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Amor y Amigo
Friend and Lover
FLASHBACK: The Hour of Disaster
TORONTO - JUNE 1985
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It was mid June, the year 1985... I had just turned 18, and was terribly excited.
An only child with warm, loving, and indulgent parents, I was living the typical life of an eighteen year old - happy and carefree, enjoying each day as it dawned, with not a worry in the whole, wide world... And though not exactly spoilt, yet, substantially pampered; valued for what I was, and respected as an individual... I just loved them!
And in that moment of joy, I wanted to share something very important with them.
They were leaving for India the next day... visiting relatives, and to attend family weddings - in fact, three of them - weddings that had been specifically scheduled so that they could make a single trip and attend them all. But I was staying back since I had decided to attend a special programme... and also work on my admission to the college.
I wanted to share the news, tell them before they left... I had to tell them!
After dinner that night, I came out to my parent - "Ma, Papa, I'm gay." I just said it like that.
They both paused, but just for a moment and then both looked at me, with a smile, reaching out. I went and they hugged me. Neither of them spoke a single word... but I thought I could see that fleeting look of anguished disappointment in those loving eyes.
They hadn't rejected me, thrown me out of the house.... or, even accused me of 'bringing-shame-to-the-family'; they just accepted me, silently, with a smile.
I had told them that I was gay, but I wasn't a 'practicing' gay. I had known since I was sixteen that girls didn't attract me... boys did. But I wanted to be certain, absolutely sure of that attraction... and so, I kept to myself, knowing well that there would be enough time to then go out and find my mate. And when I was confident of my preference, the first thing I wanted to do was share it with the two people that meant the most to me, was the most important in my life - my parents.
The next morning they were absolutely normal, their usual selves - laughing and talking as they repeatedly went over the lists of 'what' and 'where'; the ‘do's’ and ‘dont's’ with me... my mother even pulling me aside and asking if there was someone... someone that I should introduce them to. "I want to meet him," she said!
I shook my head, suddenly blushing furiously.
And as she gave the final onceover, rechecking if everything had been packed, nothing forgotten... watching her I suddenly had an odd, almost desperate feeling, a sudden terror of letting them go... I don't know why, but I felt very sad...
"Don't go, Mama... please," I blurted out.
She spun around, looking curiously at me, "Don't be silly, everything is planned and they are expecting us. And think, they even scheduled all those weddings for our convenience. How can we not go now? Besides it’s just for a month, and we'll be back before you can even get yourself a decent boyfriend!"
She stumped me with that!
That evening as I drove them to the Lester B. Pearson Airport, Mom was her usual self - full of concern and advice; and dad was smiling, hugging me, telling me how happy and proud they were to have me as their son.
At the lounge, as the final call for boarding the craft came, they both hugged me and said their goodbyes before walking toward the departure gate.
I stood for a short while, and then returned home.
Very early next morning the constant ringing of the telephone woke me up, and as I said a groggy 'Hello', I heard Balwinder, my childhood friend's voice, sounding frantic, "Switch on the TV..."
"Wha... what?" I asked, uncomprehending, and also a little irritated.
"Darsh, switch it on... just switch it on..." his voice choked, abruptly disconnecting.
Cursing him I fell back and pulled the pillow over my head... but somehow I couldn't go back to sleep and as I wondered why he had woke me up at that unearthly hour... a sudden, unknown terror ceased me. Throwing back the sheets I jumped up and ran into the living room, and as I was about to switch on the TV, the doorbell rang...
It was Balwinder... he had this terrible look on his face, he had been crying... and his folks, his mother openly sobbing...
He pushed past me and flipped on the TV.
And I froze...
'A passenger jetliner has disintegrated in mid air, off the coast of Ireland. Air India Flight 182, was only 45 minutes from London's Heathrow Airport when it suddenly disappeared from radar screens at 0713 GMT'
'Some bodies have been recovered and taken to a temporary mortuary at Cork Airport.'
'Rescue officials said they did not expect to find any survivors...'
The news flashes were terrifying and as more and more information filtered into the newsroom, more details were read out. And then the pictures from Cork started being flashed... I just sat, in a desensitised daze... Numb…
Sat, as Balwinder's parents held my hands, hugging me... everyone crying... except me.
I don't know how long I remained that way... I don’t remember who all came that day and the days following it... The numerous phone calls... long distant calls from my devastated grandparents and uncles... It's still a total blank.
The only thing that kept repeating in my head was - my parents were dead... I won't see them, ever again!
329 people had perished that fateful day for something they didn't do... for something they had no connection with... something that they couldn't influence, or control!
I refused the offer to go to Cork for identification, and an uncle from India went instead. Only 131 bodies had been recovered from the sea, and my parents weren't amongst those...
At the insistence of everyone, I moved in with Balwinder's family. But I just couldn't live on... not when all that I had, had suddenly been snatched away - my home, my entire family... Everything... Leaving me totally rudderless.
I was lost... nothing held any meaning for me... nothing made any sense, any more. My dreams, my plans... college... all, suddenly lost its appeal as I desperately sought my roots that had been so mercilessly destroyed, so utterly extirpated.
In 1987, after just two years of college, and against the advice of everyone, I sold off our properties and all our belongings and moved to India.
Everyone thought I was being crazy, but I wanted to be in the land where my ancestors belonged... the land that my parents were visiting... intensely desirous of wanting to know the place... Rediscover myself.
From being a gregarious person, I had suddenly withdrawn into a shell. No, I wasn't wallowing in self-pity, immersed in my sorrow, but rather, preferring to keep to myself instead. I didn't become a 'loner' - I completed my education... mastered my passion for photography... and did well in my chosen profession. Respected and valued by my associates and colleagues; my work appreciated by everyone. Still socialising, but only up to a certain point, and then withdrawing... an invisible wall around me that I never allowed anyone to breach.
And though I knew my parents had accepted me, I never again spoke to anyone, or even entertained the thought, of my being gay. Never attempting to seek out anyone, nor form any kind of relationship. Never even 'looking' at another man... Never desiring, never attracted.
Maybe it was a sense of guilt - survivor's guilt? - I had come out to them, and as loving parents they had accepted their only child for whatever he was, whoever he was... But then, they had been taken away from me... never to come back.... gone, forever!
Was I punishing myself? Well, I never really thought about it that way... But that was my only means of self preservation, my only means of retaining my sanity... insulating myself against hurt and pain... Still terrified of loss... Afraid that anything I wanted, anything I held dear, would again be snatched away from me...
Yes, maybe, being self-absorbed, unfairly selfish, but I wanted no more pain...
It was 10 years... and after moving around during that period I was finally settling down, starting to put down my roots. The year 1995, and I was now a man of 28 - gay and single, unattached... Still a virgin, leading the life of a celibate.
And Ankur stepped in…
Suddenly filling my life with love and joy... with a renewed hope... A purpose...
to be continued...
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