Vadodara/Korapat (Gujarat): Gita is thinking of ways to break her lover's marriage. A lesbian, she admits to having always liked girls. “For me this seemed natural but I realised there was no one else like me. But I was the way I was. I wrote a love letter to a girl once in school. When the other girls found out, they started coming to me,” she says.
Kiran is upset. Her whose girlfriend of six years was locked up in her house by her father soon after their relationship was discovered, and is to be married off soon. Kiran hasn't seen her girlfriend for two years but is now determined to run away with her before the wedding later this year.
Gita and Kiran are just two examples of the silent sexual revolution sweeping India, slowly but surely. These are all coming out tales, some mocked at, others reject, but all told in hushed tones.
In 2006, two tribal women from Orissa – 32-year-old Weteka Palang and 24-year-old Meleka Nilsa - became the poster girls for lesbian movement in India. Both escaped abusive marriages to be with each other and today live as woman and wife.
But it wasn't really a fairy-tale wedding. The couple had to run away from their village and stay away for a year.
They then bought acceptance with a drum of country liquor, a sack of rice and a bullock - which they gave to the Kandha community. But in the end, they were accepted as two women in love - a victory few lesbian women can achieve in India.
Lesbianism is something that is rarely talked about in India when we talk about queer relationships. Yet it is a reality. But the women say, in many ways their lives are very different from gay men, and sometimes extremely difficult.
Living with prejudice comes with the territory for lesbian women. From being called hijras and dykes..to being mocked openly. Very few relationships last because of constant pressure from family and society.
Yet these women look the world in the eye. Some choosing to change their sex to make themselves more acceptable, some proudly retaining their feminine bodies - living with their partners in a queer marriage.
NEXT PAGE: Maya Sharma told her son she was a lesbian...
Maya Sharma, author, lesbian and activist, was married for 16 years and even has a son. When she found marriage too stifling, Maya broke out. Today, as the architect of Parma, a lesbian support group in Baroda, she is godmother to the lesbian movement in this part of Gujarat - and is happily settled with her partner for more than three years now.
Maya and her son have a quiet understanding about her relationship.
“He supports me. We have this tacit kind of understanding. He was there when we did the book launch. Parents no more and that makes it simpler. My family has accepted. And I don't care sufficiently. I don't say it outright that I am living with a woman just as straight people don't have to say,” she says.
Others like 42-year-old Shaina Rahmatullah proudly wear their lesbian label on their sleeve. Shaina says she has never wanted to be monogamous and has had more than 25 relationships in four decades. A practicing Muslim - she was told the Koran forbids same sex love - but Shaina has over the years, thought of a fitting answer.
“This is natural too. Love is not a crime,” she says.
Many women come to Parma to be among their own - from small towns and villages across Gujarat. None of their parents took it very well when they admitted to being attracted to their own sex.
But this support group offers comfort and solace. Like any heterosexual, they too have been through love and loss. For some the journey has been made more confusing by the sex they were born into.
A transgender man, was born Ketaki and grew up wearing frocks and skirts. But she hated being addressed and identified as a girl. Today she calls herself Ajay, a man trapped in a woman's body, attracted to women.
“I was very confused and then decided to get an operation done. I didn't have the hormones of a woman. Never felt like a woman. I have always used the masculine form when I have talked about myself,” he says.
In 2003, Ajay had married a woman at a temple. Soon after, the couple had a baby, Preeti, using in-vitro fertilisation. But in July, Ajay's partner - who suffered from severe depression - killed herself. Now Preeti, their daughter, is being raised by a lesbian support group.
Today, Ajay is in the process of getting a sex reassignment surgery and becoming a man complete with male sex organs, determined to be a good father to little Preeti.
“I would tell God, you should have made me a man, why did you make me a woman? But I know I am doing the right thing. Life is difficult but I want to make some thing of my life,” says Ajay.
Vikram, too, was born Shalu Chauhan, and changed his name after he had his breasts removed. He says he knew from his school days, that he was attracted to women
“I met this girl in class V who I liked. I would wish she would just sit with me. I would play with her, follow her around, made greeting cards for her but never proposed to her,” he says.
At 24, Vikram is like any other young man, complaining how women are difficult to please. Now that he looks like a man - it's become easier to get women's attention. Today, he says, he is almost ashamed to have been born a woman.
“I have always liked girls. It never bothered me. What bothered me was my body. Very few girls are understanding. They will not want their boyfriend to be a woman. They want their boyfriend to be a man. In these things, India is still backward,” he says.
From loving women, to wanting to be a man, to get acceptance for this love - it's a complex world for these women. Yet, they all say this is far more liberating than being forced into behaving a heterosexual where they feel neither longing nor love for the opposite sex.
Being accepted for who they are is still a long way off. But the journey has begun.