Chinnu visited Anu that day. She loves Anu’s cooking. Anu made fish curry for her. It was a little too spicy. So what? Chinnu liked it. She washed two plates and sat down to eat. Chinnu made a small ball of rice and curry with her small hands. “Can I trust you or should I call the ambulance before eating?” She teased Anu. She ate it and as soon as it went down her throat, she gave Anu a peck on her cheeks.
“So good! Salt, spice, all perfect!” She enjoyed eating it. The rice was mushy and perfect. Anu served some rice and curry on a plate for herself. Good food does make the mood better sometimes. Chinnu rarely cooks and eats in restaurants every day. So Anu served a little more rice on her plate.
“I will eat really well if someone cooked like this for me every day,” Chinnu said. She kept talking about random things while eating. Half of them were about how good the fish curry was. After they finished eating, Chinnu washed her hands and stood next to Anu leaning her head.
“Anu! The food was really tasty. After many days, I enjoyed what I ate.”
“I did not cook with merely oil and chillies. I added a drop of love.”
“Just a drop?”
“Just one while cooking. A lot while serving! Do you know this saying? Cook however you like, serve it with love!”
“Never heard it. But sounds good.” Anu spread a mat and lied down with a content stomach.
Chenthil lived in dreams. He was not fond of his life that alternated between dreams and reality. Dreams were enough for him. He wished for dreams to continue till the end of his life. He is dreaming now. Why could the dream not continue as it is now? What a surprise! The dream went on. He can feel him moving his legs in sleep. But his dream continues.
When he was a child, his grandmother often said “Who knows where a princess is born for you?” Never has that princess visited him in his dreams. His mother, father, grandmother, his neighbours James and Cheenu came on his dreams. But no princesses.
Chenthil had long curly that waver over his forehead. When he was a boy, he had fans for his hair among other boys his age. They touched his hair and felt jealous. Though he was proud about that, he never let them see the pride. Their jealousy stopped at his hair. So, he made sure his hairstyle was perfect to let his hair droop over his forehead.
Now, in the dream, some boys crowd around him and they touch his hair. He feels shy. One of them holds Chenthil’s hand and says “Your hand is so beautiful. Can I hold it for a while?” Chenthil nods his head, and the boy grips his hand tight. Another says “How beautiful your eyes are!” Chenthil beams with pride and retracts with shyness. He tries hard to hide his anxiety. Now comes his neighbour Cheenu. “Chenthil! Do you know how much I like you?” Chenthil could feel his body having goosebumps in sleep.
The dream continued with different scenes. He wanders around with boys from his class, to a church, a mosque, a temple, smoking with them…
How many legs do dreams have? Some long. Some short. Some run fast. Some catwalk. However, all dreams are migrating slowly from somewhere to somewhere else.
Now, Chenthil dreams about his father. He was Chenthil’s first friend. He laughed when Chenthil narrated all that happened through the day, every day. He loved Chenthil’s sense of humour. They were a team in teasing his mother and brother. They watched TV together and roamed around the streets and market. Many thought he must be Chenthil’s brother. He was so young. But he hasn’t talked to Chenthil in a while. He comes in dreams now. But he doesn’t talk in dreams either. His face is down. Chenthil asks Why? Father says he is afraid and sad about Chenthil leaving. “Ayyo! Where am I going? To this madras here to study. Why are you so sad about it?” Chenthil asks and sits down near him. Father looks at him for a while and says “You won’t understand”. Father’s eyes were filled with tears. It is evident he is trying to swallow crying, as someone long back said men should not cry. He stands watching his father.
Father leaves Chenthil’s dream soon. Amma comes crying loudly. She has no conditions like his father. Women can cry. Women must cry. Someone has decreed they will stop being a woman if they don’t cry. Amma found that decree comfortable, she doesn’t have to hide her tears. She doesn’t have to freeze her tears inside her like Appa. She cries as much as she wants. He is annoyed? Why does everyone want to cry in his dreams? He begs her to stop crying. She is not listening to him. He doesn’t like this dream. Everything stemmed from the desire to have longer dreams. He wishes for the dream to stop.
What a surprise! It ended and he opened his eyes. Appa stood before him. Appa knew the art of spewing hate without speaking a word. If not for the dreams his life would have become hell. Dreams had the power to drain out suffering and melancholy, and they made men born again. He closed his eyes again. This time dream slipped out of his grasp.
Anu turned in her sleep. Chinnu was sleeping near her. A tiny snoring sound came from Chinnu. Her thin eyebrows and sharp nose added to her beauty. Whoever gets to marry her will be a lucky guy. Chinnu lost her mother when she was a child. She runs behind love. If anyone shows her a tiny bit of love, she reciprocates it tenfold. The friendship between Chinnu who never knew love and Anu who forgot it gave them both more solace than anything else in the world. Anu remembered the peck in her cheek, which Chinnu gave while eating. She wanted to kiss her back now. But she controlled herself as she didn’t want to disturb her sleep.
But her love could not be contained. She ran her hands softly through Chinnu’s hair, Chinnu turned around in sleep. “Do you like me?” She whispered in her dreams. She must be dreaming. Whom is the prince visiting her dreams? Anu smiled and lied down near her. But sleep eluded her. Her eyes stayed open. Her mind wandered here and there.
Chenthil closed his eyes again. As a Thirukkural says, death is like sleep. How good it will be to pass over to death just like this. If a long sleep is as easy as a long dream, he doesn’t have to wake up again for this life. He doesn’t have to listen or watch Amma and Appa crying like they are mourning. Come dear dream! Come soon! Come to relieve me from my sufferings! Will you take me away from this world and show me around all the wonders of this universe? Will you let me enter a space beyond human suffering, and where I am no more aware of my desire, love, lust or body? Dear dream, will you take me to the place where bodies get dissolved, bones and parts stop existing? His heart cried. His sleep wandered in search of a dream, and it found another. The dream came to him.
In the dream, his classmates run away from him in disgust. He cried. Even in a dream? Here? Again? No! He tries to chase away the dream and fails. He wonders if the dream can have her presence at least. Her, she is Selvi. The only girl in his class. All the boys fought over winning her love. He never felt any need to compete with them. But he liked Selvi. Selvi, please come save me from this torture. Here, here she comes. He runs to her and holds her hand. She shakes his hand, afraid. He doesn’t let go of her hand. Her anxious look turns calm and she smiles slightly. “Selvi! I cannot handle this anymore. Why does everything I want to avoid, comes to dreams too? So, I wished for you to come. You came. I don’t like talking to anyone except you in the class. I don’t even talk with Cheenu and James anymore. Will you always be my friend?” He blabbered to Selvi. She holds his hand supportively. From the way she holds his hand, he can feel that she will always be there for him.
Suddenly Selvi disappears. Amma and Appa are crying again. He chases them away and waits for Selvi. She didn’t come, but there was Cheenu. Chenthil felt the same anxiety in his dream, that he feels when meeting Cheenu in person. Cheenu was brown, not so light, not so dark. Dimples form on his face when he smiles. Lately, a screen has fallen between the childhood friends. Chenthil feels his heart fluttering whenever he sees Cheenu. He cannot talk normally. Does Cheenu know the reason for Chenthil shying away from him? Chenthil didn’t think he knew. Though he was unable to talk to Cheenu, he felt content at seeing him.
Cheenu comes close to him. “Why da? Why you don’t talk with me anymore? What happened?” Chenthil stays looking at the ground. He has so badly wanted Cheenu to ask him in person. But he never asked. As he increased the distance between him and Cheenu, he only walked in the other direction. But he asks this in a dream now. What can Chenthil say now? He stays silent. Cheenu comes close and takes his hands in his. Chenthil felt an electric wave rushing through his nerves and instinctively pulled back his hand. The dream was interrupted and Chenthil woke up feeling his body shivering. He was sweating. At that moment, he felt the intimate discomfort he feels often nowadays. He felt an unnecessary addition between his thighs.
Chenthil wondered when this feeling started first. He could not say for sure. It has been years since he discovered the remains of his masculinity lost from every cell in his body. He did not know when Amma and Appa found out. But he felt their growing hate. Appa’s sorrow and Amma’s disgust killed him. Humans with a female body incited jealousy in him. He felt an intense longing. Whenever he saw a beautiful woman, he imagined how good he will look in the dress she was wearing. While watching movies, he identified with the heroines on screen and thought “I won’t let any men act like that with me”. He loved beautiful men. Like other women in society, he learnt to hide his sexuality. His body was consumed by the fire of feminity. He was clueless when he lost control over it. Whom can he talk about it with? How? And what can he say?
One day, James came and told him “you have a woman inside you.” Chenthil stood staring at him. A drop of tear fell from Chenthil’s eyes; it became a river and then an ocean. What is this? What was his personal, what he was afraid about, what he could not talk about but wanted to, James said it like it was a normal thing? Chenthil cried. James came to him and hugged him tightly. His hands were not shaking like they did when Cheenu touched him. His heart was not fluttering. What was that feeling he had when Cheenu touched him? He did not know. But he surrendered his body to James and stood as if he was naked.
Chenthil’s feminity that he kept hidden from the world went to sleep, so did the masculinity that the world assigned to him, James’ humanity enveloped him. Two bodies were discovering each other beyond gender. Chenthil’s eyes were filled with tears of joy and sorrow, in the way, James expressed the truth he found without drama. Whatever masculinity left in him was lost with the drops of tears. James hugged him till he cried and patted his back. “It is nothing. We can get it corrected!” is all he said. Chenthil cried, “I don’t want this body, James.”
Chinnu was shuffling through Anu’s album. Various photographs filled its pages. Anu with her friends, in Mahabalipuram beach among the statues, with the Tamils living in Mumbai’s Dharavi… When she came upon a photograph, she looked up at Anu. It was a group photograph from Anu’s college time. One face was blackened among them. Chinnu raised her eyebrows in question.
“Why did you do this?” “What to do with it! I don’t want anything that reminds the past. So I blackened my face with a black pen. I wanted to throw it. But I have to see the other’s faces. So I kept it.” Anu closed her eyes and slept soon. James was a spot in the distance in her dreams, and Selvi stood close. Cheenu smiled at her, came close and took her hands in his. His warmth is transferred to her body. Her body shivered in real. Suddenly, Cheenu disappeared… Amma and Appa are there. They start crying as soon as they saw her.
The dream continues.
In Tamil Sangam literature, we hardly find anything beyond cruelty, sympathy and indifference towards trans women. In this context, we ask how did modern Tamil literature do while portraying trans women? Mella Vilagum Panithirai, a collection of 8 stories compiled by Living Smile Vidya, published in 2013, was one of the definitive answers to that question.
Living Smile, author, artist and also a student of Tamil literature, mentions in her introduction how Ki Rajanarayanan’s Gomathi marks the beginning of trans women being written in modern Tamil literature. Starting from Gomathi that portrays a trans woman, mainly through the eyes of a cis woman who is her friend, to The Neverending Dream by Kavin Malar which has a portrayal of a friendship between a trans woman and a cis woman, these stories give us a glimpse of what trans women go through in Tamil society through the eyes of others.