Behind every government-certified shudh Indian marriage, there’s a forgiving queer person. Think about it.
I live in a South Kolkata apartment complex with around a hundred flats. We have several cleaners who keep the place ship-shape – as much as an ageing complex where people refuse to pay maintenance dues on time can be kept ship-shape.
Dipak (name changed), one of our senior cleaners, needed to raise funds for his daughter’s wedding back home in his village. He needed a donation request letter written and circulated in the complex. Somehow, of all the families living in the complex, he had to come to me for the letter.
As it so happens, I’ve been the traditional letter writer for many of the staff working in our complex since 1997. That’s the year I bought my first desktop and my father lost no time in looping me into his efforts to help the staff with matters big and small. Framing leave requests, pay hike demands, protests against poor working conditions . . . I’ve tried my hand at many such missives.
So, you may say, it’s no surprise that Dipak came to me for the letter. But did he have to do it dot on the day the Supreme Court started hearing the marriage equality petitions?
It was the start of a new week with a lot of unimportant work to done, with appearances of being tremendously busy to be put up. But the phone was already clinging to me like a lover with no boundaries, determined to give me a blow-by-blow account of the court proceedings.
Right in the middle of this chaos, enters Dipak. Imagine his bewilderment when I blurt out (in Hindi), “Oho, here I am not even interested in marriage. But on one side there are these queers hankering for marriage and here you are for your daughter’s marriage. Where do I go!” We were both taken aback – Dipak because he didn’t quite know what I meant, and I because I’d hit upon the theme for my next editorial (this article).
Dipak recovered first, and with a sheepish but dazzling smile handed me two sheets of A4 size paper. He left requesting me to finish the letter by the next morning. When I sat down to write the letter, I realized I’d written a similar letter in 2017 for his older daughter as well. That was around the same time a four-year-old relationship I was in with a man seemed to hit a rough patch. My boyfriend and I did have access to queer friends, allies and queer-friendly counsellors for help, but not quite anyone in our natal families. Many of us queer folks may have grown to be strong enough on our own, but these ‘little things’ that go missing do matter.
It’s funny, but not quite funny that when people in government-certified shudh Indian marriages are in similar trouble, the whole dynasty gets into action to prevent a break-up. And many queer folks like me will be like, “Oh, you’re in a relationship crisis? Of course, I’ll drop all my work and listen to you. As for my troubles, not to worry at all. I’ll talk about them later while you work out yours. If nothing else, I’ll drown them in writing letters for people looking to raise money for their daughter’s wedding.”
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Recently, much to my chagrin, an old-time queer friend and colleague dropped all work because he had to run around to arrange his nephew’s wedding. Bless his generous soul because he’s been in a decades’ old queer relationship that his nephew isn’t even bothered about. Yet, when I confronted him about why he was risking a sunstroke to get his nephew married, all he had to say was, “But these things are important and I have a duty to fulfil.”
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After nearly two weeks of deliberations around the marriage equality petitions in and outside the court, it seems the central government just might have its way and the court may stop short of expanding the remit of even the Special Marriage Act, 1954 to include queer marriages, let alone touch the personal laws that govern marriages in India. The court and the government now seem to be talking about how queer couples can live better lives together. Seriously? So, something as obvious as social protection and a matter of right is all that is to be gained by putting our intimacies, relationships and hurts out there, all for some cold calculations? And yet, would such an outcome be surprising at all?
Let’s forgive a bit (for the sake of our own sanity), step back and think. What if we first put all our energies into relentlessly pursuing the goals of inclusive education, employment, healthcare, sports, recreation, social security and more? What if the focus is on marriage reform rather than marriage equality? What about tackling dowry, domestic violence, marital rape and honour killings? What about dealing with climate change and making sure the marginalized suffer less? Wouldn’t these actions lead to better lives for more and more folks, queer or not and whether single, coupled, or still mingling?
While personally marriage is now low on my priority list (somewhere out of the top 10), I can empathize with queer and trans folks who believe that marriage can provide practical and emotional solutions to their troubles. Marriage can mean different things to different people in relation to their gender, class, caste and (dis)ability. In a different lifetime, I also used to dream of a shehnai-filled wedding ceremony. Hell, I even had a mala badal with someone with the moon and stars as witnesses!
Yet, even at that time I was sure that living together would be enough for me. It would give me an opportunity and space to live out a relationship, understand what it takes, even learn if I should be in a relationship. What’s more, living together was and is legal, even if socially still a battle zone. Many of the issues that keep coming up in favour of marriage equality – for instance, access to joint bank accounts and ownership of houses, or queer partners being able to become nominees for insurance policies – already are legally within the reach of queer couples. They don’t need marriage to become more easily accessible. So, I’d say that being able to live together is a good place to start with, consolidate things, and then plan the next moves. I’d shell out this advice (for free) to both queer couples and queer movements.
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For many a bruised queer heart, here’s a suggestion. Watch the film Where the Crawdads Sing on Netflix. It’s not exceptional, but quite watchable. I loved the ending where the male lead (Tate played by Taylor John Smith) asks if the female lead (Kya played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) wants to get married to him. By then, they’d been through thick and thin to be together, and Kya says, “Well, aren’t we already? Like geese?” Tate laughs and says, “I can live with that, I guess.” Kya and Tate grow old together till death parts them.
Main photo credit: Priyam1307 via Wikimedia Commons