Thursday, 1 September 2016

Short Story 2016 Longlist Kasturi Patra

A Letter To My Love

Dear Tarun,
I don’t know if it was you who woke me up from my dream. Dreams have a strange beauty, no matter how terrible. I wanted to remain in that state of haze, as if I was underwater, and life was passing me by. I was a mere spectator. Pushed by the currents of the ocean of conformity, I floated by. I had little control over my destiny. But I think you broke my dream.

Funny thing is, I met you at a place where we were both sent to be reformed. A camp for the sick minded boys–boys who refused to conform to the age-old definition of their gender. They made us run, play sports, and pray to the Almighty to take away our afflictions. They punished us if we were not living up to the parameters of our gender, as prescribed by society. They didn’t even know the difference between gays, transsexuals, and asexuals. All they knew was that every sort of behaviour outside hetero-normative was the result of a depraved mind. Hence, the mind needed to be mended. Ironically in the process, the mind could be broken as it happened with so many around us. The only thing that propelled us forward was fear. Fear of punishment from the trainers, fear of beatings from our parents, fear of being bullied at school. We were just teenagers and by then, we knew too well how cruelty can be sturdy armour for adolescent boys. In order to prove their worth, they could shred us–the weakest and the most vulnerable amongst them– to pieces without an iota of remorse.

So, there we were, two lost souls among the land of the half awakes, being whipped around by people who thought they were wise but ironically were just the opposite, who drowsily sleepwalked through the deep slumber of intolerance and rigidity. Were they the ones dreaming then, and their whiplashes a terrible manifestation of their distorted reality??

Every night at the camp, we’d spend the few hours meant for sleeping, in exchanging words that soothed our tired minds and offered us strength to face the next soul crushing day. We’d trade sleep for some assurance from each other that all was not lost in this world. We grabbed on to the hope found in the warm palms of each other. We knew the punishment of getting caught was beyond our cruellest nightmares but we were ready to take the risk. We’d not let them chop off those wings in our hearts which promised us that this is not the end. This pitch black darkness was just a temporary phase before the sword of the Sun slices it down.

And so we decided to pretend being normal. Back from the camp, we behaved like we were ‘cured’. We played football though we sucked at it, we watched sports, we ‘liked’ video games with cars and violence, and we even acted like we had crushes on girls though in reality, their dresses and makeup attracted us more. We did everything to conform to the rusty, old definition of being a boy. Like a lost piece of a puzzle we craved to find the real picture where we would actually fit in but there was none. We were posers. You were braver than I was. You assured me that we’d find a way out. We just needed to finish college and become independent. All those years we kept the nature of our relationship within wraps. A stolen kiss or a brush of your skin against mine to keep the fire burning within me.

We even made plans to live together. But the Gods (or were they the God-men?) overturned our plans, when Section 377 was reinstated in India making the very nature of our being illegal in our own country. Where do we go from here? After securing our jobs, we rented flats beside each other. Our bedrooms were the only safe haven for the expression of our true selves, we felt chained in our outer shells of normality. We wanted to end the play in which we’d been forced to act since we were teenagers.

What option did we have but to leave for a safer country? Somewhere where we could marry and adopt kids and live the life of our dreams. Our parents couldn’t remain stubbornly blind anymore. They realized that at the cost of what others will say, they’d have to accept our love for one another or lose us forever.

And so we started a new life in the U.S.–the land of freedom, where we could openly love each other. And though there were still a few elements who hated us, we had so many people to protect us. Above all, we had the law by our sides. We started our dream life. You loved the photography job you bagged and couldn’t stop gushing about how much you were learning. Every evening at our porch, I’d lie on your lap and we’d stare at the sunset spinning magic and love. At last we were free. I loved my new job and the freedom of being myself, but most of all I loved you.

We were finally settled. Moreover, we were accepted. We were ready for kids. After several applications to adoption agencies, we were approved. We went and saw the baby girl who was all of two. Her honey dipped smile and her curly hair made us want to run away with her the very first day we saw her. But there were still some formalities left and she’d be our daughter after a month. We were so happy.

To celebrate the impending arrival of our child, we wanted to make the evening memorable. So, we went for drinks to the gay bar run by our friend, Jack. Jack was studying Philosophy during the day and he tended the bar during the evenings. We were fond of this young boy, full of dreams and hopes. His boyfriend belonged to an orthodox Christian family but they were firm like we were in the olden days. We’d been coming here for a year now and we’d become good friends. Jack and his boyfriend would even come over to our place for dinner sometimes. 
It wasn’t too crowded in the bar that evening. I remember the taste of your lips on mine before you went to the restroom. Jack smiled when I approached his counter and asked, “So what’s up with you two?”

“Guess what?” I couldn’t contain my happiness which like champagne bubbles oozed out of my smile. “We’re getting the baby next month!”
Jack rushed out of the counter and pulled me in a giant hug.
“Oh, you guys, I’m so happy for you.”
 “Thank you.”
“This one is on me.” He uncorked a bottle of our favourite red wine and offered me a glass. We sat at the counter and chatted about life. Jack was supposed to meet his partner’s parents for dinner next week.
Suddenly, there barged in a man clad in black overalls, his face hidden beneath a mask, only his eyes giving the feeling of burning embers.

“Raise your hands everybody.”
A man in a green shirt tried moving in the corner and I heard a loud bang of a revolver and something crashing down, I closed my eyes instinctively and then the green shirt wasn’t visible anymore. I wanted to look under the table to see whether he was still alive but at the same time sweat and tears blinded my sight. I couldn’t muster enough courage to move, my hands were raised up to the midnight blue ceiling.
“Listen to me carefully” his voice sounded like ice-cold death itself. “I am going to take you down one by one because your depravity and sins are unforgivable in the eyes of God. Just come to the forefront and there will be no unnecessary shooting.”

I realized that since it was so dark inside, he couldn’t see us all. He didn’t want to waste his bullets and hence he was making such a demand. A number of us had slid underneath the wooden tables while his attention was taken up by the man in green shirt. Jack had dialled 911 though he just kept it on speaker as he was in no position to talk. We prayed for help to reach before he found any of us.
And then it all happened like a dream in front of my eyes. While I looked on, your phone started ringing and the light gave away your position which was diagonally opposite mine across the room. You must have returned from the washroom before this messenger of death arrived. One flash, one bang and I saw my love crumpled like a paper bag, lying on a heap. I could see the dark pool of blood that streamed like a rivulet across the floor. I wanted to scream my lungs out but Jack held on to me so tight that it hurt. Once again, I felt like I was underwater or in a dream while my life was just passing by.

We heard police siren near the entrance and while the coward tried running away I could hear the police outside stalling him. There was a group of policemen inside flashing their lights asking us to come out. Jack supported me while I tried standing upright. My legs felt so wobbly that I wasn’t sure whether they could carry me across the room to where you lay. Before we could reach you, the policemen were already checking your lifeless body and giving the verdict which seemed to sway the floor beneath my feet. I blacked out.
When I found myself in the hospital bed next morning, there were strangers surrounding me. I tried getting up but they stopped me. “Where is Tarun?” My voice sounded so raspy that I doubted they understood what I was asking.

Someone offered me a glass of water while the nurse held me up to help me drink.
“My partner…” I whispered. The nurse took the glass away and squeezed my hand.
###
I couldn’t believe that fate could be so cruel. All our lives we struggled to survive. Our only sin was loving each other. We even left our dear country and our families to live with a bit of respect. And still, your life was taken away by a fanatic. Which religion did he belong to? Was he a Hindu? A Muslim? A Christian? I don’t care. How did that even matter when he had chosen hatred as his God? I kept my phone and the TV off for all those days. All I cared about was to avenge your death by not letting that masked man and people like him win.
 
Where there’s hatred, we need to spread love, where battles were fought with anger we had to strike back with the weapon of peace. So, I chose to go ahead and adopt our little Kyra. Just the way we wanted to. I knew that’s what would’ve made you happy. And I have decided to carry on living in this country. I’m tired of running away in fear. We don’t need the world’s acceptance. Our lives need no more excuses. We need to accept each other just the way we are. If we choose fear or hatred to lead our lives, men like those win. 

Now I am a part of the movement that spreads the message of love. Love that transcends the man made barriers of religion, race, sexual orientation, and class difference. I will live with courage and dignity. No matter how much hatred I receive in return, I will strike back with love. That will be my way to keep you alive in my heart. Forever.
Yours,
Rajiv

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