It is not a story per se, but was narrated by a friend of my grandmother’s. I don’t even know why I have carried it in my memory for so long. She was not even telling it to me but to someone else and I just happened to overhear it. Some married woman had died. Someone in her relation. And she was survived by her husband and a son. Everyone was discussing the fate of her husband as the son was an outcast and lived in the city alone and never intend to marry. Everyone was just grateful that he at least flew in for the last rituals. Since this woman was not a widow, her body had to be prepared like a bride for her final journey. Much to everyone’s astonishment, he meticulously wrapped her wedding saree around her dead body. Applied lipstick on her frailed dry lips, kohl under her closed eyes, a big bright red bindi on her forehead and a line of sindoor in the parting of her hair. Then, amidst much hue and cry, he wore his favourite saree from her collection and started to get ready for the funeral. Some people said he looked as beautiful as his mother. Some said, it was a sin and he would go to hell.
It was as hot as a day could get in the month of August in Delhi. Sweaty and exhausted, I was returning from my afternoon classes. As I reached my hostel gate, my phone rang. The network was sometime erratic in the lobby, so I sat down on one of the plastic chairs outside on the porch to attend the call. The caller was a friend of my friend’s. We had met only a few times before but had really hit it off. But why was he calling? He never called. He always texted. I answered and all I heard from the other end was uncontrollable sobs. I asked him what happened. No answer. Only the sound of his cries. I doubted if he even heard my voice. I asked again, this time a bit loudly. He said he would end his life. I was shocked and terrified. It was my first experience with such calls. I was 19. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. I asked the only thing that came to my mind was, “why?”. He took a deep breath and said, “everyone keeps calling me an eunuch. I just cannot take it anymore……I cannot help how I look”.
A few months later I went home during college break. My bag was full of photos of my friends and life in Delhi. A relative saw a photo of me and one of my BFFs. We were standing hugging each other. Smiling brightly at the camera. She made a disgusted face and asked me why I took such intimate photos. She sat me down and explained why I shouldn’t let other girls touch me anywhere except for my hands. She lowered her voice and told me if I do so, I would become a ‘lesbian’. Like it was some disease.
Once in Pune, I had a few hours to kill before my flight to Delhi. I had nothing to do and nowhere else to go. She was the only person I knew in the city. I knew her from my undergrad years. She was intelligent, warm, and funny. So, I texted her asking if I can crash in for a few hours. She agreed. And soon, I was entering her cute little apartment full of books and DIY lampshades. She looked happy and refreshing. She showed me the washroom to freshen up. After I settled in with a plate of maggie which she offered, she told me she had news. “I identify myself as a transgender person now”, came the announcement. Next few hours she filled me in about her journey, gender exploration, and identify. We laughed, ate, and talked for hours. One thing from our conversation that stayed with me were here words, “I have had the best sex of my life with a woman, who would have thought?”. She had said that lying on the floor, playing with her hair, smiling.
The person I told this story to had asked me if I was scared to be with her, all by myself. Without realising that it was his ridiculous question that scared me.
In 2018, I asked someone on the internet, if he was a guy. Perhaps I should have asked what his gender was. But I asked what I asked. 377 was just legalised and I was excited to write a piece about a LGBTQ relationship. He was offended. I didn’t quite understand why. Because, in similar circumstances, I would never get offended. But since I randomly bombarded into his private inbox, I apologised. I said I am sorry and that I didn’t mean to offend. I told him why I asked. I tried to end the conversation nicely, but it didn’t quite go that way. The people with whom I shared this story, said it was my mistake. That not everyone is open minded.
Let us just say it was my mistake. I messed up someone’s gender one single time privately. If that person gets the right to get offended and all rowdy on me. Then think of those gender non conformist people, whose genetically assigned sex does not line up with their gender identity. And the world at large, keeps disregarding their gender identity because it doesn’t fit the norm. We hardly apologize. We don’t let them get angry. We impose our insecurities on them. How is it fair?
Now as a grown up, when I think about these stories, I see things from a different perspective. I see courage and perhaps regret too, in that person who decided to embrace his/her/their real identity one last time before the last rituals. Perhaps, it was the only way he/she/they could heal and move on.
I dread to think what might have happened if I had missed my friend’s call that afternoon.
I see struggles and heartbreaks. Love and fear. Frustration and celebrations. Disappointments and hope. Laughters and tears. I see stories. Beautiful human stories.
I also see bullying, mocking, non acceptance, rigidness, narrow mindedness, casual commenting, and what not. I see blindfolds and the willingness to not see.
History owes an apology, but the present and future also owes empathy, compassion, acknowledgment, and acceptance with open arms. With the blindfolds off.