Karan detested the road he was about to turn into. He hated it with a passion, especially at this hour of the night. He didn’t despise the road, per se; he was rather wary of the scum that dwelled in the shadows of the street at night. These were the kind of people that made his stomach churn.

 

To Karan’s utter misfortune, he had to travel through that road every night. His schedule was such, that it didn’t permit an alternative route. He went to college by day and a late afternoon job paid his bills. By the time his shift was over, it was always close to midnight.

 

Karan would have never had a problem with travelling through that road, after all, scores of other people walked through it all day. He would have never even developed a phobia of the dark places as well, had it not been for the road and the kind of men that it hosted while the sun slept.

 

He never knew how or when they came to know about it, but they made him pay hell. Karan had hidden his secret of being gay very well up until that fateful night when the bullies of that street, the ones that live on drugs, booze and sex, confronted him.

 

Karan remembered that night as though it happened yesterday, even though it has been two months since the incident. Ironic, isn’t it, a road named after the man who was the champion of peace and non-violence could hold such beasts on it and leave a man totally broken. M.G. Road, or Mahatma Gandhi Road, did just that to Karan.

 

He was returning from his evening dance class and had met a friend. Time flew by and he never realized that it had gotten so late. Karan bid a hasty farewell to his friend and entered the road that he would never forget after that night. Had he known what was in store for him, the pain and suffering he would have to endure after that, he would have avoided that road at all costs.

 

Winter was at its peak, being mid-January. Hugging his overcoat tightly around him, Karan had kept cursing the fact that he had lost track of time. Moving as fast as he could, he made his way down M.G. Road. He could hear shouts and jeers coming from a group of rowdy men near a secluded alley leading away from the road. This had made him move even faster, knowing well enough that it was best to avoid those people. But fate had had other things in mind for him and those men did not mind not avoiding him.

 

Karan heard an insult, an abuse aimed at his mother, hurled at him. Ignoring it, he kept his pace when a force from behind suddenly shoved him onto the wall of a nearby shop. A voice Karan recognized threw another abuse at him. It was his college-mate Ravi’s voice. The words that came next from Ravi’s mouth filled Karan with dread.

 

“Hey, this is the chhakka from my college. He’s in his first year.”

 

“Is he? He does look a bit fem. Must be gay as well,” quipped another guy standing on Ravi’s left. Looking towards Karan and with a voice filled with menace, he unzipped his pants and said, “Show me how you like it, cocksucker!”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“Karan! Karan! Are you all right?” Varun’s concerned voice filled the empty street, the entrance to M.G. Road. Karan was down on the pavement, convulsing with what appeared to be a seizure.

 

Varun shook the boy, trying hard to bring the boy back into the world of sanity. It took some work and water, obtained from Varun’s bottle, to bring Karan out of his fit. Once Karan realized where he was and what had happened, he turned into a sobbing mess, hugging his knees and burying his head in them.

 

“Did you relive it again? Varun asked. Not waiting for a reply as he already knew the answer, Varun continued, “God Karan! How long has it been? Two months? You can’t live like this, dude. I’m taking you to Dr. Gupta first thing tomorrow.”

 

“No,” was Karan’s hasty reply.

 

“I’m not hearing any…”

 

“I said, NO!” Karan shouted, wiping his tears with the back of his hand. “All she’ll do is tell my parents and pester me to go to the police.”

 

“She’ll be doing the right thing then. You should go to the police.”

 

“And what good would that do?” Karan asked sarcastically. “It’d just add more people to the list of those blackmailing me. The only difference would be that the ones in uniform can ruin everything. Ravi and his gang, I can deal with. Not the police.”

 

“You’re obviously not dealing with this the right way, Karan. I can’t stand seeing you like this anymore.”

 

“Varun, right now I need a friend more than anything else. Please be a good one and drop this topic. It’s quite late, you should go home. As a matter of fact, so should I.”

 

Karan got up and brushed the dust from his clothes. He didn’t notice the look of exasperation and pity laced with defeat washing over Varun’s face. Avoiding looking into his friend’s eyes, Karan said a quick goodbye and turned to enter M.G. Road.

 

With a deep breath and a firm jaw, Karan prepared himself for what lay in between his home and himself – the dark road and its shadowed people.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Karan entered his home, hoping against hope that his parents had gone to sleep. But lady luck had not been favouring him lately and he found himself wrapped in his mother’s arms, as she had been waiting for her son with dinner on the table.

 

“Go wash your hands and face while I warm up the food.” She broke the hug with a loving smile, a look that only a mother can give to her offspring.

 

The smile was swiftly washed off Shalini’s face when she saw the condition Karan was in. He had a swollen lower lip and a cut on his eyebrow. His shirt, which was usually white, was tousled and dirty.

 

“My God! What happened to you?” she gasped.

 

“Nothing,” Karan replied nonchalantly, shrugging his mother off by turning his back to her.

 

“This doesn’t appear as nothing to me,” Shalini said sternly, yet her voice dripped with concern. “Have you been in a fight?”

 

“Ma, can you please drop it? Karan pleaded. “It’s nothing that I can’t handle.” He turned to go to his room. “And please don’t tell Dad,” he said over his back.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“Excuse me, could you please tell me where L-67 is?” Varun asked a roadside vendor.

 

“Straight from here and then the second block on the left,” the vendor said, pointing down the road.

 

Reaching his destination, Varun knocked on the door. He asked for Mr Rahul Sharma when the door was opened. Varun was led into a nice spacious house and they passed a living room to enter a workroom.

 

Rahul Sharma, a man in his mid-thirties, was sitting behind a large desk. He greeted Varun with a warm smile. “Welcome to Dost. What can we do for you?”

 

Varun shook the man’s offered hand and took a seat. “I’ll get straight to the point,” Varun said nervously. Fidgeting with his wrist-watch, he continued, “There’s this friend of mine that needs Dost’s help…”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“Hey Karan! What’s up dude?”

 

“Hi Varun,” Karan said hi-fiving Varun.

 

“Dude, I want to take you somewhere.”

 

“Where?” Karan asked in a confused tone.

 

“Just come na, you’ll get to know where when we reach.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“I can’t believe you did this to me Varun!” exclaimed Karan. He was indignant. “You went behind my back and told everything to a complete stranger? I thought you were my friend, I trusted you for God’s sake!”

 

“Karan, these people can help you,” Varun tried to reason with him.

 

“But why? I specifically told you that I do not want this getting out. Why did you break my trust?”

 

“I can’t continue to see you like this for fuck’s sake!” Varun shouted, losing his cool. “I see you in turmoil night and day. It tears me apart to know that you’re in so much pain and that I can do nothing to help you.” He was in tears by now. “I care for you too much to let you suffer. The way you’re dealing with this will only make you sad. Karan, I am in love with you and I want to see you happy.”

 

“I…I don’t know what to say,” Karan stammered. Out of all the things he had thought were even possible, his best friend declaring his love wasn’t one of them.

 

“Don’t say anything. Just go with this. Please. If you have ever considered me anything more than just a friend, let me help you.”

 

Acceding to Varun’s request, Karan entered the N.G.O’s office for a meeting with Rahul Sharma. Dost was a Non-Governmental Organisation working for the emancipation of homosexuals in India. It had a helpline wing that provided people with professional help like psychologists, psychiatrists, lawyers and sometimes even friends. Varun had contacted them in hope of getting Karan out of the clutches of the shadowed people at M.G. Road.

 

Ravi and his friends had taken compromising pictures of Karan that night. They regularly used extortion for force him into embezzlement and even sexual gratification after that incident two months back. All this was wreaking havoc with Karan’s psyche, which was on the verge of a complete collapse.

 

When Karan told Rahul all the details, he was enraged. Of all the cases he handled, non-consensual sex really ruffled his feathers. If there was one thing he could not stand, it was one person taking advantage of another. He resolved to do everything in his power to sort everything out and tried to assure a disturbed Karan that everything will be all right.

 

Dost’s team handled the situation perfectly. Ravi and his friends were jailed for extortion when they were caught red-handed by police officers known to Dost. When they tried to influence the police officers with Karan’s pictures as well as money, Dost’s lawyers ensured that the charges of libel and bribery were also added to the list of charges against them. The lawyers also ensured that Karan was not booked under any offence as, according to law, gay sex was a criminal offence. It took a lot of string-pulling, but they were successful in the end.

 

Varun had been a pillar for Karan right from the start of this ordeal and he continued to offer unconditional support to the distressed boy in his times of need. Karan finally acknowledged his feelings for Varun and they started dating shortly after Ravi and his goons were tried for the charges. They were sentenced to five years in prison.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“Hey babe. How are you holding up?” Varun asked.

 

“Quite fine and all thanks to you,” Karan replied. It had been a month since Karan had started seeing a psychologist, a personal friend of Rahul’s.

 

The therapy sessions had helped Karan immensely. He was no longer afraid of the dark as long as he was with someone. Alone, he still had problems, but he was working on it. His nightmares had virtually stopped rearing their ugly head and so had the seizures. His health improved considerably and his face showed it, becoming more vibrant. But above all, he now had a companion to share everything with.

 

“Ready?” Varun asked his boyfriend.

 

“As I can ever be,” Karan replied with conviction.

 

Together, hand in hand, they walked onto the road where it had all started in the shadowed corners of the night – M.G. Road.