In the year of 2002, small-town boy, Simon joins Somerset High, an elite school that caters only to the offspring of the rich and the powerful. Since Simon is a scholarship student belonging to an ordinary family, his uppity classmates initially treat him with contempt. However, as his talents become known, Simon’s popularity soars, leaving school heart throb Sid fuming. Sid resorts to mean, underhanded tricks to pull Simon down.

After Sid plays an especially dirty trick on Simon, school queen bee Richa (who also happens to hate Sid’s guts) offers to help Simon defeat Sid. For this Simon must assume a new identity—that of a female Italian student of royal lineage, “Principessa Simona Marino of Monte Isola”. As the charm of “Simona” casts a spell over the students of Somerset High, Sid’s popularity takes a beating. However, Sid doesn’t mind being beaten by the lovely exotic “princess”.

As weeks fly by, Simon finds himself getting sucked, deeper and deeper, into the quagmire of femininity. As his body is progressively feminized, Simon finds that he is physically attracted to none other than his sworn enemy Sid! However, he also experiences a soul-to-soul connection with the noble Pamela, who, like himself, is a scholarship student of humble origins.

Will Simona choose Sid or Pamela? Will love win over primeval lust?

A Slippery Slope in a School

“Principessa of Monte Isola”
Chapter 1 – A Wily Fox

I sit in my garden, savoring the crisp air and greenery around me. Through the rose bushes and cherry trees, I see Pamela, laughing freely as she spins the merry-go-round where our daughter, Diya is sitting on. Three year old Diya lets out a gurgle of delight. Pamela pushes a strand of straight brown hair behind her ear. She looks extremely young and carefree.

Pamela has been my partner for about 15 years now. There was a time in my life when I had to choose between her and another person. The choice I made changed my life. In spite of my aching youth at the time of critical choice, good sense prevailed. And I am ineffably thankful about that.

Diya, which name means “a lamp”, lit up our home two years ago. Pamela and I came across the emaciated child when the NGO we worked in had sent us to promote literacy and awareness in certain parts of Africa. Baby Diya’s parents had died of Ebola. She was, at that point, being looked after by an impoverished neighbor, who hadn’t yet turned her over to an orphanage.

One look at those beautiful clear eyes, and Pamela and I knew that Diya belonged to us and that we belonged to her. After completing a complicated web of paperwork, we were finally able to bring our baby home, which is in Wimbledon in south west London. Today Diya is a healthy, happy toddler of three. Pamela and I have looked way ahead into the future and made ambitious plans for our child.

As I take another sip of my tea, I think about myself and the extent to which my life has changed. I am Simona, a fair, curvaceous woman of thirty two, with long black hair that falls in loose waves across my shoulders. I enjoy cooking, gardening and of course, rock music. I work for a UK based NGO called “Sparkle”, which works for the eradication of ignorance and superstition, and promotes literacy and awareness in developing countries. I find my job a meaningful one and derive much satisfaction from it. Helping others and knowing that I am making a difference gives me a tremendous high.

I lie back on my hammock and reflect on how far I’ve come. Life for me wasn’t always “Sparkle”. It was also once in “Somerset High”. And the events that transpired in Somerset High changed the topography of my life. It was not in some trifling philosophical way either. The series of minor occurrences that snowballed into a large-scale event drastically changed the course of my life including my identity.

Grandmas narrate fantastic folklores and legends about incidents that never ever occurred. Writers create utopias and dystopias, which are mere concoctions of the imagination. It sometimes feels good to read fiction. However, I prefer reality and truth. For truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. The events that transpired in 2002, and my whole life is testimony to the events.

It all began when I joined Somerset High. Somerset High was an elite highly westernized school, full of children of mostly the rich, powerful and the influential. However, the school offered scholarships to meritorious students hailing from poor or middle-class backgrounds. That is how I, 18 year old Simon Kataria, originally hailing from Alwar in Rajasthan, was able to secure admission into the twelfth grade of Somerset High.

For a boy hailing from a small town, Bangalore provided a bit of a shock. It was full of MNCs, pizzerias and glittering shopping complexes, and was suffused to all over with Western culture–something that I hadn’t been much exposed to at that time. I was astonished to see how modern and techno-savvy everyone was. For a no-frills boy brought up with good values, my classmates provided the biggest shock ever. I was flabbergasted to see how spoilt they were: how much lacking in morals and manners, the ability to work hard and respect for other people. Most of them, I discovered, had little or no merit, but were in Somerset High just because a parent or a relative happened to be a big shot. The students of Somerset High were shallow superficial brats, whose only mission in life, it seemed, was to run others down.

The aforementioned covered Richa Luthra, the queen bee of the school. Richa was very pretty and well-aware of the fact. She turned up to school wearing short sexy dresses, high heels and make up (Somerset High, modeled after American schools, didn’t have a uniform). Richa’s hair was always impeccably styled; her hands neatly manicured. She hung out with another snob called Carlotta Lobo and a quiet girl called Pamela Singh.

The girls weren’t the best of personas, but it was the boys who took the cake. Especially bad was a big boor called Siddharth “Sid” Arora. Sid was the only son of Ramsingh Arora, who was the Cabinet Minister for Railways at that time. Sid had all of his father’s metaphorical weight, but not his scruples. Of course, dazzling good-looks and some amount of natural talent made Sid the most popular boy in Somerset High. Exercise and good nutrition had given him a tall body, which Sid built to perfection by working out for two hours at the school gym every day. He had soft brown hair, finely chiseled features and looked like a young Greek God. A gift of the gab had made Sid win the previous academic year’s elections, as a result of which he was currently the leader of the student body. Sid’s fairly good reverse-sweeps had made him a fairly sought-after batsman. He could carry a tune and strum a chord, so he was lead singer cum guitarist school boy band “Dark Death”.

Needless to say, all the girls in Somerset High had a crush on Sid. They predicted that he and Richa, the prettiest, most popular girl in school would hook up, but somehow that didn’t happen. For reasons unbeknownst to all, Sid and Richa hated each other’s guts. They were always engaging in one-upmanship, trying to put the other down.

A few months after having joined Somerset High, my popularity started escalating. I was the “perfect” height, had smooth milky-white skin and “soulful” brown eyes: features that were adjudged as being easy on the eye. Although I wasn’t as beefed-up as Sid, my slender body was considered quite “hot”. I was diligent and earned the admiration of teachers and respect of peers. I had played much gully-cricket as a child; my scoops, slogs and square-drives soon made me replace Sid as the best batsman in Somerset High. I was fairly articulate, so Sid feared that I’d win the school elections that were a month away.

It was then that the ragging and bullying started. Sid and his two sidekicks named Virat Sharma and Eric Dhawan would waylay everywhere: when on my way to the library, the table tennis hall or the boys’ restroom alone. Then they would incessantly insult me—about my small town back ground, the vernacular accent with which I spoke English, the un-branded clothes I wore and also my looks that they interpreted as feminine. Even though I don’t like to admit that I looked like a girl, I have to confess that I wasn’t as masculine-looking as other boys in their late teens. My face, which sprouted very little facial hair, appeared as smooth as a peach after I shaved. My arms, legs and chest weren’t very hairy, which led the boors to mock (they had seen me swathed in only a towel in the boys’ room, where we showered after cricket practice) that I waxed them. Also, my voice, a pure crystal clear tenor, wasn’t as low and gruff as theirs, leading them to categorize it as “girly”. The way in which I looked, spoke and walked (with a slight sway of the hips, apparently) led the deadly trio to call me a hijra, a pansy and “a boy with a pussy”. I found the last especially derogatory. I, however, decided to ignore their bullying and name-calling, as they weren’t causing any concrete harm to me.

However, soon Sid and his friends started taking their “pranks” to higher, unacceptable limits. They’d sneak into my hostel room and leave mice that would rip up and destroy the essay paper I had stayed up all night to write. The day before an important cricket match, the scoundrels tied a thin string across the stair case as I was traipsing down. In my zeal and enthusiasm, I barely noticed it, and came crashing down like a ton of bricks. The school authorities summoned a doctor, who told me I was lucky not to have broken my neck. I had, nevertheless, sprained my ankle and couldn’t participate in the next day’s match. In my absence, Sid was asked to lead the team and even bagged the Man of the Match award.

Naturally, I was sore. However, since complaining about fellow-students to the school authorities was seen as “sissy”, I decided to tackle Sid’s harassment on my own. Nevertheless, tried hard as I did, I just couldn’t come up with a suitable plan of action to counteract Sid’s persecution. I hoped that time—the best healer—would cure Sid of his depraved, mendacious ways and make him stop haranguing me.

For a few days it did. I thought Sid had finally grown up.

After a geography lesson one day, our class-teacher, Mr. Edwards had something to say: “Sid” he said addressing my rival “I think you have been the lead singer and guitarist of Dark Death for a long time now. How about giving the other boys a chance?”

“Sir!” said Sid in an outraged tone of voice “I had been selected, last year, by popular vote! How could anyone possibly replace me?!”

“I know, Sid” said Mr. Edwards in a placating tone “and I appreciate it. This academic session too, we will conduct auditions and leave the decision to popular vote. The students will decide who they want as the lead singer and guitarist. If they still like you, you’ll be selected again!”

“Okay, Sir” said Sid grudgingly. I could sense that he didn’t like Mr. Edward’s idea at all.

“Good” continued Mr. Edwards “I’ve decided to have the audition day after tomorrow evening. Those of you, who want to audition, please raise your hands. I need to write down your names straight away”.

Four male hands rose up in the air. I threw mine up too. Even though I was from a small town and wasn’t fluent in English, I was deeply interested in rock music. One of my cousins, who worked as a cook in a hotel in America, would get me cassettes and CDs of many a rock star every time he visited Alwar. Therefore, I had grown up on Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and of course, Elvis Presley. The aforementioned relative had also been kind enough to buy me a guitar; hence I knew all my strings, diads and chords.

Sid looked at me in a disparaging way as if to say “you stupid little rustic, don’t tell me you know about rock music?!” I ignored him, knowing that belittling me was just Sid’s way of displaying his insecurity. Deep inside, he knew I’d perform well and that I’d get the better of him.

After school, I walked up to my hostel. I crossed Sid and his cronies at the staircase, but didn’t pay any attention to them. I sauntered into my room and picked up my guitar. I started humming a song from rock band “Deep Purple”, trying to recall the chords.

“Smoke on the Water?” a voice from the door said. I had been so ensconced in my endeavor that I hadn’t noticed that someone had walked up to my door. I lifted my head up to see Eric Dhawan, one of Sid’s friends.

“Yes” I said tersely, not wanting to get into a conversation with one of my archrival’s chums.

“Simon, I can see that you’re angry” said Eric looking apologetic “and I really don’t blame you”.

I remained silent and continued strumming my guitar.

“Listen, I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you” said Eric looking truly remorseful “It’s Sid; he brainwashes us into doing wrong things. I am sick and tired of his ways now. I want to start afresh, as a good person”.

I looked up at him, but didn’t say anything. Eric’s dark eyes seemed honest.

“That’s a good decision” I said and continued playing my guitar.

“Thank you” said Eric gratefully “I hope we can be friends”.

“That might take awhile” I said shrugging.

“Fine” laughed Eric “Meanwhile, would you take a piece of advice from me?”

“Sure” I said.

“Smoke on the Water is too common” said Eric “many people are likely to play it. In fact, I think Sid is going to perform the same piece of music at the audition. If Mr. Edwards finds that both of you are playing the same song, he’s going to disqualify one of you—the one who auditions later. Why don’t you play something else?”

“I haven’t practiced anything else!” I said in horror.

“Don’t panic” replied Eric “Here’s a sheet containing the chords of Bryan Adams’s song “Run to you”. All you have to do is alternate between the A, E and B chords in F#M. There is the D chord also, of course, but that comes later”.

“Thank you, pal” I said gratefully, taking Eric’s hand in mine and shaking them “I owe you one”.

“Oh not at all” said Eric grinning, as he let himself out of the room and shut the door after him.

I spent the next two days alternating the A, E and B chords in F#M. After the first few lines, I alternated between the D and E chord. Since I was a little rusty, it was difficult at first, but I practiced very hard. It had always been my dream to perform in a rock band; an opportunity to make it come true had finally presented itself to me.

On the day of the audition, I picked up my guitar as soon as I came back from school. The time was 3: 45 pm. After having practiced for half an hour, I realized I had to use the bathroom. When inside the toilet, I got the impression that someone had sneaked in. However, when I came out, I realized that there was no one inside. “Just a draft of air perhaps” I told myself. I continued practicing the guitar for all I was worth. I exercised my vocal chords too, by singing the song I was playing. All the time, I kept an eye on the ticking clock. The auditions were to be held at 7: 30 pm sharp at the school auditorium, which was a ten minute walk away from the boys’ hostel. I decided to practice up to 7:15pm, before leaving for the auditorium.

At 7:15, I set out towards the auditorium. As I entered, a boy named Troy was screaming Aerosmith’s “I don’t want to miss a thing” into the microphone. I was surprised to note that the auditions had already begun! Mr. Edwards sat in a corner, listening intently. I noticed Sid, flanked by Virat and Eric, standing in a corner. A few girls had also come to listen to the boys’ audition. I noticed Richa and her friends among them.

Mr. Edwards gesticulated me to take center stage next. “What are you singing?” he asked.

“Run to You by Brian Adams” I said.

“Sorry Simon, but that has already been sung by Sid” said Mr. Edwards “please pick another one”.

I was astounded by what I had just heard. I cast a glance at Sid and Co. Eric’s gloating expression told me what I needed to know. He had deliberately misguided me, so that I got disqualified at the auditions.

However, I was determined not to be disqualified. I had another triumph card up my sleeve: Smoke on the Water.

I told Mr. Edwards I’d perform that number.

“Bad luck, Simon” said Mr. Edwards “Eric’s performed that”.

“Has he had his turn already?!” I exclaimed flabbergasted “it’s only about 7: 30 pm yet!”.

“It’s nearly 8 O’clock” replied Mr. Edwards “the auditions began half an hour ago. I’m sorry to say, but your clock has slowed down. Please do get it checked”.

Since I hadn’t practiced any more songs, I couldn’t perform at the auditions. Sid was, once more, selected as the lead singer cum guitarist of Dark Death. Everyone was ordered to go back to their rooms. As we were parting, Sid deliberately brushed against me and said “better luck, next time, pansy. And yeah, do get that clock checked”.

A memory stirred in my mind. That of a “draft of air”. It might easily have been Sid who had sneaked it and set the clock back by about half-an-hour. As I caught sight of his retreating form, brazenly guffawing and horsing with his friends, fury simmered inside me.

He had played a trick again—the snake. This time Sid had gone too far…..


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