There are three significant things to talk about Anjali. She has a beauty pageant to attend to in a few days, she already has AIDS and that she was born as Duran, a boy!
Those few years in her life were hysterical. She had decided she was not a boy but a girl. She quit her studies and ran away from home. The local theatre group needed boys who could enact as girls; the travelling from over so many villages did not favour young girls to be in the troupe. She was not beautiful as a girl (neither good looking as a boy). So the troupe ditched her during the initial rounds of rehearsing and dressing her as a girl.
This followed a long phase of discovering her inner self and her interests. They were art, love and following it a hell lot of frustration. When she turned 13, she had found solace in drugs and a lot of sexual encounters who failed to come up as romantic friends. Love didn’t happen but a group of cross-dressing friends had formed a close knit family of three. Most of them had run away from home. They would knit, embroider and go for a few local bridal make-overs. By 16, she overcame her fear of being left out but not of being ugly looking.
Beautiful brides dressed in the bright, colorful and traditional gowns drove her crazy. She wanted to be like one of them. This was her dream. Although Dolly, who was the most expert in bridal make-overs in the group, would let her try the semi-precious and the fake precious accessories, she was never let to get into the actual bridal dress materials. Dolly would say, “My girl, you would still look as ugly as a cheap prostitute”. And she did look cheap and artificial. Their own embroidered saris and salwars were famous among the customers who were mostly rich ladies, artists from theatre and the film fraternity. She would wear them before delivery, just to fancy her whims. The mirror did not look amused; the frown over Dolly’s eye-brows said it all. The costly dress looked uncomfortable and silly on her. The thick make-up she would wear did not cover her dark skin nor the post acne scars on them; any jewellery she would cordon seemed hideous. The bright outfits made her look even darker. Tears would roll down her cheeks. Finally every time it would be Puja, the eldest in the group and the most responsible, to calm her down. “To me you look like an angel!” she would say.
The city youth club, as a means to collect donations for the HIV/AIDS infected people, would hold an annual cultural festival. People from the films, martial arts and the young children would perform in them. Also the people who were already affected by the dreaded disease could showcase their talents, if any. As a matter of fact, there was a beauty contest organised exclusively for the people from the cross-dressing fraternity. This event was an absolute hit among the people. She, who would be the most beautiful, would walk away with the ‘crown’. But for this she had to be smart as well for they had to answer several questions on culture, sports, society or on HIV/AIDS put forth by eminent judges from the films, the judiciary and the academics. The ‘beauty-queens’ from the previous years had received such appreciation and respect for their beauty and their witty answers. The whole festival and this beauty contest in particular would get highlighted media coverage and its audience consisted of almost everyone!
This was the time of the year when Anjali’s heart would ache. They were such beauties that she felt intimidated. Even she could have been so smart if not that beautiful if she had continued with her studies. Every time her ‘sisters’ would say the same thing, “You must still study”, to which she never paid any attention. Nowadays they would meet her with just a “Be careful”!
She was 17 when one day her fever would not subside for over a week. Her doctor recommended an HIV test which turned out positive. It all happened so sudden that she couldn’t actually realise where she stood. She decided to move on. A good diet, a happy heart and a healthy mind are supposed to be the only known cure to HIV/AIDS. She decided to go for it and also with the regular check-ups and the treatment. She had a means of earning, she could afford them. Her spirit to fight she had acquired in a lifetime of struggle and disappointments was coming handy of late!
They were a family of three and they were there for her. Dolly went to see the doctor as he had summoned a guardian to tell the results of the most recent tests done. Anjali had developed AIDS and seeing her state of health she had less time in hand. “Time is running out!” Dolly informed everyone in the family.
The rehearsals for the big annual HIV/AIDS awareness festival were on. Puja and Anjali had come to the venue to attend a guest lecture for AIDS patients by a renowned doctor.
Puja had other plans!
She secretly got an entry form for the beauty contest, for Anjali. The organisers agreed readily. There would be three rounds she was told- a formal round, a questions’ round and a traditional wear round. They had plans to fulfill Anjali’s dream. Dolly would get the best of her accessories and put up the best of her make-over artistry, this would be her masterpiece. They arranged for the best of dresses. Only thing was to persuade Anjali to go for it. It didn’t take much time. She was surprised and touched. Her only concern was her face. The scars on her face had now gone from bad to worse. The overall tone of her complexion had turned pale. Good diet, good rest and avoiding the sun- nothing had helped. It was all up to Dolly now.
Finally the day arrived. The night was cold, winter had already set in. The crowd nonetheless cheered on. The lights, the music had set the perfect ambience. The hosts- a gentleman and a lady, both from the television sector, started off with their sharp wits and the jury fixed eyes both on questions they had prepared and on the stage for the ‘beauties’ to walk off!
They were a total of twelve contestants. One of them had even done her Masters in Arts! Drums rolled and they were walking out, in turns as the hosts introduced them to the audience. Dolly and Puja hold their breath as she stood sixth in the line for the formal round. As the lights focused on her, she walked down the aisle with utmost grace. Dolly’s make-up, Puja’s mental preparation and her will to fight had done the trick. She scintillated in the black mini-gown! As she was being introduced, the lady host added “We’ll shortly be telling you why our beautiful contestant tonight is all the more so brave!”
And they walked for the round-two, she struggled to answer to her question- “What is beauty?” She thanked the jury for the question and continued. “All throughout my life I’ve been told I am ugly. But today I know I am not. To me beauty is in the mind more than in the eyes. When I feel loved and accepted I got confidence. My confidence makes me feel beautiful.”
The crowd cheered, so did the jury. Finally it was time for Dolly’s masterpiece. The traditional round was on and there was Anjali- dressed in a bright traditional bridal gown, accessorised and set!
“Anjali is 21 and she has been struggling with HIV/AIDS for the past four years”- came the voice of the lady host from the background. The crowd gave a standing ovation. Dolly’s eyes welled up, “she did it, my angel!”