Anjali and Lata, her best friend, were on their way to college when they encountered a parade. Dismounting their cycles, they pushed through the crowd when Lata muttered, “Chee! Shameless!”
Anjali’s eyes widened when she looked at where Lata’s finger pointed.
Two men were kissing each other.
Anjali was bewildered. Nothing in her conservative upbringing had prepared her for a sight like this. She felt uncomfortable, but curious. She observed the crowd furtively, trying to make sense of what was happening around her. Seeing people abandon all proprieties and norms was confusing but fascinating. Unmoved by the crowds gawking and the angry hisses and taunts thrown towards them, these people exuberantly waved rainbow flags. Carefree and comfortable in their skins, they sang, danced, and made merry.
Her eyes fell on a man dressed in a gold ghaghra, his leheriya chunri fluttering in the breeze as he twirled and danced through the crowd. With dawning shock, Anjali realised it was Babloo, the halwai’s son.
As Babloo executed a series of moves that had the surrounding crowd hooting with appreciation, Anjali couldn’t believe it was the same Babloo who answered in monosyllables at the shop.
Next to her, Lata kept a steady monologue, criticising the participants of the parade. According to her, these people, who upset the natural order of things and indulged in inappropriate behaviour by being in same-sex relationships, deserved to be punished, but Anjali stayed quiet, riveted by Babloo’s dance.
How happy he looks, she mused to herself, enchanted by the glow on his face.
Years passed, and Anjali forgot Babloo as she followed the template of a good-Indian girl. She agreed to a match fixed by her parents and by her twenty-fifth birthday, she was a mother of two children.
Mayank’s thin arms clasped around Anjali, trembled with fear, jolting Anjali out of the memory she had tucked away in the recesses of her mind.
Anjali’s fourteen-year-old son, Mayank, was a sensitive boy with marked feminine traits. That morning, Anjali’s mother-in-law had caught him wearing a saree, dancing in front of a mirror. Raising a hullabaloo, she had lost no time in gathering the family. This discovery was the last straw in the eyes of the family. They cursed Mayank for disgracing the family.
As the family members took turns berating Mayank, Anjali stayed silent, looking at his tear-soaked face. She remembered the joy on Babloo’s face while dancing. Along with it came the memory of his sad end. Unable to bear the taunts of people who made fun of his feminity and desire to be a woman, Babloo had taken the irrevocable step of ending his life.
If only someone had understood the joy on his face while he danced.
Her arms tightened around Mayank. Her son, she vowed, would not follow Babloo’s path. Anjali would support him, even if it meant fighting against the world.
“No,” she shouted, stopping her husband as he advanced towards Mayank, his arm raised to punish the boy for breaking the social norms.
Everyone was surprised. Anjali never raised her voice, always deferring to the diktats of her in-laws and husband.
But it was time for Anjali to stand up for her son, Babloo’s, and who they wanted to be.
“No,” she repeated. “Mayank can dress the way he wants.”
Ghaghra – Full flair skirt worn in North-India
Leheriya – A type of dying technique from Rajasthan
Chunri – Duppatta/Stole
Halwai – The local sweetmaker
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