Radha was taking off the red ribbon from her saree when she looked into the mirror to travel back in time….
It all came back to her, filling her mind like a heady draught of memories of things long gone but their vestiges stuck to the periphery of her mind like unwanted vagrants in a growing city.
It was perhaps the worst day of her life or so it seemed to her then (she could not fathom that there was worse to come). In a fit of anger, which sprung forth from all the years of holding it in, having to hold it within her, she blurted out to her parents that she wanted to be a woman. Radha was not born Radha but as Ramana. She went through all the loneliness and humiliation that are a part of being “different”.
Now that she had confessed out of this unforeseen madness, there was no going back but the look on her parents’ faces made her wish she could!
She was unceremoniously thrown out into the street after all their attempts at convincing her that it was just a phase and that it could all be cured by a professional failed. Shaken, hurt, humiliated and angry at the fact that the people who knew her for so long could not even understand her, she wandered the streets of Bangalore knowing not what awaited her. She wished to die but something in her told her how cowardly that would be! She had to show the world (and herself) that she is capable of achieving anything in the world. These thoughts seemed to give her strength but she hoped it would not drown in the deluge of apathy that she could sense churning up within her mind.
After living a week on the streets, sleeping on the footpaths and eating morsels from the little money she had, Radha came across the only people whom she felt could understand her, for they too must have gone through all the various vagaries of being “different”. They did not seem all that sad though, dancing as if nobody mattered.
The Hijras had gathered for some wedding that was taking place and they delighted (or perhaps frightened) the crowds into a frenzy. Radha walked upto them, they did not seem to notice. She waited till the dancing abated and spoke to the one who seemed to be their leader. She later came to know it was Rani Di. Rani looked down with her heavily kajal-lined eyes after Radha had narrated her story, a look of compassion and understanding. Her eyes were moist.
Radha was excited. She was finally to be purged of her maleness physically. She never had any maleness within her. The operation had cost 3000 rupees but Rani Di and the other girls pitched in to pay the amount. When Radha went with Rani to the place where her operation was to take place, she could not help but notice that the room was not well maintained. She had also heard of others dying during castration. Her fears seemed to flee like the darkness from sunlight, by the warm and firm touch of Rani. She went ahead with her operation. And she became herself, completely.
Her colony had been raided by the police suspecting them of prostitution. This had lead to an altercation between Rani Di and the officers and Rani along with few other girls had been jailed for the night. When they returned they spoke of such horrid and disgusting things that it shook Radha to her core. They spoke of being molested by the very people who had arrested them for prostitution. They had been locked up with common criminals, among men. This was not only denigrating but also made them prone to the depraved acts of the other inmates.
Radha could not find Rani Di anywhere. She asked people where she was and they said that Rani had been locked in a separate cell even though she had asked to be in the same cell as the others.
Rani returned by the evening but spoke very little, she wasn’t the loud, joyous soul she was before. Something seemed amiss.
Rani Di had contacted an NGO working for the welfare of the Hijras. The workers spoke about the various causes of AIDS and others STDs and also they helped the women of the colony get jobs. Radha, being among the few who could converse in passable English, took up a job with the NGO as a spokesperson. She knew Rani Di had suggested her name to the head of the NGO, though she couldn’t quite comprehend why Rani herself had not been as proactive with the workings of the organization. She also noticed that Rani Di was not herself any more, she was but a pale ghost of the vibrant and inscrutable matron of the colony.
Radha saw how thin Rani had grown. She seemed to be sick all the time these days, but being the woman that she was, Rani never showed it to the other girls, not that they did not notice though.
The colony was hit by a torrent of tears. Rani Di had died after a severe bout of pneumonia. Radha knew pneumonia could not kill a person and that even after being given proper treatment with help of the NGO, Rani had not survived meant only one thing.
It had always been in the back of her mind, but Radha never heeded her instinct about it. Now when Rani had gone, it all fell into place. Radha knew what happened that day when Rani and the others were jailed. Radha realized why Rani had weakened and dramatically reduced to half the person that she had been.
Radha understood why Rani had grown quite, and why she had not taken a better interest in the NGO’s activities, even though it was her who had contacted them in the first place.
Radha just realized she had lost the person who had taken care of her, the mother who had helped her be born again, the sister who held her hand when she needed most and perhaps the only person who truly believed in her. Radha had lost her Rani to AIDS.