He’s dying and I just turned twenty seven.
Wrapped up in wires like an octopus caught in a net,
He smiles, asks if I’ve had a boyfriend yet.
Well, I had one. We broke up.
It wasn't safe for me to come around. I’m not a Brahmin
After a year, his parents had caught on.
I knew it when they looked at me
Like I was going to dig through their pure gold heirlooms
And take home the life they had planned for him.
That’s what my first love was., too.
There were no words for it back then,
Just summer nights, the cowshed in the fields,
the fireflies’ magic show.
He couldn’t fall asleep next to the boy he loved.
He heard the dog barking, followed it outside
Where it had crept all the way around the veranda.
He called out and the stream called back.
It was a woman’s voice ringing in his ears.
The voice of the river; guilt, that buried itself in his abdomen.
The tumor had been growing for the past ten years,
But he recognised it as the feeling
he carried with him his whole life.
In the hospital, the voice softened to provide comfort,
As everything returns to the earth from which it came.
My parents' marriage certificate remains framed on their bedside table, in lieu of a wedding photograph because they were never able to have a ceremony. In other words, they belong to different castes.
The presence and impact of the Caste hierarchy is probably never going to be erased from Indian communities and society. Its chains weigh down our education, our politics, our morals, our relationships. But that is not to say that people are incapable of rising above it and seeing their peers, friends and neighbors for who they are before any other label – humans.
So I like to think of this poem as an ode to my parents’ stubborn, spiteful, impulsive and immensely brave relationship. As told from my father’s perspective, it is also an obituary for his struggle in coming to terms with his sexuality. His childhood and now adulthood has always moved me to desperately question how do we live with the ghosts of our own selves – every version of ourself we have once been (not dead, just gone).
Editors: Rajeshwari T.
Image source: Unsplash