Role that we play
“You are fantastic!” The professor taking the audition exclaimed in astonishment “I never thought a guy could play the role of Draupadi with such a depth”
“Thanks” Suraj replied with a small grin. It wasn’t the first time he had played such a role, but the surprise on people’s face always gives him an extra kick.
“No, you are really good, much better than all the girls who were just parroting dialogues like a dead bird,” He said still looking at him with amazement. “Rehearsals starts from today. Can you dress up a bit to see how you fit into the character?”
“Sure” Suraj agreed casually.
“You have a real talent Suraj. Your parents must be proud!” He looked at him admiringly.
“Actually it’s just my mother and me. She is kind of my role model in life” Suraj replied humbly.
“Then you should bring her to the rehearsals, she should see how good you are”
Suraj hesitated for a moment “She doesn’t really want to come watch me…”
Professor nodded empathetically “I understand. But if she could see how good you are, maybe she will support it..”
Suraj nodded reluctantly but he knew it was little more complicated than that. There would be trouble waiting for him at home today. A man enacting a female character was not that strange in the world of art and theatre. Many famous male artists have played female characters on the stage. But his mother was very much against it. Even as a child, she would reprimand him if he was found wearing her heels or her jewelry just to mimic her. She would look at him horrified and say “This is not a joke. I don’t want you dressing up like me”.
To be fair it wasn’t her fault, she was merely trying to fill in the shoes of a fatherly figure that are supposed to lend a stern hand when thing go awry. As Suraj grew up he found his passion for acting. The world where he could be anybody. Once he gets on the stage, the world around him dims down and the character seems to come alive within him. Her mother would not say it explicitly, but he could see it in her eyes that she loathed the idea of him playing the female roles. There would be an uncomfortable edge in her voice when she would enquire why it was him who was playing this female character. There wasn’t any explanation for that, except for the fact that Suraj delivered these roles better than anyone else. He was brilliant, but his ability to understand a women’s emotions with such a depth troubled his mother. To Suraj’s defense, he played all kinds of role. It did not matter to him what was the gender of the character that he played. It was the role that fascinated him.
But he knew his mother detested the idea that she has to share her jewelry and makeup with her son; hardly a dream of any mother. She would never attend any of his stage shows, but she was what most of the mothers were not; Supportive and loving. Although more often than not, they would tend to disagree with each other on many occasions. Suraj suspected that today was going to be yet another of one such occasion. So he decided to get ready for the rehearsals before his mother can find out what he was up to. He went into her room and began shuffling around her dressing table.
His mother walked into the room just as he was about to apply her new lipstick. She was startled. He was startled. "What are you doing with my lipstick? It's new...I haven't used it so far. Couldn't you have waited?" He smiled and handed it back to her. "I forgot to tell you...I am playing Draupadi in our college production... rehearsals start this evening."
He added an extra mile to his smile to appease her. She frowned a little but said nothing, after all, she wanted to be the supportive mother his son looked up to. She kept back her new lipstick and took out another one from her dressing table.
“This one will go better with your dress,” She handed it to him without making any eye contact and turned away.
“Could you apply it ..please” Suraj hazarded. He could see her red bindi crinkling between her anxious brows. It was a calculated risk. Either she would finally confront him or would accept his passion and be a part of it. Either way, the open confrontation was much better than the long uncomfortable glares that her mother gave.
She took a minute before sitting next to him and gestured him to part his lips. She rolled out the bright lipstick and started to apply delicately on his lips, all the while maintaining the torturous silence. Suraj watched her intently and then sighed heavily “Ok, say it”
“I wasn’t going to say anything..” She said somberly, concentrating on his lips.
“I know you want to ..just say it maa..” he pouted his lips teasingly at her.
“It’s not funny” She gave him a stern look “I never had any problem with your passion for acting, but all this makeup and jewelry….it’s not good. People make assumptions you know.. ” The familiar uncomfortable edge was back in her voice. Suraj knew that he had hit a sensitive nerve.
He smiled at her lovingly. “What kind of assumptions mother…”
“Don’t tease me. You know what I am talking about” She turned away from him “Everyone will think something is wrong with you. Why else will a man go around wearing a women’s clothes and makeup?”
“Simply because he is playing that character” Suraj stated simplistically “An artist has to forget himself and transform into the character he is playing on the stage. So how does it matter if I play a man or women? It is the role that matters, not the gender who is playing it.”
She could see in his eyes that he meant what he said. But there was this unexplainable fear that refused to subside in her heart.
“Suraj.. tell me the truth..” She asked cautiously “Do you like dressing up like this?” She wasn’t sure if she was ready for an answer but the question was already out there.
“Is there something wrong with that..” He just asked casually, but his mother’s face suddenly crumbled into desperation. It was like the worst of her fears had come true. He added quickly “I like acting, and not dressing up like this…if that is what you are worried about…” He saw her mother breathing again “..Although, I don’t think people should be judged for what they like to wear. One should be able to do what they like and be who they want without caring about people’s opinion.”
She almost smiled at his naive ideas, and then suddenly a foreboding clouded her heart. How innocent was his son. He would never know what the opinions of others could do. What is the price to stand out from the crowd and be someone different?
“You are playing Draupadi and asking why does people’s opinion matter?” She gave a sardonic smile “She defied everything normal from being married to five husbands and being called the daughter of fire. People could not comprehend her ideas or her existence. She had to pay the price of humiliation to be different”
“I remember it the other way around maa. It was the people who had to pay the price for her humiliation.,” Suraj added cleverly.
His mother pressed her lips into a thin line. She knew she was being dragged into another oratory competition “I am not asking you to stop acting, I am just asking you to stop dressing up like a lady..”
“I don’t know why you are overreacting. This is just a stage shows maa” Suraj sighed heavily. He knew this wasn’t going to be an easy fight.
She looked at him appalled and pulled him in front of the mirror “My Son looks just like me and you are asking why I am overreacting..”
“Why.. you are gorgeous, anybody would want to look like you “ He jested but found out that it was not taken in a light spirit. He added seriously this time “Even Arjun had to take up the form of women, but he is still considered biggest warrior of our time. Vishnu had to take up the form of Mohini to marry Aravan, but he is still considered our God. These boundaries of gender should not entrap you from doing what you really feel like”
She stood there trying to think of an answer to his reasons, but her fear had no reasons. And she knew that the world will also not pay heed to reasons when they would try to ridicule his son for being little different.
“Why can’t you just act like other kids of your age...a normal kid?” She suddenly felt ashamed for asking him that. A person who had never constrained herself by the social norms is suddenly beseeching her son to abide by them.
“What is normal maa? Each person has its own definition of normal. Why should I live by someone else’s definition of normal?” He said pulling out an eyeliner from her makeup kit and applying it carefully.
She took it from him irritated “Fine, do what you want. People will only blame me. They will say I have raised you all wrong. ” A lump formed in her throat.
He smiled and wrapped his arms around her “No, they will say that you have raised a confident and secure son, whose identity cannot be smudged by an ounce of makeup.”
She looked at her son frustrated. No one could ever win with him in an argument. Bright, smart and handsome, he was everything she could never be and so much more. She had promised herself, that she will provide him with everything to be a perfect human being. Doesn’t all mother do that? Then why wouldn’t he change this little thing about him? Was it her own fault? Was she even a good mother? Perhaps she should not have adopted him at all. She had never considered the motherhood, but the vision of a toddler crying next to his dead mother’s body on the street stirred something deep inside of her. She had bent down to wipe his tears and he hugged her with the strength that seemed too mighty for him to possess. She knew then, that she was a mother to this kid. How she got the strength to fight everybody and adopt him was still a mystery to her. But now she doubted her upbringing. She doubted if she had the right to take care of anyone else.
“Can you help me with this..” He said breaking her chain of thoughts “How do you put this around the shoulder” He stood awkwardly trying to drape her bright red sari around his muscular shoulder. He looked like her spitting image; something mothers desire in their children. But this image terrified her and made her love him a little more at the same time.
“Are you just going to watch me struggle here..” He said a little vexed as the sari tangled around his neck. Her face melted into a smile but she quickly stifled it. She did not want her son to think that he has finally won his mother over.
“Come here, I will fix it with the safety pin” She took out the extra one from under her blouse.
“Will you come to watch the rehearsals?” He asked as she tucked the sari on his shoulders.
“No” She shook her head adamantly “it will be embarrassing…”She said biting her lips.
He held her hands firmly and looked into her eyes “For the last time maa. You will never be an embarrassment to me. Even the government of India has recognized eunuchs as the third gender, so why can’t I give you the recognition of a mother in front of my friends?”
She looked at him unsure as her eyes welled up with tears. The insecurities that were hidden deep inside her were finally been spoken out openly. She did not want her son to face the ridicule of the fact that his mother was a hijra. That was not the heritage she wanted her son to acquire.
Suraj smiled at his mother “You became my mother when I had lost mine and no one else would take me. It’s the role that you played in my life that is important, not the gender that played that role”
Her mother looked at him fondly, and she realized then, that she had raised her son just perfect.