‘What’s so funny?’ Aru walked into the bedroom with the coffee tray. It was a Saturday morning, that too a rare one with their daughter at a sleepover since last night.
‘This idiot!’ Suman responded, still smiling. ‘He is posting gibberish on our WhatsApp group.’
Aru was intrigued. Her husband’s college WhatsApp group named ‘The Mavericks’ was mostly a forum for crude sexual jokes which caused a different kind of amusement.
‘What kind of gibberish?’ She enquired, setting the coffee tray down and joining Suman on the bed.
‘Here. See.’ Suman extended his phone to Aru.
Hey Suman how are you doing? I saw your family pictures on Facebook. I hope you are doing well – Paresh. With a kitten’s picture as the avatar.
‘Scroll down.’ Suman guided catching the puzzle in Aru’s eyes.
I am fine. How are you Sir ji ? – Suman’s response.
Why are you calling me Sir ji? You don’t have to be so formal. You are very special to me. I always considered you my best friend - Paresh
Suman started laughing out loud as Aru finished reading the last line of the exchange.
‘I don’t understand. What is funny here?’ Aru handed him his phone back and his coffee.
‘What?! Who speaks like that? Best friend? That too in a college group? Gay hoga sala! (He’s gay possibly).
Aru stared at her husband befuddled as he pulled the comforter over the both of them.
‘What do you want to watch? Netflix has Sacred Games with good reviews. Good coffee by the way.’ Suman changed the subject, the lines of laughter still lingering on his otherwise gruff face.
‘Didn’t you post big stuff on Facebook this morning on the 377 ruling? Like how criminalisation of homosexuality in India is a Western concept and this is going back to our roots and all?’ Aru demanded.
‘What does that have to do with this?' Suman seemed to have decided on the show already since his wife hadn't answered his question. His pre-occupation now had shifted to the trailer of Sacred Games.
Aru fumbled to find words. What does that have to do with this? How does one put that into words?
‘Unimaginable! The sheer crudeness!’ Aru looked around for support.
Suman merely laughed as his wife complained to the gang recapping what had transpired earlier. Rahul joined in his laughter, as did Shweta.
‘He is right,’ Subram added. ‘Men don’t claim ratings in friendship.’
‘Really? So if he is gay he is not a man? What is the problem if he is gay?’ Charu asked as she walked in with drinks.
‘I have no problem,’ Suman responded somehow through his laughter. ‘I just don’t want him to be gay with me.’
‘I found him.’ Rahul blurted out. ‘This is him?’ He extended his phone to Suman for checking.
‘Yup.’ The later confirmed.
‘Look at his profile dude. He has updated his status liking the Supreme Court ruling.’
‘Almost everyone has updated their statuses liking the Supreme Court ruling. What does that have to do with anything?’ Charu countered again.
‘Okay. Why are there no family pics on his page?’ Rahul seemed to have been scrolling through continuously. ‘No kids. Nothing. Just poetry excerpts from time to time.’
‘Definitely gay Suman. I am telling you. And he seemed to have had his eyes on you! Best friend.’ Subram teased.
‘Let’s just change the topic.’ Charu said, catching the thoughts in Aru’s eyes. Aru didn’t respond. There was supposed to be a lot of light in this evening. Clouds had dispersed after two days of incessant rains. Their motherland has had a historic development. They, the progressives here in the US, were gathered together for a Sunday evening hangout to have intelligent or intelligible discussions on everything from Block Chain to Trump and Modi over beer sips. A ritualistic refresh before the start of the work week as the kids tired themselves playing together. A win-win for all…
‘No.’ She responded suddenly and firmly, coming out of her thoughts. ‘Have you guys ever thought how he would have felt if he indeed is gay, hanging out with you all?’ The anger in Aru’s tone disrupted the mood in the room.
‘C’mon Aru.’ Suman got up, approaching his wife and putting his arms around her. ‘No one meant any offense. You take things too seriously always.’
‘Achcha Baba, I apologize too.’ Rahul gestured to be holding is ears. ‘But c’mon, take a look at his photo on his Facebook profile,’ he extended his phone to Aru. ‘You will agree there’s something weird about this dude. Your hubby’s best friend.’ Rahul burst into giggles again as he finished, trying to control.
Aru smiled reluctantly, unable to keep herself from joining in as she stretched her hand to grab the phone.
‘What’s the matter?’ Suman froze at the doorway catching sight of Aru. He had just put their daughter to bed and had been looking for Aru in the kitchen, where she’d usually be, finishing up lunch prep for the week. But she was sitting on their bed in the dark room, tears streaking down her face visible even with just the light coming in from the corridor.
‘Is it about earlier?’ He softly said, sitting down next to his wife, putting his hand on her back. ‘I am sorry.’
‘I need to tell you something.’ Aru turned to her husband. ‘Your friend Paresh, you should know that he is not gay.’
‘What? Ok.ay, so what? Why are you crying for that?’ Suman was puzzled. ‘Wait. You know him?’ He stumbled, suddenly realising the possibility. Suman had met Paresh in IIT Bombay. He was indeed from Durgapur, Suman recalled, same place where Aru was from…
‘Yes.’ Aru interrupted his thoughts. ‘And I know he isn’t gay because we were lovers. I had become pregnant with his child. We were just in high school. Our parents found out.' Aru paused. She wasn't in the room anymore. And her pause was not to offer Suman a chance to absorb or challenge. Her pausing was to remember.
‘I aborted the child. My father made me. His father beat him to death almost… They used to stay in the same colony as us… after this…they moved,’ Aru’s tears were now in her throat, choking her words. ‘My father had made him promise and he kept it. We never got in touch again. I had always known him as Sonu. Caring. Sensitive…Sonu… Never got to know his other name…’