Manoranjan Sahu emerged from Kala Mandir with a satisfied smile. As a member of the Saraikela Chhau Committee, he often visited the handicrafts shop to discuss how to popularise the traditional dance among tourists in Jharkhand.
The sun shone in its splendour, causing beads of sweat to form on his forehead. He hastened to hail an auto when he stopped dead in his tracks. Boisterous men and women walked together on the busiest thoroughfare in Jamshedpur, swinging rainbow-coloured flags in their hands. Manoranjan shook his head. Men held hands with men; women kissed women on the lips. So this is the pride parade!
He was about to move away when he spotted Manoj.
Draped in an orange Madhubani saree with motifs of sparrows, his son sang and danced in the parade. Bell-shaped earrings and a necklace made of tiny coins completed the look. A lump formed in Manoranjan’s throat. Was he alive to see this day?
Of their own accord, his feet began to take hesitant strides forward until Manoranjan mingled with the queer crowd. Unaware of this, Manoj continued to sway with abandon. The patriarch was startled to see well-dressed people pausing and cheering the paraders. Their smiles seemed genuine.
Am I being too harsh?
Images from the past flashed past him.
“I want to play Draupadi,” the fifteen-year-old Manoj cried during a practice session.
“No, Manoj! You’ll be Arjun.” Manoranjan was firm.
“Can I be Shikhandi?” the boy pleaded.
Shrugging his shoulders, the father yielded to the boy’s strange request.
A gentle push brought Manoranjan back to the present.
“I’m so sorry, uncle,” the woman with the cropped hair murmured.
Manoranjan found himself reciprocating her smile. It was then Manoj’s eyes fell on Manoranjan. The two stood rooted to the spot, myriad feelings flashing across their faces as people edged past them.
Manoj’s obsession with playing female characters made sense to Manoranjan. His son put up a scintillating performance as a Chhau dancer only as Shikhandi when he portrayed the angst of the queer warrior through graceful moves. Maybe he was channelling his inner fury, Manoranjan realised with a sinking feeling.
“Baba!” Manoj tapped his shoulder.
“Are you gay?” Manoranjan asked in a choked voice.
Manoj looked at the ground. “Transwoman.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
“I was afraid.”
“Did I fail as a father?”
Manoj hugged Manoranjan. “No, baba. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. If you’re happy, so am I, Manoj.”
“Baba, it’s Manasa now. I filed an affidavit in the court last month.”
“Oh, is it? No problem. I’ll learn along the way.”
“I’ll gladly teach you the terms and the pronouns,” Manasa replied.
Manoranjan patted Manasa’s cheek. It was time to unlearn many things. Of course, initially, it would be weird to address his child as ‘she’. But come what may, he would always defend her right to dignity and respect as a human. With that, he took Manasa’s hand and marched with pride.
This story was first published in Penmancy, as part of their Quintale-53 contest.