The Supreme Court of India has recognised the legitimacy of what we can call (inspired by its own phrasing) Atypical Love. These words come from the SC’s mid-August decree, which ruled in favour of reinterpreting an institution’s rulebook to permit leave to care for both the complainant’s adopted and biological children. “These manifestations of love and of families may not be typical but they are as real as their traditional counterparts,” observed the court. “Such atypical manifestations of the family unit are equally deserving not only of protection under law but also of the benefits available under social welfare legislation.”

            Atypical love and atypical families, in the eyes of the court as per this order, will also include queer couples and unmarried heterosexuals. This is cause for celebration for all who live in the shadow of the Typical – which is to say the heteropatriarchal – sometimes in secrecy, sometimes defiantly, but always with heightened vigilance.

            Some day, I hope that the recognition of individuals who are their own families – who are, essentially and practically, alone – will also be validated in the eyes of society. The law will follow. Even where it already applies, legitimacy is not lived reality; this gaze remains unchallenged in actual practice. Speaking from experience, to be a woman alone in this country is a perennial source of chagrin, fear, anger, rejection and uphill battling. I could write volumes about this. For now, two relatively unserious examples of how a person without a family is viewed will suffice.

            The first: I always book window seats on trains and buses wherever possible, but “We are travelling as a family,” is offered as a reasonable excuse for me to have to give up my seat. I just say No, but I grit my teeth behind a smile. It’s the expectation that annoys me so much more than being asked. Why are my desires as a passenger to enjoy the scenery less important than a group’s desire to sit together, when in all likelihood they were together and will remain together beyond the hours of the journey?

Here’s a more dramatic example that became funny in retrospect: on assignment years ago, I was taken into tiger territory by a local guide. My instincts told me not to get out of the vehicle, although my colleague did. He came back aghast and shaken, saying it was an open area and not an officially designated space, and that they vamoosed before any animals were spotted (or rather, spotted them). When I asked the guide why he had acted irresponsibly, he said: “I wouldn’t take families here. I thought it’s okay because you are bachelors.”

            Meaning: no one’s going to cry for you, my spinster sister, so go ahead take all the adventures you’re inclined to. Which, to be fair, is a nice contrast to the other imposition one more frequently encounters: you are a threat to the patriarchal system and deserve to be extinguished.

            So I love – atypically and applaudingly – the Supreme Court’s ruling. May its recognitions of what different lives look like extend further still, reflecting in the ways people regard, respect and subsequently treat one another.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in September 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.