Fluid…tere badan pe fisalti pani…oh meri rani

{{{Lets go, get up, get up…oh meri rani…teri jawani….get up get up}}}
[Translation: {{{Lets go, get up, get up…oh my Queen…young lady…get up get up}}}]

{{{{6:00 am, Monday}}}}

Just like any other day, today I woke up to that insufferable alarm tune blaring at my bedside: {{{Lets go…teri jawani…get up get up get up}}}

It’s one of Honey Singh’s songs and I, many months back, had even enjoyed dancing to its beats in any number of house-parties and nightclubs before I decided to set it as my alarm tune and thus rendered it utterly irritating. But, something about today made me feel curiously different about the song, about myself, and I actually felt like I could groove to that beat all over again.

“Good morning, World!” I uttered, half-asleep yet uncannily upbeat, trying to heave myself off the bed. It was still pretty dark in the room as the early morning winter rays were too weak to penetrate the thick, layered curtains of my ornate bedroom. Standing on the cold hard floor on my bare legs I shuffled the rug about to spot my phone which was still playing the muffled *get up get up get up* song. After a good thirty seconds of shuffling and shoving the rug about cautiously (so as not to send my iPhone 6 crashing helplessly to the floor), I managed to locate it and put the alarm to rest. But, by then the beat of the song had percolated deep into my brain and it was gonna play on a loop in my head for the livelong day.  I didn’t mind one bit as I felt it was cool to be able to enjoy an alarm tune. It was a rare privilege. After all, all alarm tunes are insufferable but to listen to an ex-favorite song every day in the alarm-avatar is a daily tragedy. But, today was not one of those tragic days, I felt. The next moment, I was grooving and jiving  in the shower as I easily recalled the lyrics to the song which aptly went: *tere badan pe fisalta pani / kasam khuda ki aag lagati / oh meri rani, teri jawani / get up get up get up wooh* [Translation: *The water dripping and slipping over your body / By God, it’s flaming hot / Oh my Queen, young lady/ get up get up get up wooh*] My pet name being Rani (which means ‘Queen’), all of a sudden and all over again, I felt like the song was written about me. And, staring at myself in the large-sized bathroom mirror from under the hot shower, I couldn’t help appreciating my body and the lyrics *your round round booty / your lips so juicy / tere badan pe fisalta pani / kasam khuda ki aag lagati* “Wow, I actually embody the song, don’t I!” I thought with brimming pride.

After a prolonged shower, I rushed out back into the cold bedroom with only a towel wrapped around, turned the lights on, walked into the closet and out quickly with a dry-cleaned business suit. I am extra-careful about the colors I choose, the buttons, the lengths and the cuts. They all play a vital role in the outcome of a business meeting, more than even the graphs and  ideas splashed about on the projected screen, believe it or not. So, I picked out a pantsuit of a silvery grey hue, with a short-sleeved silk white sweater to go underneath, for today. My fashion sense is not all that great by real world standards but it is considered ‘high fashion’  at my conservative workplace. I was a regular nerd at college, with a brag-worthy GPA, unsocial social circle and rudimentary fashion sense. Just regular. Then I made a bunch of artsy female friends at the business school I went to after college and learnt a thing or two about functional fashion knowledge. Now I’m approaching thirty, embracing the 3 Fs – fashion, femininity and finance; and working in the finance industry, by the way. And you would’ve guessed by now, from all the clues I inadvertently dropped so far, the glaring fact that I am single. There’s no Prince Charming in my story; no Raja (meaning: King) sleeping next to this Rani in that ornate bedroom. I sleep single, shower single, and ride the metro to work and back single. And, what’s more, I’d like to keep it that way.

I jostled my way into my usual 7:10 metro train and got a standing spot among the sweaty, smelly office-going crowd. “May be the government should hand out free one-time-use deodorant sticks at every station like how they dispensed Nirodh condoms at one time. Yeah, that would actually fit into the ongoing ‘Clean India Campaign’!” I chuckled at my own idea. I could reach office right on time if there were no unexpected technical snags on the line today. “That’s the only thing that could fuck my day up – a technical snag on the metro line – god forbid,” I whispered to myself. At the next station, a good chunk of the sweaty mass moved out and created breathing space around me. There was still no place to sit though. Three more stations to go and twenty minutes to the meeting. At the next station, as the automatic doors of the metro swung open, a gust of cold breeze hit me right in my face and also swept in an irritating office colleague from a different department.

A short, stubby fellow who seemed to have shrunk in height due to the winters. We interacted once or twice in the boardroom as representatives of our respective departments while updating the CEO about our key targets and achievements; and that was the length and breadth of our acquaintance. He was in my face already before I could rub my nose, wipe off the tears from my eyes and recover from the attack of the cold wave. He was what the ladies in his department called ‘a misogynist, male chauvinist swine’. “Hi, too sensitive to the cold, eh Boss?” said he seething with male pride, seeing that the cold breeze disheveled me but not him. (By the way, ‘boss’ was not to indicate that I was his superior at work but it was his way of saying ‘pal’ or ‘mate’ and that’s how he referred to all people in informal settings, from rickshaw-pullers to pizza delivery boys to air-hostesses to workplace colleagues. “Boss, how much for extra cheese and mayonnaise dip?”, “Boss, can you get me a glass of water when the flight takes off?” etc.) I swallowed a “Fuck off” and didn’t bother to respond. I instead focused on the song playing in my head.

He pursued the one-sided conversation with, “You are looking different today, Boss; not in a bad way certainly; there’s something different but I can’t quite put a finger on it,” stressing on ‘CAN’T QUITE PUT A FINGER ON IT’. I may have been imagining the lewd stress on the last part of his sentence, given his reputation. So, I flashed a brief courtesy smile in his direction, in the manner of acknowledging a compliment, and looked away. “The word ‘finger’ can be made to sound so sleazy”, I thought. ‘Finger’ is as smutty a word as it is innocent, if you think about it. ‘Digit’ takes the smut away. ‘Finger’, on the other hand (figuratively speaking), is crude and nasty. It’s an essential prop in all manner of pornography. More than lips, hips, sexual organs, it is the fingers that run the show. A ‘finger’ is a secondary pleasure center. It’s like a sex-wand almost, almost rival to..to..the penis..the phallus. Oh wait, of course, a finger is THE quintessential phallic symbol. It’s got the length, the texture, the colour, the sense of touch…it’s the closest possible mimic of the male member. Obviously. I came to the obvious in a roundabout way.” Another station passed by.

“Boss, water?” he asked, unscrewing the cap of his water bottle. “Boss, would you like some water?” he inquired, tapping on my shoulder with the tips of his fingers when I pretended to not hear him the first time. The short man removed his fingers off my suit when I seemed to turn towards him. I said, “No, I got my own water, thank you.” I didn’t feel thirsty was what I wanted to say but somehow I said “my own water”. The use of the words “my own water” was stupid. “How could anyone OWN water! That was an unsavory use of words, Rani. May be every drop of water becomes the property of the drinker of it and one can’t own it before drinking it. Argh! Own water, own air, own planet…ridiculous concepts. I should have said “my own bottle” or better, “not thirsty” instead of “my own water”. I can’t now turn back and eat my words, or undo history. May be, I can make up for my puerile use of words by saying a kind word or two, for my sake,” I decided.

Thinking thus I turned back towards him. He was drinking his “own water” from his “own water-bottle” without making contact between his mouth and the bottle, by raising the bottle high up above his head and letting the water pour out of the nozzle into the widened mouth of his upward-looking face, through the intervening medium of air, the way conservative Indian men and women are wont to do, for fear of religious defilement rather than fear of germs. I waited for him to put the bottle down in a moment and at that precise moment, there was a jerk and jolt in the metro, a sudden power shutdown, darkness, screeching halt, and a cold splash of water all over my suit from my work-colleague’s “own water-bottle”. “Shit! Shit! Shit! a technical snag!” I shouted in the dark. Light from mobile phone screens of co-passengers started flashing across the dark compartment and through the general commotion I could hear a voice directed towards me – my infamously sexist colleague asking me, “Did I just MAKE YOU WET, Boss?” It was clearly an unintended innuendo but it made me mad.

“I am definitely going to be late for the meeting today,” I surmised. “But hey, it’s hardly my fault,” or, so I justified my time management skills. The water was beginning to soak into the suit and drip down my body and I could feel every bead of water running down the front portion of my body, tracing the entire length from neck to lower abdomen. The song started in my head again *tere badan pe fisalti pani / oh meri rani* “Yes, the song itself  is accentuating the parody that my current ‘wet’ situation is to my early morning’s ‘hot’ shower scene,” I observed to myself. At the same time, as the water dripped down the skin beneath my silk sweater, I realized how water or any fluid stands for ‘continuity’. Continuous, yet separate, at the same time. Every drop magically merges into the next and yet it doesn’t hesitate to separate. Fluid, merging, separable, like the colors of a rainbow, like space and time, like human behavior, like gender itself. Well, we all know gender is fluid, right? Another station passed by, nobody entered or exited my coach.

The fluidity of genders is obvious to me as the fluidity of water. I didn’t have to take up gender studies at college or binge-read books like ‘Middlesex’ to get it. But, what escapes me is the hypocrisy of binary gender rules. There is a ‘He’ and a ‘She’ and every thing else is an inanimate ‘it’. There ought to be a range of ever-evolving pronouns to bridge the gap between the static poles of human pronouns. Just like irrational numbers between two whole numbers. Hell, even the number system is revealed to be fluid after Class 5 in school. What if irrational numbers, decimals and all such oddities which are not ‘natural’ numbers were excluded by the ‘men’ and ‘women’ of society, of science, when they came up with number systems. Why was it so natural for them to accept the unnatural numbers but not so to accept  supposedly ‘unnatural’ genders! Why haven’t the ‘natural’ genders agitated in all of history against the programmed inhuman exclusion of the ‘others’ who fill the gaps between the opposite poles..who provide the continuum between the violet and red ends of the rainbow of human gender! It’s a shame that the ‘other genders’ and ‘other sexualities’ are  all crammed into the innocuous-sounding umbrella term ‘third gender’ and double-shame that it is recognized in this part of the world in as late as 2014 A.D. It’s like saying we pledge to  accept all ‘irrational numbers’ as the Nth number from 2014 A.D. It’s a shameful reflection of the regressive attitudes of all the previous generations and the present one that such a conservative step towards inclusive growth in 2014 A.D. is looked upon as inclusivity or progress at all today. How could all the scientists, linguists, historians, writers, thinkers, philosophers, or anybody to do anything with the written word, be so blind and unmoved all these centuries by the ever-so-obvious and numerous gender anomalies, that they could deliberately exclude the fluidity of genders with the rigid adherence to ‘he’ and ‘she’ in language! What if I refuse to be a feminist and go beyond feminism and refuse to be a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ or an ‘it’. What if there is a Pronoun Revolution! Would that bring out the acknowledgement of fluidity of gender into common human discourse and collective conscience of the public? Would it? Would it?” The lights in the train came back on.

The train started moving. Every body was at ease again in the compartment. It was all a matter of seven minutes but I was definitely going to be late for the meeting. My station was now just a minute away. I bent down towards my bag (which was resting against my leg on the floor of the compartment) and pulled out the water-bottle from it as I was beginning to feel thirsty. All of a sudden my colleague squealed in excitement: “Boss, I know what’s different! You are taller than usual today!” Having said that, he as well as I looked down at my footwear in unison, as if we were a detective-duo, like Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence, or if you prefer, Richard Castle and Kate Beckett, who’ve had the exact same brainwave at the exact same moment. Both of us kept staring at my gorgeous brown pumps for a good fifteen seconds. For a while, I did not realize what was odd. But my heart started pounding in my throat at the sight of the brown leather-work. I got it soon enough.

He looked up at me and then I at him. There was a medley of shock, confusion, disgust, hatred and condescension in the way he looked at me. I was petrified. All I could hear him say was, “Mr. Sen, you are…” and the next station was there already, the last station on the line, our station, and we both flowed out onto the platform in the direction of the moving crowd. I couldn’t spot him thereafter.

His “Mr. Sen…” kept ringing in my ears. I reached my office building which was just outside the station. I couldn’t see him there either, nowhere within my field of vision. I stood at the building gate as if I was forbidden by the natural law of the land to enter that building. Like an outcast. I looked down at my shoes again. I couldn’t dare to go inside the building. Standing there, I pictured my colleague telling every soul in office what he witnessed on the metro today. “Rani, just fucking go back to the apartment in an auto-rickshaw and call in sick today,” persuaded my inner voice. Just as I turned, an auto-rickshaw stopped near where I stood and the driver asked, “Where to, Sir?” I was tongue-tied. His “Sir” pierced my conscience. “M.G. Road, Street No. 4,” I said blankly and got in. I didn’t dare look down at my brown peep-toe pumps and the red nail colour peeping through them, for I was afraid the auto-driver would also look down and deny me a ride.

“Sir, if you don’t mind I’ll make a short stop at the Hanuman Temple, just for one minute, if you are not in a hurry?” he queried. I said, “I don’t, take your time.” He parked his black and yellow vehicle at the side of the road and all I could think of when he was away was that may be he went to bring some men along to beat me to my death; that may be the reason I didn’t have to call for an auto and the reason he stopped the auto-rickshaw was that he noticed a ‘Queen’ in ladies’ shoes in the middle of the road and decided to eliminate ‘it’; may be I should get down and escape; may be he really went to the temple and if I get down now he’d notice my shoes and call out to hooligans to beat this freak-show to death. Hearing the temple bells made me think that may be I should pray to God…may be it’s at times like these that one prays to God but then, those who pray to God do so everyday so that at times like this God actually comes to their aid even if they don’t pray to him at these times; so, by that logic, God wouldn’t give a shit to this irreligious prayer of mine, I concluded. I closed my eyes and appealed to the Universe, to the pure miracle of space and time and lucky coincidences and serendipity.

When I opened my eyes after a few minutes, the auto-driver was back in his seat, was adjusting his rear-view mirror and I felt enormously relieved to find that there were no hooligans or hockey-sticks. He asked, “Sir, hope I didn’t take too long?” I said, “No, but can we go a little faster..I am in a bit of a hurry.” I got down at my destination, paid him off hurriedly, hoping that no one should notice my attire mismatch. The elevator was all mine all the way up to my flat on the 23rd floor. The whole building was in fact wearing a deserted look. I unlocked my apartment, locked it behind me as I entered and dashed into my bedroom. It was still dark inside because of the curtains. I chose to keep the lights off. I took off my shoes – flung them into a corner with force – then my belt, then my masculine blazer, shirt and pants. I put on a gender-neutral set of T-shirt and shorts. I could recall the childhood jeers at school, “He is a fucking queen. Not Rajat or Raja, dude. He is Rani. Ha ha ha.” At home I was alternately called Raja and Rani, to make me feel accepted and loved and self-assured, given my propensity to be fluid. “Rani, come help me in the kitchen please if you’re done with homework,” my mother would say. My father, who secretly resented my fluidity, would playfully challenge, “Raja, I’ll get you a new makeup kit if you can beat me at chess today.” Home, sweet home.

Lying motionless on my bed, I could hear the mocking voices from past, present and future. “I was in a hurry, that’s all. I wore the wrong shoes to work. I picked out the correct suit, shirt and cologne too but I slipped up at the footwear. I picked my party shoes, by mistake, ’cause I was happy and absent-minded. It’s okay. It is not a sin or a crime.” Inside my apartment, just as at home, I was no more Mr. Rajat Sen; I am Rani, or maybe I am just ‘it’, or whoever or whatever I wanted to be from one day to the next, from one fluid moment to another, just flowing and ebbing between ostensible masculinity and ostensible femininity. “Even the ocean flows and ebbs. And every human being is 70% water. Nature is the best teacher, said H. W. Longfellow, for precisely this reason. The ocean is never still. It is continuously ebbing and flowing and tidal movement often brings up beautiful, mysterious treasures from deep within,” I thought. That thought propelled me to activity. I got out of bed and retrieved my phone from my gray blazer. I called my boss.

He picked the phone almost instantly as if he was awaiting my call. I told him that I had to stay home for the day due to a personal emergency.  He asked me firmly if I was under psychological stress. I said, “No, I am not. I’d come back to work tomorrow as usual.” After a moment of hesitation, my boss said, “Er, um, I heard from Mr. Mukherji that he spotted you on the train today on his way to work and you were dressed in female attire. If that’s true, we are worried if you may be under stress and, perhaps, would like to see a counselor about any psychological issues you may be facing. It’s fully covered by the company, let me assure you.” I said, “No, I am feeling perfectly normal.” My boss, in a sterner tone, asked, “Are you a cross-dresser, Rajat?” I said, “No, I am much more than that. I wouldn’t actually fit into that narrow terminology you invented to make sense of your own limited, confused, repressed worldview. Am I getting an off today? Shall I come back to work tomorrow?” He hung up without waiting one extra second. An hour or so later, the HR department called me and a morose female voice at the other end of the line said, “Mr. Rajat Sen? Hi, I am Meenakshi, the HR Head at XYZ. I would like to meet you tomorrow about your termination process with XYZ. Kindly come to Cabin Number 377, Tower 3 at 9 a.m.  Thank you for your time.” There went the job. It felt peculiarly liberating to let go of the job, to let go of the pretense, to let go of the exclusionists who were forever striving to shut the door on the ‘others’.

Then the doorbell rang. I shuddered. I tip-toed to the peephole and saw that it was the watchman. “Did the watchman notice too?”, “What if he complained to the landlord and the landlord decided to evict me?”, “What if the whole building looked empty earlier because all the men and women were in a meeting with the landlord, discussing about my secret fluidity?”, “Would I be homeless too by the end of the day?” I opened the door determined to face my fears. The indolent watchman slipped an envelope into my hands and without saying a word, left. I tore the envelope open and unfolded the piece of paper in it feverishly. It read: “Water Bill”. A poetic touch and a perfect finish to this amusing anecdote. “Water Bill” made me laugh so hard and I am still laughing while typing out this hilarious account of my curiously upbeat day.

* Tere badan pe fisalta pani / Oh meri rani, teri jawani / Lets go, get up get up get up *

Love comes and goes unrecognised. Love songs just fill the vacuum.

Love is like a little bird
on a rainy day;
it finds shelter in a tiny nook
carved in the grand design of a
building or formed in a
tree by the arrangement of leaves
and cloistered branches;
it remains well out of our sight
for we care little about
dusty nooks in brick walls
or tiny gaps under eaves
when the sky comes
pouring down
and forces us into our own
big shelters built of
cement and stone,
or the foliage in the garden
that we had carefully pruned and grown.
The birdie shows up,
and sings a sweet love song
at our windowsill
once the rain is gone
and the sun is out…
but it is not the little bird
on a rainy day anymore.