His bed was set against the window. The caretaker had laughed when he said that he liked to look outside his window the first thing in the morning. “You don’t know what’s outside that window or you won’t be so sure,” the grizzly old man had said in a voice that shook with age, and with mirth. Vineet hadn’t understood him then as it was dark outside, but the next morning he did. Outside his window, across the road, was the municipal garbage dump. Fortunately, it wasn’t spilling over…and it wasn’t…well, it wasn’t all that near for the stench to float in. Vineet knew that he was rationalizing but he had other things to worry about – for instance, his new job.
That was last week. In a week his worries had changed form.
Today was Sunday, and Vineet had spent almost the whole day in bed. In the evening, he had somehow managed to inspire himself enough to read a novel. It was an earlier work of Ken Follett called “The Hammer of Eden.” He had just begun to lose himself in the novel when Raju, the boy who worked in the chummery’s kitchen came in with the evening tea, and brought Vineet back into the cruel real world. He smiled at the boy, took the tea and put the book face down upon his table.
The concept in the novel intrigued him. The book with the story of a Hippie commune’s struggle to keep their way of life, which was being threaten by the construction of a new dam. A way of life that Vineet couldn’t understand, but he believed that those Hippies had the right to live, as they wanted to. They had the right to choose – quite the way Vineet to had the right to choose. Yet, despite having been given the right to live the way he wanted to, there were things…little things that you couldn’t explain, but that left a bitter after-taste that would take days to go away.
You couldn’t put your finger on these things. You couldn’t complaint to anyone about these things, but they happened all the time. Last Saturday, the group of women that stood near the vending machine giggling, fell silent when they saw him. Then they began to talk in hushed voices. And then yesterday, when everyone was leaving for the project party, it happened again. He and four others were supposed to leave in Prashant’s car, which meant three people had to ride in the rear seat. Anirudh had got in first, followed by Vineet. This obviously meant that Raj had to sit next to Vineet. He paused, looked at Vineet, and then said, “I’ll ask Jacob to lend me his bike – we’ll all be uncomfortable otherwise,” and he slammed the door shut. Everyone sort of understood – nobody said a word.
Vineet took the last sip from his cup and picked up the novel again. He wanted to trade his real world with the fictitious world of the Hippie commune – at least they could share their troubles with one another. He wanted to escape this unfeeling but meddling real world where a person couldn’t choose to be what he wanted to be! But Vineet couldn’t concentrate on the book; and he was beginning to get a headache. He let the book fall from his hands and began to rub his temples. Sometimes a tiny mistake can continue to hound you for a long time – it doesn’t allow you peace or rest – it nibbles away at your energy…and it corrodes your happiness. Vineet knew that he too did a mistake, and unfortunately there was no way that he could set it right.
One of the reasons why he had joined this organization was their anti-discrimination policy, which meant that he couldn’t be discriminated against because he was gay. In fact, they had these workshops for the new recruits where they emphasized that any kind of discrimination had to be reported. Unfortunately, there was no way you could pin down such incidents on anyone – could you?
When Vineet had first told his parents and his sister that he was gay, he had expected an outburst. In fact, he was pleasantly surprised to see that they had expected it quite calmly. The storm that he had expected never came. Even his childhood friend Reema, who he knew was sweet on him, had held his hand and said, “I had expected this all along. I am happy that you have the courage to talk about it. It doesn’t change anything for me. You will always remain my best friend.
Perhaps, his family’s and Reema’s unconditional acceptance had made Vineet over-confident. Perhaps that was the reason why he openly spoke about his being gay, to his other male colleagues, when they were summing up the assets of one of their women colleagues, and when they asked him why he was such a prude.
Perhaps, Vineet thought, it isn’t easy to change an established mindset. They had all attended the training together, and he remembered that most of them had said that a person’s sexual orientation wouldn’t bother them at all. Yet, they were the same people who said and did things that made him feel like an outcast. He’d be a lot happier if they were indifferent to him – he preferred indifference to the veiled hostility that made him want to disappear!
Questions that you may want to ponder upon:
- Which incidents illustrate discrimination?
- Why were Vineet’s parents, sister, and friend, more accepting than his colleagues?
- Why didn’t the anti-discrimination awareness training leave any impression on the employees of Vineet’s company?