COVER STORY

Birds of a feather

Photographer Vishnu V. Nair captures the life of gay couple Deb and Ankit

gallery-image Boundless love: Ankit (left) and Deb enjoy taking selfies. They are open about their relationship on social media.
gallery-image Family time: The couple has lunch at Deb’s home with his mother and grandmother.
gallery-image Long-awaited party: Ankit and Deb celebrate the scrapping of Section 377 at a suburban hotel lounge on the night of the verdict.
gallery-image A day in the life: The couple lives with its three cats Mojo, Beauty and Moto. Deb told his landlord about his relationship, before Ankit moved in. The landlord accepted them for who they are.
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BARELY A FEW HOURS after the Supreme Court decriminalised gay sex, Debendra Nath Sanyal, 27, and Ankit Andurlekar, 25, flaunted their wedding bands, looking each other in the eyes, as they snuggled in a warm embrace. The couple met each other at a co-working space in Mumbai, and got engaged after more than three years of dating. They have always been vocal about their relationship status. “In a way, we both proposed to each other, and now, hopefully soon, we can get legally married, too,” said Deb. The couple have done up their cozy two-room apartment beautifully. Deb takes on the role of home decor and runs minor errands, including fixing the geyser and stocking groceries, while Ankit loves to experiment with food. “There is no husband and wife in this relationship. I always maintain that we are both husbands here,” said Deb.

It was not easy for the couple to come out to their families. “They said I must visit a doctor or some psychiatrist to get myself checked,” said Ankit. “They could not understand it was not a mental issue. And then, there was the fear of social ostracisation, which bothered them too much.” But, the couple fought ridicule, anger and mockery. “There was the emotional upheaval and estrangement from our families, for a while,” said Deb. “But, if you see now, both our parents are so welcoming. Ankit’s mother calls me first if she needs to know anything, be it how to use the [TV] remote or how to upload her WhatsApp status.”

The night before the verdict was out, Deb’s mother, Arundhati Sanyal, was in Ranchi. “I had a restless night,” she said. “The next day morning I was in front of the television, biting my nails. When the verdict came, I pinched myself and cried. I called up my husband and exclaimed that our son is no longer a criminal.” A social worker, Arundhati had to leave her MBA programme in social entrepreneurship midway, because it coincided with the time her son came out as homosexual. “It was a difficult period for him, and he needed me by his side,” she said.

Unlike Deb’s parents, it took some time for Ankit’s parents to come to terms with their only child’s sexual orientation. “It was not easy for us,” said his father, Vilas Andurlekar. “The thought of how society would react was too bothersome, and we were very possessive of Ankit. But, as time passed, we came to terms with it, and accepted him for what he is. This is also because we are his biggest support system, and if our family is happy, then society does not really matter. It is good that the law is making everyone believe in the power of love.”

The camaraderie between the families is striking. Arundhati tells me that Deb’s grandmother buys more gifts for Ankit than for Deb, while Ankit’s mother prepares mouth-watering dishes for Deb, and is more pally with him that she is with Ankit.