My friends from all the different stages of my life have had the good fortune of seeing me cross dress for some reason or the other. You may remember the time I inadvertently wore a pair of panties to my office, but that was, as I said, inadvertent and completely unintentional. Panties, by their sheer flimsy nature, are not technically fit for men. And I am not referring to that episode at all. The first time I came out wearing a pair of jeans and a tee, dressed as a girl with short hair, was when I was about 14. The seeds that my mom sowed way back in 1971 were bearing healthy fruit, you can say, because apart from my cohorts, most of our other classmates were fooled hollow. Many of them tried to follow us (three boys and a new girl!) on their bicycles that evening. The secret was never revealed and if any of them are writing their autobiographies today, you may read about their first crush being a girl in a blue tee and fiery red lipstick. If they remember, she had a slight hint of boobs too, probably the size of ping pong balls. Poor guys.
Experimenting sexually with boys was very in, and although most of them have grown mustaches and are helping their wives make babies by the dozen now, we were a collective gay community those days. Everybody had measured everybody in that clandestine group and we were ready for the women. Unfortunately, girls were hard to come by. So we went back to measuring each other.
As we grew up and started transforming from boys to men, we were repulsed by each other. The feminine curves were gone, we sprouted hair at unwanted places, and suddenly we discovered the joys of cricket. Yuck, was our collective sigh, but by then the external tuition classes had started and the girls were within easy access. By access I mean to talk to. That high, believe me, was much more than what an entire bottle of Jack Daniels can give me today. Atasi, our principal's daughter, was yet to walk into puberty, but she was the only one who spoke with all the boys. We used to sit all around a cot on little cane stools, and while our teacher would try to teach us physics, almost a dozen legs would reach out for Atasi's under the cot. The silent melee that this resulted in under the cot, with all of us maintaining straight faces above it, was no less than a battle of Panipat. I don't remember who managed to reach Atasi's leg, but I never did. The max I had gone was upto Subham's legs, who enjoyed an hour-long tickle without protesting, thus giving me the idea that Atasi liked me a lot and would probably make babies with me later. Unfortunately, I could not find Subham later to give him a fitting reply.
By the time we reached the university, most of us had been able to do what all American boys are rumored to have achieved on their prom nights. We were men now, but much to my amusement, that strange streak of cross dressing hadn't left me yet. One winter day in Varanasi, as we waited for the girls to come and cut the fruits for Saraswati Puja, it struck me again. Soumitro was taller and I made him my boyfriend as I came out wearing a huge red sweater, a longish bandana and jeans. By now, the ping pongs had given way to earthen bhaars meant for curds. He held me by the waist as we sauntered around in the garden, waiting for the girls to make an entry. I was very curious to know their reaction as I could feel many pairs of eyes trying to check out my bottom through the long, red sweater.
This was a huge success because all the girls who had their eyes set on Soumitro were pretty much bothered. In fact, when I made a normal entry later, some of them asked me who the girl was. It was a strange moment for me. None of the girls were interested in me. I was trying to attract their attention. As another woman! It was time for introspection. What was I upto? Am I growing up all right? Do I need to sit with Meghadoot da for a counseling session?
Many years later we had an ethnic-wear day for one of our office parties. I nonchalantly took out one of my wife's kurta-churidar sets, donned a banjara cap, wore a necklace and went rather boldly to the party, expecting I would attract some attention. Many years of being in the oblivion of trousers and shirts had brought out the rebel in me. I made an entry. Almost in slo-mo, I walked into the huge ballroom of Leela. The crowd had gathered somewhere else. People were discussing something in hushed tones. The entire atmosphere of the place was pregnant with the possibility of a sudden outburst of laughter. A little more into the crowd and I saw what they were all about to laugh at. At the center of the hall was one of our Bengali colleagues, in a traditional Bengali kurta with some khajuraho paintings on it. It would have been a prized exhibit in the wardrobe of any woman, but on that guy, it looked downright hideous. It was a red kurta with a golden statuette painted on it. It was something all Bengali men wear whenever they want to look handsome. And mine was just a plain blue one with shirt collars.
And I realized, I was never a cross dresser. Always a true-blue Bengali.