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“I will admit I didn’t expect to hear this from you today, and I’m not sure I understand or know much about homosexuality, but I love you and will support you always. No matter what.”
If she could, then Jhanvi would have ripped the world to shreds. For now, she settled on destroying her pillow as she raged over the unfairness of it all. Screams rose within her, but she refused to let them free. Tears flowed freely from her red eyes.
The bell rang. That would be her mother.
Jhanvi froze. She had been dreading this moment.
The bell rang again. Jhanvi still did not move.
The clinking of the keys as her mother tried to open the door spurred her into action. She rushed to lock the door of her bedroom. She could not bear to face her mother yet. What would her mother say?
“Jeenu, are you home?” Her mother’s voice drilled through the door. “Jeenu, open the door, sweetheart! I got a call from the principal saying you’re suspended. She wouldn’t tell me why. We have to go together for a meeting tomorrow. I’m sure you are not at fault, so why don’t you tell me what happened?”
Jeenu wished she could evaporate into the air.
“Jeenu, I know you’re in there. I’m getting worried. At least let me know you’re okay.”
“Okay?! How I can I be okay?” Jeenu bawled. The dam had finally broken.
“Let me help, baby. Tell me what happened, na!”
“You won’t understand.”
“Arrey…try me first!”
“Jhanvi, come on! Don’t be so stubborn. You’re 14 years old. Almost an adult. Let’s solve the problem together. Haven’t we done that always?”
“This is different.”
“Okay…I know Ameena has been suspended too. I’m calling her. Maybe she’ll tell me what happened.”
Savitri could hear Jhanvi screaming at her to not call Ameena. But what could she do? Ever since the call had come from the principal she had been worried sick. Jhanvi had always been a good student. All her teachers had only praise for her. So what had happened now? And why was she behaving so oddly? Ameena would know. She was Jhanvi’s best friend.
She dialed Ameena’s mobile number. The phone kept ringing. Ameena wouldn’t answer. She tried a couple of more times but received no answer.
Savitri’s anxiety was growing. She could hear Jhanvi sobbing loudly behind her bedroom door, and her heart was breaking. What was causing her daughter so much pain? Whatever it was, she would make it right. She would do anything for her daughter’s happiness. Anything.
She dialed Ameena’s landline number, and waited with bated breath.
“Hello.” A male voice answered.
“Hello. This is Jhanvi’s mother speaking. Can I talk to Ameena please?”
“Oh! You’re the mother of that girl who has corrupted our daughter! Chee! Haven’t you given your daughter any values? Look, don’t call here again. We are taking Ameena away from here. We want nothing to do with you or your disgusting daughter.“
The phone slammed down at the other end and Savitri was left in shock. Disgusting daughter. Corrupted. The words didn’t make sense.
The gravity of the situation was dawning on Savitri. Whatever had happened was not some run of the mill issue. This was something serious. A coldness was wrapped tightly around her chest. She had to get Jhanvi to talk. But first she had to calm down. She knew instinctively that talking to Jhanvi when she was anxious would not help. She had to be cool and level-headed. She headed to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
It had been a few minutes since Jhanvi had heard her mother asking to talk to Ameena. Since then there had been silence in the house. What had happened? Had Ameena told her everything? Would her mother never speak to her again? Would her mother throw her out of the house? Where would she go? What would she do? Should she just commit suicide right now?
Jhanvi’s thoughts were spiraling. Even her tears were exhausted. She felt empty. That’s when she heard her mother’s serene voice.
“Jeenu, I understand you’re not okay. I would like to understand from you what went wrong and why you are so hurt. I’m not forcing you to talk right away. But when you’re ready, I’m waiting right outside. Let’s talk. We will fix it together.”
Jhanvi felt a wave of tranquility wash over her. Something in her mother’s voice made her feel less panicked, and all she longed for was her mother’s hug. She slid off her bed and opened the door.
Her mother, as promised, was waiting.
She walked back to her bed and sat down silently. The fear which had momentarily left her was back and was making her heart pound. She could hear her own blood rushing around in her ear. But she also had a strange confidence. She had to do this.
“Mumma, I need to tell you something.”
“Promise me you won’t be angry or upset.”
Her mother paused for a minute before answering.
“Well, I can’t promise to control how I will feel. But I can control how I can express my feelings. So, I promise not to shout or scream, and whatever it is we will focus on fixing it. Is that enough?”
“Yes. Yes that is fine.” Jhanvi took a deep breath.
“Ok, before I tell you why I got suspended, you need to know something about me.”
“Mumma, I am a lesbian.”
For Savitri, the earth itself had stopped revolving. She had not expected this. But she knew that the next words out of her mouth would make or break her relationship with her daughter.
“Thank you for telling me, Jeenu. I’m glad you trusted me enough to share something so important and personal with me.”
Jhanvi felt a sense of relief. Tiny tears of joy were forming in the corners of her eyes. She had not expected her mother to be so calm about this.
“You’re not angry?” she confirmed.
“Of course not, baby! I will admit I didn’t expect to hear this from you today, and I’m not sure I understand or know much about homosexuality, but I love you and will support you always. No matter what.” Savitri hugged Jhanvi tightly.
“Thank you, Mumma! After dad died, you’re the only one I have. I was so afraid I would lose you too. I thought you would hate me.” Jhanvi broke into a fresh round of tears.
“Oh…no no, sweetheart! How could I ever hate you? Here, don’t cry. I will always love you. But what does your being a lesbian have to do with being suspended?”
“You know Ankita na? From my class. I’m not sure why but she has always disliked our group. She is always trying to get us into trouble. She complained to the principal that we are a group of lesbians and we got suspended.”
“For being lesbians? That’s stupid! Were you girls doing something inappropriate in school?”
“Well, the other girls didn’t do anything. They’re not lesbians. They’re just our friends. But Ameena and I love each other. And we were holding hands in the park the other day. I guess Ankita must have seen us there. Because we don’t do anything in school. I promise!”
“Okay. So Ameena is your girlfriend? Now I understand why her father was so upset on the phone. Now, I’m only asking because the topic has come up. Have you and Ameena had any sexual contact beyond holding hands?”
“Mumma!” Jhanvi rolled her eyes.
“Jeenu, this is important. Please, tell me the truth.”
“We’ve kissed each other but haven’t gone any further.”
“That’s good to know. Because 14 is no age to engage in sexual relations, irrespective of sexual orientation.”
“Yes, I know. We’ve had the talk mumma. It was with regards to relations with boys, but I figured it applies to this also.”
“Smart girl,” Savitri smiled. “But I have some bad news for you. Ameena’s parents are taking her away somewhere. They refused to speak to me further. I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
Jhanvi felt a sharp pain shoot through her. She couldn’t imagine not having Ameena around.
“Mumma, we have to stop them!”
“I know you’re feeling terrible. But you have to understand that she is a minor, and her parents have the right to take her away. However, we can keep trying to get in touch with her. We can keep trying to change her parents’ mind. That won’t happen quickly or easily. It may never happen. But once she is an adult, she can decide for herself. You need to be strong. I’m sorry this is happening to you and I wish I could make it better. All I can tell you now is that you will always have me.”
Jhanvi’s body shook with sobs.
Savitri could understand the pain her daughter was feeling. She resolved to help her daughter through it. But first, there was her daughter’s school to deal with.
Savitri felt an intense desire to wipe the sanctimonious smile off the principal’s face. She gave Jhanvi’s hand a tight squeeze to let her know that everything would be fine. Jhanvi squeezed back. She looked determined.
“So you see, Mrs. Desai, the other girls have accepted that they are not lesbians. They will be rejoining school from next week. Once Jhanvi also gives us a written explanation that she is not a lesbian, we can have her back as well.”
“But Ma’m, I am a lesbian,” said Jhanvi, “Then how can I give you a false report? My mother encourages me to tell the truth, always.”
“B..but. Mrs Desai, how can you be so irresponsible? You are her mother! Shouldn’t you do something?”
“I am doing something. I am asking you take her back in school with the assurance that in no way will her sexual orientation be an obstacle to her academic performance or her social relationships in school.”
“How can we have a homosexual in our school? It is illegal!”
“Being out as a lesbian or self-identifying as a homosexual is not illegal in our country. Having sexual relations with a person of the same sex, unfortunately, is still a criminal offence. But my 14 year old daughter is not going to be having sex, and certainly not in school. So where is the problem?”
“You’re making such stupid statements Mrs. Desai. It is against our culture!”
“Firstly, I don’t think that education should be based on religious beliefs. Not allowing my daughter an education because of her sexual orientation is blatant discrimination. Secondly, there are many mythological stories in our culture that are centered around queer characters.”
“Don’t argue with me. You should get your daughter some treatment to set her straight again,” the principal sputtered indignantly.
“Treatment for what? My daughter is not sick. Nor is sexuality some learnt behaviour that can be unlearnt. Instead, I suggest that you get some sensitivity training to help you unlearn some of these incorrect notions you have.”
“How dare you, Mrs Desai? Please get out.”
“I won’t leave without knowing about my daughter’s future in this school.”
“We can’t take her back. That is obvious. Now please leave!”
“Well, then you leave me with no choice. I will have to do it.”
“It? What it? Are you threatening me?”
“Oh no! No threats. I’m not a goonda-mawali. Just the proud great grand-daughter of a freedom fighter. And I will fight for my daughter’s truth, the way he fought for our country. You will find me on a hunger strike outside the gates of your school every day, till the day you decide to let Jhanvi back in.”
“Not just you mumma, but me too,” Jhanvi spoke. “Thank you for speaking on my behalf mumma, but this is my life, and I want to fight for it. We’ll see you at the gates Ma’m. Have a good day!”
Jhanvi and Savitri marched out with their heads held high. They knew they had a difficult journey ahead, but they were ready.
Author’s Note: Although this fictional piece has minor resemblances to the recent incident in Kolkata, where some girls were suspended by a school for being lesbians, it does not claim to be the facts of that situation. It represents the author’s personal views on homosexuality and does not intend to hurt any person/s.
The author identifies as a heterosexual and has no prior experience writing about characters who are homosexual, so she apologizes for any misrepresentations. She is open to feedback and learning about the same.
Image source: shutterstock