Many tales are bound to be told. Their narrative fits seamlessly on the fulcrum of language. Many tales are complex and lay within the serpentine maze of thoughts. Unyielding, undetermined, scattered, and incomplete. Only a genius can pull it through, I am nowhere close. Strange are the ordeals of language, of words, of phrases, of sentences and what remains beneath them. Strange are the anecdotes of an unusual tale, involving a subject that makes masses pale.
What if I tell you, not so long ago, there lived a boy who led a dual life? What if I tell you, he was ashamed, not because he was wrong, he was right all along, but his upbringing had taught him otherwise? What if I tell you, people like him are not generally accepted? These people, as per societal code of conduct, suffer from a disease. Some – mostly godmen, the spiritual gurus, the maulvis, the so-called visionaries of the biblical world – claim that they can treat this ailment. Moral policing squad, on the other hand, wreak havoc on them, treat them like dirt, call them unnatural, spew invectives that imbalances their grey matter as well as gut.
Similar was the story of Ibrahim, our protagonist, hemmed by a plethora of abstract questions posed by a dolt society. A society that blindly believes in outright lies, in miracles, in the supremacy of superstitions over facts and logic, and in texts written thousands of years ago. Whoa! That’s way out of line, many of you would say, but introspect, don’t just get lost in the jungle of words. For words would come and go, invoking thoughts is what’s my motto.
“It was tough growing up,” Ibrahim had once confessed to a friend, who understood his quandary and believed that the way the society functions needs to mend.
However, ‘tough’ could not suffice the multitude of hardship he had gone through. For one, his conservative family with an ambrosial dedication to religion could never understand things from his purview.
He was different from the day he was born. He took interests in things that his peers never yearned. He loved to dress up as girl, cram his mother’s lipstick on his succulent mouth, put a bindi carefully at the centre of his forehead, dab face powder on his glowing white face, and walk down an imaginary ramp, emulating the stance, poise, and mannerism of a model he had watched on a television show, forbidden for kids.
Behind his parents back, he did all these, for he was taught from the age of four that jewellery, makeup, et al are for weaklings. Women, therefore, pursue them and find it amusing. Men are supposed to be sturdy, dust and sweat on their face, bruise on their knees and elbows, much like the warriors of the ancient times.
“But both of you work, why mummy can’t be the stronger one?” he had questioned his father once, when he was seven, and rewarded with a slap for his apparent arrogance. Since that day he has maintained his silence. As his questions challenged the very idea of existence.
Sooner his secret expeditions were uncovered. One day, when his father returned home early, found him in a condition that he later declared abhorrent. Gaping through his mascara-laden eyes, Ibrahim’s lips, red from lipstick, twitched in horror as his father advanced to torment him, rage exploding from his demeanor. He ran in full circles, from the bedroom to the drawing room to the bedroom, before he was captured; beaten black and blue and then cleansed with holy Ganges water.
A strict vigil on the little boy ensued since that day as if a terrorist was in making. He never enquired ‘why’ for he was accused of a crime so disgusting. His parents ensured that he felt ashamed for this act and never ever repeat. A series of polite intervention, ruthless flogging, and psychiatric assistance came along on a platter of deceit.
What is right and what is wrong, Ibrahim, in his mind, began to question. Whether his behaviour was normal was now a matter of apprehension. He failed to understand the ethos of society; he did not have friends, for, among his peers, he always remained at the receiving end of jibes and mockery. It was only after he hit puberty – when he was in seventh grade – he understood that the universe had played folly.
He realized he was a woman, albeit wrongly embodied. By that time, bereft of friends and activities in his leisure, he had devoured much literature, mostly psychological that explained his behavior. He could discern, drawing from his knowledge, he wasn’t effeminate, instead was a woman trapped in his current physical caricature. When he told his mother – who had been malevolent over the years – she laughed, refusing to accept such a thing existed.
Nobody, even his mother, understood him, he felt dejected. While life cruised at a slow pace, consuming his spirit every passing day, Ibrahim took refuge in classical dance. Inspired by a dance drama organized in his school, he insisted that he learned this art form, which carried a promise of an imminent trance. Seeing it as an innocuous request, his father agreed and thus began his blissful journey after years of subservience.
He mastered the craft with utmost sincerity. His advances in various dance forms, in short span, gained immense popularity. Three years later, Ibrahim was selected to perform in the coveted dance drama ‘Chitrangada’.
Choosing the role of Chitrangada – the female lead – Ibrahim wanted to make a statement that would define who he is and what he feels. He danced, on that fateful day, with all his succour, overwhelming the crowd, of whom many moved to tears. His parents, although a bit embarrassed, swelled with pride seeing their son’s performance.
Since that day, they began to comprehend Ibrahim’s plight, which so far they had been kept in abeyance.
Ibrahim’s womanly craving increased manifold after Chitrangada. His parents softened their stance, giving him the freedom long deserved. He dressed as a Barbie doll, sometimes as a princess, at his will without trepidations, but his covets grew viciously, resulting again in mental turmoil. He did not just yearn for possessions anymore, he wanted something more. He longed for the masculine touch, something that would weaken his knees. His teenage hormones fuelled such urges; he wanted to be penetrated, discarding the unfeasibility of such impulses.
After all, in his physical form, he still was a man, his longings, thus, were purely ironical. He could tell no one, nobody would have understood. His desires were confined in emotional closet, and to the world outside they did not hold good.
Nevertheless, Ibrahim’s solace was in dancing and he pursued it incessantly, winning accolades, fame, and name along the way. His presence gradually became quintessential to any dance production. Dance dramas, solo, group, or ensemble performances, he embraced all. He immersed himself but never had any ambitions, for his desires, on his mind and soul, still stood tall.
He gradually became frustrated, annoyance and irritability were taking its toll. Never did he find himself in such despairing abyss in his life overall. While stuck in these emotional puddles, he witnessed something that offered leeway to his longings, or at least he thought. He saw a wedding band march with the decorated procession, along with a cross-dressed male vehemently dancing.
It occurred to him that day that it is something he could find mental peace in. Reaching home, he began to weigh the options, his mind transfixed on this frowned profession. ‘Launda nach’, he discovered was what it’s called, it needed to be secret, he thought, for his parents were conservative and he never could get their approval.
In few weeks he began to contact wedding bands to offer his services. Many refused, many stalled, but Ibrahim kept on approaching without screeching to a halt. After numerous attempts, he approached one band, wherein he settled to dance for free, to which they immediately agreed.
Thus began, towards the end of his adolescence, a journey, a dual life, if you will, that satiated his urges and sexual greed. It was a daily affair and dressed up differently every day, he attracted the attention of horny males. His parents never questioned as they thought it was part of his many performances.
Nobody could have told from his appearance that he was a boy, his poise, his curves, his moves, and his traits suggested a paradoxical reality that deep within his heart stayed. When his slick face, without the hint of beard or mustache, brimmed in the shining halogen light, men, from teens to adults, lost their control and tried to get hold of his body in an attempt to ravage.
Ibrahim revealed in such idiosyncrasies, as testosterone fuelled parades was what he desired. He enjoyed the inappropriate touches, the squeezing of buttocks, and hands that tried to smother his artificial breasts. Many men expressed their desire to sleep with him, a request he so desperately wanted to capitulate. But alas, his physical attribute wired him in its tentacles, consuming his persona, his cravings and at times his health.
Chitrangada, the alibi he had chosen for Launda nach, had been a popular name in such circles. His demand increased and he started earning money by delivering lascivious performances. It seemed everything he touched turned to gold. He was at the forefront of something promising, an idea he ardently dismissed. He webbed a false anecdote to squelch his parents’ doubts. For them, he headed the cultural squad at his college, which made them proud. But behind the curtains of lies, there remained a soul caged in deception. His anguishes were not apparent; however, Ibrahim felt a twinge in his heart that is beyond comprehension.
Almost every night, he transformed into beautiful Chitrangada, an alternative reality he vehemently pined. This delusion, however, only lasted for hours, and by morning he again assumed the body, about which his mind always whined.
His dilemma was even furthered when he was at the receiving end of something grotesque. It was in one of the wedding marches that seeing his charm, few drunken men lost their control. They advanced in his direction, stripped him naked, only to find out he was a man, unable to fulfill their longings. He went home that day in tears. His modesty was attacked and he could fathom nothing but despair. He wanted to run away to a place where he could live without fear. He wasn’t sure if such a place existed.
From his experiences, he had inferred that womanhood is tough and complicated. Tired of his dual life, he wanted now to be a woman, fully fledged, not a cross-dressed joker, at the clemency of few marauders. He was determined, his mind firm, and for the first time in his life he wasn’t numb.
By next evening, he was all set. Attired in a Saree, along with a wig, and a tad bit of makeup, he looked astonishing. His mother walked into the room just as he was about to apply her new lipstick. She was startled. He was startled. “What are you doing with my lipstick? It's new...I haven't used it so far. Couldn't you have waited?” He smiled and handed it back to her.
“I forgot to tell you...I am playing Draupadi in our college production... rehearsals start this evening.” He lied again, perhaps for the last time. He forced a smile while he exited, his heart pained a little at this separation.
“Don’t worry, this sacrifice is for a better life,” his mind was inundated with such implications.