As told to Eleena Sanyal
(Names changed to protect identities)
My husband Lalit and I brought up our sons in Mumbai. I recently retired from a public sector job and Lalit retired 3 years ago as a scientist although he says, could a scientist ever retire? My older son Milind is now 31 and Kshitij is 29. They are thick friends first and brothers later.
Milind’s earliest memory of his brother is of when they both started fighting over the TV remote control as toddlers. Each has grown up knowing the other as his buddy, confidante, multiplication tables rival and unquestioned sharer of clothes and cupboards. They could be at each other’s throats but the moments that always united them were those against me and my diktats. My husband met them far less, because he spent a lot of time in his laboratory and when he was home, he watched us in silence as we played out a modern-day version of the Battle of Kurukshetra in the living room.
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When he began to change
That, of course, was a very acceptable Kurukshetra, simply because it happened with other kids in other households too. The other battle that we were collectively waging over the last 15 years was of a different kind and magnitude. Once he got into college, Milind decided to let his hair grow. It was college, after all. He deserved a few such allowances. When his ponytail grew longer than mine, Lalit suggested he go for a trim. Contrary to his usual effervescent response, he yelled at his father, saying he wanted to grow it because he liked it long! He suddenly got all charged up as the fuses in his head started to pop.
We were totally unprepared for the way in which he erupted about gender equality and biases and started questioning notions and traditions all out of the blue. He literally spewed smoke as he raved about everything being equal for men and women. He was pacing up and down and I could see his ears turning red and beads of sweat running down his sideburns. I was stunned at his unbidden agitation. Not once in the course of his caustic monologue did he make eye contact with either of us. He concluded in a trembling voice that he liked dressing like women and would do so everyday. He asked us to never question it again.
It became quite clear he was gay
Kshitij was away at his guitar lessons and Lalit and I thanked God without acknowledging it to each other. What was this cyclone that just lashed our lives? There was no forecast of it hitting us. In the coming weeks, Milind started wrapping stoles and scarves around his neck. It was just the middle of October. I knew he wasn’t really feeling cold. He was just letting it all out. Part of it was rebellion I believed. It was all the agony and conflict bottled up over the past few years when he hadn’t had the courage to come out.
Milind, my oldest son, my first-born, better than perfect child, was a homosexual. People would call him gay and queer when they found out. And soon they would talk because he had started using eyeliner and lip-gloss. He had carefully transitioned from stoles to dupattas. When he painted his toenails, he wore sneakers or boots. Now he wore Kolhapuri chappals because he wanted to show off the matt finish nail polish he had bought from a new brand. He liked young men. He even dreamed of marrying a man and building a home and family with him, he confided in me once.
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What did I do wrong?
In the initial phase of my shock, I saw this as a punishment and wondered what I had done wrong. Why me? Why my son? Shouldn’t I even refer to him as my son anymore? Should I thank my stars that he is still OK with the neighbours’ kids calling him bhaiyya? Should I pray to all the Gods between Vaishnodevi and the Vatican to keep my younger son away from such a change of ‘plan’? I was thoroughly disoriented and had a tendency to blame my office job for the possible oversight. Had I never caught the signs? Obviously he didn’t turn gay overnight.
Lalit did not entertain any discussion on this matter. Despite possessing the mind and intellect of a scientific officer, his heart could never reconcile to the fact that his son wasn’t straight like he believed he should have been. Emotional distance translated into physical distance for father and son, as Milind moved abroad to pursue higher studies.
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I’ve accepted it now
Today Milind is very happily married to his gay partner Steve. It has been over a year since Kshitij and I were Milind’s only family representation at the wedding. Steve’s extended family and friends flocked in from all over Europe. Lalit has not been able to accept this union and thinks that it won’t last. He even hopes it won’t. Distance hasn’t softened the blow. They live in Kent and Milind calls me every day. On Lalit’s birthday last year, Milind wanted to wish his father. I heard the pregnant silence from over 7000 km as I held the line, begging Lalit mutely with my eyes to say hello to his son. Lalit just sat rocking his chair harder than ever before.
Kshitij understands his brother. He feels deeply for the buddy who he has shared my womb and his toothless years with. Their bond defies all moral and ethical standards set by society. The unspoken connection between them is hearteningly palpable. He stands by Milind at all costs. Kshitij is as straight as our society would like. He has a girlfriend and they plan to get married in the coming year. He also wants to ensure that his brother and Steve are around to join the ceremony. Both my children are wonderful human beings. They are educated, informed adults who have chosen their own path.
The greatest gift is acceptance
After all these years, when I rerun their childhood videos, I realise that perhaps the greatest gift a parent can offer their children is acceptance for who they are. Love must be unconditional. It cannot have ifs and buts. I cannot change how he thinks or what he prefers, but I can change how I react to his decisions. If they are good for him, they are the best for me.