K P Rai

The sweet and invigorating wafts of jasmine flowers at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road will always conjure up a particular memory for me.

I remember exhaling deeply, then inhaling in pulsating patterns to take in the cool crisp air of the night. It was a Pranayama technique of meditation I learned during Yoga lessons to release any tension that was building up in me. That Saturday night, with a jasmine garland strung around my neck and a gold necklace concealed tightly in my left hand, my breathing exercises for relaxation did not bring any relief at all. A zillion questions blazed through my mind. Did I remember to bring everything? How was I going to deceive the priest? What was the proper blessing sequence? Did my hair look alright? A quick flick with my comb left nothing to chance.

At once, Raju noticed my discomfort and gave me a long and reassuring look. Then, reaching out to remove a mischievous jasmine petal that had landed on my moustache, he cupped my face lovingly with his strong, steady hands. At last, the day had come often dreamed about it and wondered who the man would eventually be? It hurt badly thinking that none of my family members would ever be able to share in my joy and enthusiasm on this auspicious occasion. In fact, not even the closest of my friends would approve of my relationship.

Raju and I were to be pledged to one another. We had known each other for almost two years now and were both thankful to the gods for our well-consummated tie. This was my only relationship with a man to have lasted that long. Ever since I met Raju while shopping along Serangoon Road, I believed that our union must have been pre-written in the stars. We were the perfect match, although somewhat unconventional. It wasn’t just because we were two men in love with each other, but more so because of our differing temperaments. Outwardly, Raju was fearless and appeared strong and manly with his athletic disposition. Yet, he was always an emotional wreck and often looked to me for strength and direction. On the outside, I seemed like an airhead as I would be flustered each time I saw a cockroach scampering about in our bathroom. However, it was I who had the nerves of steel to organise stealthy events like this mock marriage ceremony of ours.

It was nearly closing time at 9.30pm as we hurriedly laid out all the items for blessings by the priest: A platter of fresh fruits, flowers and especially a heart-shaped pendant and chain rehearsed my lie well in advanced: I had brought these items for blessing on behalf of my sick mother who would be taking them to my newly-wed sister in India. But as the priest came towards us to consecrate the objects with fire and a Sanskrit chant, he beamed, as if knowing full well what was happening. I twitched nervously and lifted my bowed head to peek while chanting a personal prayer.

I sighed in relief. The priest’s demeanor, long-flowing hair held back tightly in a pony tail, and dark piercing eyes had “The Look”. There was no need for my elaborate lie nor any explanation. “He understands. He’s one of us.” Just as the prayer ritual was completed, I was surprised to hear the sound of beating drums and festive music. Coincidentally, an actual wedding ceremony was taking place at the hallway behind the main temple.

Five long years have since gone by. Each time this memory is brought to mind, it brings on painful knots in my heart. My liaison with Raju did not last the year. I have since returned his pendant and chain, and renounced this soul-tie. I am now with another, someone who has died for me, and whose spirit lives forever in my heart. He too would not approve of such an affair. I am going to see how long this union is going last.

*Thali: A beautiful Hindu symbol of union, the thali is a necklace given to a woman by her husband during the wedding ceremony and removed only when widowed.

[From the book, FOC: Freedom of Choice by Leslie Lung (Singapore: Aquanut Agencies, 2000). Used by permission. All rights reserved.]