When the train stopped at Ernakulam , Renu got a cup of steaming hot coffee from the platform Slowly blowing on the coffee and sipped it with a zzzzzl sound showing her appreciation for the coffee . Suddenly, Renu remembered that she had to spend the whole night on the train to reach her hometown…she would be on time to drink her mother's morning black coffee with jaggery. Sighing deeply , Renu wondered how her mother would react to meeting her only daughter after a gap of five long years. True, she had kept in touch with her mother, occasionally over the phone and even would send a small amount of money monthly even though her mother earned a decent salary as a middle- school teacher.
In fact, her mother Kalyani was her role- model. She was full of admiration for the woman who overcame her struggles, living with an alcoholic husband and emerged as a respectable teacher through sheer willpower and determination. After her husband's death, she furthered her education and qualified herself to be a high schoolm teacher . Kalyani's life revolved around her daughter Renu . She made sure that Renu lacked nothing in life; she was admitted to an exclusive English medium School along with the children of the rich and famous .......
The thought of her School reminded Renu of Eva -Evelyn Mathews, her inseparable childhood friend. Renu remembered vividly how Eva came to the opening day of school clinging to her mother's sari pallu. Eva was very fair with a satin smooth complexion and cherubic face. She was wearing a lovely pink frock with lots of frills and flowers which made her look bigger than she was. No wonder, she got the nickname Rolly- Polly on her very first day !
The principal introduced the new student as Evelyn Mathews, daughter of the business magnate Mathews who was their chief guest for previous year's School Anniversary . She also went on to add that he admitted his daughter to this School because he was so taken by the discipline and decorum of the school and its students.
From day one, Renu was struck by Eva’s pretty looks. In fact, she earned the seat next to Eva by fighting off all the boys in the class. Renu could easily win a fight with the boys. She was wiry but energetic and strong. She moved around with boys usually, played football or Kabadi in her free time when the other girls role-played teachers, housewives and doctors . Renu always had an urge to dress up like a boy. She remembered how on her 11th birthday she woke up before her mother did and how she tiptoed and opened her mother's trunk to take out her late father's mundu and juba. She drew a mustache on the very tiny almost invisible hair on her upper lip , applied sandalwood paste on her forehead and looked at the mirror. Not satisfied with her reflection, she put up her shoulder- length hair in a knot on top of her head . The mundu and juba were a little loose for her but she was still satisfied to see the desired effect after the makeover . She looked every inch a boy!
Eva was very fond of Renu too and shared her lunch with her. She brought her imported stationery and chocolates, much to the envy of the other classmates. Once, just to impress Eva, Renu climbed the tall tamarind tree outside their class and plucked the fruit for Eva to eat . Renu even would accompany Eva to the church nearby. Renu was not particularly interested in church as she was Hindu but she did not want to be separated from Eva even for a short period of time .
Eva, a pampered child, wanted Renu to come for sleepovers at her house . So, on weekends Eva's car would come to Kalyani's house to pick Renu up. Though Kalyani did not approve of her daughter spending every weekend with the wealthy family, she did not dare stop Renu because of her quick temper.
In School, teachers and students began to notice Eva and Renu’s strange friendship . When Eva copied Renu's answers for English work, the teacher, with her selective sense of justice punished Renu by dismissing her from class until she brought her mother while Eva got a pat on her back saying she should not be friendly with Renu who was a bad influence.
When Kalyani met the class teacher, she poured all her complaints about Renu to her mother’s not- so-reluctant ears. Kalyani agreed and expressed her inability to control Renu without a father figure at home to discipline her and lamented her innumerable financial struggles to educate her.
A furious Kalyani even beat Renu and threatened that she would stop her studies but Renu retorted by saying that she could then run away to some remote place where her life would be more peaceful without all of them ganging up against her.
Renu brought her memories back to that rainy night when she was at Eva's place after high school exams. Renu and Eva were watching a horror movie on TV. Eva rested her head on Renu's shoulder and fallen asleep. Renu inhaled the pleasant smell of coconut oil with tulsi leaves on Eva’s hair, listening to her own loud heartbeats when Eva woke up frightened by the sound of thunder outside. As Renu hugged her tight, she felt as though a current was flowing in her veins, an indescribable excitement ..eternal bliss. Eva did not try to move away. Renu's slender but strong arms enveloped Eva. Her mouth, lips and tongue found their places in Eva's ; Eva’s feverish hands guided Renu to explore every part of her body. They let their bodies dance to a rhythm dictated by anatomy…
After this ecstatic experience, the whirlwind of love continued between Renu and Eva.. That was the beginning of an awakening .
In an unguarded moment , Renu told Amma about her peculiar experience. At first, Kalyani broke an ear- piercing cry then she beat her chest. Still not satisfied, she started hitting Renu with a stick that she kept for reaching the clothesline . Renu stoically bore the thrashing “Boys don't cry ..tears are meant for girls' ', she said to herself.
Meanwhile a thousand tongues wagged. In school, news got around and the students drew pictures of the two nude girls on the walls.
Eva's infuriated parents sent Eva to Washington where her uncle worked, with the idea of eventually joining her after winding up their business here . Renu was in house arrest .
Unable to bear the ridicule, Renu escaped from home. She approached the local chit funds woman Sarada Chechi and sold her two sovereign chain. Emboldened by the cash in hand, she fled home and caught a train to Mumbai .
During her stay in the woman's hostel , Renu befriended a doctor, to whom she revealed her problems. After listening to her patiently, the doctor’s heart went out to a man who was trapped in a woman's body. She continued to encourage Renu by quoting examples of such people who had undergone sex- change operations in the US and living a happy life . “It's our colossal ignorance that makes us ridicule such people”,she said. She advised her that if Renu could raise the money for the sex-change operation, it could be done even in Ernakulam, close to her home- town.
It so happened that year, in honor of International woman's day, the Ernakulam hospital announced that they were offering to perform sex- change operation for free for two eligible candidates . Renu registered for the surgery and equipped with all the information, Renu was going to meet Amma. Would she be able to take it?
When the train reached her hometown, Renu walked towards the house through a shortcut. The light through the bedroom window meant her mother was awake. Renu's walking turned to a run and she banged the door .
Kalyani opened the door, and the next minute they were in a tight hug. Kalyani cried and Renu sobbed unabashedly.
Slowly, in between sobs, Renu sat down to talk to her mother. Kayani was listening to her daughter in rapt attention. ' Amma this love for Eva I could not understand it but it was natural. At the age of 11, I recognized that I was a boy. And I knew that what I felt for Eva was not love for a friend or a sibling, it was different.
Renu told Kalyani about how she had always fantasized about being a boy all through her adolescence and then how she got lucky to be receiving a sex change operation free of charge. Pressing Renu’s head to her chest, Kalyani said,” My child, I got you back, we will never be separated. I will be with you, my child, in your life's journey. We will get the operation as early as possible and if you so desire, we will go to some other place and start fresh”
Renu laughed, " We won't go anywhere. We will put up a tea shop once you retire, we can sell your special items -unniappam, appam and mutton stew etc . My name can be changed to Venu. How do you like that? “
Kalyani said ,” I worship Lord Krishna and nothing suits you better!”
“Now my name change is fine, but what name are you going to give my irresistible love for Eva, which the majority of people like me have to hide.
Kalyani said,”There is no name for that yet in our world , my dear. It's a love that dares not speak its name.”