The International Writers Magazine: India

Train To Femininity
Rishi V K

his is about the one F trip I had in my life—my journey to femininity. It started one fine morning when I heard my brother yelling: Hey, Rishi has become a female!

Female? Me? I was in the bath, getting ready to leave for Kerala, my home state in South India, after spending a couple of days in Mumbai. I have come from New Delhi where I work and live for almost a decade now. In no time the whole house was in hysterics. There were five of them, all my siblings. What's wrong with these guys? I checked myself in the mirror. My everything's in place. I changed and rushed out, stimulating a fresh burst of laughter. Rajan has a train ticket in his hand. He passes it to me. It reads: "Lokmanyatilak T to Quilon Jn S10 24 SU F 30". That's my ticket. Oh, F!

Lalchechi, who booked the ticket and who's the only female in the gang, tried her best to look apologetic. "Rishi, I am really sorry, hee hee, it was just, hee hee, you know, hee hee hee" She can't hold her breath anymore. "Rishichetta, why don't you go for a clean shave? Then you can get away as a woman," Navan, the youngest one, chipped in.

My train is leaving in a couple of hours. And I have to reach Thane from Borivili to board it.
There's hardly any time to brood over my just-found femininity. So we rush through our 'for the rail' and 'for the female' toasts and set off to Thane.

At the station, there's not enough time to get the ticket corrected. So I board the train. Anyway, I have my I-card and other documents. Only I'll be looking like a fool in front of all those people, which, according to my see-offers, is nothing new. Hmmm.

Its hugs and kisses time yet again, then the waving—first at their faces, then at their hands, at the station, at a couple of days of fun. I'll miss them. But then, it's home, sweet home, waiting for me at the other end of the train.
I go to my seat and check my bags to see what all have I left behind. Oh no, the Picasso pen I bought for my father is missing. Okay, I'll make them mail it. The female problem? Let the ticket checker come. After all, it's a clerical mistake. I lean back on my seat. It's a side seat. I like it like this. My mind goes back to the last couple of days as I stare blankly into the endless procession of trees and buildings under the afternoon sun. We hardly had any sleep last night. It was a binge. And it was too good. The best was Lalchechi rushing to the door to check her own address while ordering dinner... I slowly slip into a nap.
It must be the morning's booze on top of the sleepless night, the sound and commotion that accompany the ticket checker fail to wake me. He wakes me. As usual, he's followed by a number of unconfirmed ticket holders. I tell him about the mistake in my ticket. He takes the ticket and declares it's not valid. "C'mon, sir, I've got enough documents to prove that I'm Rishi."
"But I cannot let a man travel with a female's ticket. TICKET, TICKET." He moves on, checking and ticking others' tickets. I follow, now wide awake but eyes still trailing the mind.
"Sir, but it's not a female's ticket. It's Rishi's ticket. Female is a silly, clerical mistake. C'mon, sir, there can't be any woman in the name of Rishi. You know that."
"I know it's a mistake. But I've to follow the rules. That's my job... Madam, aapki ticket?"

My God, what's wrong with this man? It's ridiculous. He knows it's a mistake and he can't do a thing about it! And rules? They are for checking frauds, not silly mistakes. "Sir, please, you have to help me," I'm starting to lose my temper.
"I told you I can't do anything. You have to get down with me at Panvel." He won't slow down.
What he needs is one tight slap, MTV style. My head is what earth was 20,000 years ago--a boiling planet. All the abuses in the world are at the tip of my tongue. I shouldn't have had rum in the morning. The smell must be there. Any aggressive move would be termed "drunken misbehaviour". "Sir, please, this is the 150th year of Indian Railways. (Yes, this story happened in 2002.) And your ads say customer service is your focus," I make a last plea. It was there in the newspaper.
"I have to follow the rules, I told you." He's determined. I must stop chasing this son of a rulebook. Or he'll have it. And that will be the end of my journey. What to do?

If I get down, at best they'll reimburse the ticket fare. Travelling all the way back to Borivili with these two sacks of bags! And even if I manage it, I won't get a confirmed ticket for at least the next couple of days. I can't cut short my Kerala stay; no way! All I have is just a week. So?
What if I say I'm a woman? That I went to Mumbai for a sex-change operation. That the moustache and beard will go only after a couple of weeks. That I'll charge this s.o.r (son of a rulebook, dodo!) with sexual harassment. After all, I am a feminist sympathiser. Come to think of it, I may even have more feminine characteristics than masculine. Or would I be able to sit back and think like this in a critical situation like this?...

I was thinking away to femininity when the ticket checker returned to me. He offers me a berth in the Tatkal coach. But I have to shell out the full charge with some fine for ticketless journey. By now, I'm positively feminine, if you consider safety-first approach a feminine characteristic. I go for it. In case you call it frailty, forget your gender, you're masculine.

But I'm not yet totally converted. I can't let this s.o.r get away with it so easily. I vow to take it up with the railways or approach the consumer court. But on the third day of my landing in Kerala I meet with an accident and break my leg. When one can't pee without somebody's help, one looks for support, not vengeance. And I thought about marriage, for the first time since my college girlfriend's wedding years ago.
A naughty thought is creeping into your head, huh? Well, go ahead, break his leg, be it your son or your brother who refuses to talk about marriage. Success guaranteed.

It's four years since then and it's the fourth year of my marriage. My F trip hardly ever came to my mind until the other day when I went to book tickets for our vacation. There was this man who returned to the counter after collecting his ticket--it had F against his name. He had to cancel the ticket and take a new one. Poor thing, missed the train to femininity!

© Rishi Vk

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