As my plane hovered over the tropical greenery of the city I was born and raised in, I was filled with endless joy. I generally visit India once a year whenever time permits, and without breaking the bank. Since work brought me back, it was going to be my yearly trip of 2015. Homecoming is such a simple pleasure. It is a combination of relief, belonging and nostalgia in a complex interrelated sequence. Relief because I know I belong somewhere on the face of this planet, where I do not live but am tied to it through heavy nostalgia.
Both my parents arrived at the airport to pick me up. The smiles on their faces warmed up my heart. Dad wanted to know how my spouse was doing. C is graduating soon and is in the stressful period of job-hunting. He was the only other person in the family who had met her. Once home, we got chatty as usual. So much to fill them in on my life back in New England, especially since the last time I had visited them, I was based in Europe. At dinner, mom seemed very curious about her daughter-in-law. She wanted to know everything — what she did, what she ate, what her family was like, what hobbies she had, what colors did she like to wear… When dad arrived at our wedding, mom had sent us both matching pearl necklaces and earrings. This was despite her loud confused wails of despair and disapproval at the time. Probably she couldn’t transcend her own generosity of spirit. When I showed her pictures of C wearing her gift, she was overjoyed.
Battling the time difference of ten and a half hours with C was probably the hardest part. We’re used to talking several times a day however short the conversation. My trip to India complicated matters a little, and the new rule was ‘my morning, her night.’ So if I had to ‘kiss’ her good night, I had to do so while sipping my morning cup of coffee. This had me saying sweet nothings to my wife in my parents’ house, when everyone was wide awake. How demonstrative could I be? Could it affect chances of steady acceptance of my marriage, especially by my mom? The next morning while I spoke to my wife, my mom accidentally entered the room. She paused, smiled and said, ‘Ah, say hello to her!’ C responded back, and the two most important women in my life had a brief chat on the speaker in Bengali and American English, mediated by me. Thus another hurdle was passed.
Dad recounted how my wedding had gradually brought my mom and my cousin’s mom closer, who now could chat freely about their daughter’s alternative sexuality, and strategies to deal with hostile family members. I hadn’t expected this to happen. My dad is the only one among his siblings that vocally supported the LGBT cause. My cousin wasn’t so lucky with her paternal support, and received much less understanding from her mother. So it seemed like my marriage dragged the cat out of the bag; everyone was compelled to talk about queer issues and take a position. The lessons from my undergraduate course in feminism began to ring in my ears: ‘the personal is political.’ I smiled to myself, ‘Oh yes, it is!’
That afternoon, mom and I went shopping like we do each time I’m back. This time it was slightly different, since we had planned ahead to keep a couple of hours for C’s Fabindia attire. Too uncertain of her American daughter-in-law’s likes and dislikes, my mom had decided against picking a dress for C by herself and waited until my arrival. It was delightful to note that our affectionate mother-daughter bonding has remained unaffected despite the rough phase around my wedding. It must have taken a lot of self-reflection, soul searching and inner strength for my beloved lady of 55 years to respect and celebrate her daughter’s personal life choices.
We bought for C a salwar kameez made of Tussar silk in burgundy — her favorite color — some handmade silk scarves, a good amount of Darjeeling tea and Chikmagalur coffee. Mom even packed for her some Kashmiri saffron and chanachur. As my suitcase got heavier, filled each time with whatever variety of Indian goodies my mom could think of, I felt I was gradually becoming like those newly married Indian women with henna on their hands at JFK or Heathrow carrying endless pieces of luggage that are mostly stuffed with spices, sweets, and herbs that our exotic Orient produces. Of course, I didn’t look anything like them and my wedding bowtie was probably the only equivalent to their bridal henna, but I couldn’t help noticing parallels.
That evening my cousin came over, the other pink sheep. She brought wedding gifts for C and I, and happily pranced about our place telling me how glad she was that I took the bold step. We discussed love lives, queer scene in the city, crazy exes, and homophobic uncles. It’s reassuring to have another lesbian in the family. She helps me gauge the climate at home when I am away. Did that straight cousin try to give her a passive-aggressive lecture on life? Or is her dad’s non-verbalized criticism of her sexualized actually tacit support?
C and I had used a rainbow-colored jigsaw puzzle set as our wedding guestbook. Since my mom and cousin were not present, it was their turn to scribble their wishes on bits of the colorful puzzle. We had done the same with C’s mother. As for the wedding reception, we had the guests write on Jenga pieces. Everybody loved the idea, and we loved the joy and laughter that it created.
What my mother said at dinner that night would be warmly held in my heart, because it summarized well her affection and support for me. While relishing her biriyani, she said, “As an afterthought, I am genuinely glad it is a woman. Women are loving and caring, unlike most men. How wrong could you be with a woman?” Actually, very wrong — just ask me about my exes — but that isn’t the point here. Mom has always been apprehensive that I, her only child and a completely spoilt brat, would choose an insensitive tough man who would run roughshod over my aspirations. C’s happy eyes and gleaming smile thus quite reassured her.
The next day, I was due to visit my aunt’s house, where most of my extended family members have gathered for Sunday lunch. I sighed and mentally prepared myself for the long day.