My Friend's Secret

26/05/2015 8:30 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

I loved Sandip Roy's novel Don't Let Him Know. It affected me deeply, but it took me some soul searching to understand why the book refuses to leave me alone. It is because the novel reminds me of RG.

RG was the most handsome guy in my German class in Max Mueller Bhavan in Delhi. He was well dressed, intelligent and full of warmth and humour. He had finished his MBA and was working with a bank. RG was learning German because he wanted to move to Germany; he considered it the financial place to be! He wanted to taste all kinds of beers at an Oktoberfest, own a swanky Mercedes (he was Punjabi) and speed down the autobahn. He was the kind of guy you wanted as a boyfriend, and then a husband. So when one day, after a year of a close friendship, RG told me he had something to share, I cringed inside. I hoped he would not ruin our friendship by saying something stupid like he loved me.

"I remember the exact chronology of my three reactions. The first was relief. The second was grief and the third was horror."

Instead, RG confessed that he was gay. This was in the early 1990s, and decades later, I remember the exact chronology of my three reactions. The first was relief. The second was grief and the third was horror.

I was relieved that RG did not love me, and my friendship was intact. I looked into his eyes that watched me carefully with a plea to not judge. That broke my heart. It must have taken him so much courage to finally share his secret with the one he called his best friend. In that moment I felt his loneliness and pain -- of being alone with his secret, of not being sure how his news would be received and fear of how his life might have changed with the revelation.

I remember hugging him, and feeling horror. What if other people came to know his secret? How would they treat him? Would he be made fun of? Would friends and family keep their sons away from him? How would he get married?

I had a million silly questions for him and when I think of them today, I cringe in embarrassment and shame; they must have been hurtful to him. How do you do it? How do you know you like only men and not women? Are you succumbing to peer pressure? Do your parents know? Do they approve? How many sexual partners do you have? How can you love a guy? Are you promiscuous? Where do you find them? You are so good looking and can get any woman, then why do you choose to be gay?

RG introduced his partner to me. I didn't like him at all. In my defence, it was a territorial, best friend issue and RG didn't impose him on me. His gay life remained a closely guarded secret, but at a party where he thought he was safe, RG got cosy with his partner, and all hell broke loose for him.

"As his friend, there was precious little I could do. I commiserated with him but also exhorted him to mend his ways. Today that guilt gnaws at me."

Suddenly everyone became aware of his sexual orientation, and began viewing him through another coloured lens. Our friends who loved hanging out with him began to avoid him. Girls who obsessed about him started treating him like dirt. There were snide remarks about him, his manhood, his choices. Words like chhakka, homo, queer and gay were deliberately inserted into conversations. He was heckled relentlessly, and once someone spray painted his car with the word 'gay'. He began to receive lurid notes in class about being spotted giving a guy a blow-job in Connaught Place at night, or dancing in a party like a queer. The final straw was when his lucrative job offer with a bank was recalled. RG was told that while gays were considered acceptable in fashion, films and media, nobody would want a gay in a conservative financial set up. It broke RG.

And it broke RG's parents. His family was no different from mine; they were strictly middle class with great aspirations for their children. When RG lost his job offer, there were massive showdowns in his family. The golden child was suddenly taken off his pedestal. His mother had an emotional breakdown, stopping eating and spending entire days sitting still and looking into nothingness. RG's father was livid. He insisted that RG get over his deviant behaviour; he had to get married, and become straight. The family was not going to suffer humiliation on his account. I saw this lovely social guy become quiet and withdrawn. All his energy seemed to dissipate and he became a shadow of his earlier self.

As his friend, there was precious little I could do. I commiserated with him but also exhorted him to mend his ways. Today that guilt gnaws at me. Was I so immature that I could not grasp that RG was not trying to be a "deviant", and that he was not a masochist to invite so much suffering upon himself?

RG was too distraught to protest, and perhaps a little lonely in his battle too. He got married, and they moved to Australia. With communication being what it was three decades ago, and my own career and marriage, RG and I lost touch. Yet every time I read a piece on gay people, I think of RG. I wonder if he is happy, if he is still married, if he has children, and if life has been good to him. Did he tell his wife and what was her reaction? I also wonder if life might have been different for him if he belonged to this generation. Would there be higher acceptance of his sexual orientation? Would his parents have supported him? Would he be able to have a male companion? Would he still be forced into marriage and ruin his and the girl's life? Would he father children? Would there be less discrimination because he was gay?

"As a parent today, I empathise with RG's parents and I am relieved that both my kids like members of the opposite sex."

There is a lot of media attention on gays, loads of legislation that is supposed to ease their standing in society and laws that will protect their rights, including marriage. The genre of LGBT literature helps gays understand that they are not alone in the world or in the confusion they feel. There are strong role models and advocates for gays as well, yet, I am not sure what distance we have travelled on this.

As a parent today, I empathise with RG's parents and I am relieved that both my kids like members of the opposite sex. My children tell me I have not kept pace with time, and I am unable to articulate my anxiety on this matter to them.

I am not homophobic, but I would never want my children to suffer like my best friend did, or be forced to lead a life in denial or in hiding. I don't want them to be looked upon differently; I don't want other parents asking their kids to avoid my child's company; and I don't want their illusions shattered or their hearts irreparably damaged. I want my children to live a fulfilled life with honesty, not with a closetful of secrets. Life is tough, and being gay just makes it tougher. I lack the moral courage to be able to fight this battle for them.

I don't know where RG is now, and what he does. I hope his wife has her best friend in him. I do hope he remained a banker, made it to Germany and speaks Deutsch in his funny Punjabi accent. I hope he bought himself a convertible BMW and has a big beer belly. Whenever he is, I hope he is in a happy place. And not alone.

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