It was a bright sunny day in Bengaluru. Narendar Hegde had worked hard all morning to make the world’s best apple pie. He was a practical cook and very self-sufficient during his travels as the marketing manager of an auto components manufacturing company. But, today he had to edge out Mrs. Malini Hegde’s cooking and surprise his son Hari, by making an apple pie.
I am gay! the speaker said. The audience froze in silence hearing this. Hari’s eyes lit up.
He had meticulously noted down the recipe from the Sunday Brunch show on TLC. From carefully pre-heating the oven, to diligently slicing juicy red Washington apples and attentively melting the butter into flour and sugar, he had followed the instructions to a tee. The troubles started when he poured the batter in the pan. It was not consistent enough so it had started to run off.
“Dad, you are just too much!" Anjali roared in laughter watching her dear father labour for the perfect pie. “Have you made anything for me or even ma? This is partiality. Ma, we should boycott this lunch." Malini joined Anjali in the laughter.
“You ladies are distracting my concentration. Anju, be a sport, can you check if the oven is heated and ready?" Narendar was steadfast in his mission.
Anju or Anjali was his elder daughter who lived with her husband Vishal in Chennai. Anjali worked as a journalist for a national business daily and Vishal was the corporate communications head of a French tyre manufacturer.
Anju was in many ways the decision maker of the house. Mr and Mrs. Hegde never made any major decision without her advice and consent. She would research every possible option available on the planet about anything, categorise them based upon feature, brand, formula, price, the shopkeeper’s maiden name, the inventor, to the brand of detergent that their mom would use. She prided herself on being a ‘Monica’, a character from the sitcom ‘Friends’. She had watched the entire series more than 21 times, and her obsession entertained the family for long, much to her discomfort.
Recently, when her parents decided to take a pilgrimage to Kerala, Anju planned the entire trip to the minutest detail. Besides flight bookings, hotel reservations, tickets to special darshans at temples and travel arrangements for nearby places of importance, she also included a handwritten note with vignettes about kings, saints and crooks near and around. Mr. Hegde was touched by one such a story that she quoted from a travelogue about a mystic in Kannur. The author had poignantly illustrated the life of Haridas, a tribal from the Malayar community. Haridas was a labourer who did odd jobs for the men of the upper castes, but was subjected to humiliation and discrimination by them during most part of the year. He lived in abject poverty. During the Theyyam festival he would mystically transform himself as Goddess ‘Bhagavathy’ and perform the ‘Theyyam’ dance, a form of devotional storytelling and dance every night for a month. He would be treated as an ‘avatar’ and the entire village, from the rich to the poor, would fall at his feet and ask for his blessings.
Ironically the same upper class, who treated him with contempt, worshipped and prostrated before him during the Theyyam festival. Mr. Hegde was so deeply moved by the dancer’s story that he wanted to locate and help him in some way. Anju contacted everyone known who might have had any remote knowledge about the place or Haridas. At one point she even tried reaching the writer to know the whereabouts of the mystic, but failed to get any response. After a lengthy search and with the help of a civil servant who was her classmate from school, she tracked down Haridas’s wife and girls. When Mr. Hegde visited their hut, which resembled a cattle shed, he was shocked at their morbid existence. He couldn’t meet the dancer but listened to their plight from Haridas’s wife. He provided them ten thousand rupees for the education of their two girls, and even promised to support them in the future.
The dancer’s mystical transformation into an all-powerful Goddess left a deep impact on Mr. Hegde. He felt the dancer’s presence lurking somewhere very close in a strange and uncanny way.
“Dad, turn and look at me, I want a picture of you cooking this pie. Wouldn’t it be fun to post it on FB? I really want Maya aunty to react to this." Anju looked at him through her smart phone, her large eyes wide open.
“Amma, where is Hari? Haven’t seen him since morning." Anju inquired while adjusting her camera angles.
“He has gone for some seminar. I told him to stay at home, today being the last day and all," Mrs. Hegde sighed, “if only anyone listened to me".
“Drama queen you are! I tell you." Anju teased her.
He is a big boy now. I still remember how paranoid I would be. Every time the phone rang I used to jump.
Hari was late. “Hello, do you know this place?" he asked a lady sitting by the side of the road. She looked angry. She did not answer his question. A child sat nearby with a mischievous face. “How many times have I warned you not to venture into that….#%&$@ woman’s house?" she yelled at the kid and turned to his side. Hari was irritable himself, so he ignored her. He was in no mood to be abused by an unknown lady. A pan chewing man from the nearby shop suggested that he take the left from the upcoming signal after spitting out the contents of his mouth. Yucks!
'This was an unlikely place for a national seminar on rights of sexual minorities,' Hari thought as he got into the campus of what looked like a church. It was a small hall with around sixty young people in the audience. The lady at the mike was visibly angry. The place was actually a library. The book shelves were at a level above the hall.
'How does one get to that level?' Hari looked around but couldn’t find the steps. The books looked dusty and badly maintained.
The speaker lady pulled his attention away from the state of the books. She spoke about the rights of the transgender community. “We do not need your freebies; we need what’s rightfully ours". There were some girls in the audience who closed their ears. She was loud. There were three other people on the stage. Her session carried on way beyond the scheduled time.
'He looks handsome', Hari set his eyes on a middle aged gentleman on the dais. He was tall, pony tailed, and dressed casually in a kurta pyjama. 'Probably a social worker or journalist, but quite a looker,' he smiled.
After repeated reminders the angry speaker vacated the mike. The gentleman with the pony-tail rose from his chair upon being introduced.
“I am gay!" the speaker said. The audience froze in silence hearing this. Hari’s eyes lit up. “I love men. It is my choice. I want to have sex with a man and woman. My choice. What I do in my bedroom is my business, not a politician's. I do not want celibate priests dictating to me how I should or should not have sex."
'Whoa!' thought Hari, 'this man is hot and intelligent. Wish I could meet him.'
Activists are good storytellers. Their speeches are cleverly laid out with emotive anecdotes, heroes, victims and villains.
“The fact is, the people who write the most regressive laws against man-man or man-woman sex, possibly have never been in happy equal relationships. They are sad, living miserable lives, jealous and yearning for love that they vengefully disapprove. I always wonder, for thousands of years, why is man afraid of sex? What makes him insecure? Why does he get angry? What makes him violent? These questions have always puzzled me. Thousands and millions of pages in our history books are full of our obsession with sex. We either like it, loathe it or condemn it. Probably if we all spent less time worrying about other’s sex lives, maybe this world would have been a better place," the speaker said animatedly.
His passionate speech made a huge impression on Hari.
There were less than ten to fifteen girls seated together closer to the dais. They must all have been from the same college. Hari wondered, 'Why are they all taking notes diligently without paying any attention to what is being spoken?" A large healthy woman in her late forties sat close to them, and looked sideways over their shoulders. They were dressed conservatively and perhaps from a place far from the city.
The men’s contingent was a mixed bag and included school boys in uniforms, jeans clad college students and bald men wearing safari suits. Hari looked to his side at a lean bald man, whose hair was grown longer on one side, oiled more than required and was carefully spread all around his head.
'He has still not accepted his baldness. And every morning when he looks at the mirror while doing the complex routine, what would he be thinking?, that he is not young anymore? That he is not attractive? Would he be filled with regret?" Hari was suddenly overcome by sadness.
“We thank the speakers and volunteers who helped us put up this seminar", a hoarse voice diverted his attention, and he got up from his chair abruptly clumsily. The wooden chair fell back with a loud thud that shook everyone in the room.
“I am sorry," said Hari, embarrassed, “I am sorry." He tightly grabbed his sling bag, pulled it against his chest and ran to the doors. He was quick to his feet for his size. He hailed an auto and was drenched in anxiety and sweat. Upset, he removed his spectacles and wiped the sweat off his forehead.
He ran towards an auto, faster than his usual morning regimen. Anju had strictly prescribed an exercise routine to reduce weight. He was close to a century and she would push him, “if you want a beautiful girl friend you better run."
'I hate it every time she says that' he thought.
“It is already 1:30, where has this guy gone? Pa, did you try calling him?" Anju was concerned.
“Yes, he cut my call but messaged that he was on his way. Maybe he was talking to someone important," her father replied.
“The train to Chennai is at 4:30 and with all the traffic we should get out by at least 3:30," Anju was anxious. “Amma did you help him pack? Hope he doesn’t forget anything."
“He is a big boy now. I still remember how paranoid I would be. Every time the phone rang I used to jump. Was it a call from the school that he had to be picked up early because of a meltdown? Would it be another injury on the playground or in the classroom? Or, was it a teacher reporting that many assignments had not been completed?" his eyes were moist.
“He made it Anju. I was always worried about him, but would never let my anxiety affect him. My Hari is going to KIT," he was elated.
Anju touched his hand. “Take care of my boy, dear?" he requested and she smiled back in reassurance.
“So there is our hero", Anju exclaimed in delight as Hari strolled in.
“Dad, I am so hungry. The seminar was just awesome. Wow, apple pie", Hari grabbed two pieces from the tray laid out on the dining table with both of his hands, “awesome dad. You are the best!" and he dashed to his room. Mr. Hegde blushed while the women smiled.
“Malini, I still remember what the doctor said about the list of things that could go wrong for him. He crossed-out everything on that list, except," Anju interjected, “that he would speak loudly non-stop," and all the three broke into laughter.