Tuesday, September 6, 2022


She deserves security. He needs immediate protection. How can they choose one over the other?

Loved the short story. Intelligent and very compassionate – Ashok Row Kavi, journalist and one of the first out and proud Indians.

Recommended for Adults over 18 years. 

Part 1: As I walked to work from Bandra station, I slowed down to watch the boy. He waited with a gaggle of others at the Linking road signal for the lights to turn red. They all wore that hardened look that street kids seem to acquire over time. That is, all except the boy. Being the tiniest of his crowd, his face still retained a touch of vulnerability.

He'll get there eventually, I thought with a touch of regret as I stopped to buy peanuts from my favourite vendor. As the man skillfully and swiftly twisted a piece of paper into a puda , a cone, and filled it with hot, freshly roasted peanuts, I couldn’t help listening in to what those kids were saying.

“They’re hosting a free lunch at Seva Sadan,” said one in Hindi.

“Let’s go and eat till our stomachs are good and full,” the young one, about six, said. “Who knows when our next meal will be?”

He eyed his companions, seeking approval for his cool cynicism. Indulgent smiles on their faces they looked down at the youngest member of their motley pack. The eldest, a scrawny teenager, slightly hunched and as emaciated as the rest, gave him an affectionate swipe.

I couldn’t help an inward smile. 

When the lights turned red, the boy, eager to prove his mettle, swiftly picked out a likely prospect and dashed across to reach her before the others did.

I saw car windows being hastily wound up. She leaned slightly forward and darted a hasty glance left, then right. Spotting the little beggar boy running towards her she leaned right back into her seat. Being in an auto she was definitely more at the mercy of beggars like him than in a car. Switching her large purple bag to the shoulder furthest from him she clutched it firmly. Eyes blanking out, face an inscrutable mask and she was ready for him.

 “Twenty rupees, madam,” I heard him say.

She ignored him, staring straight ahead. Undeterred, he repeated his plea, going as close as he dared, to try and catch her eye. She looked through him.

“Only twenty rupees.”

Again no response. 

“Okay,” he said with an exaggerated sigh, pretending to give in to the hard bargain she drove. “Ten rupees. Only ten.” 

The consummate little actor tilted his face in silent appeal, coaxing her to agree it was a reasonable compromise. 

She continued to ignore him but her lips twitched.

The tension went out of his little body. He turned to look triumphantly at the older boy who was standing watchful, at the traffic lights. The teenager gave him a half wave of approval.

The lights were still red when a hundred engines revved and began edging forward. The boy started running ahead of the auto, knowing it would leap away within seconds. If she did cough up, it would be at the last second. Any earlier and she’d be swamped by other beggars. He raised his voice.

Only ten, madam.” 

As she sped away, she leaned right out. Hands outstretched they completed the exchange. She was smiling broadly but he had already forgotten her. He looked down at his booty and hastily zigzagged between vehicles that had picked up speed. Reaching safety, he handed the note over to his scrawny companion at the lights, who swiftly pocketed it.

Filled with resentment I watched, thinking typical uncharitable thoughts of a typical, privileged Mumbaikar.

The man has perfectly good limbs. Why doesn’t he get himself a job? Earn his own ten rupees?

Slightly ashamed, I grudgingly conceded that nobody would give such an unkempt, unknown entity a job. I wouldn’t.

At least, he and his kind provided much needed protection to their tiny wards in exchange for controlling the cash.




That evening, at dinner, I told the family about the boy and how the lady in the auto had found him irresistible.

“The rascal could probably teach psychologists a thing or two,” dad said, amid laughter.

“What’s a psychologist?” said our six-year-old.

“Well,” said dad, “just as a doctor knows everything about our bodies, a psychologist knows about our minds.”

Our bright young daughter absorbed that with a serious face. She was our adopted child and couldn’t have been more loved had she been our own flesh and blood.

That's who the boy reminds me of, I thought.

He reminds me of Smita. She won our hearts from the moment she walked into the room on unsteady feet, clutching her warden's hand. That she felt vulnerable was obvious. What gave her away was the sudden flutter of long lashes, the dart of fear as she looked uncertainly from one face to the other. We sat there frozen, afraid to make any wrong moves. That is, all except mum. She squatted right down. The warden followed suit and between them they coaxed the first genuine smile out of her. Before long we were all on the floor, eating out of her tiny little hands. We wanted to take her home straight away – nurture her, get rid of that haunted look from her eyes, but adoption was a long process. We would have to be patient.




A few days later, on my way from Bandra station, I saw the boy again. His warden held him in a vice like grip. As the lights turned red, it was difficult to miss the anxious glance the others gave the boy before dispersing to beg. The teenager held on a moment longer before giving his young ward a little push. The boy, his eyes a horrible mix of fear and dull resignation, hobbled away, wincing and in obvious pain. His heart not in his begging he evoked neither pity nor a smile from the jaded Mumbaikar in the taxi. As the taxi drove off, the boy glanced fearfully at his scowling warden. What a change in that cheerful little face.

This time I kept mum at the table, hoping nobody would notice how disturbed I felt. After dinner, we played with Smita for a while before putting her to bed. We kissed her and bade our parents goodnight. Alone in our room at last, I told Ashraf about the boy.

“To me he looked like he’d been abused,” I said, my voice low, even if everyone had retired for the night.

When he did not respond, I said, “You know, sexually.”

“What?” Ashraf said in disbelief. “No. How could you tell?”

“He was walking awkwardly, for one.”

“Could be anything. A boil on his inner thigh.” Ashraf smiled in that annoyingly superior way he had.

Why was he being so dismissive? Was it such a ridiculous assumption that the boy could have been sexually abused? 

I felt aggrieved and my thoughts were less than charitable towards my partner. Maybe he doesn't want to get involved - disrupt his smooth life running on well oiled wheels! Doesn't he remember pictures of our new-born Smita at the orphanage? She looked like a large insect with thin, spindly limbs and a rib cage that looked like an exoskeleton. She had been left near a garbage dump. Had someone not gotten involved she wouldn't be with us today. 

A shudder went through me. It was unthinkable. 

They told us bluntly, had they been a few minutes late she would have been eaten by rats. They'd rescued her and brought her to the orphanage. Nurturing her back to health had been slow at first, but finally they had put her up for adoption. Our darling daughter, our healthy, intelligent and smart Smita. It still made me sick to think of those rats. How close we’d come to losing her before we’d even found her!

Thankfully she didn't remember any of it but it had given her that haunted look that had cut us up the first time we'd met her. Couldn't Ashraf accept that people were cruel and selfish? That sometimes we did need to get involved, whatever the consequences to us?

“Yes. Could be,” I said to Ashraf, sounding testy even to myself, “except, when he handed over the cash, he did not meet the older boy’s eyes. And when that boy grabbed his hand along with the cash, and gave a mocking laugh, he flinched and snatched his hand away.”

This time Ashraf was silent.

“We can’t interfere,” he said at last.

When he saw I was about to protest, he amended that quickly to, “Okay, why don’t I come with you to Bandra tomorrow? See for myself?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. 

Doubt had already started creeping in. I couldn’t help wondering what difference it would make whether Ashraf saw the boy for himself or not. What could we do?

I slept fitfully that night.

Watching Ashraf’s tranquil features while he slept drove me insane. How could he? Every loud snore made me jump. Giving up on sleep, I got out of bed and went to our balcony to feel the gentle breeze and to try and empty my head of thoughts that were keeping me awake. They wouldn’t stop.

He’s right. There’s not much we can do.

He’s such a tiny creature. So helpless. Unable to fight back. Barely a week ago, I saw him cheeky and cheerful.

I finally got to bed, my last thought, we cannot not do anything.





Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Love Is Love


We all know that it is the bad, the crooked, the uncaring, the corrupt and violent individuals who make society unsafe. 

Nurturing, caring for, looking after, being happy with - do terms like these sound like something that ought to make society unsafe? How does it matter who you wish to spend your life with? Whether they are members from a different community, religion, of the same sex or from the opposite sex, should mutual love and respect be a reason for violence? 

Yet, it is difficult to ignore that the band of individuals who belong to the first category above are ever ready to use the minority card to stir trouble for the ones who are different from the majority. 

Becoming Zubin (as yet unpublished) is the story of one individual coming to terms with his sexuality. If you like determined heroes who are willing to fight for what they believe in, if you like youngsters who are game for a laugh, and fiction with a touch of romance, you'll enjoy this coming-of-age action adventure.

To the ones who are afraid to come out as LGBTQI+, I would simply say, read articles to understand and accept who you are. Here's one that explains the reasons individuals might want to / not want to come out. It goes on to explain things to keep in mind before you come out and much more. 
Be patient with the ones who are ignorant, prejudiced and homophobic. In India, homosexuality has, until recently, always been an open secret - something never to be discussed. So many of us grew up not knowing what it was. So many of us grew up not knowing a thing about sexuality, for that matter. Why not? In the days before the internet we only had our parents or teachers to look up to. And they didn't explain the birds and the bees to us. They thought they were protecting us but now we know better. Knowledge is power.

In this wonderful age of the internet, there's so much you can do. If you are, or feel you might be an LGBT+ individual in India, you can join support groups like the Humsafar Trust
Always remember, who you love, who you wish to nurture, who you wish to be with because they make you happy, and who reciprocate your feelings can never be wrong. 

Love Is Love.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Imperfect Humans of Mumbai - Part 2

This fiction tale is recommended for Adults over 18 years.
At six the next morning, the muted tones of the alarm woke me. I gave an inward groan. Already?

Loathe to move, I listened, knowing it would grow louder and more persistent. A second before that happened, I flipped an arm over, eyes still closed. After a little fumbling I managed to turn the ruddy thing off. Bringing my arm back I sighed and put it around Ashraf. Snuggling close, I burrowed my face in his neck, inhaling deeply. He smelt faintly of soap and I loved that. I moved drugged lips against his warm skin. He stirred.

“Mmm,” he said, “don’t stop.” 

Soon we were both too far gone to even think of stopping. For a long moment after, we lay there, our breath mingling in short, sharp gasps. Slowly landing back to earth, I opened my eyes, stretched and smiled without uttering a word, at my partner.

Years together and we still enjoyed one another. No two people could be so lucky.

Ashraf and I had been together since 2003. With Smita’s arrival we became a family. She completed us. The company Ashraf worked for gave him paternity leave. He broke the news to us that night, professing undying loyalty to his wonderful bosses and making us laugh. Truth be told, we were all blown away that such a forward-looking company existed in India!

With Ashraf at home for a month, mum and he bonded. Not only mum, our efforts to reach out to our neighbours started paying off.

Take Mrs. Makhijani. In the old days, whenever she saw us, she hastened away, her face suggesting we were sin incarnate. I always pretended I hadn’t seen her but Ashraf yelled out greetings just to get under her skin. After she was out of sight, we would amuse ourselves, imagining the debauchery she thought we could be getting up to in our bedroom.

“I’m sure she gets titillated by thoughts of our tangled limbs.” Being out in the open we’d conduct such conversations with serious faces.

“Never mind her. Stop titillating me.”

After adopting Smita, whenever we took her down to the building compound for some fresh air, Mrs. Makhijani couldn’t keep away. She went out of her way to seek us out. She coo-ed to our daughter, laughing in delight as our baby chortled and gurgled at her attempts to entertain her. We stood by like the proud parents we were.

She advised us on what to do for the baby’s colic. As far as we three dads were concerned it was wonderful to witness. Mum found her a bit too overwhelming but kept quiet, knowing how important it was to get people like her to accept not only Smita, but us through her.

And the results were plain to see. We watched our darling girl blossom. The teachers had nice things to say about her and every evening we watched her from our balcony, running around the compound with her friends. On occasion, the two of us went down to be with her.

Smita’s favourite game with us was twenty questions. We would ask her random general knowledge questions, which she would attempt to answer. The other kids would crowd around and join in. We became very popular. Their favourite uncles. Smita couldn’t help showing off her dads, proudly holding each of our hands in hers and generally demanding our attention.

Before her sixth birthday most people had stopped mistrusting us for being different. We were just devoted dads like most of the other modern-day dads. For our daughter’s sake we schooled ourselves to avoid physical contact with each other in public. Not even a mistaken brushing of hands. It had been so hard getting her into our lives, we wouldn’t chance losing her. Nothing was too great a sacrifice.

When the Central Adoption Resource Agency  (CARA), which regulates adoptions, slammed a new ruling stipulating that same sex couples wouldn’t be allowed to adopt, we couldn’t bring ourselves to voice our anger in public. Not wanting to jeopardise our future chances, we railed and ranted in the privacy of our home.

“Are they afraid our adopted children will become gay?” Ashraf’s lip curled with derision.

“Or that we are child molesters?” I tried to sound equally scathing but my voice shook.

The misconceptions! The ignorance! The prejudice! On and on we went.



Ma and pa quietly adopted Smita.

When we invited toddlers from the building for her third birthday party, we made it a point to invite Mrs. Makhijani. She was a lonely old widow, after all.

I think she enjoyed the party almost as much as everyone else. As for our darling, her portrait hangs in the lounge, a happy smile and a huge smear of chocolate across her face, a confident arm around each dad, forever reminding us of our adorable little toddler, now all of six and with a mind of her own.




At around half past seven, she burst into the room, demanding attention. She clambered all over us, crumpling our office clothes.

“How’s our little girl? Slept well?”

“Anita said in class yesterday, that her uncle had to cut frogs and cockroaches to become a doctor.”

“That was a long time ago. We use computers today. We don’t dissect real frogs anymore.” As she absorbed that Ashraf stroked her hair.

“Papa,” she said, impatiently moving her head out of his reach, “you’re spoiling my hair.” Ashraf grinned at me over her head. “Oh, sorry darling. Mustn’t muss up your hair. Who combed it for you today?”

“I did.”

Who else? her voice suggested.

“Of course. Silly me.”

“Do you like my bobpin? It’s shaped like the Indian flag.”

“So it is. Looks lovely.”

She jumped off and went to kneel at the bookshelf. The bottom shelf was hers. As she picked up one of her books she said, “I want to be a psychono…” As she stumbled over the word she looked up, frowning.

“…logist,” I said.  “Psychologist.”

“Wow. Great,” said Ashraf, with a hasty glance at me. 

That word reminded us of the boy. I was looking forward to, and dreading, what we would find at the signal today.

“Hope I’m mistaken,” I couldn’t help murmuring as we approached. Then I saw him. 

“The boy in the blue shirt,” I said to Ashraf, feeling that familiar twisting in my gut. The older boy held him apart from the others in a vice like grip. When the signal changed, he didn’t let go till the boy was forced to look at him. He held the boy’s eyes with his for a long moment before giving him a push. The little fellow righted himself and limped off as fast as he could.

Ashraf and I walked on. White faced, he asked, “What should we do?”

“What can we do?” I felt agitated and my voice was louder than I intended.

 Ashraf gave me a warning look. We were beginning to attract attention and that was something we normally avoided at all cost. I was past caring and lengthened my stride, trying at the same time to curb my helpless frustration. We continued walking without saying much. Before we parted to go off to our respective jobs, he tried once more.

“I know how hard it is,” he said, his voice sympathetic.

I knew he was trying to be understanding but I was not to be consoled.

“Should we just ignore it, then?” I did not bother hiding the bitter acrimony in my voice.

“Not fair,” he said quietly. “We don’t even know for sure what the problem is.” 


 Ashraf texted me that afternoon. “Have an idea. Talk later.”

I knew he meant the boy.

“Okay, thanks. And sorry.” That last was for lashing out at him earlier, for no fault of his.

“All good.”

That night, I couldn’t wait to get him to myself. 

“One thing is clear,” he whispered when we were alone at last. “We cannot involve the police.”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“So here’s my suggestion. Why don’t we talk to Mrs. Kapadia?”

Mrs. Kapadia ran one of the better orphanages - the very one from which we’d adopted Smita. She had vetted my parents thoroughly before releasing Smita into their care. To be fair, we’d vetted her orphanage as thoroughly. With headlines screaming horror stories of abuse at our orphanages, we couldn’t be too careful. Innumerable trips to get to know the kids at the orphanage, ask them questions, covertly check them out for signs of bruises or abuse of any kind and we decided this was the one. We got to know, like and trust Mrs. Kapadia.

I didn’t realise I’d been holding my breath, wondering if Ashraf’s idea would be worth pursuing. Wondering if I’d like it.

Expelling it with a rush I jumped up. “Yes! Let’s do it. First thing in the morning.”

We wondered what we would say.

“We’ll suss that out once we get there,” Ashraf said in confident tones. “Let's not speculate about sexual or any other abuse,” he warned.

“I know," I said, my voice testy. "I’m not a fool,” 

“Of course,” Ashraf said, a shade too quickly.

I fumed but let it pass. After calming down, I said, “We’ll impress upon her on how young he is. And that he doesn’t seem to live with his immediate family.”

“Brilliant!” said my man.

We did not confide in my parents. No point in worrying them needlessly. We knew the objections. 

"You are being irresponsible to Smita."

“If the orphanage suspects she’s in a gay household they might decide to take her away.”

We understood their fears. Especially now, the Supreme Court had done an about face, taking away our right to marriage. There had been a huge outpouring of support on social media with everyone draping their id photos in rainbow colours. It was uplifting but if some homophobic individuals in a position of authority took away our darling girl, would public opinion matter? Who would come forward to protect her right - our right, to a happy and secure family life? We were under no illusion. We lived with some form of homophobia borne of ignorance and fear everyday of our lives. 

The one thing we could, and did, do for Smita from the first day we brought her home, was to ensure some of our neighbours really got to know us. We enjoyed getting to know them too. In the end, what mattered most was the welcome they accorded to our little girl. 

How we had changed. How being Smita’s parents had changed us. As youngsters, we had given a damn.



The next morning, we pretended to go off to work as usual. At the orphanage, we asked to speak to Mrs. Kapadia. She recognized us immediately. She wanted to know how Smita was and we showed her photographs we’d brought along. As soon as we reasonably could, we brought up the topic of the boy. We told her about his not having his immediate family in Mumbai and how young and helpless he seemed. We didn’t utter the words, ‘sexual harassment’ and yet, felt she could read what we left unsaid.

The only words she uttered were, “You’ve done the right thing.”

She sent us away with the promise that the orphanage would look into the case. They would interview the boy, gather data and make a decision within a couple of days. She said she’d keep us informed. We left the orphanage in a much happier frame of mind.

According to the United Nations there are 2.5 lakh homeless kids living on the streets of Mumbai. We hoped we’d taken one off.



The young street kid in this story bears a distinct resemblance to one I'd seen in a documentary. I asked, and was granted permission by the Aletheia foundation to use him in the story - K. Mathur.