My Mother's Gift

5.3.2011

By Rahul Mehta

While I wait, I remember that day 15 years ago at the jazz festival. I remember how terrified I was that my mother would get up from the picnic bench, turn her back, and walk away. Having her read my book is like coming out to her all over again.

I remember another incident from 2007, during the same trip when my uncle in Mumbai fed Robert sweets. We had gone to Ahmedabad for a few weeks. Robert was studying at the Darpana Dance Academy, and I was tagging along, since I have relatives there. These are my most conservative relatives, the ones I most feared would abandon me were they to find out I'm gay.

The hotel we stayed in was one block from Darpana and just a few blocks from my cousin's house. She had insisted several times that we stay with her, but we said it would be easier if we stayed at the hotel. Still, we saw her almost every day. She sewed buttons on my shirt. When I fell ill, she brought me khichdi in my hotel room, sat with me while I ate it, washed the containers in the bathroom sink. If she noticed that the two twin beds were pushed together to form a single, double-sized bed, she didn't say so.

When it was time for us to leave Ahmedebad, Robert and I went to my cousin's house to say goodbye. She cried and hugged me and pressed a money envelope into my palm -- a gesture I recognized as a tradition, since I was her younger cousin-brother. Then, still crying, she hugged Robert goodbye. I saw her press into his palm an identical money envelope. He was her younger brother, too.

While writing this essay I realize something I wasn't quite aware of before. My mother was the one who told all my relatives in America that I'm gay, not me. It was a gift. If anyone had a reaction that was hesitant or negative, my mother hid it, then fixed it. In India, my aunt and my cousin-sister were doing the same thing.
About a week after my mom received my manuscript, she finally calls.

'I've read the book.'

'And?'

'When I first started reading, I was really surprised. I thought, 'He's writing abou that?' I was shocked.'

I interrupt my mom, trying to explain. 'Let me finish,' she says. 'I absolutely love it. You are a wonderful writer. The observations, the insights'.. you see things. I'm so proud of you.'

When she says this, I start to cry. I am worried a colleague or a student may come by my office and see me. I am also worried that my mother, on the other end of the line, might hear.

'I've given it to your father to read,' she says.

Quarantine will be published by Harper Collins on June 1.

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