The two of us, and what we shared, will never all come together again. It’s a part of my life that is lost to me forever. Sometimes I wish he’d call some day, tell me that he wants me back, wants to spend the rest of his life with me. I know that on that day, I will leave everything and go to him.
Till that day comes, I will wait. I will roam around these dark alleys; I will look at these men – afraid, scarred, hopeless – and my body will react to them, but not my soul. Perhaps these men I meet have their own stories, their own tales of love and loss. Perhaps I too am afraid, and hence take shelter in their world. Perhaps who I am changed me; put me on a spiral. I just don’t know whether I’m going up or down.