It was 2012, I was standing outside Dilli Haat when I saw a woman walking in my direction…smiling. I did a doubletake to make sure it was ‘her’, my first ‘something like love’. I really want to use her name in this article, hoping that she would somehow stumble upon this piece and get a first-hand account of my adoration of her. But I won’t compromise her privacy so let’s refer to her as Miss A.
Right, so Miss A was smiling. I looked around and other than the usual crowd milling in and out of Dilli Haat, no one stood out as receiving or returning the smile. My heart hurtled into the depths of my stomach when I realised, as she got closer, that she was smiling at me.
And she said her first ever words to me hi! What are you doing here? chilling with friends?
It’s almost 10 years now and I don’t remember what I said in response. But I am sure I might have wished for my girlfriend at that point– who was at the ticket counter trying to get change for Rs.500–to vanish for some time, just so I could have a conversation with Miss A. My first and only conversation with her, between 2006 and 2012.
This piece is a recollection of my Petrarchan adoration of the woman, who helped me come to terms with a significant part of my identity.
It all began in 2006. I was in the second year of my undergraduate studies in a girls’ college in Delhi University. After 14 years in a convent school the last place I wanted to be was an all-girls college. However, let me clarify that I didn’t begin fantasising about a woman because of a lack of men. I did it in spite of them. By this point I had had my first heterosexual break up. So, if there are people around who still think that same-sex attraction happens due to a lack of choice, that is not true.
I was an English Literature student. Within the first two years of the course, we had read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Ismat Chughtai’s Lihaaf. We had also read Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines. A particular portion of that novel (a letter that a character writes to another, describing sex in explicit detail) had got everyone’s motor running, including mine. But the subtleties and surprises of Mrs Dalloway and Lihaaf remained with me long after the books were taught and exams given. Prior to reading books on same-sex relationships, my only interaction with the term ‘lesbian’ was in school; used derogatorily when one of my classmates was suspected of fancying a girl from another class. Back in the 90s, books or visual media around the LGBTQIA issues were not easily accessible. The movie Fire had made headlines but there was no way to watch it then.
I am not sure whether it was before I read Mrs Dalloway and Lihaaf or after, but one fine day I found myself smitten by Miss A. I don’t remember the precise moment it began but it was contained within the four walls of the college. My college was filled with beautiful girls, whom I looked at and whose fashion sense or intellect I admired. But I knew that the way I looked at Miss A was different. Imagine how a Bollywood hero would look at the heroine. If you have seen the movie Raanjhanaa, then remember how Dhanush’s character acted around Sonam Kapoor’s character in the song ‘Tum Tak’? The looking and the sighing.
This took me by mild surprise but didn’t alarm me. Perhaps it was because I was armed with evidence that these things happened. I was yet to discover a ‘happy ever after’ with two women walking into the sunset. However, in the absence of that, these books were enough succour; a template against which I could understand my feelings every time I saw Miss A and be compassionate to myself.
Miss A and I—the entire setup was not dissimilar to a college romcom. She was the president of the Western Music Society, a popular girl with a clan of fans, followers and some friends. As it always is in such cases, she was also a looker and had a ‘best friend’ who disliked me because I ogled at Miss A, rather brazenly. I was a semi-studious type, who was gaining some popularity among teachers and batchmates for the right reasons. Of course, I was also getting infamous in Miss A’s circle for the lovelorn looks I was sending her way. Things got to a point where all I wanted was one look at her face and my day was made. So, I would find ways to be around the spots where she hung out. This involved cajoling my friends to keep moving our ‘chilling zones’. They mostly understood what was happening and cooperated as much as they could. A close friend, Miss P, who was also my neighbour was keen to know about Miss A and all that I was going through. She would ask me a load of questions and would listen with patience as I described Miss A’s outfit of the day in detail.
There were also days when I did not see Miss A during my lunch break but my eyes scanned the campus in search of her slow meandering walk and her curls that bounced at every step. Well, not every step but you get the drift. Sometimes we saw each other in the corridor waiting to get into our respective classrooms. Our eyes would meet momentarily but no smiles would be exchanged. Sometimes, I would ignore her out of spite but smile inwardly if I found her looking at me.
Miss A and I had a common acquaintance, Jess (not her real name). I don’t remember now whether I gave Jess permission (in all likelihood I did) to tell Miss A about my feelings. In hindsight, it was silly to do that because at that point, I myself couldn’t define my feelings or understand what to do if the feelings were returned. Also, I didn’t know Miss A’s sexual orientation. Jess brought back news that Miss A respected my feelings but didn’t reciprocate them. Also, if she ever wanted to go down the same-sex route, it would be with the ‘best friend’.
I was angry than hurt–not at the rejection but at the thought of Miss A and ‘best friend’ becoming a pair. Also, ‘if’ she ever wanted to go down the same-sex route’? Like it’s a new cocktail you try at a bar to decide whether you like it or not?Now I see the flaw in that thought process but back then, I was simply imbued with jealousy to critically analyse Miss A’s statement and launch into a political tirade, debunking same-sex attraction myths. After this rejection, I began to see Miss A and ‘best friend’ in more physical proximity than I cared for–sitting in each other’s laps, little pecks on the cheeks, hugs that lasted longer than 5 Mississippi.
Jess was my informer. She once told me that ‘best friend’ was at Miss A’s place, who was down with an eye infection. ‘Best friend’ had gone to put eye drops. Oh Krishna– was this a euphemism for something else? There was no way to find out and nothing to be done. Since Miss A knew about my attraction towards her and had rejected me, it was too late to even play the friendship card. Or so I thought and hence, never tried to talk to her like a sensible person.
However, I did something back then that I am not proud of and will never ever advise, never mind your sexual orientation or desperation.
I was looking at the bulletin board for nothing in particular. But my eye caught a notice put up by the Western Music Society, inviting people for auditions. It was signed by Miss A with her phone number underneath. I didn’t think twice before saving her number on my phone. I didn’t do anything with it till 19 November, her birthday. Jess told me about the day and for hours, I was tormented whether to wish Miss A or not. How could I explain how I got her number? It’s only after I boarded a bus for home and was miles away from college that I sent a birthday greeting and apologised for having got her number without her consent. Her reply was prompt and polite–she thanked me for the wishes and made light of my stalking. Later, Jess told me that ‘best friend’ was furious that I had wished Miss A. It brought me immense joy to know that.
We graduated from college in 2008 and I sent her a birthday greeting every year, into the first year of my Masters. I don’t remember why I stopped but beyond the yearly SMS, there was never any communication between us.
However, this entire experience was special and seminal in my journey towards discovering myself. I learnt three things–that women could also evoke in me sexual and/or romantic feelings; that sometimes, you need to let things happen and enjoy the process rather than intellectualise it too much and get worried; you need to surround yourself with the right kind of information and a good network of friends. They might not understand everything you are going through but sometimes a sounding board is all you need. Lastly, be patient and kind to yourself. Everything will eventually make sense and you will emerge wiser on the other side of it.
Having said that, if I could do it all over again, I would begin with just a simple hi, hoping that someday, Miss A will give me her number of her own accord and we will be friends if nothing more.