Fair Trade

9.9.2009

By Rakesh Satyal

Ashok had found that waiting for a convenient time to come out to his father was an altogether impossible act. After all, his father used the word 'dowry' with him like it was a cool catchphrase. And so Ashok contrived the coming-out. He and his family had been on a vacation for the past week in Los Angeles, a sun-washed fantasyland far from their breezy berth in Chicago, and Ashok, determined to be done with it once and for all, asked his father to have lunch with him the following day.

'Vhy?' his father said when, in line at In-N-Out Burger, Ashok posed the idea of a father-son meal. Ashok's father was a shameless carnivore, having grown up in a meat-eating household in Chandigarh where a leg of lamb was thought more voluptuous than a woman's bosom, and when the Aggarwals passed the fast food restaurant in their rented Chevy Malibu, his father swerved over three lanes to take the exit. It was the one culinary act he had on his agenda for the trip. Sure, he had planned other activities -- he now owned a new wardrobe emblazoned with phrases like WISH THEY ALL COULD BE CALIFORNIA GIRLZ -- but the only food he wanted was a beef patty slathered in ketchup and stuck between two plump buns that looked ironically like the aforementioned bosom.

'Why?' Ashok echoed. Normally, an opportunity to spend some one-on-one time elicited a hearty response from his father, Prem, who would take out his Canon camera and photograph the scene of the invitation for future nostalgia. 'Because I feel like we haven't had time to sit down and talk for quite a while and, well, I would like to discuss something with you.'

His father's face dropped suddenly, and Ashok felt his insides squeeze. He was sure now that his father could foretell what this proposed lunch was for, and Ashok felt in that moment that it was all over, he had terrorized his father with the threat of gayness and now his father was going to drop dead of shock on a white tile floor covered in the graffiti of sneaker burn and spilled, sticky Coke. But when his father turned to the counter and yelled out desperately, 'I forgot to order fries!' it seemed that the root of his shock was merely an absence of fried potato.

Now they were seated at the Belmont on La Cienega, a cozy lounge that Ashok had spotted two days before while loafer-shopping. Then, he had ordered a latte that he sipped daintily and a pain chocolat that he ate in morsels pinched off with his thumb and forefinger; now, he and his father had ordered a pair of Bloody Marys. That is, they had initially ordered a pair. His father was now on his third and was not what one would call sober.

*

Ashok had already come out to the rest of his family, and the revelation, oddly enough, had been greeted with little drama.

He told his older sister, Rekha, first. That was four years ago in New York, where she was working at McKinsey and he was interning at Goldman Sachs for the summer. They were hanging out in a bar in Nolita with some of Rekha's Dartmouth friends when Ashok, tipsy on whiskey and certain that her friends were in the ladies room, blurted it out.

'Oh, please,' Rekha said, throwing back a Heineken. 'I just assumed you'd lost your cherry to my Totally Hair Barbie.'

'Actually, I lost it to Molly.' Molly had been Rekha's Cabbage Patch Kid, a bucktoothed, bespectacled pillow with titian-colored yarn for hair.

Rekha laughed and said 'I love you' when Ashok said this, but it was sort of true. At 12, he had shot one of his fledgling loads all over Molly's naked ass -- how prophetic -- then had to spend half an hour getting it out of her cloth body before Rekha came home from khatak rehearsal and showed him her new dance moves.

He told his older brother, Arun, a few months later, when he came to visit Ashok at Yale. It was an equally fast, tidy confession:

'OK, where do we find us some desi pussy?'

'Arun, that is the tenth time you have said 'pussy' tonight. Please stop. And while you're at it, stop saying 'desi,' too. This is Yale. If you're getting anything, it's not going to be of color.'

'I'll say 'pussy' whenever I want.'

'For the love of God, please stop.'

'Wait,' Arun said, stopping in his tracks, looking like someone who just realized his fly was open. 'You're gay, aren't you?'

Now Ashok stopped. 'Ummm'well'yes.'

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