Then, as they entered the lift to the fifth floor of the swanky hotel, Manohar’s ‘gaydar’ went off like mad. The 19-year-old boy in front of him was not only the replica of Vinay; he was Vinya in every which way, down to his sexual orientation. Only that this one had much better sartorial sense.
It was one of those now or never moment for Manohar. If he did not do something right now, the moment would pass and he may not get a chance to ask the young man again, discreetly. And, if he did it, it would amount to outing himself, in turn, perhaps, his father as well.
Manohar had to know. He knew it would give him a morbid pleasure if the boy confessed, and he knew, perhaps, the same truth will make him unhappy. He took the plunge nonetheless.
“So, how is your love life?” he tried to keep his tone casual, chatty. “Any girlfriend?” A pause. “Boyfriend?”
The younger Manohar looked up and the hunch was confirmed.
“Boyfriend!?” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Why not?” Said Manohar severely, and then looked at his younger namesake, his eyebrows raised, on his face a hint of an encouraging smile. The lift crossed the fourth floor.
“That’s why you left India?”
Manohar nodded. The lift found its destination. Now, the awkwardness. How much would he tell this clueless young man? He fumbled for the keys, finally found it and opened the door.
“You are alone?”
“Not really. I’m with my former boyfriend and his boyfriend. They have gone to see the Taj. Would you like some more coffee?”
The younger man nodded. Manohar called the room service.
They sat facing each other. A stalemate.
“Tell me more. Does your father know?”
“Unfortunately, it’s not your America.”
“What do you think your father would say if he knows?”
“He’d probably throw me out of the house. He hates gays. You should know. He is your friend.”
It was Manohar’s time to clear the air. He could not implicate Vinay in front of his son. It wouldn’t be correct, though perhaps, it would be easier for the young man. The boy looked very comfortable with his identity, much more than Manohar was at that age. Still, would he be able to accept his father’s sexuality? Then Collin’s voice cautioned Manohar: “But, how do you know Vinay was gay. It might just have been a phase, a substitute for lack of woman.” Manohar had given this possibility much thought in the last 20 years. At the end, it did not matter what Vinay was. He was anything but real.
As the coffee arrived, Manohar was surprised by the incongruity of the scene. He knew his return to India was a bad idea. He expected to face certain uncomfortable situations. But this? To find that his former lover has a son, and that he’s gay and that right now, he was sitting in front of him, sipping coffee? In the last 20 years, Manohar had invested numerous emotions on Vinay, most of it was anger, and hurt, but never jealousy. He always believed that he made the right choice. Now, as he looked at the younger version of Vinay in front of him, Manohar was filled with uncontainable jealously. Manohar had experienced his share of fatherhood, more than any gay man could hope for. At the end of the day, Maisie and Nathan were his children. Yet, to have a son of your own flesh and blood, that was something else altogether.
In the blink of an eye, he accepted the fact. He was the loser in the whole affair, and he’d remain so.
The younger Manohar was looking at him. He wanted him to answer about his father.
“I don’t think I know your father that well. We were just classmates. He seemed like a nice guy then.”
“He’s a nice guy. Just has he has some unreal expectations from me.”
“I guess that’s what being a father means. I guess, that’s why I left. Did you ever plan to move out?”
“No. I cannot leave my parents alone.”
“Who is he anyway, your boyfriend?”
“That’s the thing. He’s shit scared. He is a colleague of my father’s. And, he loves his job and doesn’t want any scandals.”
“It would be a scandal indeed.”
“Don’t tell my father.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t think I will see your father again.”
“Why? When do you leave?”
“As soon as possible.”
It was as well that Jerome and Peter did not return that night. They wanted to see the Taj in the moonlight, and they were kicked about it. Peter called up the hotel. The con job of some tourist guide, Manohar surmised. After the younger Manohar had left, the elder one lay on the bed of his hotel room, exhausted, wasted. He was not unhappy. It was something else. It was like he was empty inside and nothing, absolutely nothing, could fill it anymore.
Manohar woke up with a start. There was a knock on the door. He looked at the watch. It was close to two in the morning. It was not difficult to guess who was at the door. Manohar had been waiting from him and he knew Vinay would come.
Manohar opened the door. The visitor was drunk.
Manohar opened the door, let him in and shut it. Vinay looked around the room and then sat on the corner of the bed.
“It’s been a long time. Why did you return now, when I have forgotten all about you?”
“I did not come to remind you anything.”
“You look good. You have maintained yourself well. Come, sit here.” Vinay patted on the bed. It was like the old days. Manohar would do anything Vinay asked him to. He sat next to Vinay, their shoulders touching each other. Vinay placed his right hand on Manohar’s thighs, and slowly moved it upwards till it had found the crotch.
“This part, however, is no longer young, I’m afraid,” Manohar said.
Vinay kept his hand there and Manohar did not make any attempts to remove it.
There was pause. Both of them sat there and stared at the carpet on the floor.
“I had gone to Kanpur after the wedding. They did not have your address in America. I asked them to inform me as soon as they heard from you. They never did.”
“I told them not to.”
“You did not give me a chance to explain. You just disappeared.”
“I couldn’t be there and dance at your wedding.”
“I had hoped that you’d understand.”
This was the moment. This was the precise moment Manohar had been waiting for, for the last 20 years. He had so many things to say. Now that the moment was here, Manohar realised nothing mattered anymore. What was done was done. He turned to Vinay and caressed his face, his cheeks, his lips.
“You have put on weight. And the beard doesn’t suit you.”
“It makes me look menacing.”
“It was nice meeting your son. Thanks for giving him my name. He is a good kid. You have done well.”
“Not me, his mother.”
“He looks exactly like you were at his age.”
“Sometimes it’s unnerving how even his taste in things is exactly like me.”
“So, you know.”
“How can I not? He even tells the same lies I used to tell.”
“You should talk to him. He is scared that you will throw him out of the house if you found out about him.”
“That’s what my father threatened to do. He threatened to kill himself if I did not marry that girl.”
Manohar did not want to hear the story. It did not matter anymore.
“It’s nice to see you after so many years.”
Vinay turned towards Manohar, and then grabbed him in a tight embrace. “Manu,” he murmured. “I have missed you every single day.”
Vinay smelt of cheap whiskey. His heart was beating faster. Manohar tightened the embrace.
“Do you want some coffee? I can call the room service.”
“Okay.” They broke the embrace.
As he walked towards the telephone on the bedside table, Manohar did not worry about happiness anymore. Tonight, he had found something else altogether.
February 29, 2012
[The last section of a proposed story titled ‘The Measure of Happiness’]