Sumi and Buli are Physical Education teachers in a school and have been in a relation for over a decade, and live together in South Kolkata. Sukhdeep Singh talks to them to find out the various challenges they have faced, and what has kept them going
When and where did the two of you meet for the first time?
Sumi: We are physical education teachers. It was at a training college in the year 2001, she was my junior in the college. That is where the two of us got introduced to one another and I would say the relationship seed began to sprout.
Was it love at first sight?
Sumi: No, not at all.
Buli: For me it was. From the moment I saw her I felt as if I was attracted to her, it was a feeling which I couldn’t express. I wouldn’t term it as “love” per se since I just started noticing her around. Just the fact that she would be around, or watching her play or even looking at her from a distance, made me feel different about her; special to some extent. So, I guess if that’s what you call love at first sight then maybe yes it could be, because it seems so.
So who proposed whom?
Sumi: (Laughs) It actually didn’t happen that way. I knew I was a lesbian, but that was not the case with Buli, she didn’t know about alternate sexuality. I had just come out of a terrible relationship and was unwilling to allow myself to fall into one. But from her end I think it was a gradual step by step “proposal” which happened, I understood she had feelings for me.
Buli what about you, how did you proceed questioning your sexual orientation and coming to terms with it?
Buli: I was in college and being a junior, I wasn’t allowed to interact with her much, but I still used to always see her and feel attracted towards her. All of this when the two of us had not even got friendly! Later on one day I kissed her for playing well, it was just a peck on her cheek as an appreciation for playing well. When we first lip kissed one another, then I questioned myself why is this happening and for what reason? I had no knowledge about being a lesbian or anything of that sort, I never knew the details of alternate sexuality whatsoever. I was only fed negative thoughts about being a lesbian, about two women being in love with one another or having sexual feelings for one another. It was a very confusing period for me and to be honest, I have even had a relationship with a man in the past. But that was just a phase, since society says during adolescence a girl has to be attracted to a guy, so I forced myself into it but there was no “attraction” for the guy as such. But with her the feelings were strong and loud and I questioned myself over and over again, why was it happening? I was told such relationships are bad and then I questioned society: Why should it be bad? If as an individual I am happy with such feelings why shouldn’t I be allowed to have such feelings? In this way, slowly I came out to her, but in college, everyone would ostracise me, saying things like my results would go bad if I did this, or I wouldn’t have acceptance. They even went to the extent of telling that my guardians would be summoned. With such threats, it was getting tough for the two of us to even talk. Our meetings were now becoming few and far between during our days in college.
The two of you said you had to face a lot when it came to family and friends accepting your relationship, so how did they react to your relation?
Buli: I wouldn’t say my family was extra conservative, but what I would say is that it had the mentality of small towners, my father was the village panchayat leader, hence there was too much pressure on him to get me married off. Nobody suspected our relationship initially, but yes they started suspecting in due time. We are four sisters, and I was told once my sister was married I would have to get married. It was then when I told my family I wasn’t willing to get married and I loved this woman. They did try to break our contact, but never forbid me from working. I lied that I wasn’t seeing her and would sneak out sometimes to meet her.
When I got a job I told them that I was still in touch with her and now we are planning to live in together. Then my father tried emotionally blackmailing me through threats of suicide. It was a harrowing time. Four or five of my closest friends stood by me, and they always motivated me not to give up, to speak to my family. Then I took a transfer to Kolkata and Sumi’s mother helped a lot. My father had said he would like to talk to Sumi’s mother and he in fact came here and talked to her. Since then he has never pressurized me to get married, but he doesn’t talk to me that often, doesn’t joke around with me anymore. My father has accepted the fact that I won’t be marrying. My sister and brother-in-law, along with their kids, paid us a visit once. So I feel slowly my family is accepting it and coming to terms with it.
And what about you Sumi? Since this was your second relationship how did your family react?
Sumi: Since the age of 19, I knew I was a lesbian and so did my family. My family is very liberal. When I first told my mother, she was angry. There wasn’t any emotional stunts done on me like how it was done on Buli, but I could see her in pain. My father had no clue about my sexual orientation, but Mom knew it all since I would confide everything to her on a timely basis. And then Buli started coming over to my place and got along very well with my mother and other family members, but my mom didn’t know about our relationship. It is not that my mother liked her in the first instance, but we tried to slowly mingle. We would often sit and talk at length with her. She stayed with my family in 2008 for around six months, my mom insisted that she stay with us since she left her home and came across to a new city. Till date my family, friends, ex- colleagues; none of them have been inferior towards our relationship, nor have they been snide about it.
When she was in her village it was tough for her to communicate, we didn’t have mobile phones then, she would come to the local phone tower to speak to me. There were times when we couldn’t speak because I had to catch my train to go back home, there were days when we missed talking to one another or I would purposely miss a train so I could talk to her longer. This is how the two of us took baby steps to reach where we are today. Over time I’ve learnt how to support myself, support my lifestyle and hers as well.
Both of have been in a relationship for almost a decade now, so what is the one thing about the other you like or dislike the most?
Sumi: What I like about Buli is that she is very calm minded. Till date she has never been aggressive or short tempered with me. She has never insulted me or been unkind to me at all, never has she misbehaved with anyone in public or otherwise. She has truly stood by me through thick and thin times. I used to be a bohemian by nature, free spirited and down to earth. She has inspired me for almost everything around, right from getting a job to living as I am without fear. But what I don’t like about her, rather I want her to correct, is that she is very dependent on either me or others and that doesn’t go down too well with my likings.
Buli: The first thing I would say about her is that I can trust her a lot and I like that, rather I feel honoured when she lays her trust in me. I know I can speak to her about anything and she wouldn’t be judgemental about my actions or thoughts. With her around I can be far and yet close. She gives me a lot of space and she has always been there with me when my family was against this relationship. And if she wasn’t there through those times with me, I don’t think I would have made it today to be here and in a strong relationship. To talk about dislikes, sometimes she annoys me (laughs).
What do you mean by “annoys you”?
Buli: Well, small things like if I want some help or if I am unable to come to where she is, she dislikes those moments and she doesn’t understand me at that time. She keeps saying I am dependant, but I just like to consult her, and this is what I don’t like about her (laughs).
So are you living together now?
Sumi: She came here in 2008, we bought a flat in November the same year. We both tried our best to buy a flat on a joint name but we couldn’t because we had no legal support since we aren’t legally related to one another. That’s why we decided to let her buy a flat in her name since in the city of Calcutta she doesn’t have a place of her own, so it’s best she had this flat in her name.
What are the challenges of living together?
Sumi: The biggest challenge we face is when we go to buy stuff for the house, for example a TV or a fridge, where she gets the booking done in my name. As it is difficult to reach her mobile, generally my mobile number is given. So when they call they ask for a MR. And when I inform the sales person there is no MR or MRS, they deliver the product in the afternoon. Since the two of us working women aren’t around they would find it tough to deliver goods on time. This is what we face just like other married or working couples. Another challenge we faced earlier was with the neighbours because the flat is in the name of Buli, and when I went to talk to them, questions were raised as legally I don’t have any rights. Another challenge we face is that the neighbours are nosy and want to know why are two women living alone and why are they single. Why isn’t there any family living here with them etc?
Buli: But I would still like to say our neighbors may be a little nosy, but they haven’t made life difficult for us, they have never pried into our private lives and passed any disrespectful comments whatsoever. Nor have we heard anyone talk ill about us at all. If there is a puja or a function, they invite us both. In short, they socialize with us just as they would with other couples around.
How do you both resolve your fights or arguments which is but natural when living together?
Sumi: Till date we haven’t had a serious fight as such, there hasn’t been anything of such a magnitude as well. I am a person who would think before I speak.
Buli: Well, it is a matter of me breaking my ego and making her happy, this is always the case. But living for ten years I know what makes her angry and what I should avoid, hence we steer clear from such situations altogether. But if I know I am wrong, then I don’t have an issue going up to her and apologizing for the same. I try to cajole her, doesn’t that happen with other relationships as well? (laughs)
Have the two of you organized any social ceremony as such to validate your live in status?
Sumi: No we haven’t.
What are the activities the two of you enjoy doing together?
Buli: We love trekking and meeting up with friends, a good old ADDA.
Sumi: For me apart from going out, I think it would be spending time with her at home, just the two of us.
If India was to legalise same sex weddings do you plan to take part in it?
Sumi: No. In all caps NO.
Buli: If there are legal facilities given once same sex marriages are allowed, then yes! For example the flat which is in my name gets transferred to her name or added to hers then yes I would do it, since it would benefit the two of us. Or else what’s the use? Tomorrow if anything happens to me, where will she go? She should have this home and not my family who would come claiming this house.
What about your future plans, any kids? Do you plan to adopt?
Buli: No, not at all, kids for us are out of the question. We love them from far, but can’t think of having our own as of now.
Sumi: When her sister came with her kids for two days, we faced a harrowing experience, so kids are certainly a NO NO for us.
Last question from me would be, what is the secret of maintaining such a long relationship? Please share it with our readers.
Sumi: You need to be good friends, give enough space, so that the other doesn’t feel choked in any way and don’t interfere with one another. The main thing is to eradicate all fears, so that the other doesn’t fear telling anything.
Buli: You have to first be good friends with one another and understand one another, without which it would never work. Don’t hide anything. Above all have respect for one another.