I returned home last week, catching the first bus in the morning. Till then, the situation in Kolkata had not worsened like now. On reaching Howrah station, I quickly collected my train ticket to Chandannagar. I got a train soon and reached home in an hour. Ever since then, I have not stepped out. But in this week, I summoned up the courage and came out to my mother to the possibilities of my sexual orientation.
The last few days have been unforgiving in their terror, and although my family including me have taken all the necessary steps to safeguard ourselves from the pandemic, I can’t help but notice how vulnerable we all are still. Ma has to go the vegetable shop still, and Baba has to collect his daily newspaper from the nearby stall. It was yesterday when a relative casually stepped into our house in the evening and we were horrified to see her unmasked, entering the kitchen. I can’t help but feel scared thinking about the vegetable seller and the newspaperwalla, staying out in this time – people who can’t afford to stay indoors like us. It has been wild, the last few days, reading the news and talking to neighbours through the veranda. I can’t help but think how intense and demanding the conversations have been, from warning my uncle not to go out for his evening walks in the strand road to having a verbal spat with my father to stop spitting carelessly. But more than everything, what this period of isolation has done more than anything is that it has brought us closer. Every morning, I change the bedsheets and assist Ma in preparing the breakfast. We listen to music together, ranging from Rabindrasangeet to Adele in an hour. The hibiscus flowers in the garden have all our attention. Ma complains about how everything scares her now, how she sweats more often than not, and then goes on to call her immediate friends to share all her woes. After dinner, we read a poem together. Last night, I summoned up the courage to read one of my own poems, called Octopus Kid. She asked me what does it mean, these lines –
“Leave this room; leave our blue moon for the prayers.
Either way round, we stay, we hold hands and write our stories out of no fear.
Let us step out and shout; let us demand that we want space for more,
For us, Octopus Kids- green, yellow, all colours of proud queer.”
For a moment, I said nothing. I asked her instead, what did she understand? She said it sounded like a protest song, a war cry. But she didn’t understand why use the term ‘queer’. Okay, I thought and started to explain what the term queer meant. I turned towards her and talked about how sexuality works like a spectrum, where one definition of heteronormativity can never suffice for the desires that a human body can define itself with, of how the construction of gender and sexuality needs to be interrogated. She was not fully sure of what I meant, and nodded with a whisper. It is then when I took to give my own example. I said to her how it is perfectly normal for me to desire a male body, and not be ashamed of it. Ma turned away and said yes, normal it might sound to me, but it will be difficult to see me embrace another man like that, out in the open. “So that would mean you won’t have children?” she asked, to which I gently replied, “I will have children, I will adopt.” Ma remained silent for a while, and then twitching her shoulders she requested me to start earning as soon as I can, and then I could marry whosoever I wish; and adopt every baby I could – that she won’t mind, as long as I took care of her.
For a moment, I couldn’t realize the implication of what she said, and then slowly it dawned upon me – how I was able to solicit a positive response from the person I valued the most. Baba, he wouldn’t mind; but I was always scared about Ma, about how she would react to my sexual orientation that I am still grappling to terms with. I can’t trivialize the horrors of the pandemic to necessitate my subjective accomplishment – but in times of such distress, when it feels like the world is going to end – what keeps us sane is the love of our closest ones. That I was able to get this close to Ma, and come out to her about my sexuality feels like a new life in itself. Undeniably, the uncertainty of life couldn’t be more close at this moment, with entire countries being shut down, and millions in terror. The upcoming days are a test, and yet this little incident has made me hopeful, that come whatever may, this shall pass too. That there is always hope, that there are so many stories waiting to be told to our children.
Octopus Kid is published in The Cognitive Quotient Magazine. It can be read here.
In the Bengali household, mother and father are affectionately called Ma and Baba respectively.
Santanu Das is a final year postgraduation student from the Department of English, Jadavpur University. Forever clicking pictures of places he would never visit again, he finds solace in films and jazz.