I know you’re gay and you know I am gay.
Correction: I don’t think I’m gay or that you’re gay or that jerking off (almost exclusively) to hairy dudes makes anyone one. You know the customary talk about having subtler straighter shades to your sexuality, I subscribe to those views too. I see ‘gay’ as a cultural identity that I don’t identify with or don’t want to identify with. I suppose you have similar concerns although we both know that our TV/Movie diet has always been rich in Vitamin-Gay. We’ve both talked obliquely about guys we’ve kinda-sorta fancied, and of course girls we’ve obviously fancied or who have fancied us back. I know you’ve gay friends whom you must have met through shady channels. You’ve introduced me to some of them, and so have I, but the-unspoken is a dark scary pool of void of questions like how-did-you-meet and when and where and for-what and is-that-all. Questions that enfeeble our crumbling moral stance, questions that don’t let us be who we ought to be. I know you play the gay-or-not game on every new guy you meet (or used to, I don’t know if marriage has changed that.) I know your life is a performance and that you’ve become your performance. I know you wouldn’t ever agree to being who you are because you’re always morphing into socially safer forms snuggling deep into warm nooks where there’s family and family dinners and sunny family getaways.
We’ve skirted the contours of our truths even when we were at our most vulnerable – inebriated and intoxicated – atop on the sea-facing cottage balcony where we stayed at our straight friend’s wedding. We talked about his indisputable straightness, of course, but what else? The food? The salmon fillets, the steamed lobsters? The pungent feta? We were twenty-seven, practically independent, reasonably successful, reasonably happy, reasonably content with bitching about food and wine. Now that we’re not too old or spent, can we please talk about things that matter?
You know that story I told you about walking the ten long kilometres from Kalyan Nagar to MG Road? We were twenty-one then, both interning in Bangalore, and freshly plucked out of our small-town smallness; we were both dazed and amazed by the possibilities – the tree-lined roads, the numerous cosy cafes that we’d always dreamed about – perfect for coffee, baguettes and gossips.
It was one such evening at Margery’s Bakehouse. The year-end was nigh, the air was nippy and we sat by a lit Christmas tree sharing a chocolate pudding. You told me about your roommate who engaged in phone-sex with his girlfriend with an alarming regularity. You told me you heard squelching sounds in the darkness and I said you were disgusting. You said he was disgusting and I said, even more so. You wondered why he should want to be so vocal about it in your presence and I remember thinking maybe that’s his point. I didn’t say that and sometimes I wonder whether you actually wondered it out aloud either. We’ve had so many such evenings, so many walks, so many sunsets, so many late night cab rides and so many walks along the banks of that dark deep glistening pool of the unspoken truths.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt in my twenties, it’s that the only way to avoid telling one truth is to tell a hundred other truths. It takes the chatter of a hundred inconsequential truths to quell the low ailing wail of that one little truth.
So I told you about how long I walked and when, and how the sun looked in the sky, I even took pictures along the way of pigeons and stray cats and the idlis that I ate at a roadside restaurant, I told you about how it becomes so much easier in the last few kilometers, how your feet learn to stride on their own swiftly and quietly. I told you about the ride back home, about the donuts, about sleeping a long night’s sleep, about how I’d totally do it again. And when you asked me, ‘But why?’, I could take comfort in all the little truths I had spoken as I said, “I don’t know, it just occurred to me that maybe I should go out for a long walk”.
We were twenty-five. You were back to Bangalore after a business trip to Delhi. You had a ‘girlfriend’ then and we rarely spoke but here we were, at a newly opened coffee house, when you told me about your long (three-hour) shower. It was one of your many seemingly innocuous indulgences at the hotel (like ordering a mound of ice-cream scoops just like that kid in Home Alone 2) but I swear I saw something in your eyes as you stared away blankly for a moment. Maybe I was drawing too much from my own life and my own contrived ways of dealing with the unsavory by juicing silly anecdotes out of it. I hoped you were well, I hoped you wouldn’t make it a norm but if only I had the guts to ask you more about it. If only I had the guts to acknowledge my own history but in the moment it felt superfluous if not scary. I concluded, as I have since become so used to, that we should subsist on our own blind inferences about each other on all matters shady and grey, especially while there’s food and laughter and the little joys of sharing gossip about other people’s missteps.
We exercised neither caution nor discretion when talking about our girlfriends. We concluded that most were bitches. We felt almost a brotherly camaraderie bitching about the bitches we dated. It was the kind of camaraderie that I had always envied among guys who fervently discussed bikes, football clubs, cricket or even the stock-market. It seemed we were slow-to-arrive but almost-there. I was working out those days and developing an eerie obsession with my reflection as I lifted weights. I would sometimes pause while shaving and question if there was anything about me that would give away my solemn secret.
Over the years, our friends have come out to us and we’ve attended their house parties touting our ambiguous sexualities. Our friendship has been questioned and that has been one ridiculously easy loud truth to defend. But what about all our incognito surfing? What about all those guys whose names and nicknames we’ve now forgotten? What about all our private aching heartbreaks? What about all our long showers and long walks?
Remember that time you’d joked about how you’d be thrilled to marry a lesbian? Adopt a kid for appearances? We were perhaps a tequila shot short of coming out to each other – not as gays, hell no, just as people we’ve always been. Now that we’re thirty-five and you’re married and just back from dropping your sweet little kid (actually borne out of your sperm, how boring) to kindergarten, can we please talk about things that matter?
Like groceries and stock market and real estate.