It was one of the colder nights. Rancho was snuggled in layers of blankets right beside Farhan on the floor. There was only one bed and they let Pia and Raju use it. Pia, because that just felt like the gentlemanly thing to do and honestly Raju didn’t even ask, said he deserved it after everything he was put through.
Chatur hadn’t stayed. He was too scared that the kids would kill him as he slept. Farhan had wondered if the car had enough fuel to make it to the nearest petrol pump but then decided he didn’t care.
He let out a breath and even in the dark he could almost make out his breath materializing into a fog. Somewhere under the layers, Rancho’s hand, warm, finds his and Farhan feels every muscle in his body relax.
“Your dad’s going to have a heart attack.” Rancho mumbles and Farhan can’t believe he’s laughing at that. The scariest thing he can think of right now and he’s laughing. He’s missed how brave Rancho makes him feel.
Farhan turns to face Rancho, “What do I even call you now?”
Rancho pushes the blanket away from his face and breathes out a quiet,“I like Rancho.”
“You do?” Farhan whispers suddenly too aware of the silence.
“Yeah. It’s the only name that made me feel loved.”
Rancho smiles and Farhan almost turns away, as if he was in college again trying not to fall in love with Rancho any more than he already was but the grip on his hand pulls him back to reality. A reality in which Rancho was his.
“I like Rancho too” Farhan adds cheekily.
Rancho can’t help it, he hits Farhan’s arm, “what was that for?!”
“What else am I supposed to do when you say stuff like that?”
“Not hit me?”
“I’ll try.” Rancho says and then mumbles,“No wonder I was the only one with a girlfriend in college—ouch!”
Apparently, Farhan hits harder.
“How is he an actor?”
Farhan was surprised by how many movie DVDs Rancho had lying around in his room. They’d decided to stay in and watch a shitty Bollywood movie except Rancho was too busy criticizing everything.
“Don’t be so harsh on him, he’s just a side character”
“Yeah, he’s not even good enough to be a side character”
Farhan figures that Rancho had had enough of the third rate plot and the horrible acting when he turned it off.
“You don’t think Raju’s mad at us?”
Raju and Pia had stayed only for three days, apparently, they both had things they needed to get back to. Raju had basically abandoned his wife for days and Pia had the consequences of being friends with three idiots waiting for her.
Farhan thinks back to Raju saying, “yeah I’ve missed Rancho but I haven’t missed him enough to be able to deal with my best friends fucking each other”
“You make it sound as if we’re fuck buddies. We’re in love”
Raju crinkles his nose.
“Yeah, that’s worse.”
Farhan looks at Rancho’s concerned face and almost laughs, “I’m sure he’s fine.”
Rancho didn’t look convinced.
“You miss him already?”
“Yeah.” Rancho says, with an emotion Farhan isn’t sure he’s heard in his voice before.
“Jesus, how did you last all these years without us?”
Rancho doesn’t answer that, instead a quiet sorrow grows in his eyes and Farhan feels his heart ache. Every night that he had gone to sleep, alone and angry, wondering why his best friend had left, Rancho had been alone too. Even if he had been the one to leave Farhan can’t imagine that it must’ve been easy for him.
Farhan puts an arm around his shoulder, not knowing what else to do, “Are you going to come back to Delhi?” he asks.
Rancho’s expression shrivels up and Farhan takes pity on him, “It’s fine. You don’t have to think about that right now.”
Instead, they go on a short road trip. It was just a spur of the moment decision. Farhan had found what seemed to be Rancho’s travel journal and every picture in it felt almost too personal to look at. Farhan’s suspicions were confirmed when Rancho had caught him looking at it and went red. He’d never seen him so flustered before.
Farhan cleared his throat as he handed the journal back to Rancho, “They’re really good.”
Rancho takes a moment and then looks back at him with a sly smile playing on his lips,“Oh, am I good enough to be a photographer then?”
Farhan laughs,“You can’t be good at everything buddy. That’d be too unfair”
Farhan thought Rancho wanted to avoid the topic but was caught off guard when Rancho said,“Do you wanna go see these places?”
He doesn’t waste a second in answering.
Farhan reaches out to Rancho every time and Rancho drags him through the valleys filled with every shade of green Farhan’s mind can conjure up, and rivers with blue so deep Farhan felt he could drown in it if it just stared at it long enough, it’s a world he’s seen before and yet it’s all different.
And Farhan is absolutely mesmerized by how the world shines in Rancho’s eyes. Of all the things he’s wanted to capture, nothing, nothing has ever come close to Rancho’s eyes. Then Farhan smiles in quiet realization that this beauty is reserved for him and him alone, his to stare at for an eternity and he can’t believe how privileged he is.
It’s at Chandratal when Rancho is surrounded by nature so overwhelmingly strong and beautiful, he can’t bring himself to taint it by lying.
“I’m scared.” Rancho doesn’t look at Farhan, “I’ve only ever wanted to learn. But all these companies, the contracts—they want me to be this guy who is magic. They approach me and tell me I could revolutionize the industry and it-”
Farhan listens quietly as he realizes how much Rancho has changed.
“I started teaching because those kids don’t expect anything special from me. Going back to the city, it might just—I don’t know—it would be like running towards everything I’ve been running from. To be very honest I am not sure what I should be doing. I feel like I’m not doing justice to what I could be.”
Farhan looks at him with an odd look in his eyes and then walks towards him and presses their foreheads together. His hand snaked around Rancho’s neck holding it in place and his breath lightly tickling Rancho’s skin. Rancho closes his eyes almost impulsively.
“Take a deep breath”, Farhan whispers, his voice oddly entrancing as if he were a siren beckoning Rancho to his death and well, how could Rancho not follow?
So, he took a deep breath and felt the cold air pierce his lungs.
“You are magic, Rancho. You’re here and that’s a miracle in itself. The fact that I found you is a miracle, the fact that you’re my best friend and my deepest love, is a miracle. There’s nothing more you need to do than just breathe. That’s all the magic this world needs from you.”
The interest that people like Chatur had in him left a bitter taste in his mouth. Everything he made, every research paper he wrote, it was all very personal to him. He poured all his soul into learning; it was only natural that he would pour all his soul into his work as well. He just loved it too much. Selling his soul to companies that didn’t care for it felt too horrible and suddenly he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to be more than just a genius who brought in profits.
So, he taught and there he was appreciated. His knowledge was treated with the care he wanted it to be treated with. But then suddenly he was being too selfish, not doing enough. He didn’t want to sacrifice his freedom. He wanted to stay as he had been, creating when he wanted to, having fun. But everyone else wanted him to work because that’s all the value he held.
“You don’t need to do anything. You don’t owe anyone any revolutions. You’re doing just fine, love.”
And then there’s Farhan. Farhan who sees him for all he is. Farhan who knows him. Farhan who worships him, hangs on to every syllable he utters, listens to him ramble about his research papers even though he doesn’t care for physics because it makes Rancho happy. It was almost as if to Farhan, Rancho was the entire universe. It makes him feel so helplessly warm and loved he couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in his eyes.
“I thought I was the poet in this relationship”
“Oh, not by a longshot.”
“Since when did you become so—” Rancho makes some vague gestures Farhan just laughs.
Farhan puts a hand on his chest and sighs, “Since the love of my life abandoned me years ago.”
“I’m the love of your life?” Rancho teases
“Who says I’m talking about you?”
Farhan gets punched in the arm.
Farhan hands Rancho his own journal before he goes off to sleep on the couch. As Rancho flips through it, he realizes what Farhan had meant about the pictures Rancho took feeling too personal. It felt as if each picture had held a story, one that would be too much for the world to bear if put into words. So, pictures it was. There are some scribbles beneath some of the pictures and Farhan’s horrible writing makes it bit hard to read them but when he realizes what they are he feels the tears well up and trail down his cheeks.
‘He would’ve loved this place’, ‘His sensitive skin wouldn’t last two days in this weather’, ‘He would’ve tried to pet them, despite their deadly claws’—all of them written in the smallest possible size, as if Farhan was trying to hide his feelings even from himself, except one. One that was written in the cleanest handwritten, leaving no scope for misinterpretation. One thing Farhan was sure of:
‘I’ll bring him here one day’
There’s his and Farhan’s love story: in the margins of Farhan’s journal and in the photos Rancho took, tucked away from the world because they aren’t allowed to be loud. He wipes down his tears furiously, overwhelmed by how long Farhan had loved him. He cradles the journal as he cries knowing he’d travel to every corner of the world Farhan wanted to show him.
As Rancho realizes just how much in love he is, he suddenly feels wronged. This feeling was reserved for Shahrukh and Kajol while John and Abhishek played the comic relief. As if love between men wasn't something significant. But he knew better now that he was here, a man in love with another man, Rancho only felt a warmth in his chest that almost made him think that his heart been replaced by the sun that burned only for Farhan’s smile.
If Millimetre hadn’t shown him that movie, if he hadn’t ever met Farhan, would he have gone through his entire life unconsciously burying these feelings? He then thinks about Pia and how long it must’ve taken her to figure herself out. How many others had to struggle to find themselves?
Rancho felt wronged. How dare they rob him of a love so real? How dare they rob them of their stories?
He stares at Farhan, still sound asleep on the couch and the sun in his chest flares. He lays down Farhan’s journal alongside his own, and sits down next to Farhan’s sleeping figure half wondering if he would melt down if he got too close but that didn’t stop him from running his fingers through Farhan’s hair.
He’d never have to bear through the Shimla winters in a single sweater ever again, but that fact was only sinking in now, with Farhan by his side. He kneels forward, kissing his moon lightly. Farhan’s eyes flutter open in confusion and a smile crept on Rancho’s face as he kissed Farhan again. Farhan’s hand traced along Rancho’s jaw until it was holding his neck in place as he deepened the kiss. Rancho is the first to break away as always, too overwhelmed and Farhan’s gaze stays on him as he catches his breath, fixated, following every little movement he made, and Rancho felt as if he was on fire.
Rancho lightly tilts his jaw upwards, his heart still racing and Farhan doesn’t waste a single second before he’s kissing him again. Rancho closes his eyes and surrenders to the flames.
They eventually make it back to Delhi and honestly Rancho could barely recognize the place anymore. It was the same but it felt as if the city was a blank canvass when he’d left it and now it’d been painted over several times. Almost as if Farhan had sensed Rancho’s hesitation, he gave him a light pat on the back and a reassuring smile. Just like that, Rancho’s inhibitions disappeared.
Rancho decided to start funding queer filmmakers. He doesn’t know what else to do just yet but he’ll figure it out. He’d been unsure about something, and it was a new feeling. Farhan was beaming with pride for at least a week when Rancho told him and that in itself was motivation enough to keep going.
It’s a cold night and Farhan is wide awake. Rancho is tucked in his arms, breathing softly, almost asleep.
“I’ll eventually need to go back to work, you know?”
“and?” Rancho doesn’t open his eyes, only snuggles deeper into Farhan’s chest.
Farhan’s breath hitches in his throat as Rancho looks up at him, his eyes filled with sleep and yet, so bright, so beautiful. If he could stare at them forever—if he could stay beside Rancho forever—Farhan pushes down the anxiety working its way up and leans in.
“Will you come along with me?” He whispers, his was sounded so vulnerable and foreign even to his own ears, he knew Rancho would know what he’s asking—
Rancho’s eyes widen and for a moment he doesn’t say anything. As the silence stretches on, a heaviness grows in Farhan’s chest and he is ready to run out the balcony and jump. Then after what feels like an eternity, Rancho turns away from him and stares at the ceiling.
“Nah I was planning on running away actually”
Farhan laughs or rather tries, but it comes out choked and he realizes that he’d almost cried. He turns towards Rancho, “You realize Raju and I will just hunt you down again?”
Rancho shrugs still looking at the ceiling. Farhan places a hand on Rancho’s jaw making him turn to look at him.
“and this time we won’t play nice when we find you.”
Rancho holds his hands up in surrender and then leans in.
“Where will we go?” Rancho asks before kissing Farhan.
Farhan smiles into the kiss and whispers, “Wherever you want.”
With the sun burning brightly in his chest, Rancho felt as if he could conquer the entire world. Then Farhan kisses him again and Rancho thinks the world can wait.