Sarav is an Indian mama's dream. Handsome, well-spoken in Tamil and English, well-educated at top American universities, well-paid as a computer engineer at a top American computer company, assimilated but still immersed in his South Asian heritage. He'll make some man a wonderful husband someday. And that fact is precisely where the dream dissolves for mother and, therefore, son, because Sarav is out and proud and gay to everyone except his family home in India. And Mom is said to be distraught that they have not yet found Sarav a suitable bride, a phantom bride, really, because Sarav will never, ever take a bride.
I got the full account of what Sarav is facing on the same day I finally read the recent New York Times Magazine with the cover story about "Newlywed Gays", young married men depicted in halcyon, 50's-style home-life shots. One gay couple talked about how enthusiastic both moms were about the men's engagement, wanting to know all the romantic details of who was the one to do the asking, and how. Sarav's story came as a bracing reminder of what gay people in less enlightened corners of the world still go through.
I know Sarav, one of my husband's coworkers, almost entirely through Facebook, and even keeping track of him online can lead to vicarious exhaustion: one minute he's working on traditional dance, then his documentary, then a global poverty march, then there's a status update like this: "Sarav is going to Cambridge city hall to meet the mayor." As a stifled suburban haus frau, I would look at his frenetic socializing and activism and think, he has a charmed, carefree life. That is, until I saw the status update about "wishing Amma would stop the drama and leave him alone".
He says his journey from a small south Indian city to an openly gay man in Boston has been a "lonely one all along. I don't want this for my worst enemy". Sarav grew up sleeping on a mat made of grass, with pillow and blanket, in what he calls a "very stressful, noisy, violent, unhappy hole in the earth". He grew increasingly isolated as he got older, realizing he was gay, something, he says, no one ever talked about or acknowledged. Another thing that didn't exist for him in his world: privacy. One day in his early 20's, he came home to find his mother reading a romantic fantasy about a man that he had written in a diary.
"I was outraged," he says and that night he erased it, from the diary, but not from his mind. "It was erased from the paper and got stored in my memory, tucked away neatly as one of my vivid fantasies."
Sarav's mother never confronted him, and he went on to achieving a different fantasy, a gay Indian boy's version of the American dream. He wanted to come here, to come out, without shame.
And here he is, out and about in Boston, more than a decade later. But back home, to Amma, his clock is ticking. Sarav is 34. He described what marriage means in his culture.
"It's a social contract between two large families, along with all the extended families and friends. Since Indian marriages are considered family affair and community event, all of your family and friends, extended family get involved. Your milk man, grocery store guy, maid, next-door neighbors, colleagues, classmates, friends, doctor, are all invited. So everyone is looking out for that day, and it's very very rare to see this not happening to someone."
Sarav has put it off again and again, but now his mom is frantic.
"She is trying to find as many potential brides for me and collecting their pictures and resumes. She has given me an ultimatum that I should be getting married at any cost soon. She is desperate, asking all my family and friends to advise me and counsel me. They say my mom is miserable...."
Sarav will have to tell her, but he says he can only speak to her in Tamil and the language doesn't allow for him to explain, in positive terms at least, what she must know in her heart. To him, there are literally no appropriate words.
For Sarav, the gay Indian boy's dream is only partially fulfilled. His wish someday is that Amma will come to live with him here, in hopes that she will grow to understand that he is gay and that's OK.
"Deep down, I love my mom very much. I cannot let her go thru this alone. And most importantly, if I tell her now when she is in India, before I know she will tell my immediate family and the news will spread as a wildfire and I wont have control over the situation. My families ties may break forever and I may be let go and never bothered with."
Sarav may never get that moment of pure acceptance that the young couples from the Times piece did. That is probably a fantasy that will go unfulfilled. But he can dream. It's worked for him before.