The thing you need to know about Avani is that she excelled in academics. All through her school days, her teachers loved her. Her grandfather, whom she called Baba, boasted about her to whoever would listen. Avani’s parents looked forward to attending PTA meetings. Even so, she was insecure about her looks. Since the day her music teacher, Mrs. Ganguly, claimed that Avani’s face was suitable for athletic events, she became self-conscious. The happy and careless child died that day. She was determined to prove Mrs. Ganguly wrong. The annual function was the biggest event in her school. If I can get the casting team to select me for the role of Rukmani in the Krishna-Sudama play 1, then Mrs. Ganguly would regret her choice of words.
Well, our 14-year-old Avani had only 8 months left to transform her “athletic-face” into the “Rukmani” face. However, her list of problems was huge. For one, her mom never let her grow her hair even to a cute shoulder-length. She was stuck looking like a boy — hair-wise, at least. In fact, a few boys in her class had hair longer than Avani. Earlier, her hair never bothered her, but now, all she could think about was her hair. She was no Bala2, but she was not far from him either. Indeed, she had no medical issues that prevented her hair-growth; just her mom.
How do I convince maa to let me grow my hair? This question dominated her thoughts for days. And, then she had a light-bulb moment: Baba! He has been badgering me to grow my hair like a girl. I thought he was being a sexist. Why did I have to be so difficult at that time? Whatever! I am gonna tell him that I wanna grow my hair, and he would take care of mom. Oh yes! A self-satisfied smirk appeared on her pale face. And all was well, again! Or was it? There was a bigger issue that she now focused on. Her school uniform consisted of a pair of navy blue trousers and a white shirt. Yes, you read that right! TROUSERS! How did that happen? I’m glad you asked.
At this time, you must know one important fact about Avani’s life. She grew up with cousins who were boys. Their influence was so remarkable in her life that she prayed to be a boy. Obviously, she could not become a boy just by praying. Therefore, she started looking like one. She insisted that she would wear boy-uniform to the school. To her Baba’s dismay, her school had no problem allowing a girl to wear a boy’s uniform. She couldn’t blame anybody else for this one. This was her own doing. Her parents were not going to buy her a brand new uniform mid-session. But, she can definitely emotionally blackmail them into getting her way once this session was over. Just in time for the casting! She could almost dance to hallelujah sound in her head.
Last but not the least of her worries was her inability to appear feminine. Whenever Avani thought she was acting like a lady, her sister, Tamanna, laughed at her. And she had a very good reason to do so. Avani did not possess the effortless charm of a girl. Years of copying her cousins had metamorphosed her into a tall and ridiculously slim boy. Yes, her wish was granted. But, with her changed goal, that was no cause for celebration.
So, she turned to the person who was mocking her efforts day and night: her sister. Swallowing up her big-sister pride, she turned to the girliest-girl she knew for assistance. Tamanna was her only ray of hope. Certainly, she could not share her reasons with Tamanna. Fortunately for her, Tamanna had no interest in the details. In exchange for Avani ‘s share of cookies, bowls of ice-cream, and pocket-money, Tamanna agreed to help a sister out.
And months passed away in a blink. Avani’s makeover had become the talk of the school. Nevertheless, in her eyes, she was still the same. Clearly, she could see that her golden-brown hair almost touched her shoulders now. Her pale skin was now brighter and healthier. To be honest, she had come a long way from her tomboy days. Yet, she could not escape her insecurities. One single comment from her teacher had thrown her in a dark and scary dungeon that she just could not break free from. Nobody knew that Avani desperately needed to hear someone call her beautiful. Indeed she gathered many compliments, but they all appreciated her brains — not beauty.
Then the fateful day arrived. Clearly, in his sixties, the Casting Director, Mr. Dixit, was keenly observing the students at the assembly. The students were standing in multiple queues according to their heights. As his experienced eyes started the selection process, Avani thought her heart would jump out of her chest. She was sweating profusely. Wow, my body would expel all the sweat out of its system right now. I am sure if he came close enough, it would spray some of the sweat on him, as well. I’ll definitely get the part of a sweat-fountain then. Despite the circumstances, Avani could not help but smile at the stupidity of her thoughts. A sweat-fountain – that’s an idea for a fantasy book! Just then, Mr. Dixit’s eyes landed on a sweat-soaked smiling Avani, and he pointed his finger towards her to indicate that she, too, was selected.
The selected students were taken to another hall. The anticipation was high in the students. The most sought-after roles were: Krishna and Rukmani. Even boys did not want the role of Sudama. Although he was one of the lead characters of the play, his physical appearance did not excite those young students. Nobody wanted to be known as a “bald guy” for the rest of the year. When Mr. Dixit assigned the role of Krishna to one of the girls, the students were shocked. They had presumed that a boy would play the role of a male character. Be that as it may, Mr. Dixit was not to be questioned.
Your guess is absolutely right! He picked Avani for the rule of Sudama. He said she had the physique for it. They could just tuck her hair under the bald wig, and she would look exactly like a man. To add to the misery, they asked her to practice walking with a stick. She couldn’t believe her eyes and ears. How did this happen? She was a “Sudama” before the makeover. She was supposed to be a “Rukmani” after months of practice and hard work.
The day passed in a blur, and she decided to “fall sick” for a few days. After all, so many students were sick in her class for the last couple of days. She shouldn’t have bothered, though. By the time she reached home, she was scratching everywhere. As the night approached, it was clear that she had chickenpox.
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