This post is a part of 24-day Marathon fiction called Yaariyan. To read from the beginning, click here.
It’s 2.30 PM. The gang is seated on chairs self-arranged in a circular order binging on ice-cream to beat the heat. After indulging in a heavy lunch filled with gujarati delicacies, they await Niket and Siddhi who are bidding goodbyes to their guests. The engagement ceremony has completed and was a great function.
The decorators begin to undo the shamiana – folding the huge drapes, one at a time. Niket finally comes to their place and introduces Siddhi to everyone. Siddhi has heard much about them and is delighted to meet them. Siddhi asks Ruhi and Latika to join her as she wants to introduce them to her friends! They leave the boys and proceed ahead for their girl talk.
Niket removes his blazer, he is extremely tired by the heat, but his peppy face still radiates energy. ‘Madhu, what was it that you were going to say on our way back from Delhi and delayed it to today?’ he asks. Madhu feels a shiver down his body, he feels like being exposed to paparazzi. He doesn’t feel like discussing it now – maybe some other time. It has waited for all these years, some more time won’t make a difference – he quickly covers up his vulnerability behind a false mask. ‘It was nothing,’ he retaliates trying to focus his eyes on the scoop of ice-cream in his bowl.
‘Alright,’ Niket goes ahead to the next thing on his mind, ‘how was your journey guys? Did you face any problem reaching…?’ Abhinav touches Niket’s hand and cuts him abruptly. He looks at Madhu, ‘You’ve been trying to say something. Don’t expect a right time. Make the time right. We’re all here for you.’ They sit in complete silence, all eyes on Madhu.
Madhu gulps down his ice-cream and wipes the beads of sweat off his forehead. The time has come, I can trust them with this; he reassures himself. ‘I’ve been wanting to share this with you all since college days. But was afraid that you won’t stay friends. Also, I myself wasn’t ready to deal with this at that time. Over years, I’ve cried over this matter enough to finally realise I cannot move ahead without accepting it.’ He extends his hand frantically in an attempt to reach the glass of water and sips down the glass hastily. Half of the water drops down his kurta instead of reaching his stomach. He finally is ready to say it,’I am gay. I like men. I won’t be having a normal life like you all; but cannot try and settle down for one. This is who I am and I cannot change it.’
Everyone is shocked listening to Madhu’s words. Swami and Arpit are taken by surprise. As the nanoseconds of complete silence pass, Abhinav gets up and hugs Madhu, tears falling down his eyes. ‘I love you for who you are. You are not gay – that’s your sexual preference. You cannot define your feelings in three words. You still are the same Madhu for me, my close friend and confidant. I’m glad you finally stood up for yourself today. It’s time you put this behind and begin a life without any further reservations.
Shocked beyond belief, he wipes his tears and asks Abhinav, ‘You knew?”Yes, right from college days. You always were a friend and always will be one.’ Niket adds, ‘Yes, this doesn’t define you Madhu. You are much more than just your sexual identity. I got to know when I was checking my mail on your laptop when I had come to meet you in Bangalore – you had left some tabs open. I felt ashamed at myself for being oblivious to this all these years – I questioned how can I even call myself a friend when I haven’t even supported you. Let the world judge you, but I love you with integrity and will always be there by your side to support you.’ Niket smiles and gives Madhu a big hug.
Arpit and Swami stare dumbfounded; they never knew Madhu was dealing with this, fighting alone all these years; without anyone on his side. Abhinav and Niket hadn’t shared this too; but they were correct at their place.
Swami tries to analyse the situation in front of him, ‘How do you know you like guys instead of girls?’ ‘The same way you know you like girls. It’s not difficult to know.’ ‘But what if it’s just a phase?’ ‘I had thought the same earlier. But as years progressed, it became more and more difficult to ignore the obvious. I finally decided to consult a psychiatrist in January this year – he explained homosexuality generally isn’t a phase – straight guys cannot stop liking girls after some years, similarly I cannot stop liking guys. To be sure, we did some personality tests. The day I collected the report, I decided to accept this fact and carry on with my life. I keep falling quite often, especially when I emotionally drain myself thinking about whether I’ll ever be able to find someone, whether my family will accept me. I feel guilty about being sad on seeing wedding ceremonies and proposals – they all have an in-built society acceptance; I’m never going to have that. Also homosexuality is presently illegal in India – a denial to basic fundamental right of freedom.’
Arpit recalls the jokes he always used to crack on gay men and everyone would laugh on it. He can now recollect how uncomfortable Madhu used to get on listening them. ‘I’m sorry Madhu. I have been homophobic my entire life, making fun of gay men – based on the stereotyped media coverage on them. Today I realise it’s not a choice – the same way I’m straight, you’re gay. You cannot choose it – it’s natural. All I have for you is utter respect to stand your ground and decide to fight this huge battle which will go on for years. One thing is sure, we won’t let you fight the battle alone anymore! We’ve been in the dark for years, not any more. I’ll personally try and find a hot looking guy for you – you let me know what should he be like!’
Tears of happiness roll down Madhu’s eyes as Arpit crushes him in a tight hug, patting his back to calm him down. The thought of the gang helping him find a partner is reassuring at various levels!
‘I accept you Madhu, the way you are. You’re awesome and still the same person for me,’ says Swami. The tears give way to the happiness of acceptance as they give Madhu a group hug.
Madhu feels relieved now that it’s over. He never expected it to go so smoothly. He has nothing but gratitude for his best friends – they have accepted him, that’s what matters the most! He now has to tell this to his parents next.
The girls return together after completing their private chatter, smiling and whispering into each other’s ears. ‘They seem to have taken a liking to each other,’ mentions Niket. ‘That’s how I always wanted it to be,’ Arpit nods approvingly! Everyone huddles in together for an epic group pic – filled with happiness, acceptance and hope!
Swami and Madhu head to the airport to catch their flight back to Chennai and Bangalore respectively. Arpit, Ruhi, Abhinav and Latika stay behind for some time, all are headed to Jaipur by the evening train. As the flight soars in the sky, Madhu closes his eyes and has the sweetest sleep he’s ever had since years. The world now appears to be a less daunting place to live in.
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