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Mimi Atya had one day handed me books. “If you don’t want to blend, make yourself so big that you stand out!” she had declared before turning around and walking away. I had no idea how she knew. She just did.
I step out of my car, the orange beacon on its roof. My bright red purse in my right hand, a few files in my left. I step out and freeze for a fraction of a second. Old reactions die hard. I look around, expecting stares. But no one’s watching. I smile, adjust the drape of my favourite blue saree over my blouse and walk to my gate, my head held high.
It’s Sunday. Mitthi loves Sundays. But Sundays are the most challenging. When there’s no designation to hide behind. Nothing external that commands respect. Sundays are when I am laid bare, vulnerable and human. I take a deep breath. 10 years to that day when my life changed, and yet, I still shudder at the thought of stepping out. ‘For Mitthi. For Me.’ The mantra helps me breathe.
We enter the mall and a blast of refreshing cool air greets us. I feel cheerful, encouraged with Mitthi’s enthusiasm. She has made me wear her favourite, a bright green salwar kameez, paired with kolhapuri chappals, sunglasses and a red matte lipstick. “You look beautiful Maa!” ‘Beautiful’…the word still seems so alien.
“Aye Suri. Still pining?” I received a smack on my head. “It’s no use. No one’s coming back to take you, haven’t you realised yet? Come with us from tomorrow. Don’t be such a snoot, Madam Hoity Toity”. I drew into myself. They were right. No one was coming back. “A bloody Hijra! That’s who you are” my father had yelled as I had stood with my eyes lowered to the ground, my body crouching unto itself till I wished I could disappear. My mother refused to meet my eyes. I was a shame, a kala dhabba. And what for, I knew not. They said I wasn’t normal. The doctors had confirmed too. All their hopes of me becoming normal someday had finally been dashed to pieces on the rocky shore of my reality. I thought it was because I liked wearing my sister’s clothes and Papa thought I must wear pants and shirts. “What a disgrace, wearing such things, son! Utterly distasteful, behave like the man you are!” he would scream.
“Maa look!! Isn’t that frock beautiful? Can we pleassse buy that for me?” I break out of my reverie. Mitthi is looking at me strangely. “Maa! You were lost again. Look, I found a pretty dress!” I smile and lead her into the shop. She is a smart kid, bold and outspoken. She is everything I was not as a child and that makes me so proud of her! She heads for a shopping bag and I know I am in for a long wait as she makes her picks. I settle into a comfortable chair nearby.
They left me eventually. After much discussion on how my reality would affect their social status. In the middle of the night, they took me along and handed me over to someone they knew from “my community”. “They would know what to do with him” my mother had reasoned. She still refused to look at me. And so, at 14 years, my head bowed, I had entered my new world. I was told that was where I belonged. I was taken to Mimi Atya. That’s what everybody called her. Huge face with a big red bindi in the centre of her forehead, she would first fascinate me and then inspire me to become what I am today. But that was much later. That night, I hated her. I hated her deep voice, the way she dressed, the way she touched my cheek with her hand. “Surinder? Now that’s not a suitable name is it?” she had asked, looking deep into my eyes and I had flinched. “Let’s shorten it to Suri, till you are ready to pick…”. “Your own identity”, she had added quietly when I looked puzzled. They took me along and gave me a beautiful salwar kameez and I had been shocked. Mimi Atya had simply smiled and said “Welcome”.
I had hated everything there. Everything, except eventually, Mimi Atya. I hated it when my peers left each morning to go to the traffic signals. “That’s all we can do, our community. You think we will be accepted into society ever?” they would sneer when I refused to go with them. But Mimi Atya knew. My world had turned around, but my soul was still intact. She watched my thirst to break free of all these moulds the world was trying to fit me into. I was tired of being expected to blend. I just wanted to be me. Mimi Atya had one day handed me books. “If you don’t want to blend, make yourself so big that you stand out!” she had declared before turning around and walking away. I had no idea how she knew. She just did.
Sniggers at every step. Discouraging remarks. I almost gave up innumerable times. But then, I didn’t. I eventually cracked the Civil Service Examination. 10 years ago, I stepped out of the interview hall knowing I had changed my life. For good. For ever. I had walked out and built a life. My life. Where I could wear what I wanted. Where my words didn’t draw sneers. Where I mattered. Where I was finally beyond how I looked and sounded, where I was me! And then one day, after a long battle with the courts, I had welcomed Mitthi into my life. Life felt complete.
“Sangeeta Madam, so good to see you!”. A colleague walks up to me with his family. “Ritu! Don’t you recognize her? She is the award-winning Collector Madam who has transformed our district”. Ritu extends her hand uttering greetings. “Thank you” I respond and watch her startle at my voice. A quick exchange of looks with her husband before she can hide it. I can feel myself becoming smaller, wanting to vanish, when Mimi Atya comes back to me.
I was waiting for my rickshaw to get to my interview. I was petrified. Years of suffering and silence, and before me was the one chance I had to get away from it all. What if I blew it? My scores were outstanding, and yet, I was me after all. I was ashamed of who I was. And why not? The world had given me no reason to not be. Each time I draped my dupatta, I questioned the Lord why I chose to do that. Why I couldn’t just be the normal boy my parents had so desperately wanted me to be. So ashamed was I, that I had mastered the art of being invisible. Head bowed, not a sound and always by myself. I cringed at the idea of interacting with people, at the thought watching the disappointment or even loathing writ large on their faces. I had no idea that day if I would be able to utter a single syllable at the interview. I could already feel their judgemental eyes on me, could hear their hushed whispers when they saw me. I almost turned back. That’s when Mimi Atya walked up to me. “The world is cruel and will give you a hundred reasons to bow down. And yet there is always that one person who knows just how invaluable you are. Look within and you may well find a reason to rise!” Somehow, she just always knew! That day, for the first time ever, my spirit urged me to look up at the world, because that’s what I truly deserved.
“Those are kind words indeed Mr. Reddy. It was lovely meeting the both of you! But now If you’ll excuse me, I must find my daughter”. I give Ritu a gleaming smile and stride away with confidence. Sangeeta Rathore. IAS. Mother of Mitthi Rathore. And most importantly, Woman. A lifetime of creating what most people take for granted – an identity. Now you understand, just why my head is not bowed!
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the Muse of the Month January 2019, but not one of the winners.
Image source: pixabay
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