“I don’t know Baba! I am just worried with his unpalatable behavior. He loves his ghunghroo so much that he wants to take up dancing as his career?” said Sunil to his father who was in Delhi for a Science Congress and was enquiring about his only grandchild Dev.

“Oh Come on Sunil! Our country is filled with male dancers. The best gurus have been burly males,” shrugged Rupal trying to wave off his worries.

“But they belonged to that family. I can’t understand…why do you fail to see? You ignored when he played with dolls and dupattas. You ignored when he behaved like a dainty girl,” Sunil continued as he wanted to discuss the issue this time with someone and who could be better than his parents. “You are ignoring the fact that in this family of highly learned engineers and scientists, he wants to take an altogether different career. I hope you know there is something called genes.”

“See! Didn’t I tell you to beware of these Punjabis. They never take life seriously. They just want to enjoy life and have fun,” said Bou. She had found the moment as a vent for her buried emotions.

“Why are you guys ignoring what is visible? He is growing up to become a well groomed man. Will his choice pauperize his masculinity?” Rupal reaffirmed herself.

“I suggest you take him to a psychotherapist,” said Baba after a long pause.

“Let him find out the problem and in case everything is fine, let Dev fly with his choice. There shouldn’t be any problem.”

********

“Please don’t…….aaaah…..don’t burn me. Help me! Please stifle the burning flames! I will never dance. I will do whatever you want me to. Amma please…”wailed Dev in a feminine voice.

“Oh! Who’s burning you?” enquired Dr. Choudhary, the psychotherapist, who chose hypnotherapy as Dev seemed clueless about his behaviour.

“They burnt me, just because I liked dancing. They wanted me, their daughter-in-law to only take care of the family. They denigrated my dancing achievements. I don’t want to be a girl. A girl….she can never fulfill her wishes……But ….But….. I am a girl. A girl!”

Tears rolled down Rupal’s eyes while Sunil gazed at his son who laid right in front of him on the recliner.

“Let him rest,” said Dr Choudhary and went out, Rupal and Sunil followed.

“He is a girl with a male body,” declared Mr. Choudhary taking a deep sigh.

“So what should be our next step?” Sunil asked in bewilderment.

“Don’t haste Mr. Mohanty! Give him time, love him immensely. You just heard how he was burnt alive. He needs to be healed, moreover he is hardly sixteen,” said Mr. Choudhary softly.

Back home, no one spoke much except Rupal who hugged and cuddled her son.

“Mothers are blind. Can’t you see that he belongs to a different tribe? I am sure he will leave us soon,” said Sunil with a frown on the bed.

“Oh come on Sunil! He is our child. He needs love and support. If we leave him now who will he run up to for support? He will feel lost and betrayed,” replied Rupal.

“Oh you! And your blind love! How will we handle the society?” said Sunil admonishingly.

“And you and your pride! Stop giving so much importance to the society which has no job to do but poke. He is my child. Let me shower my love, let me lend him my shoulders and ears to his aching heart,” said Rupal with a parched throat. She turned to pick the glass of water, sipped and continued, “By the way, how many sons around us are living with their parents? We only get to know their stories through their mouth. Who knows some might have a child like ours and they are just trying to hide? Why not to create a society where this queer community can live a life with dignity? Why not to be empathetic and tell the story of our child.”

“Rupal, you I’ve always respected your thoughts but this time I am not convinced. May be you are right but I need time. Goodnight for now. I don’t want to debate.” Sunil put off the lights and goes to sleep.

********

“Aunty, I love coming here! I just wish, every parent could understand us like you,” said Soundarya, Dev’s tattooed friend and gave Rupal a warm hug. “I am planning to go to Singapore or U.S where I can live a life of my own. Dude you are so lucky.”

“Ask me buddy,” Dev said with grimace. “I still can’t sit and chat with daddy. I am happy just because of mom.”

“Come on Dev! It’s difficult for people to understand especially someone like your father who belongs to a very orthodox family. In fact it was difficult for me too,” explained Rupal.

“We belonged to a society where people like you never existed. We used to come across transgender people only during marriages and birth of a son. We never thought how they were born or what made them so. Even if we thought and raised such questions we were asked to keep our mouth shut. So this was actually strange and unacceptable. But this community has existed and will continue to.”

“I can understand aunty! But even with celebrities declaring their sexual orientation, common people like us are expected to remain silent and hide our sexuality forget the supreme court ruling, decriminalizing homosexuality,” said Soundarya.

“There you are my children! You have the answer. Just as people here have fought for abolition of 377, you have to carry the flame and transfer to the next generation. Don’t run away; live in your land with dignity. I am with you guys. Keep fighting and a day will come when you all will breathe freely.”

Rupal hears a clapping from behind and as she turned she saw Sunil, Baba and Bou.

“Let’s carry the flame.”

Glossary:

Baba: Father

Bou : Mother (in Oriya)

Dupatta: a long piece of cloth worn around the head, neck, and shoulders by women in India.

Ghungroo: small metallic bells strung together to form an anklet.

Punjabis : People of Punjab

***

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