As told to Nidhi Sodha
(Names changed to protect identities)
Papa was extremely anxious about letting me go to another city. I’d never been away from him except vacations at Nani’s place with Ma. I least expected him to allow me to go to Mumbai for an MBA. But I guess he’d noticed that I could take care of myself. Besides, he heard about Mehul’s admission in the same college, too.
Subhash Kaka is Papa’s elder cousin, his paternal Uncle’s son. We lived in the same city and attended family functions and community gatherings. His son Mehul and I are about the same age. Although we never spoke much, we were fairly well acquainted. Mehul’s admission in the same college was a relief to my parents, knowing that I wouldn’t be alone. Little did they know that some day they would do anything in their power to change that.
Leaving home was more difficult than I imagined. I was unable to acclimatise to the new surroundings and it was challenging to focus on studies. Mehul checked on me often and tried to help me adjust. He introduced me to his friends. I, in turn, helped him with studies and presentations.
Our friends thought that we were old friends perhaps. We never felt the need to mention our family ties. I’ve never thought about why we held back, but we never discussed it.
Our daily group study sessions became longer. We started talking about anything and everything, wondering why we hadn’t spotted each other all these years in spite of so many encounters. Meetings turned to longings. Longings turned to necessity. I realised that our relationship had long passed that between cousins or friends. I had fallen for him, desperately. He never voiced his feelings. But I guessed it was mutual from the way he stared at me for no reason and cared for me as if I belonged to him.
“No, this isn’t correct. He is my brother. I should not think about any other relationship with him. It is incest!” I would say this to myself. I wished I could go back in time and change the lives of our common ancestors. I could sense Mehul had similar reservations. I started shying away from meeting him.
Related reading: A cocktail of cultures
We finished college and got jobs in Mumbai, at different companies. We went home before joining. My parents had started looking for a match for me. But my occupation with Mehul was getting firm rather than weak, with every passing moment.
Papa spread the word to family and friends. Subhash Kaka was informed too.
“Let me talk to Hemant about my friend’s son. I think it would be a good match,” Subhash Kaka declared one evening after dinner.
“No, it won’t.” Mehul had never spoken to anybody about his feelings for me. But he was a volcano waiting to erupt. He couldn’t stand the thought of the love of his life not being part of it.
Subhash Kaka and his wife, Lata Kaki, stared at him confused. “What?” Mehul’s parents thought since he knew me well now, he had something to say about my choices. Both our families were aware of our ‘friendship’. Instead, his reply bewildered them.
“I want to be the groom that you suggest to Hemant Kaka for Aashi,” Mehul blurted out.
Without waiting for their reaction, he picked up his phone and sent me a text. “I have made an announcement at home today. I’ve never asked you about it but I know that it’s what you want in your heart too. I guarantee a lot of struggle before we reach there but I’m ready to face it if you’re willing. I want to marry you.”
I knew that I lacked the guts to do it. “Please meet me,” I replied after an hour. We met and poured our hearts out about our mutual feelings. But decided to do the huge amount of work to seek blessings of both our families. It was a mess. There was no solution for the social stigma. Nonetheless, we didn’t intend to give up. Communication between our families had abruptly stopped in every way after our announcement.
We did know our common blood relatives. We knew about the risks of inbreeding. But our hearts did not acknowledge the maths and science of it. What we only knew was we wanted to be together for life.
We went to the extent of promising that we would never become natural parents and adopt a child instead. To put at least one concern to rest.
Three years passed with futile attempts from both our families to change our minds. They gave in for the sake of their children, as always happens. The awkwardness of the event took time to subside. We got wed in a grand ceremony with good wishes from all.
It’s been two years since. We live in Mumbai. To onlookers who are unaware about our shared genes, we look like a pretty much routine loving couple with a normal married life. Our resemblance in a couple of facial features is taken as coincidence.
Of course, there are so many dimensions and perspectives in different cultures and communities. Some are best for the welfare of the race; some are rigid customs to maintain social discipline and avoid sufferings; while some are baseless irrationalities. Mehul and I had stopped giving it a thought when we decided to follow our hearts. There are human urges beyond the influence of such commandments. But I do wonder at times though whether our love would have been any different if we did not have any common blood…