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Vishal goes to Vivekananda College: a fairy tale

Vishal got down from the 12B bus at Mylapore and began walking briskly towards Vivekananda College. In his jolna pai (cloth shoulder-bag) was a folder with all his school certificates, a bottle of water and two apples that his Amma had packed in. She had guessed he was going to have a long wait. It was the day that walk-in candidates who had the requisite grades could directly submit their applications for enrollment in the undergraduate programmes of their choice.

Vishal was nervous. Partly because he desperately wanted one of the coveted B.Com. seats. No matter how high one’s +2 grades were, there was always a chance they would have run out of seats by the time his turn came. He had set his heart on joining Vivekananda – Commerce was what he saw himself doing in the future. Moreover, he’d heard about the college debating team that regularly swept away top honours at inter-collegiate competitions. His debating skills had been developed well over the years of arguing with his parents, friends and the neighborhood aunties. Plus, being on the team would give him a wholly legitimate reason to visit the Stella Maris, Ethiraj and Women’s Christian College campuses…

Vishal was nervous for yet another reason. All his certificates were in the name ‘Visalakshi’. This was his grandmother’s name, one that his doting parents had given to the infant they thought was their daughter 17 years ago. Even though he had told his parents, and pretty much everyone around him who hadn’t guessed on their own, that he was, in fact, a boy – it had proven impossible to get the name changed on his school records, as those faithfully reflected the name and gender he had been assigned at birth.

The swelling crowd of young men and anxious parents making their way to the college gate, all in a heightened state of apprehensiveness, did nothing to relieve Vishal’s own worries. He had asked Appa and Amma not to come along, in case they complicated things by their well-meaning but long-winded explanations.

A washerman’s baby donkey tethered to a pole across the street from the college gate caught his attention. Extracting one of the two apples from his jolna pai, he walked towards the animal, which received the fruit with an audible sniff of approval and began munching away enthusiastically, as Vishal caressed it behind its ears.

To say Vishal loved animals would be an understatement. Be it cat, dog, or – in this case – donkey, all domestic animals seemed to gravitate towards him and he towards them. None cared about his name mismatch, his gender, unfashionably close-cropped haircut, his baggy shirts, or whether he liked boys or girls. Vishal could see himself and baby donkey becoming good friends over time. This prospect further strengthened Vishal’s resolve to get into Viveks.

“B.Com ellaam inge vaanga”1, beckoned the stern-looking clerk at the office. There was a separate queue for B.Com, and Vishal quickly joined the line of prospective students clutching their folders, some trying to conceal their fear behind brave talk of future MBA entrance tests they were already preparing for, and others silent, wishing this ordeal would end soon, and in their favour.

His turn came in about 45 minutes, by which time he had managed to fill in the application form, stick the photos, and even scrawl reasonable fascimiles of his signature in triplicate. “Application kudunga”2, said the man in charge of verifying documents. Vishal could feel his heart pounding as he gingerly handed in his application form (name ‘Vishal Natarajan’) along with his transfer certificate, attested copies of his Higher Secondary grade sheet (name ‘N. Visalakshi’) and the originals for verification.

“Idhu yenna saar?”3, exclaimed the man, as his eyes darted suspiciously from application form to grade sheet to transfer certificate to Vishal’s face. The man’s impulse, honed over years of poring through documents of countless applicants, was to reject any application based on a wrongly or incompletely filled form, or at least send the applicant back to get his papers in order.

This time, however, he stalled. Never in his twelve years of service had he been confronted with a set of documents like this. All marks in the upper 90s, but the name? What could this mean?

Time stood still for Vishal, as the students behind him shuffled impatiently.

After what seemed like eternity, but in reality was probably no more than a minute, the man thrust a blank sheet of paper and a Reynolds pen at Vishal and said “Write a note addressed to the Principal, title it CHANGE OF NAME AND GENDER, give your old and new names, and affix your signature”.

Not sure what was happening, Vishal complied.

“Now, Mr. Vishal Natarajan, go and pay your fees at the Punjab National Bank. Be sure to fill in the challan correctly and get the counterfoil stamped at the counter” said the man, now smiling broadly.

Vishal narrowly avoided a speeding Yamaha as he skipped across the street to offer the baby donkey his second apple.

It was, after all, time to celebrate the start of a new friendship…

donkey outside Vivekananda College
Image credit: Deepa Mohan

Notes:
[1] “All B.Com. applicants line up here”.
[2] “Hand in your application”.
[3] “What is this, saar”?

This story was first published in the thread ‘Once Upon a Time: Fairy Tales for the Queer Desi’ on Orinam. Click here to read the entire set of tales.

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