“The media across films, OTT, print and online have genuinely begun to make positive efforts to represent queer folk in a far more realistic manner rather than as caricatures or in a derogatory way. However, there is far greater representation and reporting for queer men and transgenders than for lesbian women,” confess Rukshana Kapadia and Suneha Saha while talking about the state of queer representation in popular media. And we couldn’t agree more!
The past decade has seen stories from the LGBTQIA+ community demand a chair at the table, yet we’re still playing catch up with bringing lesbian stories to life. The French seem to have cracked the code on this, with films like Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013) and Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019) not just being festival darlings, but lauded for feats in cinematography and storytelling. At home, only a few, like Geeli Pucchi (2021) and Margarita With A Straw (2014) come to mind. It’s not like lesbians don't have good stories to tell. Or important ones that will affect the state of same sex relationships in India. Rukshana and Suneha are one such couple whose story has the power the not just moves hearts but mountains of legal roadblocks as well.
But no pressure on lawmakers, they can begin by getting to know them a bit better, starting with...
How they met!
“We met on Orkut and because of the 15-year age gap I thought she was just a kid. Two months of calls and texts dispelled that notion because I found her very grounded, real and endearingly charming,” reveals Rukshana, proving once again that Orkut was the OG digital dating pioneer, and you cannot tell us otherwise! For Suneha, it was an quite an effortless affair too. “The first time I spoke to Rukshana I was drawn to her eloquence, her charm, her loving and caring personality, her ability to make me laugh and the fact that she was so self-assured. It was very easy to connect with her because we had similar taste in music, movies and loved to travel, but most of all her positive outlook brought a lot of sunshine into my life,” she reveals.
Their early days of dating can be translated into a YA novel with young teenagers who're up to no good! That's how cute they behaved with one another. Rukshana reveals, “I went to pick her up from college after work and found myself parked right behind my youngest cousin’s best friend who had come to pick up his then girlfriend. I spent the next twenty mins ducking in my car which was quite funny before I could pick her up and make my escape.” Seems like Rukshana's track record with cars have never been great because Suneha revealed, “Rukshana has always been the romantic between the two of us, and I still remember the crazy night when she drove half way across town in the middle of the night to blow me kisses because she missed me. While being rather romantic, it also caused me mini heart attacks as my mom was sleeping in the same room, and I feared she would wake up to our then-secret romance!!”
Since then, the pair has shared a life filled with happiness and togetherness. “We are as different as chalk and cheese but also as closely entwined as Yin and Yang. So, it’s been quite effortlessly easy to not just embrace but also to genuinely enjoy the things that make us so different but also to bond deeply because the moral fabric at the core of who we are is so much in sync,” they reveal. And the secret sauce to their courtship might actually be a sauce! “Most of our memories are made over food, after all these years we still make sure we have date nights at least a couple of times a month. Our favourite date is to pick up a kathi roll from our favourite Badshah Rolls and go for a drive by the river side with good music playing in the car with Rukshana being DJ," they reveal.
Not without their families
“I knew from the very first day we met that Suneha was my forever and always, we were both very upfront about each other,” reveals Rukshana. She reveals that from the very first day they met, two months after making their online acquaintance, their eyes always sought each other out irrespective of the size of the crowd. With such resolve, the only logical next step is to get their families on board. Fortunately for the pair, they were blessed with parents, siblings and extended family members who were not only supportive but really warm as well. They reveal, “I come from a Parsi family and Suneha from a Bengali family. Being an only child, my parents always wanted me to get married and give them grandchildren, so it took a while to make them realise that she was the one. Suneha’s family quite naturally expected the youngest to settle down and while it took time to break the ice with love and patience, we are blessed that both our families are loving and accepting of US.”
Rukshana goes on to reveal that their siblings and cousins played a crucial supportive role, along with the respective aunts, in paving the way for their parents' acceptance. And with Suneha's family, overcoming the language barrier was a big part of ingratiating herself with them. She recalls the communication during early family functions involving a few Bengali words, thumbs up signs, and vigorous nodding with elder family members. Fortunately, her Bengali proficiency has significantly improved over time. Expressing gratitude, Rukshana notes that the way to her heart was through her stomach, and Suneha's family, especially her mother and aunts, have consistently cooked for her with love and indulgence.
Suneha chose to explain her relationship with her partner's family with an anecdote. One of Rukshana’s earliest family functions that Suneha was invited to was her grand aunts 90th birthday. She was surprised when, instead of a suitably formal lunch befitting the typical celebration for a 90-year-old lady she had grown to adore, she walked into a joyful, happy, noisy celebration with three generations of Rukshana's family, featuring lots of singing and dancing. The warmth and acceptance of her family as a whole were particularly welcoming.
The evils of prejudice
From stiff landlords to even activists within the LGBTQIA+ community, Rukshana and Suneha claim that prejudices against same sex couples are plenty. “Over time our landlords realised that we lead a rather simple dignified life and quite often it’s rather funny that people who we introduce each other to as our “partner” jump to the conclusion that we are business partners until we politely explain that our “partnership” is both personal and professional,” note the two.
Confusion laden first meetings aside, prejudice against the community has a whole real repercussions. “Equity and inclusion in the largest democracy in the world has taken positive steps but there are many miles to journey yet. Basic rights that straight couples enjoy—insurance, owning property together, adopting children, medical decisions made during hospitalisation, inheritance and much more need to be addressed. As citizens of this great nation, we respect the constitution and pay our taxes just like everyone else, why it is then that we are not offered the same rights that other citizens get. The world is changing, and we hope that our voices and our efforts will bear positive results in the coming days and truly create a kinder and more inclusive world," confess the couple.
A sense of community
The LGBTQIA+ community has definitely come through for the couple. Rukshana revealed that for almost a decade she chose to find allies and in her close straight friends. But when she relocated to Gurgaon for work, her only queer male friend in Kolkata connected her to an incredible group of queer women, some of whom went on to become active members of the 377 petition. When Suneha and she started seeing each other, they connected with a few friends in the LGBTQ+ community in the city. However, it has been most heartening that in the last five years, there has been a huge change, thanks to active efforts from many friends in the community, including Kolkata Pride and the Keshav Suri Foundation.
Rukshana goes on to talk about the bustling Pride community in Kolkata. The Kolkata Pride, the country’s oldest Pride march, is today the crowning jewel of a month-long queer celebration at the end of every year, which they actively participate in, made possible by the huge support of the Keshav Suri Foundation. In the last year, the organisation Sappho for Equality has also started a friendly neighbourhood cafe called Porshi, a lovely safe space run by community members. Today, with the advent of the internet and social media, it is certainly a positive way forward, and she genuinely hopes that the younger generation will find the path that they walked, which was often lonely and left them feeling very vulnerable, far brighter and filled with positive hope. The couple expresses gratefulness to all the incredible people, friends in the community, and their allies for the genuine efforts that they have put in to make this possible.
All about family and faith
The concept of alternative forms of family is not really talked about outside the community. How do same sex couple approach the concepts of having children or expanding their family. “Rukshana has been the eldest cousin on both her maternal and paternal side and therefore not only adores babies but is also amazingly good with them, she did want to adopt a baby girl in our early years. Suneha has been the youngest on both sides of her family and has never really felt comfortable with the idea of having children. The core of any relationship is respecting each other’s views and supporting them, so we came to a happy compromise by adopting our two fur babies our kitties Coco and Cookie that we rescued three years back and who are the light and joy of our lives," the couple state when posed with the question.
A long relationship stems from love and blossoms from mutual understanding. And fortunately, put story's protagonists were brought up with positive ideas of religion and not discriminating when it comes to choosing life partners. Both were raised with the belief that their religion is kind, and their culture encourages being giving and accepting human beings. Grateful for their families for instilling these values, there has never been a conflict between their cultural and sexual identity. Embracing simple principles, they assert that being a decent human being, guided by kindness, is all it takes. They acknowledge positive changes in societal acceptance of lesbian relationships over the past decade but also recognise the ongoing need for dignity, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas of India. And as a couple deeply in love and cherishing each day with their soulmate and best friend, they find it impossible to quantify the depth of their feelings for one another.
*And your Hinge date can't even text you back? (scoffs in singlehood!)*
Rukshana and Suneha, the story of US
It's hasn't been easy going either for these adorable people in love. They recount three events that had and will have a lasting impact on their relationship. The first involved the loss of Suneha's father 12 years ago, the second unfolded when Rukshana fell critically ill six years back, marking a two-year journey to restore her health. The third revolves around Rukshana's father, who has faced multiple and serious health complications in the last three years. In navigating these adversities, they discovered that challenges not only create hurdles but also forge the deepest and strongest bonds. These experiences have instilled gratitude for the seemingly small yet significant aspects of life often taken for granted.
So our heroes soldier on with each other and their loved ones as a strong support system. “We have been really blessed because we have had the good fortune of having some incredible and inspirational allies. Allies are the extremely important because they create a positive ecosystem and give people in the closet the courage to come out and live their life with dignity. Queer people are just as human as straight people, we laugh, we cry, we live, we love…,” they charmingly conclude.