It’s A Long Way Yet, But Workplaces Are Changing To Be Inclusive Of Rainbow Love

After the customary team-building and motivational points, he made the most important announcement – that of forming an LGBTQIA Club, and including their interests and requirements in the company policies.

A pool of gold cascaded into the living room through the large casement window, filling it with bright, happy vibes. Riya placed her morning shot of caffeine on the rosewood peg table and plonked herself on her favourite couch. A few dark brown, tousled strands played on her forehead, much like a school child playing truant. Scrunching her hazel eyes in the sunlight, she yawned lazily. She was the epitome of a svelte, dusky beauty with sharp features set on an expressive face.

Sundays were always precious and much-awaited – a day when she could afford to ditch her business suits and smart, corporate look.

“Didi, shall I get you breakfast here? Or do you want to have it in your room?” Kumuda, her matronly Nepali house-help, dawdled in.

“No Kumuda, I’ll have it a little later today. Has Anu Didi woken up?” Riya asked, glancing at her bedroom door.

As if on cue, the door opened and a young lady sauntered out in comfortable pyjamas and tee.

Kumuda gave her a warm smile.

“Good morning, Badi Didi, I’ll now get breakfast for both of you.”

Anu, short for Anushka, casually greeted Riya with a peck on her forehead. Then she, too, settled down on the couch beside Riya. With her petite frame, close cropped black hair and impish looks, she looked straight out of college instead of her actual thirty-three years. The crisp, aromatic cheese parathas, straight off the griddle, added warmth to the January nip, as it mingled with their laughter and animated chatter.

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**

Two years earlier…

The one-on-one with the new client is scheduled for Thursday.

The Delhi team needs feedback on their account, asap! 

Need a heads-up on the footwear campaign.             

A regular day at Riya’s workplace consisted of a slew of notifications, mails, messages and phone calls. But she wasn’t complainingat 29, she had found her niche as a copywriter with this up-and-coming advertising start-up. The ethos was good; the pay, even better. It was a modest set-up where Riya, with her natural diligence and passion, managed to make herself a bankable asset in the firm. The maxim ‘work hard, party harder’ fitted her to a T. She was friends with everyone, besties with none. With her affable nature and intelligent conversation, she had soon cemented her position as the soul of every office bash.

It was at one of their regular annual events that Riya had bumped into Anushka, a hardcore finance professional employed with an MNC. Anushka was everything that Riya was not.  While Riya was always immaculately turned out, Anushka, in her faded jeans and crop top had that aura of supreme nonchalance towards everything and everybody around her. Her freckled face, with its detached, faraway look, was not pretty by any conventional yardstick. And yet, Riya found it so alluring, and so difficult to tear her gaze away from. Later that night, she realised that she had been staring at Anu shamelessly while the latter scrolled through her phone and took intermittent sips from her sangria.

The women exchanged numbers and agreed to keep in touch. Which they eventually did. They started meeting up at boho cafes, art galleries, theatres, and the seaside promenade. Both the girls hailed from traditional families who wouldn’t understand their very ‘different’ and ‘peculiar’ sexual orientation. The bustling city offered them the much-needed anonymity and the freedom to understand each other better. While they agreed on their preference for beaches over mountains, masala tea over coffee, and winter over summer, there were several areas where their choices did not match. While Anu preferred classical jazz, Riya found solace in ghazal. If creamy, cheese-dunked Italian fare happened to be one’s comfort food, the other’s palate sought spicy Mexican delicacies that smelt of chilli and pepper! But eventually, assimilating all their commonalities and tiding over all their differences, Riya and Anushka found themselves bonding like two long lost souls uniting after aeons! The more they spoke, the more they connected. Both were confirmed lesbians. While Anu had had some casual flings earlier, for Riya, it was a first. And like all firsts, this bond held the pride of place in her heart. And before long, they decided to move in together into Riya’s apartment – a decision which gave a fillip to their budding partnership.

**

The present…

“Hey Riya, did you read the mail? About next month’s event?” Parag, a teamie, asked Riya from the adjacent work station.

“Nope, never had a moment’s break since morning. What is it about?” Riya asked, looking up briefly from her computer screen.

“Guess what? We’re celebrating a gala Valentine’s on the second Saturday of next month, isn’t that exciting? We’re all getting together for a day of fun, games, food, and lovey-dovey couple activities with our spouses. Or partners. At a plush resort, at that! And knowing the kind of party animal Ajay Sir is, this promises to be a blast!” He was eyeing her curiously all this while, trying to gauge her spontaneous reaction.

It was no secret that Parag had a crush on Riya – the entire office talked about it. Being the thorough gentleman that he was, Parag never made any overtures whatsoever.

This unexpected announcement left Riya in deep thought. She had always anticipated such a predicament at some point of time. But now that it had actually occurred, she felt completely inadequate to handle it. On one hand, she saw this as a golden opportunity to reveal her sexual orientation to the entire world and end this vicious cycle of fear, secrecy and dilemma.

Aah, what a relief it would be…to claim Anu as my love, to hold hands in public and walk with our heads held high. It’s such a dizzy feeling…the very thought gives me an adrenaline rush!

But the very next moment, she was assailed by thoughts of shame, guilt, and social alienation as the most likely repercussion of such a disclosure.

Will my workplace associates accept this relationship? Is Ajay Sir liberated enough to understand my orientation and retain me on the roll? What if everyone turns my reveal into a circus and make me the clown? And worse still, what if Anu is made the butt of nasty jokes in the gathering?

What if Mom and Dad get a whiff of this? They will die of embarrassment! Do I have the right to ruin their peace of mind in their advancing years?

The next few days proved long and angst-ridden for Riya. The more she thought about it, the more she got entangled in a web of doubts, misgivings and indecision. At the same time, she realised, she had been presented with a ‘now or never’ opportunity — the die was ready, she only had to cast it and then watch if her gamble had paid off.  She felt like a pendulum, swinging in complete indecision from this end to that. And by the beginning of February, she was almost sure that she and Anu would give the party a miss and proceed on a short weekend getaway.

“Riya, I think you must attend this V-Day bash. And take me as well.” Anu told Riya late one evening, sipping on her post-dinner cognac. “Your organisation is giving everyone a chance to introduce their partners to their colleagues, so why not avail it?”

“But Anu, it is okay for the others. They are either married or are in a regular relationship. Regular, as in, socially accepted. We are different. Our relationship is different. And unique. Not many would understand or endorse it.” Riya’s voice held an unmistakable hint of disappointment and longing. A longing for approval and dignity. “I would have loved to come clean, had there been any guarantee of acceptance. Why make a gamble and ruin our happiness?”

Riya spent the next few days flailing through a cesspool of conflicting emotions. Finally, she managed to brace herself and join in the party with Anushka.

The D-Day arrived. The resort had all the trappings of a popular Bollywood romance, what with numerous red and pink cardboard hearts vying for space with white and crimson balloons, multi-coloured confetti and bouquets of rose, strategically placed at different points. Riya stopped at the entrance and took in the view — a few couples were holding hands and ambling around, some were shaking a leg to the peppy numbers played by the DJ, and the rest were generally having a good time by the pool, soaking in the banter and bonhomie.

Riya took a deep breath and stepped inside with Anu, arms entwined. As they approached the pool area, a couple of Riya’s colleagues walked up to them.

“Hey Riya, you alone? You were supposed to get your partner, right?” Everyone at work was aware that Riya was in a committed relationship. “He could have met us all today and seen how we treat you like a princess!”

This was met by chuckles and well-meaning guffaws. And it was at this moment that Riya spoke.

“Guys, guys, give me a chance to speak, will you?” She overtly took Anushka’s hand into her own and continued, “Peeps, meet Anushka…Anu, for short…my friend and confidante, my partner and soulmate. I dragged her here today so she could meet my friends. She’s the best thing that’s happened to me,” she blushed and gushed, not realising that most of the crowd had gathered around them by then.

As the words tumbled out, Riya felt unusually light and relieved, as if a ton of bricks was taken off her chest. She was still holding on to Anushka’s arm, her breath coming in quick, short spurts. It took her a few minutes to take note of the silence that had suddenly descended on the gathering. Ajay Sir, her manager, looked gutted! Her colleagues, their partners, all looked at her in complete surprise! Their eyes screamed blasphemy…and a hint of incredulity, perhaps?

So, the firebrand copywriter, the unapologetic feminist, the boss’ blue-eyed girl’ was a lesbian all along?!

Parag was the first to recover. Shattered as he was, he smiled broadly and held out his hand.

“Hey Anu, great meeting you! You’re lucky to have Riya – she’s the best we have!”

Parag’s warm, genuine smile helped thaw the frost that had set in. Taking a cue, some of the others also came up with cursory greetings and courtesies. But in those few minutes, Riya felt everything around her had changed – her work equations, her personal camaraderie, even her professional credibility. Everyone seemed curious to know ‘about’ homosexual love in general and how it works but not about them as a couple in love.

Anu was not perturbed – she was no stranger to jibes and cold vibes. She kept reading on her phone and listening to music. But Riya was crestfallen…this is not what she had hoped her reveal would bring. With a great deal of awkwardness, she managed to maintain her sang froid and smile through the rest of the day. But the cracks had appeared, and they threatened to splinter her carefully nurtured friendships.

The next couple of months proved extremely harrowing for Riya. Her name was often not included in the mail chain for important discussions and client meets. Lunch at the cafeteria was no longer fun, with most of her friends appearing immensely preoccupied with other issues. Her account with a prestigious client was unceremoniously handed over to a co-worker. Ajay Sir distanced himself noticeably from her. Only Parag and a couple of others stood by her like a pillar. She could bare her soul to them without the fear of being judged.

“Give them some time, Riya – this is a smallish organisation and not all are woke. Diversity and inclusion are still not being practised here in letter and spirit.” Parag comforted her over coffee one day. “But I’m sure the others will come around in good time…till then, please keep faith.”

At home, Riya often found herself in an irritable temper. Her frequent mood swings started worrying Anu, as well. One evening she sat Riya down and spoke to her in a calm, understanding voice.

“Look Riya, these things take time, believe me. Article 377 has been been decriminalised on paper, but people are yet to change their mindset and embrace our tribe with open arms. We have to be patient.” She cupped Riya’s hand tightly in her own and continued, ”Why do you want to show your sour, defeated side to them? Hold your head high and excel in your work like you always did. Make people value you for your skillset and your dedication – not dismiss you for your sexual preference. Make yourself invaluable and indispensable at work, my girl!”

Anu’s words drilled sense into Riya and she picked up the threads of her old professional self, unfazed by rumours and stares. Things gradually started easing out for both Riya and the others in office.

In the middle of May, Ajay Sir announced an important staff meeting on a Saturday morning. While many of the employees cribbed and whined about losing the precious weekend, there was an overriding sense of curiosity to learn about its agenda. On the appointed day, Ajay Sir addressed the gathering. After the customary team-building and motivational points, he made the most important announcement – that of forming an LGBTQIA Club, and including their interests and requirements in the company policies. Parag would be the Convener for now. All employees were free to join the Club, as members of the community or as allies. They would have an inaugural event in the upcoming International Pride month, the details of which were being worked upon.

The boardroom reverberated with a thunderous applause. Riya, too, felt overwhelmed to even applaud. Through her misted eyes she saw Parag speaking to others, his eyes twinkling with a subtle glow of triumph.

It is his doing, for sure. Who else could have convinced Ajay Sir for this turnabout? Such a sweetheart! So that explains his flurry of activities over the past few days! How can I ever thank him!

The meeting concluded shortly. Ajay Sir, on his way out, stopped briefly and shook hands with Riya.

“Meet me first thing on Monday morning. There’s a new project coming up…I want you to add your Midas touch to it,” he smiled, the old warmth spreading all over his genial face.

Sure Sir, thank you is all Riya could say, choking on her words.

As Riya sat in the cab on her way back home, she mused over the events of the past few months. From prejudice and exclusion to acceptance and inclusion, it had been a long and eventful journey. But she was happy that love finally won.

Love has no gender, no definitions of right or wrong – love can only light up lives.

Anu and I still have a long way to go. But this has been a good start…to be out and proud and be able to claim our love!

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About the Author

Urmi Chakravorty

Urmi Chakravorty is a military spouse and former educator, who has imbibed lasting life lessons from both her roles. Her articles, stories and poetry have found space in The Hindu, The Times of India, Women' read more...

21 Posts | 25,335 Views

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