The first thing that Raji noticed about Patruni was the way he danced.
“I was truly mesmerised,” the 25-year-old, a resident of Hyderabad, recalls in a conversation with The Better India. “It began when I started following him on Instagram. His profile was different, and it made me laugh. I had never seen anyone like him before. I started watching his interviews and reading up about him.”
This was in January 2020, a few months before they would officially meet at a function, and a year before the story of their marriage would go viral.
Raji, who otherwise goes by Rajarajeshwari Devi is a cisgendered and heterosexual woman married to Patruni Chidanand Sastry (30), an “expressionist dancer and activist” and drag artist based in Hyderabad, who identifies as pansexual.
This has put a public spotlight on the couple, who attract both appreciation and brickbats.
Love in the time of social media
About six months after she first started following him, Raji happened to run into Patruni at a family function. “It turns out that our families are distantly related. In fact, my parents wanted us to meet, and even tried to get us married. But I didn’t know this at the time I met him.”
In the months prior to their first meeting, Raji had ardently attended all of Patruni’s live online performances and made sure she read up on him as much as possible.
“She was legitimately stalking me,” Patruni laughs. “I would notice her name pop up in all my online shows, she would like the posts I put up, and also engage with me on several occasions.”
He adds, “To be honest, I wasn’t looking to get married. I wasn’t sure someone would be able to fully understand me. But with Raji, things were very different. She gave me the space to be gender fluid, and that was so liberating. That was when I fell in love with her.”
Patruni also says that he took his time to make sure that Raji understood what she was getting into by marrying him. “A few months into dating each other, I sent her a text message telling her I am pansexual. There was absolute silence on her end. I didn’t know what to make of it. I waited almost 12 hours for her reply,” he says.
The reply came early the next morning, and all it contained was one word – OK. He proceeded to send her multiple links and content on what it means to be pansexual. But her follow up message was what won Patruni over.
“She said words like ‘pansexual’, ‘cisgender’, ‘heterosexual’ are merely terms. She asked if I loved her, and said nothing else was of any significance to her. With just those two lines, she put me at ease,” he says.
‘Marriage led to people questioning my queerness’
The couple tied the knot in August 2021. Patruni says that at first, their union raised some questions in queer circles regarding his sexuality.
“People started wondering if I was queer to begin with. They did not understand why I had chosen to get married. Some even assumed that this was my way of keeping questions about my sexuality from family and friends at bay. They eventually understood that this marriage was not of convenience or pretence.”
People even wondered whether Patruni explained his truth to Raji before getting married to her. “I was asked if I was hiding my truth from her,” he says.
Now that they are married, Raji says that she often dresses her husband up for his performances. “I don’t really care about what people might say or even think for that matter. I am in love with everything my husband does. I am 100 per cent on board with his drag performances,” she pauses, before adding with a loud laugh, “The only thing I dislike is how he ‘steals’ all my sarees and makeup.”
Patruni recalls a moment that he recalls fondly from the first month of their marriage.
“One of the first few performances that Raji accompanied me for was a flash mob I did in drag for an HIV/AIDS campaign. It was being conducted at a mall. We walked in, and suddenly, all eyes were on us. Raji was tighly holding on to my hand. Some kids came up to me and asked for selfies, while others were sneering at me.”
He adds, “Once I started performing, the entire audience was silent. They all stood and clapped when I was done. I could see the pride that Raji felt towards me. I walked back that evening, hand in hand with her, feeling like a star.”
But like many who choose to put their life out on social media, Patruni was also subject to bitter trolling online. He shares, “People would leave nasty comments in my inbox. I was told I was making a mistake, ruining a girl’s life, many said the relationship was a farce and wouldn’t survive. Despite all that, I continue to share my life on social media and hope it leads to changing the perception that some have.”
For Raji, being with Patruni was her entry into a world she previously knew nothing about. But Patruni has done his best to share his life with her. “Having Raji by my side gives me courage. She makes me believe that love sees beyond all social constructs. Love doesn’t have one lens of seeing things,” he says.
Raji says, “It has been ten months since we got married, and I have loved it so far. I get to travel for all his performances, and now have a larger friend circle within the queer community than Patruni.”
As for what the future holds, the couple is unanimous in saying, “Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be will be.”
To read about Patruni’s story click here.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)