My Secret Life: Indian Parents, Pride Parade and Troublesome Lies

“I’m going to meet a friend. Will be home before six,” I told my mother on a Sunday afternoon while she was busy boiling rice in the kitchen.

Aur lunch?” she asked.

Baad mein,” I said, and quickly went out to call a rickshaw.

There was no friend waiting for me and I was definitely not going to be back before 8 pm. I was going for the Delhi Pride Parade and I had lied – yet again.

I had to lie because my parents don’t approve of me participating in parades or protests. The protests or the “useless naarebaazi”, as they like to call them, are merely a distraction – an excuse to dodge studies. For them, the best way is to blindly gulp whatever – good or bad – the government serves.

They ridicule armchair activists but indulge in the same. They’d speak highly of a 1950s Raj Kapoor film, like Awaara – which had multiple shades of rebellion and an overarching socialist theme – but wouldn’t want to see their own daughter walk on the streets holding a rainbow banner. They’d quote writers from the Indian Progressive Writers Movement, who were anti-establishment and frequently took out protests in the pre-Independence era, but would mock their daughter for reading an Amartya Sen or an Arundhati Roy book.

Dear Ma and Papa, if you were so averse to the idea of “useless naarebaazi”, why did you expose me to such films and literature in the first place? And if you did, how can you box me now?

I would often pose these questions at them as an adolescent. Over time, I realised that those questions were falling on deaf ears. My parents were (and still are) not ready to listen.

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Hence, I started lying. I started making up excuses. I started inventing names of imaginary friends who wanted to meet me for a coffee whenever there were protests, film-screenings or talks happening in the city.

The initial few times were scary but I got more and more used to it. The whole process was fun and exciting and nobody knew. However, the exercise of lying got exhausting after a point. The pressure to live a double-life started taking a toll on my mental health. And eventually, lying became a habit and I became good at it.

But sometimes I forget that I had lied in the morning. I forget to weave a cover-up story. I forget that I live two lives.

This time, on the day of the Pride Parade, when I came back home at around 8.30 pm  – after of course wiping off the rainbow stripes from my cheeks and unpinning a badge from my kurta – my mother asked: “Tumne lunch kiya?”

I fumbled because I had forgotten to prepare a chain of believable lies. “White-sauce pasta aur gulab jamun,” I lied, looking straight into her eyes like a true method actor.

My mother was convinced and I thought that the show was over until I heard dhol beats from the parade coming from the living room. My father was watching visuals from the event on a news channel and my heart started racing. “What if the camera pans at my face? What if he finds out?” I panicked.

Nothing happened, phew.

But my legs were hurting really bad and my stomach was making weird sounds. But who could I say this to? I had forgotten to grab something to eat while coming back home. I was really hungry.

Lying to go to a protest is definitely tiring and it is not something I’d like to do for a long time. Some day, I want to confront my parents and tell them that I should have the right to take my own decisions – be it going to a protest or reading a ‘forbidden’ book (without having to find different ways to hide the hardcover).

But, I have to admit that it’s thrilling when I chalk-out an escape plan the night before a ‘scandalous’ event takes place; or when I wrap a newspaper cover around a book like The Communist Manifesto while reading it. I feel a sense of victory when I come back home and convince my mother that I did have the white sauce pasta and gulab jamun for lunch, even though it’s a horrible combination for an afternoon meal. I feel content when I scroll through the pictures on my phone – I can never post them on Instagram.

I like to attend protests, the pride parades, the weekend meetups because I feel safe at these places and don’t feel judged. There is no pressure to perform or lie. I learn a lot when I attend protests and ask silly questions to those drenched in sweat with their clothes smeared in mud.

I had a similar eye-opening conversation at Pride this time. A girl in a pretty red sari told me that protests are of different kinds and aren’t just about taking to the streets. “My way of dissent can be different from yours,” she said.

And in that very moment, as the crowd shouted ‘Love is Love’, I realised that I too was protesting all this while – within the closed quarters of my home.

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There have been instances where I have blatantly broken the unsaid curfew – I have gone out at 7 pm for a film and have come back at 10 pm. I have stopped wearing a religious locket because I didn’t want to. I decided to do a masters at a university my parents were apprehensive of. I decided to take up a job at a place they love to hate. I have been on dates with Muslim men.

And this time, when I went for the Pride, I came back at 8 pm (not 6 pm, as promised).

But there’s still a long way to go.

Although I have broken some rules at home, I still feel tied to so many things sometimes. There is still a lot of hesitation. I have to bottle-up my feelings, which I often crave to share with my parents and other family members.

My emotional outbursts often find their way into my Instagram stories and posts – which are mostly absurd, nonsensical but absolutely real; I can’t pretend all the time.

On the day of Pride, I wish I could have come back home proudly spouting the rainbow stripes on my cheek and a badge pinned to my kurta. I wish the camera of the media crew had panned at my face and I could say: “Yes Papa, that’s me!” without any hesitation.

But until then, it’s time to prepare for a weekend film-screening (a banned documentary). Will probably tell my parents that I am going out for a pre-wedding celebration.

Goes well with the season.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty