Sunday, July 19, 2009

रात और भोर

एक काली, स्याह रात
और एक सुनहरे भोर में,
करो अंतर, कहा उसने
मैंने पूछा -
किसी वेश्या के पल्लू
और माँ के आँचल में
कर सकते हो भेद?
तुम रात भर, मंचल कर,
काला कर मुंह उस पल्लू में,
घर लौट सकते हो सुबह
ममतामयी उस गोद में

पर कभी सोचा है,
उस अंधियारी रात को भी
हो सकता है इन्तज़ार उस भोर का?
ठीक वैसे ही
जैसे कोई वेश्या याद कर बचपन के दिन
तिलमिला जाती है माँ से मिलने को;
पर है ये उसके लिए
एक स्वप्न की बात
यूँही रात कितना भी तड़प ले,
भोर को आना है
उसके ख़त्म होने के बाद

...We live in different worlds!

I was about to miss the 7:04 PM fast local for Thane. And if had, I would have to wait for another fifteen minutes. It was 7:03:35 PM in the station clock. I ran. I had to reach the first class compartment. The train was about to catch on speed. That was when I jumped into the train, pushing behind the gentleman who was standing on the door, despite the compartment being decently vacant. I caught my breath and held my knees with both hands. When found myself relaxed a bit, I straightened myself up. In the process of moving up, my eyes met with another pair of eyes who were staring at me. Well it’s not a great idea if you are stared at by a man in a general compartment. But that was a different stare, the kind of those which we throw at people we think we know, but are not able to recollect who they really are. My eyes responded with the same stare.

It took a minute before I realized who that guy was. The ghost from my past was smiling at me. I walked up to him and asked, “Sainik School?”

And we both laughed. He offered me a seat beside.

“How come you are here in Mumbai?” I asked him.

“Am commissioned here for next two years. How about you?”

“Am working with TCS.”


“Tata Consultancy Services? Haven’t you heard of it?”

He shook his head in a ‘NO’ and smiled. I smiled back. Probably this was the first time when I had introduced my company and had got such a response. But the kind of background he was from, I think that’s ok. We live in different worlds.

“So what rank you are at?”


“Wooah! Congrats, boy!” I shook his hand.

“Thank you, bhaisaheb.” And it smelled like my school. As juniors, we used to address our seniors that way – Bhaisaheb.

We talked about our teachers, our friends, our school and our childhood; people, places, and lives common to us.

“So, does Singh House still win the Cross Country Race Trophy?”

“Hahaha…” He laughed out. “Well, not sure but I guess it must be. After you left, we won for the next two years. But don’t have such detailed information as I myself have not been to school after that. And moreover, the school has all new teachers. Those we knew have all retired. M.C. Pandey Sir… Joshi sir.. Takla… Varma sir… Dudhdhu sir you name it and most of them are gone.”

“Kapoor Sir?”


“Ghoda Sir?”

“No, he is still there.”

“Bisht sir.”


“And Geeta Mam?”

And we both looked at each other and sighed. “She is still there.” There was naughtiness in his response.

“So where are you headed towards?” I asked him.

“I am going to Mulund. Actually this is the first time I am traveling by local train. I have my own vehicle but had to offer that to brigadier who is in town today. I have to meet someone out there. The guy told me this was the fasted mode of transport.”

“Well, that’s true. This is the lifeline of Mumbai.”

“So you travel by local every day?”

“Yeah. My office is in Colaba.”

“So you must be having a pass or something. It paid Rs. 150 for my ticket. How much does it cost otherwise?”

“Well yaa I do have a quarterly pass. And it doesn’t cost more that 15 bucks for a general ticket from here to Mulund. So what work you are on here?”

“I will tell you some other time. Give me your number. I will call you and we will talk.” He looked around in calculated manner. I smelled Army in his behavior. I felt good that he was not carried by the emotions of meeting an old friend but was disciplined.

“9833…..” he keyed it in his phone and dialed. I received a call from his number. I wanted to save, but wasn’t sure what was his name and didn’t wish to let him know that I don’t remember his name, so just let it be. But sometimes, things are very obvious. He asked me, “Do you remember my name, bhaisaheb?”

“Varun, right?” And he smiled. I thanked god hundred times in that split second for saving me from the embarrassment. I had got it right.

“Varun Rathod... Am I typing your name right?” He showed me his phone. It read – ROH.

“If it is going to end with I and T, then yes.” I smiled. He remembered my name.

“It’s all fate, bhaisaheb. Had never thought I would meet you after nine years since your left school, here in Mumbai, in a local train that I had to take as a matter of chance. And on top of it, we both recognized each other. You don’t look much different.” He said, in his childlike smile.

I smiled back, “Yes. Neither do you.”

“So which station will you get down at?”

“I will get down at Ghatkopar.”

“Is Mulund far from there? I am going for the first time.”

“It being a fast train, it will stop at Mulund only, after Ghatkopar. So yours is the next stop after I go. Chal dude, my stop is arriving. Keep in touch.”

“Yaa… sure… bhaisaheb. We will meet someday. I will call you.”


I went to the door. There was still some time before my stop would arrive. I looked back at him. He was sitting in attention; small hairs, hands closed. He appeared cautious and hesitant, the way we would be on our first day in school. Strange it was – A Caption from Army nervous in a civilian public transport! Well that’s how it is, I guess. We live in different worlds. If it would have been a mission of killing some terrorists, the same train would have been his easy battle field. But today, he was trying to make sense out of a civilian moment that was not his, an environment he was not accustomed of. I smiled to myself. I tried imagining him in the school days, but couldn’t.

My station had arrived. I moved a few steps back to him, and called out, “Varun, yours is the next stop.” I don’t know why, but I felt caring, as I would have towards my younger brother. Now when I think back, I know he would have managed without me telling him, but in that moment, I just wanted to make sure that he does. He was the same guy, I must have ragged and punished in the school. But that was then. Now we live in different worlds.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An exact life

“Have you had your dinner or shall I fix a plate for you?” she asked from the kitchen when he got home, opening the door with his own keys, and was on his way to his room.

“Mom, I had my dinner. And how many times do I need to tell you that you don’t have to wait for me. I get late these days and hope you will understand. These are my last few days at college. And I have to go out with friends... You know how these last few days be, right?” he replied, kissed her forehead and walked to his room without waiting for a reply to his question.

“This is not a hotel that you walk in and out anytime you wish to. And I am not your attendant but your mother! You have to give a decent attention to my existence in this house. You can’t ignore me like this,” She wanted to shout aloud but she restrained and just said “Right.”

It was thirty minutes past midnight. Her husband was not home, her daughter had called up to inform that she will not be coming tonight and her son, though returned, was not bothered to spend a minute with her. She put a plate of food for herself in the oven. She didn’t remember when was the last time she had her food with any of her family members.

For her, it had been twenty years of marriage with Shailendra Vajpai, a highly reputed businessman, who was always short of time in life. At times she used to wonder – Did he take off to produce our children for the very purpose of having children or he do under a plan to make me busy enough with them so that I don’t need him much of his time? And her children, Nilesh and Neha, too had somehow inherited from their dad the quality of being busy. She was not sure if it was the quality of being busy or the attitude of not bothering her presence around.

Sometimes it’s not about being lonely; rather it’s more a matter of being neglected, intentionally or unintentionally. “May be they are not wrong. May be it’s about their age, it’s about the way they are growing up.” She used to tell herself when her daughter would keep herself locked inside her room or would not talk to her for days except the routine discussions but be busy talking to her friends over the phone for hours. Or when her son would not be home for days and whenever be, would engage himself in some kind of sport on television or computer. About her husband? She had lost all hopes of having his attention, long time back.

“But for long someone can keep cooking food which is not being eaten? Or make calls which are not being answered? For how long?” One day she questioned this to herself, and introspected. “Do I really deserve this?”

She had forgotten when was the last time she woke up happy about being alive. She had forgotten if she had a hobby. She didn’t know if she enjoyed watching television or cooking or dancing or singing. She didn’t know what kind of person she was and what kind of person she had become. In the crowd that she wanted to live in, she had lost her own self. So she decided one evening over the cup of lonely tea that she had to move on. She packed her a small bag of most essential things that she thought she would need. And sat on the desk to write a note –

My dear family,

Yes. You all are very dear to me. I have spent my twenty years to develop a life around you all. And I must say it is not wasted. I say it is not wasted because I find I have a few learning from it. The most important one is – never to waste any moment of your life on waiting for others.

I am sorry, if it sounds as if I am regretting my moments of wait for you all. I don’t mean it that way. I don’t know if you all are nice people for the simple reason that I don’t know you all enough to make an opinion on your type, but I am sure you people have been good teachers to me; my teachers for the subject called life. In fact, when I look back those were some beautiful moments. I grew up in those moments; I became more patient with you and with my own self. I would, probably, have never appreciated the beauty of the vase on the dinner table as well as I do now, if I had not to wait there for you all. It was wasteful from the food’s point of view to cook your food which was not to be eaten but it was a lesson as I bettered my cooking skills, by every meal I cooked. I am sure that almost all the shopping I did for you, none was worth your consideration, but I learnt a lot about the kinds of clothing materials, different brands and the sense of fashion.

However I think I have learnt enough; enough for this life, from what all the domesticity of this house could teach me. And I thank you all for the same.

Now, I need to move out. I don’t know to where and for what. But I guess I will figure out on the way.

And on the same way, I will miss you; if I choose to live. Though they will be called good habits but I will not enjoy cooking the exact amount of food that I would require. I will miss throwing food down into the dustbin. I will miss going back to shopping center and exchanging the dress I bought for you all for curtains, bed sheets and towels.

Life would definitely not be the same but that is what I want it to be – Not same at all. Not for the reason that I don’t like what it was but simply for the reason that I want it to be what it is. When I was here, I was alone but it didn’t appear to me that way and I would spend my days to prove what it appeared. Now I want to spend my life for what it actually is; with no pretense, no regret and no remorse. ‘Lonely’ in the sense that it is; exactly and completely.

With love,

Before leaving the place she called home before this very moment, she folded the paper carefully; ensuring that her signature was visible, though she wasn’t sure if that meant anything to anybody. After all, when she didn’t mean much in person, what value would she hold in her name? By the way, her anonymity in her own stories was so profound that, while narrating her, I forgot to tell you all her name. She was named Ashmita. It’s a different story that not many people knew it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A boy who couldn’t become a man

He walked to the mirror after the bath, naked, and stared into it. He wished to smile but couldn’t, went to the cupboard, took a dress out. It was a red sari; deep, stark red. He draped it around and walked to the dressing table, put on a pair of earrings, applied a lipstick and pinned up his blouse.

Once ready, he picked up his bag and locked his room. Turning back, Chand stood still for a second and took a deep breath. He glanced on the streets with a distant look. By this time, his friend Resham too was out of his room. They smiled to each other and started walking out of the chawl.

‘The Bombay Groceries’ was the first shop around the corner. They walked up to the shopkeeper, Mr. Jignesh Shah.

“Ei Raja,” Chand clapped his hands in a special manner and called out. “la dede. Aaj bohani tujhse hi karti hoon” Hey dear, give it to me. I will start my day’s income with you only.

“Chal, abhi meri khud bohni nahi huyi. Baad me aa.” Leave now. I haven’t earned my own day’s first earning. Come later.

“Aisa kya karta hai re raja. Dena. Bhagwaan tere ko salaamat rakhega. Laa de.” Why you do like this dear. Give please. God will keep you safe. Com’on, give me.

Chand caressed his cheeks to which Mr. Shah smiled and Resham laughed. Mr. Shah took out a Rs. 5 coin and extended his hands to Chand, “Ye le. Abhi jaa.” Take this. Leave now.

Seeing the Rs. 5 coin, Chand acted as if angry. “Kya bhikhari samajha hai kya? 10 Rupaye se kam nahi loongi.” Do you think of me a beggar? I won’t take less than Rs. 10.

“Rani, jyada naatak mat kar. Ye leke ja. Raat ko aa aur doonga.” Sweetheart, don’t make a fuss. Take this and go. Come tonight and I shall give you more.

“Rakh le ye khud hi. Apni rakhail ko dena. Kanjad saala.” Keep it with you only. Give it to your keep. Bloody miser.

He turned to the road and so did Resham. Mr. Shah called out but they didn’t return.

Almost like this, each day would start for Chand. On some days, he would earn decently; on others, almost nothing. And since the rains had started, it was even worse. Rains mean less customers for shop owners and hence lesser earnings for Chand and his friends. Each day he would undergo such humiliation and would laugh unnecessarily on silly things to wash it off. He was taught and had lived this life since the age of seven, the age of his kidnap and making of a boy into Hijra, a member of third sex family.


Chand was not Chand, then. He was Chandrabhan Singh; a bright, brave and energetic second child of Singh family from Jaunpur, a small town in Uttar Pradesh. He was studying in class two in the Jaunpur Public School. His grades in previous year were impressive and his family was very proud of him. Mr. Singh would talk about his son’s achievement at every possible occasion and boast about his own fatherhood. Chandrabhan’s cheeks were so full and red that everyone in the family, relatives and friends would love to tweak it with love. When done that, the kid would be embarrassed which created a moment of laughter and entertainment for others. In life, we hardly acknowledge the self respect for children. For most of us, the general society, they always remain an object of entertainment. The irony of this is the fact that many of us would have gone through such embarrassments as child but we either take our share of revenge or just forget our childhood and join the gang of so called adults.

In those days in Jaunpur and such towns of Uttar Pradesh, it was a ritual to call upon the Hijra community in marriages, child birth and such functions to make the day auspicious. They were paid and gifted for their song and dance performance, as per the affordability of the family. Chandrabhan’s birthday was a proud day for Mr. Singh to celebrate and to make the day truly auspicious he had called for the Hijra group to perform. Clad in colorful saris, they danced and sang in their manly mannerism. And to bless the child of the day, they would touch him as much as possible and wherever possible. Mr. and Mrs. Singh were profoundly happy and served the guests merrily. Chandrika, their ender daughter, showed the beautiful paintings of his brother to her friends and felt proud. The day was beautiful in every sense, for everybody present in the function, except Chandrabhan. He was deeply irritated with the mannerism of eunuchs. Once the party was over, he went to his father and sat in his lap.

“Papa, please don’t call these people in my birthday next year.”

“Which people, my dear?”

“Those men who were dressed in saris and dancing like females. I hate them. They would pull my cheeks and irritate me.”

“Hahahahaha…” Mr. Singh laughed aloud. “Don’t worry son. They are eunuchs. They can’t hurt anybody. There presence makes the day auspicious. Now you will see you will top not only in your class but in whole school.” And he laughed again.

“But I don’t like them,” said Chandrabhan and got down form his father’s lap. He went to his mother who was taking a nap after the day long function. He lay down by her side and held her tightly. In response to that his mother too put her right hand around him. He mumbled, “Maa… I don’t like them. I don’t like the way they look at me. I don’t like the way they touch me.”

“Hmmm…” being in sleep, his mother didn’t respond to his confession, but only to his sound.

A stream of tears flew out from his big, black eyes. He didn’t realize when he went to sleep. When he got up, it was already dinner time. He ran to the drawing room. And started looking into each box of gifts he had received. That was his favorite activity after his birthday party.

It was 19th July, fourteenth day after Chandrabhan’s birthday. Mrs. Singh was preparing lunch for him. His school used to end at 2:00 PM, two hours before Chandrika’s. At around 2:30 PM, the call bell used to ring continuously till Mrs. Singh would open the door. And when she did, she was always greeted by a warm hug, as if a soldier returned from war front and embraced his mother. Then they would sit for lunch where Chandrabhan would narrate the full day’s story in most articulate way possible and his mother would respond to it with appropriate expressions and nods. But today, the bell didn’t ring till 4:30 PM. She was sitting worried, but assumed that for some reason he will return with his sister. And when the bell rang, she rushed, opened the door and asked Chandrika, “Where is Chandrabhan?”

“Didn’t he come home? His school ends at 2:00 PM!”

“No, he didn’t. I thought he might have waited for you to come along.”

“No maa, rickshaw-wallah doesn’t let any other kid go in different shift.”

Now Mrs. Singh got tensed. She phoned Mr. Singh.

“Chandrabhan has not returned from school!” She sounded scared.

“Arre, he might be playing with the kids downstairs. Check there.” And Mr. Singh cut the call. He was in a meeting.

Mrs. Singh rushed downstairs. Few kids were playing there. He asked them if they knew where Chandrabhan is. None of them did. One of the kids told her, “Aunty, when he comes, send him to play with us please.”

“Sure, son.” She said and ran outside. She checked around. He was nowhere. She ran up again and phoned his father.

“He is not there, nowhere. I checked all around…” And she started crying.

“Don’t cry… I will go to school and check. Don’t worry, we will find him. Stop crying now. I am going to school, right now.”

She served food to Chandrika and sat by her side. Chandrika eat her food, slowly. Looking at her worried mother, she asked, “Maa, where do you think he would have gone?”

This question was irritating, but Mrs. Singh was more sad than irritated. She didn’t reply but gestured to tell her that she didn’t know.

After sometime, Chandrika asked again, “Maa, our school closes by this time. Nobody would be there. What if papa doesn’t find him in the school?”

“Eat your food, silently.” The irritation won over sadness.

At around 7:00 PM, the phone rang. It was Mr. Singh. “He is not in the school. I spoke to the principal and his class teacher. They don’t know about him. His travel teacher said. He was not there when the rickshaw left,” he paused for a second to take a breath, and then continued, “I am going to police station to file a report. If he comes home, call me. Meanwhile call up some of his friends and ask if he is at their place.”


Mrs. Singh called every possible number which she thought could be his friend’s. The answer from everywhere was negative. Mr. Singh on his way to home, looked into each street, each gully, just in a hopeless hope to see his son. Neither had he ridden his scooter so slow nor taken such a long route back home, ever before.

“A father has to be strong,” He told himself, “Chandrabhan will come home. I have to be strong. I have to take care of the ladies in the house. I can’t cry.” By this time he already was; just that it had started raining heavily and the raindrops wiped those tears off the face.

“Don’t worry. I have filed the report. They will inform us if they find something. Did you call his friends?” He asked Mrs. Singh on reaching home.

“Yes. He is not with them. They don’t know.”

She couldn’t think of giving the glass of water that she was accustomed to on arrival of Mrs. Singh from work. She simply, lifelessly sat on the chair.

The night passed in waiting. Next day, Mr. Singh readied himself for police station. Mrs. Singh asked if she could come along.

“What will you do in a police station? I will find out. Don’t worry. You take care of Chandrika. She will not go to school today.” And he left.

Twenty years passed since then but Chandrabhan never returned.


It was a monsoon again, after all these twenty years. Chand couldn’t forget that monsoon, when he was kidnapped by a bunch of eunuchs and castrated to be a part of their community. He still used to shiver on reminder of those moments. In his loneliness, he used to cry; sometimes silently, sometimes aloud. He had saved his school bag and his second standard’s books, his last link to his life, his family. He opened his back. The pages had gone stale, yellow. But this stale smell was the oxygen for his life. When deeply hurt by the daily execution of life, he would close his doors, open his bag and smell those books. When walking on a road, you fall down and hurt yourself; you take care of the wound till it is healed. How do you heal the wound, which is caused by the way you talk, the way you walk and the way you exist?

His castration had killed the man in him, but not the human being. He was still alive and his mind was still functioning. He had to leave formal education after he was kidnapped but he didn’t leave learning. After all, who can teach better than life itself? In his spare time, in the trains, off the streets, at the tea shops, anywhere he could read, he did. He read newspapers, magazines, old and new, and developed his own thought process. Though most of the memories had gone faint of his early childhood, this was one of those few he had saved dearly in his heart. His father had asked him one night after telling a story of the pilot, “What would you like to become in life?”

“Papa, I would like to become a pilot, too. But what if I drop the plane?”

“Why do you think you will?”

“I don’t know.” He had looked at his dad, puzzled by his question and his father’s counter question.

“Don’t worry, you will not. I will be there to stand by you, always.” And he had smiled and hugged his father, holding him tightly.

Memories as such are strange. They bring smile and tears at the same time. Chand would wonder at times, “I was definitely incapable of saving my manhood then. I couldn’t fight with those bastards. But am I still incapable of leaving all this and live a life which I would like to call my own?

Don’t remember when was the last time I lived the way I wanted to and had proudly exhibited that. Either I live the way this world wants me to or I live the way I assume this world would want me to. If at all I dare to live by my own desires/standards I ensure I don’t display that.

An ideal life? What is that? Who decides what should be the ideology of one’s life? We live by stories, of others and our own life. We find reason in these stories but the fact remains is these are mere manufactured representations of situations, which may or may not contain any degree of fact. And what is a reason without hundred percent factual data?

I declare I fear. I fear to experiment what has never been done. I fear of being unaccepted in the territory I want to enter. So I surrender. I surrender to those I don’t wish to. I surrender to save something I don’t wish to, the life I don’t love, and in that I loose more. Just that I don’t realize this in that moment. By the time I realize, I am ready to make more compromises. And the cycle goes on.

Life lived in those few fearless seconds, when I live my dreams –dreams of flying an airplane, dreams of winning trophies in my schools, dreams of looking at a girl and wondering how would I have felt if I were not what I am - is the only true part of life. And such moments are rare, same as we rarely find diamonds in coal mines. Rest all is fake, is farce. At times I wonder how strange the production of diamond and coal is. They are composed of same atom, carbon; the difference comes when it bonds differently. Same as true and false moments contain us and the situations. The variations happen by how we react to those situations, how we bond with them. And we seek easiest bonding.

I have lived a whole life for the sake of others. I danced when they gave birth to a child, when they got married, when they bought a new house and so on. They said it’s auspicious for them to have a Hijra do it. And then they would feel insulted when the same Hijra would touch them. I lived my life for others, not because I was a saint and wanted to do some social service, but I was too weak to take a stand for myself; so weak that I easily succumbed to others expectations by pressing my own, down. And I pushed my expectations so badly that after a time, I stopped having any expectation from myself. Then others’ expectations became a fuel to my life’s engine. Now I couldn’t live without that. And they became the reason of my survival. Now when they don’t need me and have moved on, I wonder what I should live for. Now after all these years being habitual to live by other’s standard, I find myself incompetent to set my own. And what a life will be without a standard?

After all these years, when I retrospect, I wonder why it was so difficult to stand up against the world to hold my own self. Did I not go through a high intensity of pain in killing the person within and at times breaking them into pieces for them? Why it was hard to face the pain that was outside whereas I imposed a greater degree of pain within? Or had I gone so accustomed to torturing my soul that I didn’t realize when I was doing so? Probably the later is the case. I have found a solace in living by the way dictated by others.

The only thing I can’t do is procreate. Does it also imply that I can’t fly a plane? When and how did I start believing that? Who knows?”

Someone knocked the door. When Chand opened, he found Resham standing there.

“Aaj baju ke building me, satwe male pe god bharai hai. Aati hai kya?” In the next building today, on the seventh floor, there’s a celebration. Are you coming?

“Nahi. Main nahi aaunga.” No. I will not come. [Referring, himself as a man]

“nahi aaunga? Aai hai! Mard ban ri hai tu aaj!” He laughed out loudly, “koi nahi. Chal hum sab to jaa ri. Tu soch le. Jaate huye fir se poochhane aati hoon. Bade paise waale log hain.” [Commenting to Chand’s reference of him being a man] not come? Oh my! Today, you are trying to be a man! No problem. We are going. You think over. I will come again to ask you. They are rich people.

After closing the door, Chand banged his fist on the wall. He was angry. Angry at what? He didn’t know.

An hour later, Resham knocked again, “aati hai kya?” Are you coming?

“haan, do minute ruk.” Yes. Wait for two minutes.

They were a group of four. When the door opened to their ring, they all started singing and dancing. They entered the house forcefully. These days, it seems, people don’t wish to invite good fortune through eunuchs. Upon seeing the lady of the house, something struck within Chand. He found the face familiar. He searched back in his memories but couldn’t recollect. He looked around. There was a wall full of pictures. He slowly, with his dance steps, moved towards that wall. Browsing through the pictures on the wall, his gaze stuck at one. His hands were about to clap; they stood still halfway. Sometimes, memories hit on us so badly and so instantly that we don’t realize the fact that we are hit. We go numb. And how else could Chand react on seeing his own face after twenty years? There was a family photograph of the Singhs on the wall.

He ran out and didn’t stop until he reached his room. He locked his room and took hold of his school bag. He cried and cried again. Sometimes we cry out of pain, some times relief. At this moment, Chand neither knew which feeling was more prominent not did he care. He simply cried until he went to sleep just as he had done some twenty years ago in his mother’s lap.

It was July 5th again. No one in his current circle knew his correct birthday. Some how, it had passed on from one group to another, and they all celebrated the day when he was castrated. They called it ‘the birth of a new Hijra’. Chand didn’t get up till everyone was gone and when he did, he was happy; for the first time on his birthday after 20 twenty years. He went to a hair dresser, got his hairs trimmed like a man. Then went to a cloth shop, got a pair of men’s formals. When ready to go out, he looked at his school bag, took it up, cleaned it and put the books inside. Looking into the mirror, he combed his hairs properly, just like he did before going to school. He could see the child of seven years he was, in him. He, then, walked out of the room.

On the road, he watched his steps carefully, ensuring that there was enough straightness in them. Turning at the corner, he looked into “The Bombay Groceries”. He saw Mr. Shah looking out. When their eyes met, Mr. Shah looked away as we do when our eyes meet with a stranger’s on the way. Chand smiled to himself. A few steps more and he reached the building where his sister lived. He stood at the gate, looked up at her floor. He remembered of the days of his childhood, when he would look up from the ground and wave hands to his mother when leaving for school. His heart ached. He was brought back to the present by security guard’s queries about his purpose of visit.

Chandrika opened the door five minutes after the bell rang. She had probably washed her hands before opening the door; the towel was still in her hands. It took some seconds before she asked who he was; she was a little uneasy by the stare fixed on her face by a stranger. Chand took another ten seconds to before he was ready for a reply. In his reply to her question, he opened his bag and took a book out where the name slip, though a lot faded, still had his name written on. He extended it to her. She was jolted by a huge force of reminiscence brought back so suddenly that it was not easy to handle. When she moved her head up and look at him, there were tears in the eyes; hers and his, both.

“They waited for you, till their last breath. Papa died two years ago. Maa was here with us for around six months, and then she too passed away. There wasn’t a single day when they didn’t look for you when the door bell rang or a message from you when a postman delivered a letter. Papa ran around the police stations till his last days. We couldn’t find you. I had protested a lot when they decided for my marriage. I didn’t wish to leave them alone. But they forced me into it. Why, my dear,” she held his face with both her hands, “Why didn’t you come back? Why?” she looked away. Chand got up and walked up to the window and opened it. He was feeling suffocated, of his own truth and of the fact that he was chained in it so badly that he couldn’t see his parents even when they died.

“I couldn’t, didi.” He stood still and stifled. Around after ten minutes, Chandrika walked up to him, put her hands on his shoulders, and asked, “Are you ok, bhai?”

“Bhai? Does this word hold meaning anymore?” He thought and felt an intense twinge in his heart. He turned towards her, looked into her eyes. They were looking forward to an answer from him. He repeated, “I couldn’t, didi. Something within me had died; rather was killed… murdered brutally. I was no more their son.”

“Why do you say so, my dear? Where did you go after school that day? What had happened?”

“I was kidnapped, didi.” He went silent. He wished to but couldn’t say what had happened next. His face was plain, emotionless and he was looking past her, into the void of her own mind.
“And then? Then what happened to you?” she asked. He kept quite. She asked again, “bhai, tell me. What did they do to you?” she was already horrified with his silence, not know what was coming next.

“They made me a Hijra.” His voice was almost a whisper. But it was a sincere confession, with no apologies. He knew he was not at fault for what had happened to him. His existence, whatever it was, was not a choice but enforcement. He continued in same tone, “They castrated me, kept in a small house in Jaunpur for days. Then took me to Lucknow. There, they sold me to an old man. There were other kids like me. We were, then, taken to New Delhi. I spent a few months there. Then I was taken to Calcutta. There I spent around eight to nine years of my life. They had a gang sort of. They function in groups. They used to take me to different functions. Many a times they sold me to foreigners who would beat me, harass me and do dirty things to me. From there, I was brought here, to the city of Bombay. I don’t know when and how I accepted it as my life, outside. Inside, I always remained that seven years old kid, waiting for his school rickshaw to go home. How could I come to meet you all in that condition? But when I saw you that day… I know you would not have recognized me. I was here on your godbharai, to bring good fortune, with other Hijras. That was when I saw our family’s photograph on that wall… and that’s how I found you.”

When he looked at Chandrika, she had moved away from him to the door and was standing there keeping it open, looking outside.

Chand looked at her. He didn’t understand what it meant, at first. It took few minutes for him to decipher. And when he did, he didn’t know how he should have behaved. He started walking towards the door, slowly. Outside the door, he realized his notebook was left on the table. But he didn’t take it. His back was facing Chandrika, they both stood still, not knowing what to do next. He pressed the lift’s button and turned his face to look at her. She was showing no trace of emotions. He tried to give her a smile, but couldn’t. The lift had arrived. He turned back and entered into it, and closed the doors. The downward movement of the lift was supplemented by a loud cry from the seventh floor.