Last month, my partner moved into the same apartment complex I live, but in the next building so we are sort of half living together. We now do yoga together, have breakfast and dinner together, go for walks in the evening sometimes, and drive to work together. Not surprisingly, there are various raised eyebrows all over the place. It feels as if the whole neighbourhood is abuzz with gossip. I can sense a change in the guards’ demeanours. Everyone’s watching. We’re the new freak show in town.
Yesterday, the building’s chairman asked my partner who he was visiting so often. Today my neighbour, an otherwise-amicable, open-minded army widow, came up in the lift to our floor with my partner and asked him, “Aap dono ka rishta kya hai (what is your relationship)?” When he said, “She’s my girlfriend,” she further asked, “And whose kids are they?” He replied, “They are her first husband’s.” He’d been on his way up to our yoga class in my house. When he told me about this dialogue, I was a bit rattled. Why should my personal life be public business?
An hour later, my maid told me that the various guards, dhobis and guards too kept asking her about me and him, what we do, what our ‘rishta’ is. A wave of indignation welled up in me, along with another strange one of stillness and resolve.
Later, on our drive to work, he and I talked about this. About how in some parts of India and in some kinds of apartment societies, we could have been expelled and not allowed to live there. About what – if this is how educated professionals are treated – those who are illiterate or who belong to a lower economic strata would have faced. About how minor this issue is to us, how insignificant, because we are empowered people with various options and means. About how life has bestowed the two of us with such tremendous inner courage that a thing like this is just a blip on the radar.
He then told me the story of Ryan White, a student who fought discrimination from fellow students, their parents, and his school repeatedly for having contracted AIDS from a hospital needle, until his case went to the highest court in the US and became a national debate in the eighties — it was called a ‘modern witch-hunt’ later. Even his family had not been spared abuse and slander — for no fault of theirs. It was all a matter of uninformed judgements, hatred of the ‘other’ and fear of the unknown at work.
I thought of Ryan and I thought of us. Though in starkly dissimilar circumstances, we have something in common. I could instantly identify with Ryan’s battle against social stigma, his determination to change people’s mindsets. The fact is, one cannot fight hate with hate; one can only diminish its intensity by turning on the light of love and knowledge.
In our case, we decided that the only way to fight all this moral policing is with the plain truth. Yes, so he’s my boyfriend. Yes, we are in love. Yes, I am divorced and a single mum. Yes, our families know about my relationship and accept it. Yes, we’re respectable people and we don’t have horns on our heads. Yes, we are ‘living in sin’ according to your rules. No, your opinions don’t matter to us.
And here’s my answer to that repeated question, Yeh rishta kya hai? It’s called God.
Any more questions?