−A tale on sexuality
I first met Neela at F canteen. A mutual friend of ours introduced us, “Meenakshi, this is Neela from Sociology, Neela this is Meenakshi from Life Sciences”. After that day, we started greeting and smiling at each other every time our paths crossed. Neela always appeared preoccupied with something or the other. She was no doubt prettier than most but what caught my attention was her vivaciousness, confidence and self- assertiveness. She had her opinions about matters and never thought twice before blurting them out. I was on the other hand slightly reserved, socially awkward and almost most of the time engrossed in my own experiments. I once said that my lab was my world in one of those few small talks Neela and I had. And she gave me a mocking glance and said “Thank god, I am in Sociology. This whole damn society is my lab. These streets, those honking cars, the underbellies of Hyderabad whose existence you’re not aware of , people chatting at shop com….anything and everything. I need not have to confine myself to just one room”. Lucky, I whispered to myself. From those impromptu small talks to meticulously planned outings, our friendship blossomed in a very short span of time. I was already her fan.
One lazy afternoon, while having lunch at Good-will canteen, Neela asked me “What do you prefer?” I asked back “as in?” She replied in a matter-of-fact tone “in bed”. I almost choked myself with the rice boonda that I was having as I couldn’t control my giggle. I said “Is that even a question? Of course!! men.” Hearing this Neela almost scolded me-“What is so obvious about it? Don’t tell me that you never heard of homosexuality, or you think it to too fictional to believe in”. I tried defending myself- “See, I am a science student. I seek for solutions of problems. I don’t create problems and then pretend to solve it. I really don’t understand all these brouhaha about gender, sexuality etc. I mean don’t you guys have nothing better to do.” Neela was looking at me all these while as if I was an extra-terrestrial creature sitting in the midst of homo sapiens. She collected her things, got up and ordered “Cancel whatever life-saving work you have tomorrow. We are going to attend an event. You must not miss this.” And she left giving one of her signature sly smiles.
It was a bright Sunday morning. Neela did not reveal me her plan until we reached her desired venue. The place was called Namakan. I could see people gathering with flags, placards, balloons, multi coloured ribbons, masks and various other colourful props. To me, it appeared as if it was some kind of a celebration. Too much colour in one single frame. Just when I was about to think of it as a big happy event, one of those placards caught my attention.
Okay, so this was all about Neela’s subject. She turned to me and said- “What do you see up there Meenakshi? Because what I see up there is the big vast blue sky looking down at us and wondering what we are up to. Nothing under the sky is new and yet we try everyday to define new boundaries amongst ourselves. You see all these people around us, they are no different than us, but we have compelled them to call themselves queer because of our innovative new boundaries.” She added- “Please tell me why some people should be labelled different only because they mate differently. Do you think love is that narrow a word to be restricted to opposite sexes only? Don’t you feel that love is like a river that just flows, not caring for its destinations? Just like river, our sexuality is also a continuum. It just evolves with time, sometime takes a different course than the usual trajectory. If we try to obstruct its natural flow by artificial means, it accumulates till an optimum level and then just bursts out. Controlling it would only mean harming it.” I was awestruck by her speech. I saw her organising the rally, talking to people, giving them directions, sloganeering with them, leading them forward. Yes, I was physically present at that moment in that rainbow parade but my mind was set free, it kept on wandering to an untrodden path. I was questioning all my preconceived notions. Neela also earned a new respect in my mind. Earlier I was just her fan; now I started to look up to her.
Days passed into weeks and then months. Semester break was approaching; people were busy grappling with their exams. So were Neela and I. But in the midst of this half yearly hullabaloo, I did find myself engaged with a new hobby. I started reading about sexuality. Consequentially, a new domain slowly unfolded its infinite variety before me. I could see things which were earlier invisible. And it was an eerie feeling, especially that moment when you would vacate your mind yielding space for new thoughts to crawl in. The most liberating feeling would crop up when you got to know that you could take charge of your own sexual orientation. It was like walking into a restaurant and choosing from the buffet. My adrenalin rush made me more curious and I dived into the sea of readings. Neela had suggested me to start with Micheal Foucault and then proceed to Judith Butler. The idea that the term ‘gender’ was a social construct intrigued this science student for whom it only meant different combinations of chromosomes.
Once we were in library debating on how far homosexual love could also be perceived as something platonic. My point was that same-sex relationships were mainly based on lust and not love in its true sense. While she kept on arguing that it was just same as heterosexual love. She said- “Surely, you do not believe that all straight relationships are based on pure love, do you?” While talking she was trying hard to put all her hair into a ponytail. All of sudden, I realised that I was somehow captivated by her careless beauty and was secretly admiring her all these while. Was it a queer sense? I was little confused. In fact, I tried to reconcile my position. Well, I did like her from the very beginning. That night was pretty longer for me. I kept on thinking about Neela. I thought about all those silly instances when my classmates would crack those callous clichéd gay jokes about us and how I secretly would enjoy the thought of mine pairing opposite her. I realised how I was obsessed with her, her words, her sparkling eyes, her spontaneity, her everything.
The sudden awakening of this unknown desire within me was hard to define. I had to tell Neela. After all she was my sojourner in this journey. I gathered all my courage and rattled on in front of her in clumsy sentences.
“You like me and it’s perfectly okay. You are discovering who you are and what you want to be.” She said.
“What about you Neela? Do you like me too?” I asked timidly.
Neela was looking puzzled. She said, Are you serious?
I said, ‘Well, of course, I love your company, I miss you when you are not there, even feel jealous when you pay attention to others. “ .
Neela was more curious, “I mean, do you like to do sex with me?”
I could not answer.
“Do I really?”, I thought.
I replied, “I don’t know. I have not thought of sex. I just love you and feel very possessive.”
Neela quipped, “Well, I respect your feeling.”
And that was the starting of my love life. It was as simple as that. A new sense dawned on me. I started loving the femininity. Their dresses, bodies, talking all charmed me. I felt best in the company of girls and especially when Neela was around. It is not sexual desire but a sheer romantic pleasure I used to derive from womanhood. Boys were so crude, stinking and foul mouth. I did not like them. They are often too risky, looking for an opportunity to touch. The scent of a woman mesmerised my senses. Neela was the symbol of the womanhood to me and I loved her so intensely. One could easily find her in my poetries, drawings and songs. Often, I had arguments with my other friend. “Don’t you know that it is natural for birds of a feather to flock together?” I had always seen that boys mostly enjoying in the stag parties. Girls also played, giggled and did lot of bitching around girls only. That was the natural choice. So what about sexuality?
I asked Neela, ‘Is my entire existence defined by my choice of sexual partner during mating which does not take even .001% our disposable time in the entire life?’ How unscientific it would be to label someone’s sexuality for such insignificant act of instinct performed to continue line of human production. I strongly felt that the sexuality should be defined as the natural choice of person in choosing his or her company with whom he or she would spend most of the time happily. Neela did not like my idea. She said,” Sociological theory does not suggest that, Meenakshi. You are labelled by your choice of genitals during copulation.” She was sarcastic, “Your romanticism may loiter around airy nothing but we, the activists, will like to give it a shape and name”. So I was her gay friend, as earmarked by her. She used to proudly project me as her friend. I was confused. Was I her object of real life activism or love? Did she really love the womanhood the way I loved? Did she get an orgasm by reading the scintillating description of his wife by Yaksha in Meghdutam of Kalidasa. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about going all public but she was very savvy with public relations. But, there were stories about us. I was enamoured with feminine beauty and Neela was an epitome of that. We lived happily in our University campus without thinking much beyond what made both of us happy.
Neela hailed from an affluent family based in Delhi. She wanted to become a social entrepreneur. Often she would insist me to drop my dream of becoming a scientist and instead help her in setting up of her NGO. I never gave it a serious thought. End of the fourth semester was nearing, everybody was busy filling their CVs with achievements of all sizes. Hours from my days would just pass in the quest for a PhD position abroad. I wanted to settle in USA and coaxed Neela to try abroad so that we could stay together.
Neela went home after exams for her cousin’s marriage. This vacation was going to be really long. Pangs of separation always bothered me and this time it was excessive. Our rendezvous was no more. Post graduation was over. It was time to look ahead and achieve another common ground where we both could be together again. After running from pillar to post, I could finally manage a position at University of Milan. Italy, the name itself would make Neela explode in happiness. I controlled all my enthusiasm and saved it as a surprise for her. While talking to her on Skype one day, she informed me that some of the other NGOs working on gay rights of Delhi had agreed for a merger and would also allow Neela to play an important part of that. Neela wanted to stay in Delhi and pursue this opportunity.
“What happened? Aren’t you excited?” She asked.
“Yes I am.” I replied.
“You can do better than that.” She frowned.
How much at that moment I wanted to tell her about my struggle to get a chance to go to Milan, to craft a future with her. Her happy chirpy voice silenced all my desperations. Neela would always taunt me by saying people kill and die for love. I thought of sacrificing my dream for her this time. She was happy and I intended to keep it that way.
I took up a job at a pharmaceutical company at Delhi. Neela carried on with her social work at Delhi. One Sunday afternoon, I saw Neela left me a message at Whatsapp saying it was urgent. I hurriedly called her up.
“Hey! What’s the matter?” My voice echoed my curiosity.
“Guess!” and she started one of her typical games.
“Neela, I am in no mood for that stupid thing of yours. Tell me straight” I demanded.
“Well, seems like I got an offer from UNICEF. Remember, I was applying for those internships back at masters. Guess what it did pay me this time. I have been assigned the job of spreading awareness amongst war-struck countries about alternative sexualities. But first they will train me at their New York offices. Isn’t this just amazing?” She said all these in a single breathe.
“Oh my god. This is terrific. I am so happy for you Neela.” Yes I was indeed happy.
“Ummm…there is also another news that I wanted to tell. I just don’t know how to frame it”.
“Go on…I am all ears.”
She cleared her throat, said “Meenakshi, I am getting married. This November is my wedding. I will shift to US with my partner.” I was stunned. “Who is she? And your family approved?” I asked trying to sound casual. Heartbreak often happened. She corrected me just like every time “It’s not ‘she’ it’s ‘he’. I am marrying a man, idiot. I am not a gay like you, Meena.”
“I know Meena, it must be hard for you to know this. But c’mmon, we can’t remain kiddies all our life. Sidhartha is like the best package deal I can manage.”
“Deal? After all these years of activism, all you could think now is about a right package in choosing a male partner?” I had never before spoken to Neela in that tone.
“What’s wrong in that?” Neela curtly replied,
“I am a gay activist and so I support you all along. My project in Hyderabad got lot of funding as we cared for real life problems”.
I felt devastated.
“Am I a problem? Neela”, I wanted to say but could not.
Cup of my sorrow was full to the brim.
“All the best, Neela. Wish you good luck!!” saying that I disconnected the phone.
It was raining outside also. The twilight had delineated a rainbow in the sky. I went into solitude. I preferred to stay alone, ruminating the past. I could perfectly feel and match with all those descriptions in literature where this stage of love was described as “biroho”. Days passed like that. My lover had gone with the wind but not my love. It was a root in the void. This journey of self discovery was meant to be an untrodden one. The most traumatic feeling was that I never asked for it at the first place.
Questions started flooding in my mind. ‘How can sexual orientation, thought to be an innate trait, can be so perplexing and self-devastating?’
I felt as if all my readings Foucault, Butler, Simone Beauvir, everybody, betrayed me. I had to search for my answers. Last time I went for a quest was when I needed to support a cause. Now, it became more personal, I needed my answers to forgive the person I had loved so intensely all these years. I needed to re-claim myself.
A jolted lover could be a good observer. I started studying culture, socialisation, social institutions, marriage, family and of course sexuality. I developed a new way of looking at things. More I read sociology, more I realised that we needed to internalise things first in order to comprehend it and then accept it. Neela was no doubt a brilliant student of Sociology and an ardent activist of social causes, but she could not internalise what she read. She failed to practice what she preached. She flawlessly introduced me to alternative sexuality, aroused this passion within me and guided me to this life but she herself could not accept it from her heart. Maybe these instincts were already there in me lying dormant or maybe it was an acquired taste but the only thing that mattered was my comfort zone in my new identity. I felt sexuality was larger than what I had thought previously. It was a confluence of both heart and mind. And this confluence was very individual specific. One could not imitate or emulate another person’s sexual orientation. It had to be either innate or acquired. In both the cases one was expected to play with its nuances, get absorbed in its subtleties and finally accept it wholeheartedly. This inner acceptance was indispensible.
This realisation further helped me discovering the theories more aptly. I could now relate to Simone Beauvir when she wrote that one was not born a woman, but rather became one or when Foucault suggested that the category of sex was constructed through a historically specific mode of sexuality or when Butler said gender was a performance, it was always a doing. I was happily and consciously playing the role of a female gender that was inclined romantically and sexually towards other females. I was in peace with myself. Last time when I attended a LGBT parade, I was an outsider. This time, I could actually feel their cause. People would come to me with their confusions and seek advices. I gradually developed my own circle and was content with my evolution.
It did not take much time for me to forget Neela. I actually felt bad for her. Pseudo –activism often failed to nurture the sustainability which experiential activism did. I neither blamed her for her betrayal. Our society had made many such Neela. But at the end of the day I felt enlightened. A new mind was born. A resurrection happened.