A story about an Indian boy who became a girl in Canada
By Jitendra Kumar Sharma
I was then living in Professors’ Colony, Sonipat, Haryana. My neighbors, all of them, were colleagues and lecturers in the Hindu College. I was Head of the English Department and Ashwini Miglani, a lecturer in the same department, was a frequent visitor to my flat. He usually came on the pretext of discussing some poem, short story or a play but always asked me questions about life in western countries of Europe and North America I had lived, worked in or visited during my long stint abroad. He hesitated while satisfying his curiosity about other countries, at times, took a long pause before asking me questions about sex life or my escapades in western countries. He was much younger and respectful to me and I felt it was the usual deferential reserve the youngsters of my generation observed toward elders. But when he persisted with his unnecessary demurral that his taut face made too obvious, I myself one day, as he stood up to leave after tea and biscuits, said to him, “ Professor Miglani, please sit down for a minute”.
“Yes, Sir”, Ashwini Miglani said while sitting back in the easy chair and looking at me with heavy downcast eyes.
“Do you have anything else on your mind?”
“No Sir, yes, sir”, was his response.
“Come on Professor, we are neighbors and a fraternity. There need be no reservations between us. Please be frank and say it all”
Our talk lasted till dinner time. And he told me mostly about his brother-in-law, Shashi, his wife’s brother, who several years back had gone to Canada.
“Where is he now?
“We do not know, Sir. That is what I wanted to talk about. I tried several times during last few days but hesitated. In fact, I wanted to seek your advice in this delicate matter which I cannot discuss with everyone. It is a private family matter and has to be kept confidential”
“You may trust me”, I said, becoming a bit curious myself.
“Shashi is four years younger to my wife Sheela, Sir”
“Yes, go ahead, Professor”, I said.
“He had just passed his B.A. when Sheela and I got married. My father-in-law is in Handloom business and has a factory in Panipat. Almost his entire production gets exported to Sweden and he is a man of property with few family obligations. After Sheela’s marriage, my father-in-law, wanted his only son, Shashi, to join him in his business but Shashi insisted and went to Canada for higher studies. For a couple of years my father-in-law sent him money. He had no problem because his foreign earnings were sizeable and restrictions on foreign exchange did not apply to him. All was well, then, after two- three years, Shashi stopped asking for money and said he did not need his father’s money any more.
My father spoke to him on phone and asked if he had taken up a job to which he replied, “No, no. I do not need to work in life”.
My father-in-law was much worried about what was happening to his son because he found Shashi’s voice squeaky, somewhat abnormal,very different from the voice he was used to hearing since Shashi’s childhood. He could disclose this fact to no one. For quite a few months, he did not tell all this to his wife, Shashi’s mother even. But Shashi was always on his mind and he imagined all kinds of things about his son who was reluctant to reveal anything about himself.
“I am okay, Papa. I will come and surprise you”, Shashi would reiterate to his father’s entreaties to return home. But my father-in-law was not convinced. He could not go to Canada because of the business. There was a strike in the factory and his Chief Manager had resigned and moved to Ludhiana. His friends also said his worries were unnecessary. If his son does not need money from India that meant he was doing well and supporting himself with his own earnings. In the USA and Canada, one gets jobs easily and the young fellow must be having great fun.
My father-in-law began to call Shashi more often on phone. This made Shashi change his phone number and perhaps also his place of residence.
Miglani stopped, looked at me with imploring eyes and said, “Can you help us, Sir?”
“Do you know someone who could find Shashi’s whereabouts and find more about him. You have lived in Canada for a long time, Sir”.
“Yes, I have but I have lost my contacts there. There were very few Indians there then and I lived in the University of Toronto itself. I was a Don of Taylor House at the University College and all my students were Canadians, so also my colleagues. One or two Indians I knew at the university have since returned to India. Like K.C. Agrawal, a Chemistry researcher who is currently working at the PUSA INSTITUTE. Anyway, I will think about it and let you know”.
Miglani left, only to return in a couple of minutes. I was still in the lawn and seeing him, I walked to the gate. Miglani whispered, “Please, Sir, do not tell anyone”.
“Oh, no, Professor, rest assured, this will remain between you and me”.
Ashwini Miglani hurried home.
Next day I typed out two letters, one to Porter Abbot and another to Jon Pierce who were my classmates at University of Toronto and we were nocturnal pals.Did many things together. I had not corresponded with them for a while and did not know what they were doing then. At least, Jon would find the errand interesting as he was a free spirit and preferred part-time jobs. Though not a fool he was capable of rushing in where angels fear to tread. I only hoped, he still was reading existentialist philosophers and doing things that went against his grain.
Next day, I stopped Ashwini in the crowded College Quadrangle as both of us were moving in opposite directions to meet our respective classes and whispered, “I have mailed two letters to my friends”.
“Thank you, Sir”, he responded in a faintly audible voice as students were crisscrossing the Quadrangle and corridors helter-skelter.
After nearly four weeks, Jon responded with a good deal of gusto. Said, I had given him a good assignment. In his quest for Shashi Ajwani, he had met an Indian Maharaja, a real one, with a lavish style of living. “This fellow is fabulous. He has rooms booked in five-star hotels, throws gay parties, owns mining interests in Canada and knows how to burn the candle at both ends and a bit in the middle too. And he has taken a fancy to Shashi Ajwani and plans to marry him in India.”
I showed the letter to Ashwini Miglani at tea the same day as I received Jon Pierce’s letter. He read it again and again and got puzzled more and more. His face fell. “Maharaja to marry Shashi… ” He seemed unprepared to hear and grasp the meaning of such news about Shashi, his brother-in-law.
Within a week, I got another letter from Jon. He wrote, “Shashi Ajwani is still enrolled at Ryerson Institute of Technology at Jarvis Street, Toronto. He has a room at the Institute’s Students Residence but is living with the Maharaja in the nearby Four Seasons Hotel suite. Actually, he is no longer he. Shashi is now ‘she’. Has changed his sex and is enjoying the physical conversion, that is, Shashi has already gone through a sex reassignment surgery at the Maharaja’s expense. His dick is now a pussy, if you know what I mean.
The Maharaja belongs to the erstwhile Porbandar State and is proud of being a descendant of a Maharaja under whom Mahatama Gandhi’s father served as Prime Minister or Dewan. Gandhi was born in Porbandar too. He is hetero and homo at will. A most knowledgeable and articulate fellow. He has appeared on various television channels and runs a charity called Porbandar Trust which works for LGBT Rights to live freely in society and without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association. Jitendra, you have always been nice to me and this Maharaja, Narendra Singh, has appointed me his media advisor. This is great and sudden boost to my earnings. I am a part-time stringer with CTV.”
I had not yet acknowledged Jon’s letter that only two days later I got another letter from him.
Jon this time wrote: “I am delighted to inform you that the gay Indian prince Narendra has thrown open his fabulous Huzoor Palace doors to vulnerable LGBT people. He says he will devote more time to change the life of LGBT people in India where same sex relations are illegal. Lesbians, gays, transgender and other Indians shunned for their sexuality can regard his palace and its guest houses as their home and can enjoy the Maharaja’s hospitality anytime. They can hold meetings and conventions and Maharaja’s Charitable Trust will extend legal and financial support to the LGBT community.
My friend, yes, I can call Prince Narendra my friend and benefactor, is heir apparent to the throne of Porbandar, birth place of Sudama, Krishna’s friend of Mahabharata fame. He calls me Sudama, and I like it.
While announcing his mission in India, the Maharaja last night on Canada Television said, “LGBT faced unbearable pressure from their families, were forced to marry, or thrown out of their homes and had nowhere to go, often condemned to lead a life of exclusion and isolation with no means to support themselves. So I am building a centre for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) right inside my ancestral palace.”
He went on without a trace of self-pity or regret, “Fate will keep me childfree even after I marry Shashi Ajwani and she has agreed with me to use our palace and income from our Canadian mining operations for this good purpose? Our LGBT Centre will offer rooms, a medical facility and training in English and vocational skills to help my people find jobs.”
I may add Jitendra that Narendra the prince was disowned by his mother through a newspaper advertisement for his being a homo but, being a rich Maharaja, he is still in the limelight and gets invited by the high and mighty here in Canada. He is vocally critical of India’s colonial-era law that criminalizes consensual sexual relations between same sex adults*. He is renovating and extending his palace, built in 1930, on the 25-acre site, fitting it with solar panels for power, a part of the land will have an organic farm.
PS. Shashi will live happily forever with Narendra –JP.
The college bell rang and I left a bunch of other letters on my table and went to meet my class. Returning to my office, I scrambled my papers and saw another blue airmail envelop and Jon’s handwriting. This letter was in continuation of the previous one, and read, “Jitendra, Canada TV has revised my contract. I will be interviewing Shashi next week”
I kept showing these letters to Ashwini. He said, “I cannot reveal all these developments to my father-in-law, Shashi’s father, nor to my own wife, Shashi’s sister. They will breakdown.”
A week later, Jon wrote, “Shashi was born in a boy’s body but was conscious of her feminine softness. School kids teased him. He liked boy things. When he was thirteen he started having feminine thoughts and cupped breasts. No incident during school days and he remained a boy. In college, his gender transition began and he came to Canada and his appearance became feminized- curvy hips, bubble butt, c-cup paps and he was on HRT, estrogen and anti-androgen, etc. Shashi moved over to LGBT community and felt safe. Met Maharaja Narendra who paid for his surgery and Shashi fulfilled his dream of becoming a woman. Her sex reassignment surgery was successful. She thinks, she is very lucky and is looking forward to living with Narendra Maharaja as his wife. Watching Shashi and Narendra is for me an altogether new experience, Jitendra. Prince Narendra trusts and confides in me. He is hallowed by his love for Shashi. Shashi is a typical Indian lady. She values her virginity; ‘has not allowed me to break her in’, Narendra told me in good humor”.
Ashwini was sad and stopped coming to me. He was no longer interested in reading Jon’s letters about his brother-in-law.
One day I received a letter and in the evening a telegram from Jon Pierce: ‘REACHING PORBANDAR October 20. PLEASE JITENDRA COME. CARRY A TOOTHBRUSH IF YOU LIKE.VISIT PAID FOR THANK MAHARAJA’S HOSPITALITY.
These events were well-timed. The college was to close for Dussera holidays from October 21. I had full four days to decide and prepare. I was then a bachelor. It was exciting. For the first time, I visited Ashwini’s flat. The flat was locked. He and his family had gone to Panipat, Professor Kajal who lived in the same block told me.
I travelled Airconditioned First Class and boarded the Delhi-Ahmedabad night train. Maharaja’s cars were waiting to pick up guests at Ahmedabad and I was lodged in the Maharaja’s guesthouse next to Jon Pierce. He was mixing a martini for himself and his room had a little bar in the corner as had mine. Gandhi’s birth place was flowing with liquor as a consequence of Prohibition and nexus between the police and bootleggers.
We hugged and talked of university days. Jon said he had four days and was there to make a television program and documentary on Porbandar for CTV. “The big event is tomorrow evening when prior to the wedding ceremony there will be a Drag Queen show. I have to go and check the arrangements. I will be sitting in the commentator’s box. You may sit with me, if you like. This is for the straight people performed by feminine transsexual women. Shashi will be one of them and focus of attention,” Jon gave me a dope on events he was covering for CTV. He had a tiring schedule and I too was fatigued from the train travel. So we had a quick evening meal in the dining hall and hit the sack.
I missed the morning events, including a meeting with Maharaja Narendra as I slept in. After lunch, both Jon and I had a little a nap and then dressed for the evening.
I sat with Jon in the Commentary Box from where Jon was commenting on the happenings. His assistant Eric Rump was to conduct a brief interview with Shashi about which she had not been told. His cameraman Paul had received directions in advance. The show was a part of CTV’s weekly serial called ‘The Candid Camera’.
Reverse countdown had started for the Drag Queen Show and camera was focused on Eric Rump who was waiting for the banquet hall to open for him to enter and look for Shashi. Just then, Jon held the mike and started to speak and we could see him and Eric alternately on the screen. As the camera brought Eric Rump into focus, Jon started speaking, “This is our reporter Eric Rump (the camera was now closing up on Eric and panning out to the banquet hall and Eric swerving and moving into the glittering banquet hall as if searching for someone) as Jon Pierce continuing with his commentary, said: He is looking for a girl, who does not know he exists, or the story that has brought him here. He has no reasons to be discreet but still he has to be careful. He is standing near the doorway and surveying the golden banquet hall, which is filled with refined bodies in saris and jackets, and beautiful young women with straight hair who never make facial expressions. But they will, soon. Any moment now.
After a pause, he said, “I am Jon Pierce and you are watching your popular show ‘Candid Camera’. We are right now, in the Golden Banquet Hall of the Huzoor Mahal, a historical palace, in Porbandar, India. Porbandar, Porbandar where Mahatama Gandhi was born. A town made immortal by Mahabharata. Sudama, Krishna’s proverbial friend lived here. Porbandar is also called Sudama Nagri, City of Sudama. It’s all so romantic, out of this world, the sea, the sky, the sun seem to descend on this town for a tryst and as two times meet the shimmer of the setting sun on a lapping ocean, under the endless variety of skies play hide-and-seek and stagger our imagination [a montage of images of sights and sounds of the sea, bevies of evening flying birds, the setting sun and then the camera turned to the Golden Banquet Hall and Eric Rump entered the hall with his crew .. to spot and meet Shashi, the bride].”
A day after the wedding ceremonies, Jon and I visited Dwarka and Somnath, where he took some camera shots, and parted with an embrace at Ahmedabad Railway station.
On returning to Sonipat, as I opened my flat, I found a piece of paper rustling under my shoe. Ashwini Miglani had slipped a note under my flat’s front door: “Sad events have overtaken. I had to resign and take over my father-in-laws business. He is no more. I am grateful to you for tea and sympathy, Sir”- Ashwini.
There was no mention about Shashi. Within a month, I retired and moved from Sonipat to Delhi. Whenever I travel to Chandigarh, I think of Ashwini, feel like looking him up when I inevitably cross Panipat but have never done so. Nor has Ashwini ever come to see me. Nor did I ever think that I would write a story of which he’d be the protagonist.
* Transgender Laws since have changed in India.