Three days ago, I rewatched Kuch Kuch Hota Hai with a couple of friends. Maybe it was Pride Month fever, but I couldn't stop thinking about how perfect Tina and Anjali could have been together.
So here it is. The fanfic that I couldn't help but write, combining two things that I rarely see together — queerness and Bollywood.
Here we go.
Anjali Sharma was a popular, grade-A student at St. Xavier's College. She liked playing basketball, dancing, and girls.
Yeah Anjali was gay.
She was also in the closet. She feared her family would be devastated and her friends would distance themselves from her.
After all, she was in a country that criminalized people like her.
When a group of exchange students arrived at St. Xavier's, the college administration put its best students in charge of showing the them around. Anjali was paired with Tina.
Tina Malhotra was from London. Quiet, cute, and mysterious.
Kind of like a goth, if a goth wore bright colours and flowers.
She was also the most beautiful girl Anjali had ever seen. Something about the way she talked was soft, like a hug.
This was the first time Anjali felt things she hadn't felt before.
Introducing her to other students, giving her the college sweatshirt, familiarizing her with the institution's rules — Anjali always managed to find an excuse to talk to Tina.
Over the months, Anjali noticed how much attention Tina got from men. She was probably straight... Right? She seemed straight.
They were friends, but it was complicated. How do you just ask someone who they like? This was new.
Tina didn't care about the boys though. All that caught her eye was Anjali.
But it's not easy getting messages across when you're a high femme. Anjali's best friend was a man. Did she "LIKE" like him? Maybe she was just a tomboy and Tina's gaydar was wrong the whole time?
One day, as Tina and Anjali watched the game, they realized they were sitting too close. Knees touching. Eyes locked. Heart rate up. Sharing a brief moment of wordless admission. The kind that is usually followed by a kiss in Hollywood films.
It was, like most beautiful moments, cut short by a straight man.
While nothing was said, a lot was felt.
But things seldom go how they should.
The semester was coming to an end. Everyone was to go home, but Tina would not return.
She was going to leave for London for good.
The time to say goodbye came all too fast.
Anjali gave Tina her chunari, who now had more than memories to keep.
A part of Anjali was with her.
Years went by.
In Mumbai, little girl read a letter from her mother who died soon after childbirth.
"I settled into marrying a man. The world around me pressured me into living an inauthentic life. Don't let them stop you from loving who you love and being yourself," read the final paragraph.
The envelope also included a picture of her mother's first love, whom she was named after.
Two gifts were passed on with the 12-page letter; the promise of a parent's unconditional acceptance, and a dotted red chunari that smelled like flowers.
Little Anjali recognized that face. It was the face of a dance teacher whose classes some of Anjali's classmates went to every summer. She was always in their photos.
Summer was here, and this year, the dance teacher was going to have a new student.
Anjali arrived at the dance camp to finally meet her mother's first love, her namesake.
"Why's your name Anjali?" she asked her new teacher.
"Maybe my mother loved the name. And why is your name Anjali?"
"Maybe my mother loved you."
As the two bonded, Anjali revealed more about her life to her teacher.
"My mom, she told me to always be true to myself. Live life on my own terms, and put my happiness before anyone else's. She's with god now. I miss her."
Left curious and restless by the child's odd responses, Anjali decided to take a look at the photo in the picture frame the girl hugged to sleep every night.
There she was. Her first love.
Many had come and gone after her, but there was never another Tina. Anjali broke in a familiar but amplified way.
But by the end of dance camp, Anjali was slated to get into an arranged marriage. Maybe this was the sign she needed to be true to herself. Put her own happiness first. So what if it was "late"?
The day of the wedding, Anjali found a new courage. She told her fiancé she couldn't marry him. She couldn't love him like a wife loves her husband, and going ahead with this would be unfair to both of them.
As she walked out of the wedding hall, a previously unknown sense of relief came over her. She was not suddenly living her truth, but she was a step closer to doing so.
A step further from entrapping herself in an unfulfilling life.
...All with the help of an unexpected old friend, who had managed to reach out without a cry for help.