Thursday, 20 December 2007

Love will Keep Us Alive!

Insight into ‘positive’ relationships

by Shitu Rajbhandari

He is her brother’s friend. She has known him for some time now. His sweet smile and shy nature always appealed to her. Her parents trust him and treat him as though he was their own and with her brother away he filled the void for them. He understood her and stood by her whenever she needed support. She is in love with him. His name is Ravi* and her name is Sheetal*
They both have a friend in common. An idle afternoon brought these strangers together for the first time. With not much time to spare they parted ways after a brief meeting, promising to meet again. Telephone calls followed and the conversations helped them know each other well. Well enough for her to fall in love with him. His name is Vis* and her name is Rita*.
Don’t these relationship stories sound familiar? Haven’t most of us met our love interests the same way Sheetal or Rita did; or know of a couple who did? Yes, we have, and like those relationships, these aren’t any different. They have the same fights, the same concerns and yes, the same love but what these relationships also have is HIV. Ravi (28) and Vis (32) are both are HIV positive. One time drug users, they both contracted HIV while sharing infected needles with their friends.
Not your regular feature in the ‘ten things that attracts me most in a person’ list, many still stigmatise HIV positives and think they are unworthy of love. But Sheetal and Rita beg to differ. “It makes no difference to me that he has HIV,” says twenty-two-year old Sheetal. “I know he is a good person and that’s all that matters to me.” A believer in ‘love conquers all,’ Sheetal, ironically, fell more in love when Ravi told her about his status in an attempt to push her away from him, thus unconsciously stigmatising himself by denying the love and attention Sheetal was giving him. “It was hard to accept that after the infection such a thing could happen to me,” he explains.
As for Vis and Rita, the telephone has played a huge part in their relationship and that’s how she got to know about him being positive. “It bothered me to not tell her about my status when I realised that we were falling in love,” explains Vis. Caught between losing her forever and coming clean, he told her about being HIV positive with the fear of rejection riding heavy in his heart. But to his surprise she took the news very normally. “I was a bit surprised when I got to know but I wasn’t upset or for that matter even sad,” says twenty-seven-year old Rita. Married for four months now, Rita recently discovered that her father was suffering from cancer which made it easier for her to come to terms with Vis’s illness. “The only problem I had with him was his lying to me about the time he had known about his status,” she says, “I didn’t appreciate him lying to me about it.”
But living in a society where you don’t just date a girl or a guy but their entire family, Vis and Ravi knew from day one that their rendition of Meet the Parents wouldn’t be as comic as the movie; and that’s the reason they are avoiding it. “Both our families don’t know about me being positive yet,” say Ravi. “We’ll tell them when the time is right,” Sheetal adds. But when do you know the time is right? “When we both can stand on our own feet,” echoed the couple. Talking on the same lines is Rita who says, “They don’t know yet because it’s me and not them who has to live with Vis. If I am happy, it shouldn’t a problem with them” The conviction that these couples spoke with left me with a hope that their dreams come true, for when there is hope there is always the will and courage to fight and win any battle.
And hopeful they are, so much so, that they’ve even thought about starting a family at the risk of getting themselves infected. “We definitely want kids of our own,” says Rita, “and we are currently working on educating ourselves on avoiding the risk of infecting the child and me.” Though less than likely, with development in medicine and the percentage of mother-to-child transmissions being very less, if they can’t have a child of their own, then they are very open to the idea of adoption.
Yes, they have an answer to every question you throw at them as a child would, before an exam. Grilled by HIV everyday of their lives, they definitely don’t look at the world through rose-tinted glasses. “She knows as much as there is to know about HIV but chooses not to talk about it too much,” says Vis. “We want to keep this relationship as normal as possible,” reasons Rita. So, is there a fear of not having a tomorrow together? “Isn’t that fear there within every person?” questions Sheetal. “I could be walking down the street and be hit by bus and die but that doesn’t mean I stop walking on the street,” she reasons.
They do admit that there are limitations to their relationships, especially while physically expressing intimacy but working around that isn’t difficult. “Keeping in mind a few precautions, such as using a condom and not kissing her when I have a mouth sore even though saliva doesn’t spread the virus,” confesses Vis, “are the only ‘limitations’ as such that we face.”
Giving the term unconditional love a new meaning, these couples stand example of how trust is the most important factor in a relationship. They look beyond the HIV positive mark on the blood report. They understand and support their respective partner in the fight against the disease but most of all they accept their past. As Sheetal very rightly put it, “A person isn’t defined by their past but what they do with the knowledge of it in their present and FUTURE.”

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