“Nervous?” Varun asked Karan, his boyfriend.

“Of course, this is the day that I have been waiting for forever.”

We, we both have been waiting for it,” Varun corrected him, placing an arm around his waist.

Karan nodded, leaning onto Varun for support. They were standing outside the Delhi High Court, waiting for Dost’s lawyers to come out. Dost, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working for the rights of sexual minorities in India, had filed a petition with the court to strike down the draconian law that criminalised sex between two people of the same sex.

Five years back, Karan had been blackmailed into performing sexual acts for some bullies from his college and Dost’s team had helped him get rid of these tormentors. Karan had joined the NGO soon after that, giving everything to the cause of people like him.

Dost had filed the petition to read down the Victorian law a few years before Karan joined the organisation, but it was actually the result of Karan’s efforts these past few years that they were standing here awaiting the judgement of the petition.

A huge crowd had gathered outside the High Court complex, causing a massive traffic jam in the nearby area. Even the wide roads of India Gate were clogged because of the cars that had been parked there. The Delhi Police had been working overtime in anticipation of this event and the surrounding space resembled a fort because of those efforts.

There had been a gay-pride march a few days ago and it had been a huge success. Even heterosexuals had joined the march, which demanded the law be changed to give equal rights to sexual minorities as well. The huge turnout at the march promised that something positive would result from the judgement that was to come.

Karan was standing with Varun and surrounded by his friends from Dost. Crews from various news channels were rushing all around trying to get the best spot for the coverage of this event. Some reporters were even interviewing people for their opinion.

“We are standing outside the Delhi High Court, awaiting the result of a petition that would change the way same-sex couples are viewed in India,” Varun heard a reporter drawl out causing him to roll his eyes, knowing what was coming next. Sure enough, his thoughts were confirmed when he heard, “Let us have a word with the man who was behind all this.”

Karan and Varun turned to face the reporter and smiled at the camera. “Mr. Karan, how does it feel to be the one to change the future of sexual minorities in India?”

“I have done nothing to deserve that honour. It was a collective effort from all spheres of this wonderful country. Its people, our friends and the government, they all contributed to everything that has led us to this day,” Karan spoke, having rehearsed this answer beforehand. “It was actually the effort of the lawyers who presented our case in a way that made the authorities see things from our perspective. I just hope that we were successful in doing that and the judgement is in our favour.”

“Thank you, Mr. Karan,” the reporter said and then walked off.

“Ah, aren’t we humble today?” Varun joked.

“It is the truth. All of this is a collective effort and not just the work of one man. It cannot be that way,” Karan replied.

“I know,” Varun said, laughing.

“Here they come,” said Dr. Shastri. Dr. Shastri was a friend as well as mentor of the young couple. After Karan’s parents had virtually disowned him once they knew of their son’s sexual preference, Dr. Shastri took care of Karan until he was able to earn his own living.

Dr. Shastri’s announcement caused the duo to turn in the direction of the court and they saw that the lawyers were walking toward them. The reporters cut them off midway though; throwing questions at them that everyone wanted the answers to.

“What was the judgement?”

“In whose favour was it?”

“How will the judgement affect sexual minorities?”

One of the lawyers raised his hands in an effort to maintain some order. Once the reporters’ excitement had died down, he spoke, “The court has announced its judgement, and though it is not entirely what we wanted, it still is a step in the right direction. It has been decided that Section 377 would be repealed and a new law for non-consensual same-sex relationships would be drawn.” The lawyer paused for breath and then continued, “The judgement has, by far, been in the favour of sexual minorities and recognizes their rights, including right to marry and property rights. The details of the judgement will be released later, thank you.”

The lawyers, after giving a thumbs-up to Karan, walked away. People started congratulating Karan, patting his back and giving him hugs; but he had his eyes on only one person – The man he loved with all his heart, Varun. His eyes, which were moist, conveyed that emotion to Varun, who had the same look in his own eyes.

Finally, we have been accepted. Varun thought.

 

*        *        *

 

There was a huge party that night at their house in Lajpat Nagar. Almost all of Karan’s and Varun’s friends had gathered to celebrate two occasions – one, the obvious victory and great leap in the gay-rights movement, the other being the fifth anniversary of Karan and Varun’s relationship.

Everyone was having a great time. The drinks were flowing freely and loud music was blaring from the stereo system kept in the living room. Karan was running around trying to make sure everyone’s needs were met while Varun was chatting with some people from the medical fraternity.

Their eyes met for a few seconds and had anyone been looking, the pure joy and love that flowed between them would have melted anyone’s heart. Karan continued with a task that required his immediate attention. Apparently, the ice in the refrigerator had run out and he had been asked by quite a few people to get more. Therefore, he was on his way to the basement where they had a deep freezer, and hence, backup ice just for these occasions.

On his way, Karan met Nakul Gupta and they high fived each other. Nakul had become a great friend over these past years. He had risen in the domestic cricket level and was now poised to join the national team.

Karan had met Nakul four years ago when he and Varun were driving home after a party and the boy had stumbled in front of their car. Karan had been able to stop the car in time and had taken the unconscious boy home. There they learned of his unfortunate situation with his father and had then intervened to make the situation right. Later, Karan was glad to hear that while Nakul’s father was not overtly acceptable of Nakul’s sexuality, he was happy that Nakul was not gay but bisexual. That, he surmised, gave a fifty-fifty chance of Nakul finding a girl and settling down.

Once he had settled the issue of the lack of ice, Karan joined Nakul in the living room with a can of Pepsi in his hand. Karan had sworn that he would never touch alcohol and while he had no problem with Varun drinking, he had asked him to keep it controlled.

“I do not want your drunken ass in our home, alright? Drinks, okay, drunk, so not okay,” he had said and Varun had agreed to the condition readily. He, too, was not a fan of alcohol.

“So dude, now that we can officially get you both married, have you thought of something?” Nakul asked Karan, making the latter blush.

“As a matter of fact, we have. But we want to keep it low-profile,” Karan replied.

“Bollocks! None of your friends, especially me, will take that for an answer. You need to come up with something better.”

“I don’t know. Varun and I haven’t discussed something big. We both want something small. Maybe we can have the reception as a gala affair,” Karan thought out-loud.

“Hmmm…now you’re talking,” Nakul said, happy that Karan was finally seeing things his way.

As they were making small talk, the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” Karan shouted to Varun over the sound of the music. “I’ll be right back,” he told Nakul and got up.

On his way, Karan grabbed the remote to the music system and dimmed the volume. Expecting more of his friends, he opened the door, but got the shock of his life upon seeing his own parents standing there.

 

*        *        *

 

“Mom, I am home!” Karan called out to his mother. He had just returned from dance class, the last one that he had to attend before the course finished. While he was glad that the course was over, he was sad to leave the close-knit group he had formed there. Dancing was his passion and the fact that his now free evenings would be spent with Varun was the only thing that made him see the silver lining in this situation.

Varun, the boy who had single-handedly swept him off his feet and taken him to a place that closely resembled heaven. While their relationship was still new, just three months since they got together, Karan had never felt like this before. He knew that Varun would be the only one that he could ever imagine being with and, without doubt, was madly in love with the boy.

Shalini Mathur came out to greet her son, enveloping him in a hug that only mothers can give. She was every bit of the loving, caring mother that one could ever hope for and that was what Karan was banking upon as he had planned that he would come out to his mother that very night.

Karan had been waiting for the right moment for a very long time. He knew he would have to do it eventually, but had been putting it off every time he got an opportunity. Now that he had Varun, there was no reason to hide. Moreover, it felt as though he was doing Varun a great injustice by not being honest with his parents about the true nature of their relationship.

“How was class, honey?” Shalini asked her son.

“Great mom. I am just sad that it is over, though. You know how much I loved these classes.”

Shalini nodded. Dancing was her passion as well and she was glad that the hobby she could not follow, her son was able to. “Go wash up, dinner is on the table.”

Once seated at the table, Karan got nervous. It was now or never. Shalini noticed Karan’s discomfort and the fact that he had stopped eating was further proof of the fact. Nothing stopped Karan from eating his favourite aloo-gobi.

“What is it, son?”

“Ma, I have something to tell you.”

“Go on,” she urged when Karan did not continue.

“I don’t know how to say it…there isn’t any easy way to say it either. I wanted to tell you for so long, but was afraid how you would take it. I know…feel…you would not have had any problem, but I still couldn’t muster enough courage to tell you…”

“Karan,” she cut him off. “Have you gone and got a girl pregnant?”

Karan’s eyes bulged out of their sockets. Had it not been for the serious tone in her voice, Karan would have thought that she was joking. “No!” he said a bit too forcefully. “I mean…it is nothing like that…”

“Then what is it?” she asked, relieved that it was nothing that serious.

“Ma…” A deep breath and then the words that had wanted to come out since he was thirteen, “I am gay.”

Shalini Mathur’s mouth opened in a big O. She dropped the spoon she was eating with and it fell into the plate with a loud clatter. The noise of the utensil falling was overshadowed by another sound, though. Behind them, Karan’s father dropped the briefcase he was holding and it hit the floor with a loud thud that resounded in the room, making the mother-son duo look in his direction.

Karan’s look of shock was nothing in comparison to what his father had on his face. Vijay Mathur had arrived home early, anticipating a good time together with his family and hoping to surprise them. What he had just heard had surprised him instead. No, scratch that, it had shocked the living daylights out of him. Karan had never expected to tell his father about his sexuality so soon. He wanted to see if his mother would be accepting and then ask her for her opinion on coming out to his father. Unfortunately, that option had been taken away from him and all the cards lay scattered on the table now.

Not many people are familiar with what absolute silence actually sounds like and as Karan sat there at the dining table, turned around facing his father and waiting for some…any…reaction, he felt that absolute silence. It was almost palpable in the air, pressing down on anyone unlucky enough to be caught in it, stealing the breath right out of his or her lungs. Karan had started hyperventilating; gasping for breath as he desperately wished that his father would show something other than utter shock on his face.

When a sound finally broke through that absolute silence, it was the loudest noise ever heard. “Vijay…you’re home,” Shalini said, stating the obvious, ending the silence. It shook everyone out of their stupor and made Vijay walk toward the table, almost at a crawling pace.

Karan felt intimidated, seeing his father come closer to him in a state that closely resembled a zombie. He had never seen his father like this, ever. He had always known Vijay to be a calm, focused, and determined man and to see him like that was unnerving.

“What did you say?” Vijay asked his son, after he had come to a stop beside his chair. “Did I just hear you right?”

His father’s tone made him stand up, more out of fear and respect than anything else. “Dad…”

Smack!

The sound of that one slap echoed throughout the house, drowning out even the gasp that came out of Shalini’s mouth.

“Never! I never want to hear such a thing coming out of your mouth again, understood?” Vijay spat out. “What you just said is to be forgotten and never to be mentioned in this house.”

“But dad, it is true…”

The look that Vijay gave his son was enough to silence him and silent tears fell from Karan’s eyes.

“I won’t have a kinjar in my house,” Vijay stated. “And if you don’t agree with me, you can get out.”

“Vijay! Surely you don’t mean it!” Shalini sobbed out.

“I mean every word of it, Shalini. If he doesn’t wish to change his thinking, he can go on his own way.”

“Karan, say something, dear,” Shalini pleaded.

Karan was too overwhelmed to say anything. His mind was a flurry of thoughts at that moment, remembering all those happy times he had spent with his father. The piggyback rides, the nighttime reading sessions, the proud look in his eyes when his son had won the state athletic meet, and now, the look of utter disgust in those very eyes.

That look was enough to make him consider going back on his word and forgetting that he was gay. If it meant that he could have his father’s love by pretending to be straight, he would do it. Then Varun’s image came in front of his eyes and everything changed. He could not do this to the one he loved. Even though he loved his parents, he loved Varun even more. Varun was his partner, confidant, and best friend; the one with whom he wished to spend his entire life.

Realization dawned as he felt the butterflies in his stomach, the same ones he felt each time he thought of Varun. He could not live without Varun in his life and if it meant leaving his parents just so he could be with him, he would do it.

“Dad, I know that what you are saying is not what you think. I know for a fact that you love me and would never want to see me get hurt. But that is the fact, if you keep me from being what I am, you will end up hurting me far worse than you can even imagine.”

Shalini didn’t like where this was heading. “No, son… Please don’t do this.”

“I’m sorry, Ma. I just want you to know that I love you both, no matter what. Dad, you said that you don’t want a kinjar for a son. The word is gay, and not kinjar.”

“Means the same,” Vijay grumbled.

“No it doesn’t. Still, I will not argue with you. Take care of him, Ma. Take care of each other,” Karan finished.

 

*        *        *

 

“Who is it, babe?” Varun came up behind Karan and snaked an arm around his waist. It brought Karan out from the walk down memory lane.

Vijay Mathur tried very hard to hide the frown that had crossed his face for a fraction of a second, but Karan had noticed it. Actually, he had noticed it because he had been deliberately looking for it. He knew at once, that nothing had changed since the last time he had met them four and a half years ago. However, the very fact that they were standing at his front door meant a lot to him. Try as he might, he still had hope that his parents would come around and accept him.

“Oh, good evening aunty, uncle,” Varun said, albeit with a bit of harshness in his voice. Shalini smiled at Varun; rather, she had been smiling the entire time. Vijay just nodded.

“Won’t you invite them in, dear?” Varun asked Karan. He wanted Karan to be the one to make that decision.

Karan nodded. “Please come in.”

The look that crossed Shalini’s face was of pure jubilation as she crossed the distance that separated her son and herself and gathered him in her arms. Karan hugged back with equal fervour. While it was hard for him to admit it, he had missed his parents as much as his mother had missed her only son.

When they broke the hug and Shalini moved over to Varun to give him the same treatment, Karan looked expectantly towards his father. Vijay walked up to his son and placed a hand on his shoulder. “How are you, son?”

“I’m doing well, dad,” Karan replied, his eyes a little moist with the joy that warmed his heart. That warmth turned into a full-blown fire when his father pulled him into a hug of his own.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Vijay said, his voice cracking as well. “Although I do not deserve it, but I still ask for your forgiveness. I’m sorry, son.”

Karan stepped back and looked his father in the eyes. The man whom he had known to never cry in his entire life stood in front of him, weak, vulnerable and his heart bared in front of his own son.

“Dad, please don’t embarrass me by apologizing,” Karan said to him. “The hands of elders should always come forward to bless their children and not to ask for forgiveness.” He bent down to touch his father’s feet and Vijay blessed him a long life.

Vijay then turned to Varun and enveloped him into a hug as well. “Thank you for taking care of my son while I was being foolish.”

“Please, uncle. The pleasure was all mine,” Varun said light-heartedly.

Vijay chuckled. “Call me dad, just like Karan does. After all, you are family as well, my son-in-law.”

Varun beamed at that statement and bent down to touch his father-in-law’s feet. He too was blessed with long life and happiness. Together, as a big happy family, they walked inside the house and were welcomed by cheers and applause from everyone.

 

*        *        *

 

Varun was standing with Dr. Shastri, but his attention was towards Karan, who was sitting on the lounge and talking to his mother. The perpetual smile that had taken its place on Karan’s face since his parents’ arrival was still there and it put a smile on Varun’s face as well.

“He is so happy, isn’t he?” Dr. Shastri asked, meaning it more as a statement rather than a question.

Varun nodded. “I know he didn’t show it, but a part of him still longed for the love of his parents. I am glad that he has finally got it.”

“And it is all due to Karan’s mother,” Vijay said, walking up from behind them, a glass of whiskey in hand. “Had she not been trying to knock some sense into me these past years, I would have still been the stubborn mule that I had been five years ago.”

“At least you realized it while there was time,” Dr. Shastri stated, laughing with Vijay.

“Yes that I did. I must thank you as well, Dr. Shastri. You took on the role of a father while the person who actually had it abandoned it. I will forever be indebted to you for this.”

“C’mon, Mr. Mathur, it was nothing,” Dr. Shastri said, playing it down. “And please call me Rajeev.”

“Only if you call me Vijay as well,” Vijay said with a wink.

“Deal,” Dr. Shastri replied.

“Come, let us see what the mother and son are up to,” Vijay told them. They went over to the lounge and sat down with Karan and Shalini, who had been joined by Nakul in the meantime.

“What were you three talking about?” Vijay asked in a teasing tone.

“Oh, we were just discussing what was needed to be done about Karan and Varun’s wedding,” Nakul answered nonchalantly, making Vijay choke on his drink. “Right, aunty, as I was saying…”

Vijay eyed Karan suspiciously and the boy just shrugged his shoulders in defeat, eliciting a guffaw from his father. “Shalini, I think you are making our boy uncomfortable with all this wedding talk.”

“I know,” she chuckled and then added with a wink, “Why else do you think I am doing it?”

This made everyone break out into hearty laughter and put a big blush on Karan’s face. “Mom!” he cried out.

“Seriously, honey. If I can’t have my wish of lots of grandchildren, please let me have the other wish of seeing you get married the traditional way,” she said in a way that no son could refuse, with puppy-dog eyes and all.

Karan sighed in resignation, knowing that he had lost the battle. “Fine, do as you please.”

Nakul let out a whoop of joy and raised his glass to celebrate his victory. “To Karan and Varun, may the insanity and the romance never die.”

 

*        *        *

 

The preparations for the wedding were in full swing. This was to be the first ‘official’ same-sex wedding in all of Delhi, and it was fitting that it was for the person who had led the fight against the law that criminalised homosexuality in the country.

All over India, preparations had been going on in various households that had same-sex relationships to get them legally married. Shalini, along with Nakul, had planned a huge affair for the ceremony that was to take place. They had even hired a wedding planner to look into the nitty-gritty’s of the function. Everyone, including the planner, overlooked the fact that it was still the two of them who were doing the actual planning.

The date had been chosen to commemorate Varun’s declaration of his love for Karan five years back. It would be like icing on the cake for the couple, according to Nakul.

The biggest problem they had been facing was how to actually stage the marriage. Shalini wanted a traditional ceremony, complete with a baraat, pandit, and phere. Ceremonies of a traditional Hindu marriage were made keeping in mind that there would be a bride and a groom. There were ceremonies that only a bride could do, like the ceremony of mehendi, where the bride’s hands were drawn upon with exquisite designs using henna, or the haldi, where the bride was given a turmeric massage. Even the question of who will come with the baraat was one to which no one had the answer to.

Ultimately, Shalini came up with a solution. It was decided that both the grooms would be part of the baraat, each riding one horse. The ladies sangeet would take place as well, where all the females in the family would get together and sing songs for a happy life of the newly-weds. The phere would be eight, instead of seven, with each groom leading four. In addition, the kanya-daan would be renamed balak-daan with both grooms taking part in it.

Once that was decided, it was easy to organise everything else. Shalini went on a shopping spree with the wedding planner and bought almost everything that she could think of that would be needed in a marriage ceremony. They also found a pandit who would be willing to conduct a ceremony that involved two males.

A week before the scheduled day, Karan and Varun went to the market to look for matching sherwanis for the wedding. Karan wanted to rent them but Shalini dismissed that idea immediately. She said that a sherwani was something that would be treasured throughout one’s life and unlike a bride’s sari, it could be worn again. In the end, Karan acceded and they ordered custom-made sherwanis that looked quite good on them.

The venue was to be a farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi. The planner arranged for it to be rented and decorated for the occasion and Shalini was quite pleased with the result. The entrance was adorned with flowers of various colours and a plush, red carpet led them to the entrance.

Inside, chairs were organised for everyone to sit on both sides of the main aisle. The aisle led up to a stage that had a bright red sofa on it. There the grooms would sit and all guests would come up to them first and congratulate them before the marriage would take place.

There was even a mandap, compete with the dome shaped shed on top of it. The shed was supported by four pillars in the corner and was otherwise open. In the middle of the mandap sat the vessel with the logs that would be the holy fire. In Hindu marriages, the two people getting married circle the holy fire seven times and take seven vows that are to last for seven lifetimes. Seven is considered a lucky number.

Shalini had planned a sumptuous buffet for after both the ceremonies. The ladies sangeet would take place a day before the marriage and it would take place in a hotel near her house. Relatives from all over the country as well as in the city were invited for the occasion. For those who would be comfortable enough to show up at a same-sex marriage, the planner had booked rooms in the same hotel.

Two days before the wedding, Karan was a nervous wreck. He had envisioned his mother going all out to have the ‘perfect’ marriage for her son, but this was excessive even him. Varun tried to calm him repeatedly to no avail.

The day of the sangeet, relatives and friends were packed into the large banquet hall of the hotel. For any Indian family, marriage is a time of get-together. Busy schedules, that would have otherwise prevented family reunions, are altered to make room for a loved one’s wedding. A gala event is just an excuse for this reunion.

Songs of all variety were sung, played, giving everyone a reason to dance. The grooms looked handsome in the kurta pyjamas that were specially designed for them and for this occasion by a friend of theirs. Shalini and one of her friends applied turmeric on Varun and Karan’s faces, arms and legs. The purpose of this ceremony, as Shalini informed them, was to make the skin of the newly-weds glow.

An awkward moment came when one of Karan’s relatives enquired about Varun’s family members. “They are no more,” he replied. “They died in an unfortunate accident six years ago when the bus that they were in met with an accident. My only surviving relative is Dr. Rajeev Shastri, who is my mother’s brother.”

Nothing was said on the topic after that, though Varun did get a few hugs from Shalini’s sisters and sisters-in-law. Karan was glad that his partner had handled the situation deftly. It had been a troubling time for Varun and Karan had been there the entire time, supporting his friend whenever he needed his support.

Varun nudged Karan out of his thoughts and took his hands. He led them to the dance floor and together, they danced and celebrated their joy.

That night, as they lay in the comfort of their bed and in each other’s arms, Varun informed Karan that they would be going to Paris for their honeymoon. The look of utter surprise followed by the Aww-you-are-so-sweet-and-thank-you look was priceless, and Varun was glad that the room was locked and the curtains were drawn.

 

*        *        *

 

“They look so handsome, sitting there together,” Nakul commented to his father who nodded gruffly. Mr. Gupta was inwardly happy for the couple, but on the outside, he had to maintain the façade.

Guests were coming in nineteen to the dozen and walking up the aisle to congratulate the couple. The photographers and the videographers were busy doing their jobs and the caterers were busy serving people. Everyone had a happy expression on their face and Shalini was proud of that fact.

She and Vijay were standing near the entrance and greeting people. Vijay’s brother and sister-in-law were also standing with them. Shalini’s sister had assured her that she’d take care of everyone inside while she was busy at the entrance.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please,” Vijay announced into the mike, an hour later. “It is with great pleasure that I, my wife, and our entire family proudly celebrate the union of our sons.”

There was a huge round of applause all around as a waiter came with a tray that had the engagement rings on it. With Shalini, Vijay and Dr. Shastri’s blessings, the grooms put the rings on each other’s fingers, signifying their engagement.

The pandit had already sat down for the ceremony that was to seal Karan and Varun as life-partners. They both made their way to the mandap and sat down in front of the holy fire, which was essentially a small bonfire. The guests had gathered around the mandap by that time.

Chants of ‘Om mangalam’ started and the pandit went on with the mantras and verses meant to signify a holy union. Taken from the holy books, these verses laid down the requisites for a happy marriage and a wonderful life ahead. They also contained the vows that the couple took to make their marriage a success.

Garlands were exchanged between Varun and Karan, each putting one around the other’s neck. When the turn of the mangalsutra came, no one knew what to do. A mangalsutra is a necklace akin to a wedding band and is worn by the bride to signify that she is married; an important part of the rituals involving Hindu marriages.

Shalini had a solution for that as well. She produced two identical gold chains with pendants on them. The only difference between them was that Karan’s pendant was shaped in a ‘V’, while Varun’s was shaped in a ‘K’.

Smiling at his mother’s thoughtfulness, Karan slipped the necklace around Varun’s neck and his partner did the same to him as well. The pandit called the parents for balakdaan. It was a ritual where the parents tied a knot between the loose end of the groom’s turban and the bride’s sari. Since there wasn’t a bride, Shalini had had the man tying the turbans make the loose ends extra long, which she and Vijay tied together.

The pandit asked the couple to stand for the phere, the ritual where the bride and the groom take seven circles of the holy fire to seal the seven vows they had taken. Since this was not the usual wedding, there were to be eight phere with each groom leading four.

During the phere, the guests threw petals at the couple, signifying that life be simple and loving for them and always be showered with flowers. Once the phere were over, the pandit pronounced them partners for life.

Varun looked into Karan’s eyes and in one swift motion, took him in his arms, and kissed him right in front of everyone. Even though he knew that this was not a part of the ritual and that there were many gasps all around, he had eyes for only one person as he whispered, “I love you, my dear husband.”