Short Story: First And Foremost


“He was a police officer first and foremost,” Rahul told himself as he looked in the mirror. His dark eyes looked back at him, his hair regulation short, a thick but trimmed moustache just above his lips which were parted slightly, reflecting his introspective mood.

Rahul had worked hard to get into the academy, had graduated at the top of his class and landed a good position in the police force. He had sworn to enforce the laws, even if he didn’t always understand them, and he took his job seriously. He reported to work every day at 6 AM sharp, his uniform pressed and spotless, his shoes shined and his mind cleared for the day ahead. He took pride in his duty and always had.

As much as he knew it sounded like the plot of a Hindi film, he had vowed to become a police officer when he was just a 10 year old boy and his father had committed suicide rather than pay a bribe to a corrupt police chief who was blackmailing him. Rahul had vowed then and there to become a police officer when he grew up. After that, his intentions became decidedly less movie-like: He had no wish to avenge his father, to fight and murder the chief who had stolen his father from him at such a tender age. Rather, he wanted to be an upstanding officer of the law, not the sort of corrupt one who triggered pain and suffering in the lives he touched.

This decision had not always won him respect from everyone in his station, but then it was not the respect of such people that he wanted. Even the people on the street were confused when he refused a bribe, refused to look away. It wasn’t always easy. But at least he slept with a clear conscience at night.

But that was not all he slept with at night.

Rahul sighed and turned away from his reflection. He crossed to the balcony doors, open to the evening air, and stepped outside. It was drizzling and bougainvillea flowers drifted onto the balcony from the vine that grew up the side of the building. Somewhere, queen-of-the-night was blooming, its heady perfume drifting to him on the little gusts of damp wind which came now and then.

The evening traffic rush was just fading from the street below, and Rahul knew Satheesh would be home soon.

Rahul still remembered the first time he had seen Satheesh. The software engineer looked then much like he looked now- wavy hair always in need of a trim, brown eyes under thick brows always looking half lost in thought, half in the real world. A sweatshirt at least one size too big, ragged jeans, scuffed shoes. He looked like a serious fellow until that rare smile would flash across his face, lighting his features like sunrise on a new day.

But the first time Rahul had met Satheesh, the engineer had looked completely out of place. He had come with colleagues to a pub to celebrate someone’s birthday, and a fight had broken out. Rahul had been called. By the time he arrived, most of the colleagues had left, leaving Satheesh behind, a bewildered look on his face.

Rahul knew within seconds that Satheesh had not been involved in any fight, but he was so charmed by the nervous, but honest answers Satheesh gave to his questions that he interrogated him anyway. When he learned that Satheesh was a software engineer, Rahul asked if Satheesh did any freelance work – he had a laptop that kept giving him errors. Would Satheesh mind looking at it some time?

A stil from the movie Mumbai Police (for representational purpose only)

A stil from the movie Mumbai Police (for representational purpose only)

Even more bewildered than before, Satheesh had agreed. They exchanged phone numbers, and Rahul sent him home. To this day, Rahul could not articulate what had attracted him so much to Satheesh; some things were in the language of the heart and only the heart could translate.

That had been six years ago. That ruse to get to know Satheesh was the closest Rahul had ever come to being dishonest in his relationship with Satheesh. Of course, once they had become friends and later lovers, he had confessed and they had laughed over that night. They had moved slowly in their relationship, moving in together just days after the Supreme Court had ruled that at long last, homosexuality was not a crime in India. They had celebrated then, but both knew they would still need to be careful. Society was largely still not accepting of what they shared, regardless of the court’s decision.

Rahul bent and picked up a magenta bougainvillea flower. He twirled it thoughtfully in his hand. Until Satheesh, he had never had a serious relationship with anyone. He had known he was gay as early as 4 years of age, before he even knew what the word was. But he lived in a society that disapproved of many things, homosexuality being near the top of that long list. He had never dared to speak of it, not to family, friends and certainly not to colleagues. He still remembered how empowering it had felt to come out to Satheesh, to be allowed to fall in love with and bond to such a wonderful mate of his choice.

It had crossed his mind many times before the Supreme Court’s ruling on homosexuality what he would do if he was called on to arrest anyone for being homosexual. How could he arrest someone for being what he himself was? But how could he not enforce the law he had sworn to uphold? Fortunately, he had not had to face that decision before the court’s ruling.

But now, the Supreme Court had again made a ruling: upholding Section 377. The LGBT community had exploded with outrage, taking to the streets, protesting. So far, Rahul had not had to monitor any of these peaceful but powerful events.

Sec 377, Bangalore

Protesters chain their hands in Bangalore against Supreme Court’s verdict on Sec 377

Satheesh had proposed that they should join one of these events. Tomorrow. On MG Road. He had good reasons: besides the fact that this ruling hugely impacted their lives, it impacted the lives of every member of India’s LGBT community. Did Rahul really want every LGBT boy or girl to grow up like he had, Satheesh wanted to know, hitting at the heart of the matter like he always did.

Rahul had felt strongly opposed to the idea. How could he, as a police officer, stand up and protest against a law he had to enforce by oath? If he joined any protest, his superiors could learn about it, and he would probably be fired from his post, maybe even arrested. Yes, he disagreed with the court ruling and agreed that it was a huge step backwards for the LGBT community of which he knew he was a part. In all of his time on the force, he had never had to choose between his job and his personal beliefs. But wasn’t he himself in violation of the very law being protested?

To his credit, Satheesh had understood Rahul’s dilemma. But these days, there was a touch of disappointment in Satheesh’s normally approving eyes. When he kissed Rahul goodbye in the morning, his lips seemed to say, “The law says we should not be doing this.” And when they were intimate, when they lay tangled in each other’s arms afterwards, a part of his own mind dwelt on how insane this law was and how many people’s lives it impacted…including his own.

He heard the clang of the building gate some floors below him and glanced at his watch. Satheesh was home, somehow he knew. Then, he heard the hum of the lift, and it stopped on his floor. He heard the jangle of keys in the door. He threw the flower over the edge of the balcony, watching as it drifted down on the breeze and raindrops.

No, he decided. He was human first and foremost. He had a right to love, to hope. To seek happiness and equality. He had a right to kiss and make love to the man who loved him. He hoped the rain would clear up in time for the protest tomorrow morning.