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Her dazzling smile could brighten even the gloomiest of days. A year had passed since Nikhil had lost her. Submerged in her thoughts, he could feel knots in his stomach.
“I would like to conclude by reiterating that a person’s sexuality is neither a choice nor a syndrome. Just because we cannot understand something which is uncommon, it cannot be declared unnatural. It is as natural as your sexual orientation or mine. It’s about time we educate ourselves and initiate open dialogues about this subject to raise awareness. Please join us and be a part of our movement. Every voice matters!”
As Nikhil stepped down from the podium, the auditorium reverberated with a thunderous applause. But, his internal turmoil was piercing enough to stifle the resonance around him. He wanted to break away from the throng of people that had enwreathed him – some were from the media, some from the audience and some belonged to the event organizing team. On any other usual day, he would have gladly spent time interacting with the crowd about his mission which had become the reason for his existence. But this day was different. It was the anniversary of the horrid incident that had wobbled the core of his being and had altered the course of his life. He wanted to grieve in solitude; he wanted to reminisce all the precious moments that he had so fondly hoarded in his treasure trove of memories.
Once Nikhil managed to make an exit from the auditorium, he scuttled furtively to leave the venue premises. He made a quick call to his driver and just when he disconnected it, he overheard a group of men conversing in voices which, though suppressed, were audible in the grim silence of the night.
“Look, he is THE Nikhil – the LGBT rights’ activist whose speech you missed.”
“Oh he is the one! What missed? I am glad I escaped. I don’t know why you guys want to listen to his gibberish. You know what, I think he is a gay himself and that is the reason he is so determined to fight for this cause.”
This proclamation was followed by a sneering laughter. Nikhil grimaced and turned to give the man an earful. Being perceived as a gay never bothered him. It was the ignorant, callous attitude towards such a sensitive matter and the mocking tone that ruffled his feathers. But then, something stopped him from walking up to the men. His car had arrived and he wanted to get back home as soon as he could.
While his driver manoeuvred his way through the Mumbai traffic, Nikhil unlocked his mobile and longingly stared at Priya. That smile! Her dazzling smile could brighten even the gloomiest of days. A year had passed since Nikhil had lost her. Submerged in her thoughts, he could feel knots in his stomach. He dashed towards his room once he set foot into his apartment and reached for the bedside drawer to read the letter for the umpteenth time. This was not an ordinary letter. It was the driving force behind his crusade against the apathy of the society and the legal system. It was his source of strength and indefatigable resolve. It was the last memory of the love of his life, his wife and his best friend. It was her suicide note.
I know that by the time you read this letter you would be devastated. I know that what I am going to do now is an act of cowardice. I know that I am being unfair to you. I know that you must be seeking answers to innumerable questions and I hope through this letter I am able to answer some of them. I am sure you don’t need to be told that you are my best friend. We grew up together and understood each other in a way no one else could. But, I guess there are certain things which are not easy to be shared, even with your best friend.
Remember how I was trying to hook you up with your crush when we were in college? Those were crazy times and probably the most memorable moments of my life are from the initial years of college. However, gradually, something had started bothering me during that period. You always felt exasperated whenever I refused to date a guy. You thought I was a tough nut to crack. But the truth was I was experiencing different emotions – emotions that were alien to me; emotions that I struggled to comprehend; emotions that gave me restless, sleepless nights. I was attracted to my classmate, a girl. You did sense at times when my mood was off. But, I had enough convincing excuses which kept you away from deciphering the truth. I could not talk about this with anyone, not even with my parents as I had never even heard the word ‘sex’ from them ever.
Eventually, I did a lot of research on the internet about the way I felt and my fears were confirmed. Though I discovered that being a lesbian was not a rarity and there were others sailing in the same boat, nothing could allay my anxiety. It was hard for me to accept this reality but I could not deny my homosexuality. I was tormented and retired to bed sobbing each day. As time passed, the topic of marriage was brought up at my home. The very thought of marriage made me feel ill at ease and one fine day, I mustered up the courage to let Mom know about my sexuality. To say that she was horrified would be an understatement. That night she came up to my room and embraced me. I was relieved to learn that she understood. But the respite was short-lived. Next day, my mom took me to a doctor for treatment. He assured her that his prescribed medicines would make me “normal” soon and my mom was ecstatic. I wanted to reason with her but kept shut. The medication started having adverse effects on my well-being and played havoc with my menstrual cycle as well. But, mom was adamant that I complete my course and ensured that I ingested the medicines in her presence. I had no option but to lie to her at the end that the pills worked. I did not want to put up with all the health issues anymore.
It was around the same time when you proposed marriage to me. I had the option of letting you know the truth and moving away from your life. But, I saw a ray of hope and accepted the proposal for my own convenience. It would have been easy to spend my life with you rather than any other man. Or so I thought! How wrong I was. The first time we made love, I could see the gleam in your eyes. I knew how special the moment was for you. But, I did not feel anything. I only felt uncomfortable, even dirty at times. But, I pretended and pretended till I could no longer put up a façade. There were times when you asked me if I was nervous about sex. But, I dismissed your concerns by playfully chiding you for not understanding the natural hesitation of a new bride.
All my life you encouraged me to be myself, but being myself had become a daunting task for me. I was scared of the wrath of my parents. I was scared of being ostracized by society. I was scared of the legal repercussions. And more than anything, I was scared of the impact all this could have on you. Even if you would have supported me, this truth would have definitely complicated your life. I am sorry for putting you through this. But, I cannot carry on like this anymore. The fear, guilt and my self-deception is killing me every moment. My life seems to have become an illusion. I know I have messed up everything and the only way out is to set myself free, which in turn will set you free. I have to go. I could not be a good wife, but unfortunately I could not even be a good friend to you. Please forgive me. I am sorry for being selfish again.
Nikhil clutched the letter to his chest and let out a loud wail. Those searing words glistened with tear drops. Nikhil was never livid with Priya. He was heartbroken and considered himself responsible for Priya’s suicide. He was disappointed in himself because he could never deduce what she was going through in spite of being so close to her. He was disappointed in our failure as a society wherein someone thought that taking away one’s life was the only choice left. One could debate over Priya’s extreme step but whether it was right or wrong was not the focal point for Nikhil. There were other difficult questions haunting him relentlessly. Will we ever value human life and emotions over our prejudices and regressive mentality? Will we ever be able to stop ridiculing others and instead, try to appreciate our differences and accept people with an open mind? Will we ever get out of our comfort zone to bring about the revolution our society desperately needs? Maybe, someday we will.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the July 2017 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: pexels