It is a Saturday afternoon and an important council is in progress at 1/15, Kasturibai Nagar, Adyar, Chennai. An angry quiet hangs over the room.
‘Prasanna confirmed it one year ago’, starts Venkataraman, slicing the silence with a tremor in his voice. ‘When did you know?’
‘Karthi told us two years back’, says Krishnan.
‘What, two years! You couldn’t drive some sense into him in two years?’, says Venkataraman.
‘You know how boys are these days’, flares Mrs Krishnan.
‘It’s not like you have been able to change Prasanna’s mind!’
Two years back, Krishnan and Venkataraman had been thick friends who spent Sunday evenings together, sipping their filter coffee and telling each other their opinions on world problems.
But when the first rumours began to float around, that changed. And after their wives had had a verbal spat where each accused the other’s son of being a ‘bad influence’ on her son, the families had been too ashamed and angry to confront each other.
The teenagers in the room, Nandini and Adi, exchange a glance, while a dog at Adi’s feet whimpers. Nandini’s brother, Prasanna, and Adi’s brother, Karthik, are a couple. Probably the first gay couple in the hallowed history of Kasturibai Nagar.
The Supreme Court of India had legalized gay marriage four years ago. Elsewhere in the country, gay marriages had begun to find acceptance amongst liberals. But here, in the heart of conservative Chennai, the idea of a same-sex relationship, much less a same-sex marriage, was still grotesque.
Sure, there had been whisperings of this trend spreading in Chennai too since that ill-conceived decision by the government. But so far, it hadn’t afflicted old-school, sandhyavandanam-doing, Carnatic-music-singing Adyar. Prasanna and Karthik were pioneers of a sort, and this made the shame doubly unbearable to their parents.
Ever since the parents had woken up to the scandal brewing in their homes, they had tried every trick conventional wisdom and Kollywood had taught them, to put an end to it.
They started by threatening to cut their sons off from money and property. Of course, this argument was more convincing in movies, coming from parents who were powerful business-magnates, than it was in real-life, coming from middle-class Brahmin parents who didn’t have much money or property to bequeath. They tried emotional and logical appeals, outright anger and passive aggression. But nothing seemed to move these boys.
Gradually, both sets of parents began to give up hope. Over the past two years, their angst had given way to a dull resignation typical of their fatalistic, non-confrontational forefathers. They pinned their hopes of restored dignity and future grandchildren on their younger kids.
But, just as their initial indignation was dying down, Karthik and Prasanna announced that they wanted to get married!!
Sure, they were polite and courteous enough as they informed their parents of this crazy notion. But, they also casually hinted that they would go ahead and get married anyways, if their parents didn’t come around within a reasonable length of time.
For the first time in two years, the families were calling a truce, spurred on by this new fear.
‘What will we do, Krishna’, sighs Venkat, in an appeal seemingly both to his erstwhile friend and the supreme Lord.
‘I’ve tried everything. Prasanna just won’t listen’.
‘Nor will Karthik. What is worse, these rascals can’t keep it under wraps’, snaps Krishnan. ‘They act like everything they’re doing is just fine. Nandini told me that they celebrated their anniversary on Besant Nagar beach last week. Anniversary it seems..kashta kaalam!’
Mrs Krishnan sniffles a little.
‘I heard from the kid next door that Karthi put up a photo on Facebook. Of him and Prasanna, and a cake with three candles on it’.
‘I thought they were such good friends. Ever since we sent them off to paatu class together twenty years ago.. Where did we go wrong, Venkat? How did our children get this way’, says Krishnan.
‘Karthi tells me that there is nothing we could have done to prevent this’, says Mrs Krishnan a little defensively. ‘He says he was born this way. It is not because of our upbringing or anything..’
‘Prasanna sent me links and bought me a book to read. Apparently, this..stuff was considered acceptable in Vedic times.’
‘I know, I know..’, shrugs Venkataraman irritably.
‘But what they are doing will never be condoned by our people. And all this love and what-the-heart-wants business is nonsense’, he says, completely forgetting the years of his youth and his passionate love for a girl he could not marry.
Mrs Venkataraman, a tiny, bird-like woman, voices the fear in everyone’s mind.
‘All that is ok. We know we can’t get them to break up or marry them off the proper way, to girls. Atleast, I’ve given up hoping for that. But what if they actually get married to each other and make it public? What if the newspaper men from Adyar Times or Dina Malar come? Oh God, what if these boys send invitations to our relatives? I can just imagine how much damage Kamala maami alone can do! My daughter will never get married, if this abomination happens.’
‘Amma!’ protests Nandini. She has preserved a diplomatic stand so far, but she is wholeheartedly in favor of this wedding. She thinks her life could do with the additional excitement it will generate, she wants her brother to be happy, and she has been harboring a secret crush on Adi for many years.
‘I told Karthi to go to Europe or one of those modern cities anywhere and have a live-in relationship’, said Mrs Krishnan, grimacing as she mouths the disagreeable word. ‘But he insists on getting married, and that too in India!’
‘You really think they will invite relatives?’, asks Krishnan, following a train of thought that has been worrying him. ‘Karthik always bails out of family functions. I don’t think he knows his relatives by sight, forget knowing their addresses or phone numbers.’
‘I don’t know about Karthik, but Prasanna seems to have decided that his wedding should spark off some new kind of social revolution. He actually told me that he wanted to inspire other gay couples in Chennai to break free of their shackles’, says Venkataraman.
Adi stifles a guffaw. His brother has to make a big production out of everything!
‘If he sends out invites to all and sundry, I’ll bet they’ll all come, just out of spite and curiosity’, continues Venkataraman.
There is a pregnant silence as four mild, unassuming people who have shied away from drama of any sort their entire lives, grapple with the vision of a flamboyant wedding organized by their sons.
Adi, in an unusually sensitive gesture for him, goes to the kitchen and fetches a second flask of coffee for the council.
Krishnan leans forward.
‘Venkat, let’s face it, we have no choice left in this decision. But we cannot let them plan their wedding! We have to take this into our hands.’
The minutes tick on with the ponderousness of hours, as four people teeter on the edge of a decision that will upturn their conventional, respectable lives forever.
After a while, Mrs Krishnan looks around.
‘So, we are do.. doing this?? Iyer priest or Iyengar priest?’, she asks, in a faltering tone.
The dog has had enough of human nonsense for one day. She gets up and trots out.