It all happened during Sunita’s brother, Alok’s wedding. The house was full of relatives and friends. Tanya was helping Riya with last minute decorations and arrangements in Alok’s room. Sunita suddenly remembered something and rushed into Alok’s room. And right in front of her, she saw Tanya and Riya, in each other’s arms, passionately kissing and caressing each other.
Sunita ran straight out of the room. ‘At first I was in shock and felt disgusted,’ she says. ‘I didn’t quite know how to react. I was torn between standing by my best friend no matter what, on the one hand, and the fact that she was doing this with another woman on the other. It made things extremely difficult and unacceptable for me. As for my cousin Riya, I just couldn’t believe this was happening in my own family. My first thought was, ‘What will people say?”’
Meanwhile, Tanya and Riya were also panicking and confused, not sure how to handle Sunita. They decided the best thing they could do was to let Sunita take her own time to come to terms with what she had seen, and not offer any explanation just then. They would wait to see how she reacted.
Riya told me how difficult it was to wear a mask all the time and live life in the closet.
That night Sunita couldn’t sleep. She found it hard to believe that two of the people closes to her were the way they were, and in a relationship she just couldn’t accept or understand. So she crept up to Riya who was awake too, and they both stepped outside for a quiet chat.
Sunita learnt that Riya and Tanya had been a couple for a few months. They’d come out to each other at Sunita’s birthday last year, and sparks had flown. Of course no one else in the family knew.
‘My cousin Riya told me how difficult it was to wear a mask all the time and live life in the closet. She didn’t have the courage to come out in the open about herself to her parents, who were typical fun-loving Punjabis, but very traditional and orthodox in their outlook. They used to meet at Tanya’s place when both her parents were away at work.’
No more hiding
The next evening, Sunita also had a heart-to-heart chat with her friend Tanya. It turned out that Tanya was even more upset about the situation than Sunita was. Sunita was one of her very few good friends, and she didn’t want to jeopardize that. She knew very well that Sunita really disapproved of anything to do with homosexuality, so she had never shared this part of her life with her. But now there was no more hiding.
‘I realised that Tanya’s pain was exactly like Riya’s,’ Sunita says. ‘They were both tired of leading a double life, wearing a mask, scared of facing the social stigma. They felt they couldn’t even count on their own family and friends or even their parents to understand them.’
The conversations with her cousin Riya and her best friend Tanya made Sunita start questioning the attitudes to homosexuality she had always heard around her and taken for granted. She’d always just assumed homosexuality was a kind of disorder, or a bad choice that people made. But now suddenly the issue had come so close to her, she realised she actually knew virtually nothing about what it’s like to be gay or lesbian.
‘I started to do some basic reading up on same-sex relationships. Over and over again, I read that people are just born with a certain sexual orientation. I realised it isn’t abnormal. And certainly not a disease you can be cured of. How could it be wrong? What’s more, for the first time, I could feel how difficult life can be for people like Tanya and Riya – people who are so close to me.’
‘I still don’t think I’ll ever fully understand Tanya and Riya’s relationship,’ Sunita says. ‘But I’ve certainly become more accepting and sympathetic towards their feelings. And the best thing is that our friendship is as close as ever.’
The names of the people in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.
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