By Jacob Meadows
In life, one must make innumerable choices. These choices vary in importance, some being as trivial as deciding if one should take the direct route home from the mosque, or embark upon the route which follows the river for a mile before returning to the main road. Other choices hold such weight as whether our family name is upheld or shattered by a faux pas, affecting whether we are a member of the patricians of society or an ostracized plebeian. These choices are what define a person.
But there are also things in life which are not choices. A man does not choose to be born with dark skin, his family lineage decides that. Young boys and girls do not choose to begin the awkward and uncomfortable process called puberty. Most of the things in life which are not choices are biological in nature. And there is nothing more biological, more chemical, than falling in love. A man does not look upon a woman and decide that he is physically, sexually attracted to her, the hormones streaming through his body do. Nor does a homosexual man choose to look upon a fellow man in lust and desire. Some things, many more than are discussed here, are not choices.
My name is Advik, and I am an Indian man. I was born to an upper class family in the capital of this country. My father and mother raised me to be a respectable, honorable man of the Hindu faith. My father owned a large textile mill, and from the time I was able to work I was a part of making the factory run smoothly and efficiently, training to one day run the mill when my father passed it on to me. It was in this mill that I met my best friend Jayesh. He was not from a family as aristocratic as mine, but he was of the upper end of the working class. We met when we were in our early adolescent years and grew up together. We would often land ourselves in all sorts of trouble through shirking our responsibilities and finding unwarranted adventures. We were the best of friends.
As we aged, Jayesh and I grew closer to each other. It was an uncommon sight for us to be in the public without the other, but for one of us to have our arm around the shoulder of the other in the town square was a daily occurrence. Many nights each week, Jayesh would attend dinners with my family and me and sleep with me in my bed. Everyone knew that we were the best of friends, but no one, not even I, knew that we were becoming so much more. It started when we were fifteen. We would be lying in bed after a long day of working in the textile mill, when I would catch Jayesh staring at me while I slept or I would find that I was doing the same to him. While walking to his home or mine after work, our hands would brush each other long enough for our littlest fingers to briefly dance with each other before we separated our hands. All of these occurrences I believed happened simply because we were close friends; but this illusion was shattered one night.
I was walking with my friend from the mill to his home and he pulled me aside into a copse of trees. Within the cover of the foliage, Jayesh took hold of my hands, dancing fingers replaced by steadfast palms, and he looked into my eyes. I had never noticed the flecks of gold which glimmered in his brown eyes, but today I marveled at their obvious beauty. Neither of us said anything and my friend leaned in and kissed me. I was shocked, my family’s voices inside my head telling me that this was wrong. But I melted into the kiss, ignoring those voices. I put my fingers through his hair and we embraced each other for a long while. These hidden embraces did not stop for three years, not until it was time for me to become a man.
As I said, some things in life are not choices. Who you love is not a choice in India, there are strict rules which govern relationships and marriages: Love Laws. A great novel, The God of Small Things, defines these as “laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.” In this country, it is dictated who I am allowed to love and it is dictated how I am to love them. My family is in high regard within our Indian society, and this is in large part because they have followed all of the cultural rules and regulations for as long as the rules have been in place. These rules are terribly strict and clearly defined. And a man loving a man does not in any way coincide with the Love Laws. Being with a man for the rest of my life is not a choice I was allowed to make.
On my eighteenth birthday, my parents threw me a lavish party; all of the high-caste society was invited and my parents were kind enough to invite Jayesh, who they still believed to be my best friend, never suspecting our love affair. At the party there were all manner of people dressed in sparkled saris and suits, the finest of their party attire. I was filled with pleasure at the sight of so many people gathered to celebrate my birth, but I was most happy to see Jayesh. He looked ravishing in his trousers and jacket. He could not afford the same quality of clothing as the rest of the party goers, but he was by far the handsomest person in the room to me that night. Although he was the only person I truly wanted to see, I knew there were an entire host of people I needed to greet so I was forced to resort to watching Jayesh dance from afar.
My admiration of Jayesh was interrupted by my parents and a young girl, around fifteen. My parents introduced the girl to me as Daya, the daughter of a high ranking government official. Daya was a pretty girl with long black hair which fell to her waist and a royal blue sari which implied she came from a family of wealth. She, however, looked shy and intimidated, even scared to be here right now. I was unsure as to why this would be until my parents spoke words which changed my life: they told me that I was to marry Daya. A dowry had been negotiated, and both families were thrilled with the match. I could not find words at that moment, and only eighteen years of experience in aristocratic gatherings such as this allowed me to smile at my father. After a moment of wordlessness, I told them I would be honored to marry such a beautiful girl. I then asked to be excused.
I found Jayesh dancing in the ballroom with a young woman and asked him to step outside with me. We walked outside and when we were outside the ballroom I began to pull him in a mad dash through the gardens outside. I found a secluded spot which I knew concealed us well and I told him everything. As I spoke the tears began to pour and my lover pulled me into his strong arms and told me that everything would be alright. All I could think and say is that I did not want to marry some rich girl, I wanted to spend my life loving Jayesh, kissing Jayesh, holding Jayesh. Jayesh did not cry then, but he held me until I was emptied of all my tears. He kissed me and told me that we should return to the party before I was missed and I agreed. But before we moved I pulled him into a passionate kiss. It was a kiss filled with the love that had grown for years and with the longing for many more years with him that I would never have.
In the weeks following my eighteenth birthday party, the wedding plans ensued. The arboretum was decided as the venue. The wedding colors were red and white. We would have a traditional wedding for our culture. Daya’s mother worked tirelessly with my own to nail down every detail which needed to be planned so that the wedding would be put on without delay. We were to be married exactly two months from my birthday, which was only a week away. As the date grew closer, I grew more and more distraught and had only Jayesh to lean on. He was the only one who knew of the secret love we shared and the hatred I had for the Love Laws which would keep me from him. In those last days, I asked Jayesh to be my best man and to stand with me when I married someone I would never be in love with and he accepted. And then, finally, it was my wedding day.
Jayesh was the only man in the room with me as I prepared myself for my wedding. He helped me with my kurta, and he put on my shoes for me. I was a wreck in that hour before my wedding. It was then that I had the idea that could have altered my life. I asked Jayesh to run away with me. I told him that we could leave the garden, run to my home and pack enough clothes and money to get us out of India and into Pakistan to escape my parents. We could live together and keep our love for each other alive. We could be together. Jayesh smiled, pulled me close, and kissed me lightly on the lips. Warmth and love flowed off of his mouth and onto mine. In that one moment I felt at peace and I felt safe. He broke the kiss and leaned into my ear and gave me my answer. He told me that he would love to run away and build a life with me. He would love to live a secret life with me somewhere far away where no one would ask us to marry a stranger. But he also said that he loved me too much to watch me live in dishonor. He said that he would never have been able to forgive himself if he allowed me to walk out of this wedding and shame my family and myself.
I was aghast. I couldn’t breathe and I was unable to think about anything but the fact that the man I loved just told me that he would not run away with me. When he told me that, it meant that our affair would end. I would never kiss him again. I would never walk through a forest at twilight holding his hand and laughing with him. I would never feel the hard muscle of his chest under my body as we loved each other on the forest floor. I would never again be able to tell him I love him. I looked at him and he smiled. He said this was the hardest decision to make but he knew that it was the right thing to do. I thought about protesting but I knew he was right. I would never be able to live with him and love him and make him my family. That was not something I would be able to choose.
And so, he kissed me one last time and we told each other one last time that we loved each other. I held on to his gaze for as long as I could before I knew it was time to go. We walked into the arboretum and I stood at the altar. Daya walked down the aisle in a beautiful wedding sari as all of our friends and family looked on in glee. I said the words which would bind me to Daya for the rest of my life, a feeling of grim terror taking hold in my gut. And as I signed away the rest of my life to a woman I would never love, I could feel the warmth and longing of the only man I would ever love standing behind me.
People say that we are defined by the choices we make. But I say that our lives are driven by the choices we do not make, the choices we are not allowed to make.
Jacob Meadows is a poet, researcher, and author of the upcoming collection of poetry, SHADES. A trained dancer and educator, Jacob has spent the last four years honing the craft of writing poetry and prose, finding his voice, and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. He has both an MA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Southern New Hampshire University where he studied postcolonial, feminist, and queer theories as well as autoethnography. Jacob spends his free time reading and dancing, his first two loves.