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She was asked to remove her shirt and walk across the atrium as a part of the ragging exercise infront of the entire batch of seniors. Well if you wish to stand at par with the boys, you might match your actions as well.
Sarla was alerted by the click of the door knob that came from the main entrance of the flat. She jerked her head around, only to let out a gasp. Her eyes widened in shock. They might have come out of their sockets, if it were remotely possible. Questions popped up regarding the sight in front of her. But in her core, she also knew the answer to all those questions.
Anuj, dropped the office backpack carelessly besides the chair before settling down for dinner after cleaning up. Sarla knew that her child couldn’t care less about changing into comfortable clothes before dinner. Eating was just a refueling task that had to be done to keep going. Why delay it?
Around half the meal later, Anuj paused and without meeting Sarla’s eyes said,
“Why Ma? You are unusually silent today. No words to reprimand me?”
Sarla tilted her head in Anuj’s direction and looked at her only child, shaking her head. It wasn’t exactly disapproval, but a resignation of sorts.
“What are you doing to yourself? I am really worried for you?” it was a mere whisper, but reached Anuj’s ears stark loud.
“Mom! They rejected me a year back on ridiculous grounds.” Anuj thumped her hands on the table and further seethed,
“What did they say? That they found me competent on my knowledge and skills.” Anuj growled, “But…But they couldn’t hire me because I was a girl!” Anuj’s nostrils flaired.
“You have to agree Anuj, that your work aspirations were definitely unusual.” Sarla said as a matter-of-fact to her 23 year old daughter. And as her eyes lingered on Anuj, she recalled how in a fit of anger over a rejection for her dream job, Anuj had come back home and burned all her clothes that made her look girly. And then added to her collection of trousers and business shirts, which when tucked in made evident the brawn she carried like second skin. The next day, she had barged into the top executive’s office and challenged him to try her as the shop floor manager, based on her qualifications and evaluation of her skills and abilities.
Sarla conceded that the spark in Anuj’s eyes must have matched the fire in her belly for she returned home with an offer letter. But now to get her hair trimmed to a crew cut, just so to keep away people’s attention away from her being a woman, was too much. Or so Sarla thought.
It always took a fight for Anuj to get what she wanted… what she deserved. In a full house, were Sarla lived with her husband and the families of his three brothers in a small town in Haryana, Anuj could often be found fighting with her male cousins for a turn to bat, or to bowl and play as an equal. She had raging fits if her cousins tried to treat her puppy-like and passed on easy deliveries just to please her. Once she will be satisfied of sending out a few boundaries, she will let us play our boys’ game in peace. It was too much for the self respecting Anuj. Errr… then Anuja.
At 10 years of age, when she left her paternal house with her mother, Anuja had pledged to herself that one day she will prove it to her grandmother that she was no less than the other grandsons over whom the old lady swooned over nauseatingly. All through her teens she carried the hurt of her father abandoning them because her mother was rendered incapable of producing a heir for him.
One day I will prove to him that I am worthy of his love… that I could be his son. And thus began Anuja’s journey of turning into Anuj. She got her name changed while registering for the high school board exams. At the young age of 18, when all the girls in her small town were busy grooming themselves, Anuja…err…Anuj was driving a bullet to her engineering college.
Oh! Sarla didn’t even want to be reminded of the horrid time Anuj had at the engineering college. Why? Because she chose to take up the Mechanical stream. She was asked to remove her shirt and walk across the atrium as a part of the ragging exercise infront of the entire batch of seniors. Well if you wish to stand at par with the boys, you might match your actions as well.
“What a lame excuse to have some entertainment at my cost” Anuj had chimed in the evening. The boys hadn’t known that she always wore a men’s vest over her bra and under her checkered shirts.
The placement authorities refused her relevant internships at the end of 2nd and 3rd years. They thought, she might “learn her lessons” and move into another stream. But what she did for her internships, left everyone speechless for a long time.
Anuj set up her own garage under the tree on the highway and made her project reports based on her experiences of repairing the vehicles. The 3rd year report was a detailed analysis on the types of defects the vehicles came with, to her garage. It was followed with a detailed paper on how companies could make low cost design changes to bring the defect rate down. Anuj was beaming with pride when the viva voce panel declared her project report to be uniquely authentic and relevant. Had she finally received the validation she had been striving so hard for?
Did that make it easy for her to get that dream job with the most coveted automobile company? Nay! Sarla’s eyes darkened as the memories of that night come back rushing to her.
“Anuj! Are you drunk?” Sarla gaped in shock as Anuj tumbled over the Diwan in the living room of their 1 BHK apartment they had rented near her college.
“Why Ma! Isn’t that how men deal with their grief.” She slurred, “I am grieving too. They refused me my dream job. They said that I was all good with my knowledge and skills. But…” Anuj raised her index finger to emphasize, “they said but… they couldn’t keep me… because I was a girl.”
“They were supposed to hire me and not keep me… as if I was their mistress!” Anuj’s drunken howl from last year still reverberated in Sarla’s ears.
And now Sarla sat across the table and saw her daughter having her dinner in silence.
“What are you thinking about now? What will be your next step to make yourself more of the male variety?” Sarla crossed her hands around her chest. Anuj looked up in confusion.
“I presume that you are now planning to get a gender change surgery. That would seal the deal for you. Isn’t it?” Anuj opened her mouth to say something, but words betrayed her.
“Ma! I do not want to change myself into a man” Anuj managed to say, biting her lips while structuring her thoughts in her mind.
“I only want to prove it to them, that I am no less. That I am at par…”
Sarla let out a sarcastic squeal, “Oh yes! You are no less. You now look like them, you talk the foul language like them and you even have those dark lips like them.” Sarla was referring to the smoking habit Anuj had picked up just so that she could be a part of the office gang when they hung out at the tea stall during work breaks.
Anuj rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand involuntarily at the mention of the color of her lips.
“Ma! Smoking is not any more a men’s thing. A lot of girls also smoke these days.” Anuj muttered under her breath.
“Yes! A lot of girls smoke out of their personal choice. That’s because they enjoy it. I know for sure that you do not enjoy the cigarette.” Anuj knew that her mother was right, but refused to cave in.
“What have you set out to prove Anuja?” Sarla’s words were challenging.
“Don’t call me by that name.” the daughter quipped.
“I. Will. Damm. Call. You. Anuja. That’s who you were born as. MY ANUJA.” Sarla snarled. For over a decade now she had given into her daughter’s whims. If it helps her remain focused in life, it doesn’t really matter. She had thought. She was wrong. Her daughter kept taking her vagaries to another level with passing time. It was time to whack some sense into her…or at east she had to try to do so.
“What exactly are you trying to prove? And who are you trying to prove it to?” There was an urge in Sarla’s tone,
“If you think that you will be able to bring your father back to us by trying to be the son he never had, and you were not born as, then my child, you are very, very, very mistaken. Someone who had the sense or rather the lack of it, to leave us to fend for ourselves for the reason well known, I am glad that he walked out of our lives. And the rest of them, all around us do not matter either.”
There was a moment’s silence, before Anuj spoke,
“But Ma, they are all the same out there. They do not like me challenging their authority on a domain dominated by their kind.”
“But why would you challenge them, unnecessarily?”
“It’s not unnecessarily. I love what I do.” Anuj sighed to calm her nerves, lest she have some burst veins in her head.
“Oh come on Anuja. You loved your dolls in your childhood.” Anuj glared back taking offence at her mother’s words.
“It was just once that you wanted to play cricket out of curiosity with your cousins and they made fun of you telling you that it’s a boys’ game. And that was it. The rebel that you were born, you took immense offence and set out to prove them all wrong.”
“But that’s got nothing to do with my work. I still love it.” Anuj stated sounding non-chalant, albeit unsuccessfully.
“Oh! Come on. I know you too well sweetie. You just set out to set them all wrong. Your cousins, your father, those boys in your school, who shared their aspirations to take up Mechanical Engineering because it was a man’s world out there.”
“But what’s wrong with that? Aren’t they wrong in stereotyping roles in this society.” Anuj controlled the tears that threatened to trickle down.
“Yes, they are! But that’s not how you deal with them. By launching a slaughter against them and planting yourself on everything labeled ‘Barred’ for you.” Sarla placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder.
“You are perfect in your own sense, dear. I wouldn’t want one thing changed about you or think that you be like someone else. Or be like a boy to be specific.” Sarla’s hand moved up to her head gently trying to sooth her of her aches. She could see that her daughter’s eyes were brimming with unshed tears.
“You are unique. You do not need to emulate anyone. Not another man in the least.” Sarla stood up and put her hands around Anuj’s head hugging it close to her, rocking her soothingly,
“And recall your science lessons from school. It takes over 200 million sperms of him to make that one lucky one reach the lone egg that lies with her.” Sarla tried to make light the moment,
“That is how precious you are. My dear, know your worth for what you are. You will be better equipped to deal with the raging war that resides within you. Find contentment my child… you will be a happy soul.” Sarla only hoped that her voice reached out to her daughter and that she finds peace in who she was born as.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the Muse of the Month March 2019, but not one of the winners.
Image source: a still from the film Tanu Weds Manu Returns
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