The protagonist is a pretty-faced boy living in a rural town. He was forced into a situation to perform a feminine dance on a college stage. It creates a scandal in the social circles. Fearing further stigma,  the parents ask him to leave the town. He travels to a big city and joins a call center of a San Francisco based telecom company called Ursa Major. He is given the job of a customer service representative.  He finds himself deeply fascinated by his beautiful and powerful boss, Barbara Turner. Barbara takes a personal interest in him. The sexual tension between the two provides fodder for some office gossip. Barbara asks him to identify himself as Arianna to customers who call. His life takes an unusual turn when Barbara coaxes him to wear feminine clothes in the office.


A Slippery Slope in a Call Center

Chapter 1 – Pansy Boy

My name is Ajay and I live in a rural town called Patiala. It is a beautiful place with forts, complexes, gardens and even a palace of mirrors. The land is very fertile. The summers are sultry and the winters extremely chilling. Education is given considerable importance and there are a number of good schools and colleges in my town. There are also many playgrounds to play cricket, polo, skating etc, but Patiala could hardly be called exciting for a youngster like me.

At 18, I am very much a youngster. I am 5 feet 6 inches tall, have a slender waif-like body and what people call ‘a pretty face’. Its fair, creamy texture often lead relatives to heave wistful signs and tell my mother: ‘Mira, your color has been passed on to your boy, not to your girl’.

‘I had saffron with milk when I was pregnant with him’ my mother says nostalgically.

‘Well, you should have had the same when you were expecting your daughter too’. The gossipy old cows of Patiala don’t mince words.

My sister, Poonam, is dark-complexioned: a factor that causes much stigmatization in India. That is, second to being born a girl. To counteract factors stacked against her, Poonam rebels by cutting her hair short, wearing boys’ clothes and getting into unnecessary fights with people. I am her complete antithesis; a fact that has got the tongues of gossipmongers of Patiala wagging.

I still haven’t attained puberty. As mentioned before, my skin is still as smooth as girls’ and my voice sweet, high-pitched and clear. My chest and groin regions are hairless. I wasn’t born ‘a eunuch’ or intesexed though; my penis was pretty much ‘male’ at birth. However, at 13 or 14, when that of an average boy’s genitals starts functioning and manufacturing sperm, mine did not. During my early teens, when my friends suddenly started shooting up like bamboo poles, had voices that started cracking and faces that began sprouting hair, I started feeling like an aberration. Also, upon the onset of teens, I noticed a very strange phenomenon in boys and girls my age. I didn’t understand this for a long time. They, who had been behaving quite normally with each other until the seventh grade, suddenly started behaving weirdly with the opposite sex: the girls would blush and giggle when the boys were in vicinity, the boys would start straightening their hair and preening themselves and generally try and make themselves bigger and more attractive. The girls would flutter their eyelashes, speak alternately in sweet and saucy tones and generally sit and stand suggestively, positioning their tits and buttocks to best advantage.

I was totally confused. What was happening around me? Why had my classmates, who had been together since kindergarten, suddenly started behaving in such a strange fashion? One evening, I was to understand. A tall athletic boy named Vikram, who was the head boy of our school and the captain of the football team, winked at me. I had walked to him across the football court in the midst of wildly cheering crowds, had extended a slender milky hand and said: ‘Congratulations’.

Vikram took it in his own strong one and held it for a moment longer than necessary. Then he said ‘thank you’ in his deep baritone and winked. I felt my heart race and the area around my groins tingle. My head started reeling and I went into a tizzy. So, this is what had been happening to my classmates of late! It was the ardor of first flush of youth expressing itself!

From that day onwards, I started feeling very shy and self-conscious around young males. Every time I passed the corridors, I could feel the boys’ eyes linger lustily on me and seek out hypothetical breasts and a pussy. I could see that they savored my slender shape and the sway in my walk. It was almost as if they were undressing me with their eyes. When I talked, these boys noticed the fluty lilt in my voice and the effeminate gestures of my body. Every once in a while, a homophobe flung the word ‘hijra’ or ‘chakka’ at me. That hurt, to say the least.

Since I felt so coy in the presence of members of my own gender, I started hanging out with the girls. They were kinder than the boys, and not as predatory. They’d call me ‘a eunuch’ at times, but in an affectionate manner. We’d spend our school-breaks discussing fashion, latest girly pulp or features covered in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Femina and Women’s Era. Like the girls, I tried out recipes and drooled over male film or sport heroes. Being a part of the gabfest made me feel I belonged.

After my tenth grade, my father started suffering losses in his business. His textbook store ‘Wisdom Books’ used to be quite popular until the internet became a rage. Classified ads and private websites, with their savvy ways of conducting research, buying and selling was the reason for ‘Wisdom Books’ running at a loss. Tried as I did, I couldn’t convince my dad to use the internet. Instead, I was forced to discontinue my education and join his sinking business.

Working in my father’s shop cut me off from my usual girlish clique. I spent all my hours at the shop, got home late to have dinner and sleep. On weekends, I helped my mother cook meals and do household work—something that gave me such pleasure that I was unable to break away from it. My girl pals, who were now in the eleventh grade, stayed in school up to 5 pm and then went off to attend tuitions. They hardly had time to visit or phone me. My sister Poonam, the quintessential tomboy, wasn’t appropriate company for me. I was lonely and miserable.

Two years passed in an uneventful manner. One morning, my father assigned a job to me. ‘Visit all the colleges in Bijlinagar and post flyers on the community bulletin board’ he instructed ‘and don’t forget to include the e-mail address and phone number of Wisdom Books’.

I dutifully went to all the colleges in the area and did as told. It was nearly noon by the time I went to St Carmel’s. My heart leapt as I saw the girls from my school in the campus! True to ‘vows of sisterhood’, they had all joined the same college. I felt a stab of envy that was quelled by a deluge of pleasure at the reunion. My friends were all decked up in kurtis (a tight-fitting long India shirt, with slits at the sides), Patiala salwaars (long roomy pants, stitched in Patiala), colorful bouncy parandas (an ornamental tasseled tag for braiding hair) and jutis (flat Punjabi shoes made of leather and intricately embroidered in gold and silver thread). Apparently they had a cultural fest in which all of them were taking part. It was apparent that they were preparing for the gidda or the traditional Punjabi ladies’ dance.

‘Hi Ajay’ screeching my best friend, a well-endowed, eternally cheerful girl called Manpreet ‘Long time, no see!’

‘Been busy with business’ I muttered sulkily ‘old man never lets me go out of sight’. I noticed that Manpreet was wearing the gidda costume.

‘Well that’s too bad’ said another sweet slip of a girl ‘we’re having a great time here’. Her slight figure was also swathed in the dance attire.

‘I can see that’ I said ‘and admit I am envious, but in a good way’.

My friends smiled. ‘Ajay’ Manpreet said ‘we’re short of a gidda dancer. Would you like to try?’

‘How can I?’ I said ‘I am not from your college’

‘That doesn’t matter’ Manpreet reassured me ‘we told the principal that we’re short of dancer and she permitted us to include an outsider’.

‘Fine then’ I said and allowed myself to be guided down a corridor, apparently leading to the green room. On the way, a sudden, slightly frightening doubt gripped me. ‘I am to dress as a boy, right?’ I asked Manpreet.

‘No’ said Manpreet ‘I told you we were performing gidda, the traditional women’s’ dance. You’ll have to dress as a girl’.

‘I can’t, you know…actually, I was on an errand’ I said a beginning to stammer ‘my father expects me back home soon’.

‘This is treachery!’ said Manpreet accusingly ‘you’ve given us your word. Besides, you never mentioned any errand when you arrived’.

It was my word against my own. I was trapped. I let myself be led into the green room and took off my pants and shirt. I let my friends put a red kurti over me, but since belonged to the heftily-built Manpreet, the kurti hung loosely over me. One of the girls, an ace seamstress, got it off me and drew in the fabric a few inches inwards, so that the kurti clung snugly to the contours of my slender body. The rice paddy green lehanga or long skirt fit perfectly, its roomy pleats arranging themselves in neat rows across my long legs. Somebody procured a braided black wig with a red paranda from somewhere and fit it over my closely cropped hair. A pair of rich green jutis was salvaged from somewhere; Manpreet asked me to wriggle my well-shaped feet into them. With a hint kohl, powder and lipstick, I looked as pretty as either one of them. My lack of breasts and a derriere was the only indicator that I was a male.

The college emcee announced our gidda dance. A group of four girls and I took our positions on stage. The evening, still young, was quietly merging into dark. The makeshift college stage was resplendent with beams of various colors bombarding us from all directions. From where I was positioned, which, unfortunately happened to be the center of the stage, I could recognize faces in the audience. Most of them were familiar ones, of parents and siblings of the girls I was dancing with. At first, they seemed a bit taken aback to see someone, who was clearly not a girl, among their daughters. As a malevolent gleam settled in their eyes, I realized they had recognized me in my ludicrous drag avatar. ‘Look, that’s Ajay Singh!’ their whispers were loud enough for me to hear ‘the pansy boy who runs his father’s book store!’.

‘I don’t know if you remember’ remarked another parent ‘but he used to be in our daughters’ school. Nina had told me that Ajay Singh was effeminate. But I never thought he’d stoop to the extent of dressing in a ladies’ costume and performing the gidda!’

‘His father pretends to be one of these macho alpha male types’ said lady Number One ‘must be disappointed to have a son who’d rather have a pussy than a cock!’.

The brazen ladies tittered. It was now that I saw a figure behind them: a hefty, mountainous and glowering figure. The flames of his anger were clearly directed at me. Dad!! I very nearly jumped out of my skin. My father was speaking to a policeman whom he presently sent away. Then he resumed glaring at me. I surmised that since I hadn’t returned by 3 pm as I had promised, my worried father had combed the town, finally sought the aid of a local police man who had traced me to St. Carmel’s. I was certain that dad wasn’t pleased with what he saw and heard.

My first impulse was to flee. But by that time, the loud music of Sirdhool Sikandar urging us to dance started blaring. It was impossible to stop dancing as the following lyrics, admiring the beauty of Punjabi women, reverberated through the room.

Hase naal se jalaava phul mariya
Gore gal utte neel piya
Jiven surma sindhoor vich khilariya
Gore gal utte neel piya

It literally meant: “In jest I threw a flower
it made a bruise on her fair cheek
like kohl spread in red powder
it made a bruise on her fair cheek”

As I gamboled on stage with the beauty, femininity and fluidity expected of the gidda, I could feel my father progressively burgeoning with anger at such top speed that I feared he’d explode. Or have a heart attack. At the very least, I was certain he was intent on making a bruise on my fair cheek, not with a flower, but with a slap from his powerful hand. I went ahead with my capering, but was cowering with fear on the inside.

Catastrophe was waiting as soon as I reached home. My father, who had returned much earlier, was trembling with rage. My mother, who had apparently been making rotis (wheat bread) in the kitchen, stood furiously at the entrance, rolling pin in hand. She made an impatient gesture of flicking back a strand of hair, and ended up smearing wheat flour on her forehead. The little accident made her angrier. Even Poonam looked indignant.

‘Come inside’ my father said ominously. I followed like a submissive dog, with the two ladies in tow. Once inside, the three sat down on the sofa. I didn’t have the courage to sit down and nobody invited me to. I suddenly felt very lonely and alienated.

‘What did you mean by that tomfoolery?’ my father thundered ‘I had sent you to post flyers, not romp about like a goddamn female!’

‘Actually, I…’ I bleated like a helpless lamb ‘I didn’t want to, but Manpreet insisted’.

‘Would you jump into the well if she asked you to, you cocksucker?!’ dad swore.

I was shocked at the expletive. My father was a hot-tempered man, he got angry very often, but he never used swear words. I guess he was really furious.

‘Answer me!’ my father bellowed, further incensed by my silence.

‘No’ I said with dignity ‘I wouldn’t’.

‘Do you know how much I have had to endure’ my father blared ‘because of you? Tongues have already been wagging because you haven’t yet sprouted a beard, and you go a step further to give them a reason for malicious gossip!’

I opened my mouth to say something, but words got wedged in my throat. I realized I was trembling like a leaf.

‘You should have heard those women, Mira’ my father said addressing my mother ‘they were calling him a hijra. Raising doubts about his manhood and mine. Our family name was besmirched today. Never have I been so humiliated in my life!’.

‘I agree’ said my mother indignantly ‘he spends hours in the kitchen, when he should be playing outdoors. He shows no penchant for sports or mixing with other boys. So, when other people’s sons are kicking footballs, ours wears bangles’.

Mom meant it metaphorically, of course, but Poonam took the expression literally. She milked this opportunity to snitch on me. ‘Yes, he does wear bangles’ she said in her coarse, aggressive voice ‘when you’re not home, mom, I’ve seen him sneak up to your dressing table and slide one bangle after another into his wrists. I’ve also seen him use your anklets and jhumkas (earrings). He thinks no one is watching, but I have!’

Great. This was what I needed. A footnote from my sister that would push me further into quagmire. I’d noticed that however sweet I tried to be to my sister, she unfailingly found ways to antagonize me.

‘Not only that’ Poonam continued her finking marathon ‘when in school, I’d seen him hang out only with girls. Tittering, gossiping and reading girlie magazines’.

Mom and dad were silent for what seemed like centuries. Finally, dad spoke. His voice was grave.

‘At this rate, Ajay’ he said ‘Our family honor will be mingled in mud. We’ll reach such a state that we’ll not be able to hold our heads high in public. So, please do us a favor–and leave’.

‘But where do I go?’ I cried aghast. The prospect of leaving the cocooning shelter of home and going off elsewhere frightened me.

‘You’re a grown male of 18’ my father said evenly ‘for all intents and purposes, a man. Get a job elsewhere. It’s obvious your heart is not in the family business’.

‘You mean, you want me to quit Wisdom Books?’ I asked.

‘Beta (son), I am suggesting you leave Patiala’ said my father, not meeting my eye.

‘Leave Patiala?!’ I cried horrified ‘but this is my home. I haven’t been elsewhere. Where do I go?’

‘There are plenty of cities’ said my father half-apologetically ‘Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata. I am sure a change of air would do you good’.

The stance of my family was clear. I was an embarrassment to them; a shame that they wanted to fling as far as possible from them. So that I wouldn’t linger around their home with my pansy-faggot self and besmirch their family name further. I was saddened instead of angered. Large teardrops started rolling down my cheeks.

Unable to see the son of the house cry, my mom and sister strutted out of the room. My father remained sitting on the sofa, gelid and heartless as a rock.

‘I give you a week’ he finally sounded the ultimatum.


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