The phone buzzed for the nth time and as much as she hated disconnecting Aai’s call, she couldn’t help it. The lecture she was attending was too important to miss. But Aai was not the one to give up as she kept on with her incessant buzzing. Banhi ducked under the desk and hissed in the phone, “Aai, what could be so urgent? I’m in a lecture, this had better be good.”
Unmindful of her tone, Aai burst into her breathless excited voice, “Banu, now you can paint the sky, make it yours.” Aai and her penchant for quotes! At her wit’s end, she threatened, “Aai, please come to the point or else I have to hang up.”
“Banu, the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexuality, 377 is unconstitutional now.” Banhi went into stunned silence and in those few seconds, the world stopped for her. “Banu, are you there, can you hear me?”
“Aai, I’ll call you in a bit”, she hung up with trembling hands. She had to remind herself to breathe as the memories flooded back in nauseous waves. She just couldn’t wait to get out in the fresh air and the lecture that was so important a minute ago was a blur now. Strange are God’s ways, one moment what’s earth-shattering-important becomes irrelevant the next.
Once she was out and found her bearings, she checked her cellphone. It was bursting with congratulatory messages and there she found the one she was looking for. A smiley blowing kisses with a rainbow and a heart. The two women she loved the most couldn’t be more different with their expressions. Aai had her words and Vanya just had to use those emojis. That reminded her, Aai must be waiting for that call.
“Hey, sorry I had to hang up then. This is great Aai. How’s the general atmosphere? It’s legalized by the court only, what about religious legitimacy? No amount of legalese can overcome the mindsets of people. Have they started throwing stones yet, burning effigies and the works.” the bitterness in her voice was unmistakable. She was herself surprised that a change of geography and time zones hadn’t done much to take the sting away.
“I feel your pain and don’t blame you for that dear but you’d be surprised at how people are taking it. Lot of support and celebration can be heard and felt. Times are a changing, may be. Time must have matured the collective psyche, say what?”
“Oh Aai, ain’t you sweet? I’m just glad you love me and understood me when no one else did, not even Baba.”
“How could I not? I can never forget when you told me about Vanya. Just because you loved a girl didn’t mean that you were any different for me than you were when you were born. You were my same dear daughter who loved her paint brushes more than her hair brush.” They laughed a hearty laugh. Aai magic never failed to turn around a moment. “Aai, I gotta go now, will catch you later.”
The rest of the day went by and only when she reached home could she comprehend the enormity of the court’s decision. She was no longer a felon in her own country to have fallen in love. She’d been so apprehensive to confide in Aai but she just had to. Aai had surprised her one more time. She heard her out, nodded in understanding and ruffled her hair before planting that kiss on her forehead that told her all was still well in ‘Aailand’.
Baba wasn’t that easy. He was upset and pained as if it was her report card with exceptionally bad grades. For days he didn’t talk to her. She would overhear her parents’ conversation. Aai would patiently tell him that it was only a different sexual orientation, something that a child was born with. Science backed it; it was no anomaly to be corrected or a disease to be treated.
Who would have thought Aai, that petite homebody, could be so relentless. She was the unlikeliest of feminists, let alone be a gay rights champion. Behind that diminutive lady was a progressive liberal parent, it was so hard to tell. Baba came around eventually, awkwardly at first but things were civil and she knew he was trying to understand. With Baba, even that was enough. As for the rest of the world, she lost a few friends in the process. There were whispers, disgusted looks but she learnt to ignore that. Her parents knew, they understood and that gave her the confidence to march on.
And then she met Vanya, which was the most beautiful of coincidences of her life. It pained her to think that it could bother people, even the ones who had nothing to do with her. Wasn’t it all about falling in love with the ‘person’, gender notwithstanding? A backpack trip to Auroville and camping it out was where she met Vanya who was helping her run one of those quaint cafes there. Her half French genetics lent her an exotic air and when they got talking, both knew that this could mean so much more than a casual acquaintance.
Back home, now so much surer of herself and how Vanya and she felt about each other, it just made her more miserable. Aai sensed it, they talked about it and though she supported her, there wasn’t much even this superwoman could do about it. It was Aai who inspired her to leave the country. “I’ve told you so many times, Banu, I named you Banhi and that means ‘flame’. You have to burn bright and cheery. Anything that dulls it down needs to be dealt with. If it means looking outward, then so be it.”
She had anyhow been meaning to look for art fellowships, so when Paris College of Arts accepted her with a scholarship, it was a Godsend. Vanya’s half French lineage came as a blessing in disguise. She followed her soon after, with a job in one of those fancy international schools. Between the two of them they were quite happy. Now with the court’s decision, they did stand a chance to go back. Vanya missed Auroville and she too would get homesick thinking about her ‘Aailand’. Once Vanya was back from her school camp, they had a lot to discuss.
“It’s been almost a week Banu; I’m still waiting for your answer. Are you thinking of coming back?”
“Aai, Vanya and I spoke about it. In fact as I speak to you, she’s calling her folks too. We want to get married, but of course with your blessings. And that would mean probably staying here. As for painting the skies, you gave me the courage long ago to make them mine and paint them as I please.”
A silence on the other end made her think, she’d lost the connection. “Aai, you there? You heard what I said?”
“Yes Banu, I’m very much here. I support gay marriage. I believe they have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.” They laughed as she shook her head…. Aai and her dial-a-quotes. But both knew that behind the attempted humour was also a mother’s resolve to let her daughter know that there was nothing queer about being queer.
“Aai, if only everyone was like you.”
“Banu, take heart. One step at a time, one person at a time….things will change. There’s a lack of awareness, that’s all. When I was a kid, even a southpaw was a thing to be corrected. But once peoples understood, they were quite ok with it. And now if you will excuse me, I have a wedding to plan.”First Published – www.womensweb.in