“So that’s how things stand,” said Varun, as he kept back the empty glass on the table. Everyone at the table kept staring at the empty glass. As if, like the glass, their lives too had suddenly become empty, and the similarity appealed to them so much, that they just couldn’t take their eyes off it. Except Tanaya. Half her face hidden behind her luxurious curls, she was bent over her phone, busy swiping and texting.
“Tan, can you keep away your phone for a minute?” their mother’s voice was unnaturally shrill.
Tanaya looked up. “I already know about Varun,” she drawled nonchalantly. “And I am checking out Ryan’s pics, not Ryesha’s. Don’t worry.”
“Tan!” Mrs. Ahluwalia bellowed.
Mr. Ahluwalia coughed loudly, the cough signifying clearly that it was not a notification of any irritation in his throat, but an order for all to be silent. The table and the people around it again became silent. A leading industrialist of the country, sometimes Mr. Ahluwalia’s might reins even in his household, though normally it’s Mrs. Ahluwalia who rules the domestic front.
“What’s your plan?” now he asked Varun.
Varun didn’t seem very perturbed. “No change in plan, Papa. I will go to Canada as planned. So will Ajay. We will live together there. You guys can come and visit us, and… get used to us.”
“Us!!!?? Live together!!!??” said Mrs. Ahluwalia with tears in her red eyes. She threatened to say more, but Mr. Ahluwalia’s voice overrode her whimpers.
“Does Ajay’s family know?” he asked.
“He is going to tell them today,” said Varun as he picked up a grape from his plate.
Mr. Ahluwalia coughed again. “I hope you are sure of what you are saying.”
“Papa, Varun has a boyfriend, he is sure!” Tanaya locked eyes with her father.
Mr. Ahluwalia nodded slowly. He looked at Varun. “Everything changes. But of course nothing changes. You will leave for Canada as planned.” His voice sounded very tired.
Eyes welling up suddenly with pity for his parents, Varun gazed at the abstract painting of the woman hung on the other side of the wall. The woman’s mouth was half open, as if, she had lost her voice mid-sentence. Varun could feel emotions surging up in him, but like the woman, he could suddenly find no voice to express them. He got up, gave a hug to his mother and left the dining room. Tanaya followed him. He knew that in their absence, husband and wife would console each other. One would cough, the other would shed tears.
Varun went to his room and switched on the TV. Last month his mother had been sniggering at Julie Aunty because she takes such pain to hide that her son is a gay. “As if we are some retards, and will go running to the police to complain about their son!” his mother had voiced indignantly. “People are just careful these days,” his father had then observed.
Right now his parents are not overjoyed to be suddenly told at the breakfast table that their son is a gay, but he knows that they will soon make peace with his being.
A burst of knocks at the door interrupts his thought. Tanaya rushes in, her cool demeanour suddenly a bit lost.
“You know that Ajay’s cousin is my classmate?” she asked.
“Yeah, so?” Varun asked as he muted the TV, his brown eyes narrowed with irritation at the interruption.
“He just said that Ajay committed suicide an hour ago. Ajay has left no note and everyone is clueless. You know anything?” asked Tanaya, reaching out for Varun with her thin hands. Varun moved away from her.
“Yeah, and this cousin is your best friend, who rings you up to give hourly updates of his family drama?” he charged her, not believing her for a second. Tanaya likes stupid pranks.
Meekly Tanaya held out her phone to Varun. “Kunal messaged in the class WhatsApp group. See yourself.”
Tanaya was right. Varun read the chats again and again.
Finally, he returned the phone to Tanaya.
“Should I tell this to Mama Papa?” she asked. The meekness in her voice suddenly made Varun feel very sad.
“No, I will tell them later,” he said. “Right now I just want to be alone.”
Nodding silently, Tanaya rubbed Varun’s shoulder gently for a moment. Then she left the room quietly.
Varun checked his phone. There was no message or missed call from Ajay. He called at Ajay’s number thrice, but no one answered.
“If Ajay was upset, why did he not call me?” Varun wondered. Did Ajay choose death over coming out in front of his parents? Or had Ajay revealed his secret to them? Maybe their reactions drove Ajay to this ultimate step?
Tears rolled down Varun’s cheeks, one drop after another. Ajay had committed suicide because he was gay. Ajay had committed suicide because Varun had asked him to tell his parents that he was gay.
Varun had always thought that their so effluent and powerful society was beyond the clutch of social stigmas. Canada was the perfect solution. They both would have picked up their respective family businesses in Canada and lived happily there, away from the prying eyes. His dream was perfect.
But here he is now, a powerless gay crying silently in his plush AC room because his boyfriend had committed suicide, while a re-run of an American drama plays on the muted screen of his huge Smart TV.
One by one, Varun switched off the TV, the lights, the fans and the AC. He closed the curtains. And then he lied down on his bed. After some time, he could feel the horrid, humid heat of the city filling up his dark room. They filled up his heart, his lungs, his kidneys and his stomach. He surrendered to the heat of the city. Flooded in his tears and sweat, Varun waited for the heat to burn away every inch of his being.
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