‘Get over him already!’ shouted Sanjay. This was the 3rd call from his best friend Amey whose boyfriend had just dumped him.
‘You were with him just for a month. I don’t even know the guy’s name!’ continued Sanjay. He was used to this routine. Amey had a knack for getting into a relationship and then promptly getting out of it. The reasons were always flimsy.
From ‘I thought he had a big one!’ to ‘He seemed very macho, how could I know he was a Nelly queen in bed, just like me?’ From ‘The positions he used would put Baba Ramdev to shame, it was very tiring for me’ to ‘How could I know his supply of Poppers wouldn’t last even a week?’
Normally it was Amey who dumped the guys but on the rare occasion that he got dumped, a lot of drama ensued like was happening now. In the beginning Sanjay would drop whatever he was doing to go and comfort his friend in need but now he knew better. He knew this phase of depression will not last for more than a day, after which Amey would be back on PlanetRomeo looking for a new boyfriend.
Sanjay had met Amey on the same website - PlanetRomeo - a year ago. While casual sex was rare for him, he had agreed to meet Amey immediately after being impressed by his simple and straight forward outlook in life.
‘Let’s just meet yaar, I’m horny and even if you don’t say it, I’m sure you are too’ were Amey’s first words when they spoke for the first time on the phone.
‘How are you so sure?’ asked Sanjay.
‘Well, aren’t you?’ pat came the reply as if he knew Sanjay hadn’t had sex for a while now.
‘Yes I am, but…’
‘So there! Come on over, I’m all alone, my folks are out’
That’s how they met and had sex. Later, when Sanjay was about to leave, Amey had simply asked ‘Do you want to be my boyfriend?’
‘What?’ Sanjay was obviously surprised. ‘Are you serious?’ he asked cautiously.
‘Of course I am. You are so cute and you are so good in bed!’ replied Amey. Sanjay couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
‘You are cute too. And you wear your heart on your sleeves. I like that in you. Tell you what, let’s be friends for now and see how it goes.’
That was a year ago. Now, a year later, after many failed attempts by Amey, they didn’t end up in a relationship but had become good friends.
Now, after being dumped by his latest boyfriend, Amey was crying on Sanjay’s shoulder. Not because his boyfriend had dumped him, but more because he didn’t get to dump the boyfriend instead.
Now, however, Sanjay knew how to handle the situation. To divert Amey’s mind he casually said ‘Let’s go to the party this Saturday. There’s a new venue so there might be new guys. What do you say?’ This instantly cheered Amey up.
Amey loved going to gay parties. This time it would be double the fun as Sanjay was always reluctant to go for these parties saying ‘I hate the ghettosization these gay parties are creating’ which he knew was a ridiculous reason as the parties were one of the better avenues for gay guys to interact with each other outside of the internet. The gay party scene had boomed after section 377 was read down. Where there used to be covert parties maybe once in 2 months, now there was a party every week, sometimes more than one in a week.
The next 2 days were spent in preparation for the party. While Amey went out and bought a new outfit, Sanjay spent his time trying to come up with excuses not to go to the party while knowing there was no escape against a very determined Amey.
‘What are you going to wear?’ asked Amey on the day of the party.
‘Jeans and T-shirt, what else?’
‘And you call yourself gay? At this rate you wouldn’t find anyone even to talk at the bar!’ scolded Amey. This reminded Sanjay of the countless times he had gone to a party with Amey and spent the entire time sitting at the bar nursing a drink while hoping he’d meet someone who was more interested in having a nice conversation rather than spending time on the dance floor trying to impress one and all.
Later in the evening, after making Sanjay wait until 11:30 Amey decided it was time to go to the party.
‘Only losers arrive before11:30’ he said knowingly.
As they made their way inside the venue, someone stamped on Sanjay’s foot causing a good amount of pain to shoot through. But before he could say anything the person had moved on as if nothing had happened.
‘He’s a retard’ said Amey who saw what happened.
‘Yeah, everyone who comes to these parties is a retard” added Sanjay in anger.
‘No, actually that guy is literally retarded. I have seen him at parties before. He just dances around aimlessly and keeps trying to talk with people. I don’t understand why they allow such people here in the first place!’ complained Amey.
Having paid their entry charge, they made their way inside and, as usual, within minutes, Amey disappeared on the dance floor with his other friends who were already there. Sanjay found himself at the corner of the bar once again.
From his vantage point Sanjay could see most of the people in the club. It was always the same scene he saw. Some guys were huddled in groups talking amongst themselves. Some were flitting about with a drink in hand, hugging a guy or 2 on their way. Some were loud, talking animatedly about how these parties have become so boring lately, yet attending each one of them. Some were completely lost on the dance floor dancing. Some were dancing with their dates ensuring they matched the dance moves according to the track being played.
Loud groans would erupt when a Bollywood number came on while those groaners would actually dance with more gusto. Someone drunk would inevitably drop their drink right in the middle of the dance floor while those around would shriek louder than a banshee.
The crowd was mixed too. There were good looking youngsters, who barely seemed out of their teens, there were macho guys in their twenties, hot looking studs in their thirties and a few older guys too, trying to match their steps with their younger dates.
There would be a couple of guys dancing shyly in one corner. These were obviously the newbies on their way to becoming gay party veterans soon enough. Some people were sitting on the tables arranged at one corner lost in conversation showing no apparent interest in the melee around them. The club was thick with smoke. It seemed like everyone was smoking even though it was not allowed. There were a couple of hot bartenders who were being kept busy by the constant barrage of guys asking for either a martini or vodka and sprite, which seemed to be the only drinks gay guys preferred everywhere.
Sanjay could see there were hardly any single guys. Those days when guys came to these parties to hook up seemed long gone. Now, with literally hundreds of online hook up websites, the parties were only a means of spending a good evening with friends and showing the small gay world how fabulous one was. Everyone was always with someone.
Sanjay could see Amey dancing with his buddies who always seem to be present for all the parties. Just then, as if following his sight, Amey gestured towards the group and pointed at Sanjay. Sanjay waved and everyone in the group waved back good-naturedly.
Right next to the group Sanjay noticed the guy who had stamped on his foot at the entrance. He seemed like a teenager and was dancing awkwardly all alone while no one around him paid any attention. Sanjay could see he was dressed awkwardly in a pink t-shirt and blue jeans. He seemed lost in his own world as if inside a cocoon. Every once in a while he would smile to himself and continued dancing.
Sanjay kept looking at him for a long time. Just as he was contemplating joining Amey on the dance floor, someone said ‘Hi’ to him and he jolted out of his thoughts. Standing right beside him was a good looking older guy.
‘Hi’ replied Sanjay with a smile.
‘I’m Mahesh’ said the guy extending his hand.
‘Hi Mahesh, I’m Sanjay’ He extended his own hand in return. The guy must have been in his late 40s but he had striking good looks. Sanjay was flattered that the guy had chosen him to start a conversation.
‘So you don’t like to dance?’ he asked.
‘Not really. It is easier to just sit and enjoy the view from here’
‘Yeah I do that too. It is fascinating to see how these guys never seem to get tired’ he added while looking at the dance floor.
‘So you also don’t like to shake a leg or two?’ enquired Sanjay
‘Not really. Let’s just say I’m not part of the scene. But your partner seems fully into it” said Mahesh pointing at Amey.
‘Oh, he’s just a friend’ added Sanjay hastily. Mahesh was smiling now. ‘But how do you know I’m with him?’
‘I saw you at the entrance; I couldn’t help but hear you guys. I’m sorry about your foot.’
‘Oh, it wasn’t your fault. Kids these days seem to be getting more and more rude and stupid’ Sanjay added crossly.
‘Oh I wouldn’t say that. Perhaps the kid didn’t realize what he did’ Mahesh reasoned.
‘Naaah, it wasn’t a soft brush, he must have realized what he did and yet he didn’t even say sorry’ added Sanjay perhaps with more force than required.
‘No, I mean, maybe he didn’t realize because of his condition…” Mahesh trailed off midsentence.
‘Oh you mean because he’s retarded’ fumed Sanjay without thinking. Mahesh flinched a little bit at this and this didn’t go unnoticed by Sanjay.
‘Are you with him?’ asked Sanjay.
‘Yes, his name is Saurabh. I’m his father’.
Sanjay was lost for words. How could he, who was always polite to everyone, do something so insensitive? He sat there speechless.
‘Don’t be so crushed, I’m used to it. I used to think that probably, of all places, this one would offer my son some kind of comfort, where he will not be discriminated against but I’m not so sure now” said Mahesh bitterly, almost to himself.
‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize you were with him’ said Sanjay uncertainly.
‘Does that make it right?’ asked Mahesh. Sanjay didn’t have any answer to that. He was silent while Mahesh seemed to realize there will be no answer to that question.
‘Forget it. It is not your fault, it happens’ said Mahesh sadly. It seemed like he had experienced it a lot of times.
‘Thanks. I’m really very sorry’ said Sanjay sincerely. They sat in silence for a while.
‘So your son is gay and you escort him to gay parties?’ asked Sanjay after he couldn’t stand the silence anymore.
‘Yes, as you can see, he can’t really go on his own so I try to ensure he’s safe’ said Mahesh looking at his son who was still dancing all alone.
‘He’s lucky to have a good father like you’ said Sanjay with a smile.
Mahesh seemed to hesitate as if he wanted to refute that statement.
‘Actually no. He’s not that lucky. He’s a great kid, he looks very young but he’s 20 years old now. But he’s not lucky to have me as his father’ Mahesh replied as if reluctantly. He hesitated a bit as if weighing something before he continued.
‘Till last year he was like any other regular kid. He was good in his studies and he was very good in sports too. He used to play Badminton very well. But it all changed when he came out as gay to me and my wife about 2 years ago.’
He stopped. Sanjay looked at him questioningly waiting for the answer to his unasked question. Mahesh knew he had to finish the story he had started.
‘He showed great courage in coming out to us. I don’t think he expected that we will not accept it. But he was wrong. I didn’t accept it and almost threw him out of the house. I took him to doctors trying to cure him of this disease. What I didn’t know was that I was probably the one who needed treatment. I didn’t agree even after a few doctors and psychiatrists told me that sexual orientation of a person cannot be changed. I took him to the ones who said they could cure my son. They made him go through unspeakable horrors. They subjected him to electric shocks. I didn’t do anything to stop it. On the contrary I stopped him from even going to college thinking he might meet his gay friends there. I was relentless. I was blinded by my narrow mind. Here was a perfectly nice young boy who believed in his Dad and was honest to him but all he got in return for his faith and trust was hatred’. At this point Mahesh seemed overcome by emotions. Sanjay realized that this is probably the first time Mahesh was telling this story to anyone. He waited patiently for Mahesh to continue.
After composing himself a bit, Mahesh continued ‘Even after a year of this torture I didn’t stop. I was still hopeful that one day he will get tired and say “I’m no longer gay”. But that didn’t happen. I cannot imagine what must be going through his mind when one day he tried to commit suicide by jumping from the balcony. I never thought such a strong boy like him could take such an extreme step. That day I realized what a fool I was. I was such a bad parent who harmed his only son instead of protecting him. Fortunately, Saurabh’s attempt failed but he suffered serious head injuries which ultimately resulted in brain damage’.
By now, even Sanjay was choking with emotions as he tried to fight back his tears. He tried to imagine what Mahesh must be going through. Can someone ever get out of such a feeling of guilt?
He felt ashamed that he was so shallow who didn’t think twice before calling person retarded. How sometimes we can cause hurt to someone without even realizing it.
Silence descended between them again. Mahesh was looking at his son who seemed to be waving at his Dad now. Mahesh waved back with a sad smile. ‘You know what the worst part is? Despite what I did to him, he still loves me. In fact, in his suicide note, he wrote “No one should be held accountable for my death. My mom and dad have always given me everything that I ever wanted so they should not be held accountable for my actions”’ said Mahesh while continuing to look at Saurabh.
‘I don’t know how I could have been so foolish. How could I be such a monster? It is a shame that it took such a drastic step on his part to make me realize my stupidity. I don’t know what I would have done if he had died at that time. I’m thankful that he didn’t. I’m thankful that I’m at least getting a chance to make amends. I know what I did was unforgivable and that nothing I do will ever redeem me of my actions but I can at least make him comfortable and make his life as easy as I can’.
By now tears were trickling down Mahesh’s eyes freely. ‘I’m sorry. I normally do not share these kinds of private details with anyone but I have been holding it back for a long time now. The guilt has been killing me and I just needed to get it out’ He said guiltily trying to wipe off the tears.
Sanjay held Mahesh’s hand trying to comfort him in a small way. He knew he didn’t have to say anything.
Mahesh smiled at this silent gesture. He continued ‘The good thing now is that Saurabh’s condition is improving. Just after his injury, he couldn’t understand most of the things like an adult but as his injury heals he is regaining his senses. The Doctors say that he will never be like before but now his condition is much better than it was earlier. He talks a lot with me. One day just like that he asked me if he could go to a gay party. That was the first time he asked for something on his own after the injury. At first I thought it would not be a good idea. But when I saw how happy he was even at the thought, I decided I’ll never deny him anything. I bring him to most of these parties and even though most people ridicule him, the organizers are good people who help me take care of him when I’m here. It has had a good effect on him. He’s recovering very well now. His speech is still slurred when he talks but I’m hopeful that one day I will have my Saurabh back.”
Sanjay was overcome with emotions. Why can’t life be simple and uncomplicated? Why did such a nice kid have to suffer from such a fate? What was his fault? Being gay is not something that someone chooses to be and yet gay people have to unfairly suffer so much. If only people were more open-minded, Saurabh would be leading a normal life. If only everyone could see what was right without having to go through an ordeal like Mahesh had.
‘Would you like to meet him?’ asked Mahesh bringing Sanjay out of his reverie. Sanjay saw that Saurabh was heading towards them. He nodded yes.
‘Hey Saurabh, this is Sanjay’ said Mahesh cheerfully when Saurabh reached them.
‘Hi Sanjay’ greeted Saurabh with a big smile. There was an endearing quality about him. ‘Would you like to be my friend?’ he asked slowly but without any inhibitions. Sanjay couldn’t help but smile.
‘Yes, I would love to be your friend’ he replied.
‘That’s great. You can visit my home. My dad makes very good milkshake. You will love it’ he added with great excitement.
‘That sounds very good. I would love to come to your place and have that milkshake’ replied Sanjay.
‘How could I have ever thought this person is retarded?’ he asked himself now. Except for his slurred speech there was nothing abnormal about Saurabh.
Sanjay couldn’t help but smile at Saurabh’s childlike enthusiasm. He looked at Mahesh who was beaming with pride while saying a silent thanks to Sanjay even as he was silently pleading Sanjay to keep his promise to Saurabh.
‘Yes I would definitely be there tomorrow’ said Sanjay to Mahesh understanding how much it meant to him. After exchanging phone numbers, Mahesh informed Saurabh that it was time for them to leave.
‘Oh no Dad, why do I have to leave so early? Sanjay is not leaving’ complained Saurabh.
‘You know you get headaches if you stay up late. We will be here again next week’ said Mahesh to him affectionately.
‘OK, but next time I’ll leave only when Sanjay leaves!’ exclaimed Saurabh.
‘Sure” said Mahesh as they moved towards the entrance while waving bye to Sanjay.
Later that night after the party had ended and he was on his way home with Amey, Sanjay had a big smile on his face.
‘Got hooked up at the party?’ asked Amey.
‘Better than a hook up. I made a great new friend’.