A Guest Post by PALLAVI PAUL
It is like watching an 80’s slasher film on an old VHS. The gruesomeness of mangled bodies, extra slimy trails of thick blood, intestines plastered against the screen. Parts of the image are eaten up by the glitch-ghosts that hang above them. The erased bits , however, intensify the onset of the apocalypse instead of putting it away. It is impossible to tell whether something is happening, happened or will happen. Time is put through a particle accelerator, and what follows is a journey through a dilapidated scene of crime, with pure tone for background score.
Since the Supreme court judgment on the Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalizes homosexuality I have had the odd sense of traversing a crime scene of gargantuan proportions. This scene of crime seems to have swallowed up significant parts of my life and of those around me. In a twisted way it is exhilarating, as reversals often are. In the face of a newly energized prohibitory code I must walk across myself, into the erased parts of the image and recover the bits tucked away between layers of forgetting.
In the absence of available parents I was raised by a transgender domestic help who we called Raju Didi. The story of how she came into our lives was never really important even though I am sure versions of it exist in the family. Infact, her being at home was so unspectacular that I can’t remember a time before she came. Her arrival was not an event.
Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi/ My lover from foreign lands is here
Pyaas Bhujhi Meri Ankhiyan ki/ My eyes are thirsty no more
She would sing to me in her raspy voice, as I struggled to stay awake on hot June afternoons snuggling into her lap. Sitting really close to the room cooler she would play a game, making her voice split as it hit the moving fan. The room of khus smells , with her voice dancing across the walls and the afternoon creeping in through the chinks in the window was the backdrop against which Raju didi and I would grow into our own form of love. Everyday.
Raju didi taught me how to wait. I still remember the vague panic I would feel if I didn’t see her at the bus stop after school and the absolute relief when she would appear at the distance in her signature high bun and Patiala salwar. She taught me both about the frivolity and enormity of differences. I once found a razor in her bag . Excited by my find I was running around the house with it. I remember her shouting at me and telling me that just because she worked for my mother doesn’t give me the right to go through her things. I remember being terrified enough to never go close to her bag again. She taught me the joy of looking too. Thinking of the way she admired herself after doing her kajal gives me goosebumps even as I write this.
But most of all Raju didi taught me ache. She finally left after my twelfth birthday. The emptiness of the house after her, was my first memory of intense loneliness. To learn walking back alone from the bus stand, made me angry with her. She missed me too, a for a few months every Saturday after she left she would call the landline to check on me. I would pretend to not know its her till my mother called out to me telling me to come to phone. In retrospect I feel we both must have realized that our friendship was in the gauzy, unaccounted time that can only be spent between people outside the edges of supervision. She stopped calling. I also began to lose interest.
As I grew up I learnt of many other kinds of heartbreaks, jealousies, loves and desires. She became a distant reminder of an intense set of feelings I had outgrown. I started listening to Boyzone, and would have felt embarrassed to death if anyone found out my love for her rendition of Ghar Aaaya Mera Pardesi. Many years later, as I was in the midst of a tumultuous college romance my mother mentioned to me that she had heard from her. I remember not being moved at all, and again a number of years passed. Much came to stand between the 8 year old of summer afternoons and one who was trying to push the night, sometimes as politics and sometimes as desire.
Very recently, however, my mother and I made our way to her current house on the outskirts of Ghaziabad. I suppose it was a random act of recovery many of us grant to ourselves once in a while. The release valve to an invisible pressure bubble. In that Muslim ghetto of winding alleys, I thought I would find some closure to a set of feelings, that now seemed to have no etymology.
What I saw was a balding man with a silver stubble, dressed in an impeccable white salwar-kameez. The raspiness of her voice had only gotten more delicious with time. I came back, without asking her to sing for me.
On the bus back as I was looking at old faded tickets stuffed into the spaces between seats, I knew that it was love. Not the love of a child for a parent, not the erotic love of touch and smells, not even the love that comes simply from the passage of time. It had been a desperate, simple love which was neither sanctioned nor prohibited.
In the wake of this devastating judgment it is not only the love of lovers, but also these simple unknown loves that will have to fight harder. What is at the risk of being criminalized are not only intimate moments that involve sex, but also the songs of a Hijra to a young friend. To criminalize one form of love will be to endanger the possibilities of many kinds of loves that nourish and sustain us and even help us find a way back into the world.
Perhaps another way to fight is to try and remember loves with odd edges, those that come with chinks. There is always a leak, but that’s how the light gets in.