Growing up in New Delhi, my sister and I did everything together. We shared the same schools, the same games, books, clothes, fights.... We plaited each other’s hair, screamed and scratched each other’s faces, held each other through cramps. I was the older one, so I had to take care of her: clean her up when she got hurt; gently re-pierce her ears every few months when they closed up; hold her hand while crossing the road. We did everything together and the first time we were apart for more than a few days was when I went to the US for college.
When I met my sister again two years later, she'd come to the same tiny college. One day, we walked down the street together and my hand slipped into hers, unthinking, as we crossed a road. One block further, another; we passed a big beefy man with groceries, a group of teenage boys roughhousing, the click-clack of a woman in high heels. She suddenly tugged her hand out of mine, uncomfortable, shamefaced, aware of the stares lingering on us, the carefully blank faces and judging eyes. “They think we’re together. They think we’re like that.”
A year later, I would walk down that street again, this time holding my lover's hand, her long arms making me stoop and nestle into her. We would walk that way many times, laughing, tongue in cheek, foot in mouth, arm in arm, hand in hand. Over the years, I would hold hands with lovers many times: on a frozen bridge above the Chicago River; standing next to a ferry on the Pacific Ocean; back in the chaos of a veg-and-fruit market in Delhi; late at night in an auto, hands held tight to stop lips coming together, the auto driver staring at us in his rear-view mirror. I’d hold hands forming a circle with women singing protests against the ‘honour’ killings of women who married outside their community; with queer friends carrying a pride flag for the first time in Delhi; with a complete stranger, dressed in sequins and gold, who lit his candle from mine at a vigil for the thousands dying with HIV/AIDS and clutched my hand throughout the moment of silence.... But I'd never hold my sister's hand again.