A desert of wrinkles. An ocean of stories.
Each ancient yarn concealed under a translucent flap of sagging flesh – lingering, loitering, waiting.
Waiting to be discovered, to be scrutinized, to be devoured.
The grandmother lay in her cot, half asleep.
Her rheumy gaze almost missed the young girl entering the room; not that it would’ve mattered anyway. Her crumbling brain cells ripped her memory apart, into shreds of unfamiliar colours and emotions that appeared deceptively discernible from a distance, but somehow, never seemed to form a cohesive whole.
Her granddaughter tip-toed into the room – a young lass with coral-hued cheeks and piercing black eyes; fingers intertwined with another hand that looked like hers.
They whispered and giggled, glancing surreptitiously at the grandmother.
Convinced that she was comatose, the two girls stared at each other for a second or hundred – the squeaky titters ceased.
Further. Don’t hesitate. Don’t look into each other’s eyes. Taste.
Their lips met; innocent, hesitant, unsure.
The grandmother watched through half-open lids.
It was a memory her softened brain would promptly wipe away with an old, oil-stained rag – leaving behind discoloured smudges of grease on an untainted mind; the only reminder that it wasn’t a dream.
For a brief minute, as she watched the girls kiss – a memory flashed before her eyes. Like when you’re standing at the footboard of a train, and you briefly glance over as another train speeds past. And you’re narrowing your eyes, trying to decipher the fleeting silhouettes of people who’re merely passing characters in your life, as you are in theirs.
And the train’s too fast, and all you can fathom is a kaleidoscope of colours, which streaks past with no remorse or consideration.
And just as fast as it came, it’s gone. And you’re left with no recollection of it.
The memory filled her brain with a concoction of warm honey and ginger – soothing, loving, healing.
12 years old. Playing ‘House’ with the girl next door.
The stark epiphany that they didn’t have a ‘Father’.
“Should we call your brother to play with us?”
The subsequent realization that one of them would have to play the father.
“I’ll play the father”, the girl volunteered. She had long lashes and honey-soaked skin.
“Okay, but first, we have to kiss.”
“Because we’re married now.”
“But mama says girls can’t kiss girls. It’s wrong.”
“But I’m a boy now. I’m the father, remember?”
The girl flexed her muscles, deepened her voice, and growled.
High-pitched shrieks of laughter ensued.
The room had changed. It had grown smaller, more suffocating.
“Then… I-I guess, it’s alright. But I don’t know h-how to.”
“I’ve seen mama and papa do it. I’ll show you.”
A tumultuous tangle of lips. A thousand grappling hands. A swirling mist of terror.
Later, the girl’s mother would walk into the room, and discover their entangled bodies.
A week later, the family moved out.
She never saw the girl again.
With half-opened lids, she gazed at her granddaughter as she kissed a girl; a warm feeling of déjà vu seeping into her fingers and toes.
She wondered where they’d taken her – the girl with the honey skin. Where was she? Was she alive? Married, perhaps? Did she think about her?
She wondered if her late husband knew – that the endearments and affection she vomited out in customary chunks and pieces, were unmalleable and smooth. Like plastic.
Also fake, like plastic.
A fraudulent simulation of what love was supposed to look like. Merely a consummate imitation of Bollywood movies and desi porn.
She thought about the day they’d been discovered – kissing.
The girl’s mother had curtly spoken to her own – called her a “dirty lesbian”, who’d “corrupted her child”.
An argument followed.
When the woman left, mama seated her in a room and sobbed. Unwilling to believe that her daughter was a lesbian. The little girl didn’t understand why her mother – her strong mother who didn’t whimper when papa stubbed cigarettes on her chest – was crying. She didn’t understand what “lesbian” meant. But she knew it was a dirty word, because it made mama cry.
So she cried too. Out of sadness and terror, and perhaps, confusion too.
70 years later, she understood.
She understood why mama cried that day.
She understood why she had liked the taste of the girl’s lips.
She understood that the burden of her community’s reputation rested on her bony shoulders. That she must force herself to like men, to touch men, to kiss men, to worship men, to marry one, and eventually bear his children.
She understood that women were meant to endure silently.
Women were only meant to be admired from afar – Mrs. Sharma who lived down the road with her perfect husband and her perfect children; the light-eyed spinster who lived next door; her sisters-in-law, who’d often poke her cheeks and tease her with playful whispers of “Why’re you blushing? Is it because of my brother?”- she observed the plumpness of their lips, the carefully etched lines on their face, the softness of their skin; and wondered why the autological clichés of something so wrong feeling so right – why clichés which usually felt wrong, could suddenly feel right.
Not too close, though. Not close enough to touch.
“A rich life she lived” – her daughter nodded, as the old woman lay stoically in her coffin.
But was it really?
A life of abstinence and shame; a wrinkled mass of dirty, lifeless flesh.
For who has ever heard of an 82 year old lesbian?
Shamed by her own, dismissed by the youth – she carved her own path. Cheek stinging from the brambles that scraped against her face as she trudged upwards, body aching from fatigue, and also from loneliness. It was only a matter of time before she crumbled – out of unhappiness.
When will we realize? When will we understand – that the elderly aren’t merely puppets of flesh and bone? That they’re people who think and feel?
When will we understand that old people are also a part of our community – it is their fundamental right to be, and it is our duty to accept them, to represent them, to offer them solace?
Growing up in a world where gay men were shredded into strips of insubstantial mockery, and transgender people were devious, blood-spitting villains – our grandparents have only known a life of hate, shame and bigotry. Do we stop to consider, for a single second, that maybe they’re as scared, as apprehensive, as the rest of us?
A vast majority of us automatically assume that the elderly, harbour bigoted sentiments against the LGBTQ+ community – but do we, for a single second, consider the fact that the old people we shrivel up before, could also be a part of this rich, diverse community?
We’re young, we’re queer, we’re powerful.
But that isn’t enough. The way forward is to lift those with no wings – to empower them, and take them with us.
Dear queer old person,
It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived an entire life before realizing that you’re queer. It’s completely alright if you’ve known you were queer since the age of 6, but are only beginning to accept it now.
It’s okay. To live, to be.
Dear queer old person,
I see you.
And you’re not alone.
Because I see an entire community standing alongside you.