Vandan preened himself before the full length mirror. His snow white attire meticulously starched and ironed by his handyman, gave him the confidence he needed, to tackle problems in his constituency.
“Don’t I look every inch a politician?” he smiled to himself.
The State Assembly elections were soon to take place. The election tours had already begun. Candidates from all parties were trumpeting their own achievements, while crying down their opponents. Pointing to Vandan his adversaries grumbled.
“He’s too young and too good looking to be a politician. He’d be more suitable for Bollywood. Why does he want to dabble in the murky waters of politics?”
“Haven’t you noticed? The guy has great rapport with the women. He’s always surrounded by mothers and housewives complaining about rising prices of commodities, of water shortage and unfair wages. Young women demand better educational facilities or grumble about sexual harassment at work. Yes, he promises them all a better tomorrow if they will vote for him. He could be our next Minister for Women’s Welfare.”
Thin, tall and good looking, Vandan’s soft voice and pleasant manners set him apart from the other loud mouthed politicians whose only aim was to make the most of their tenure and line their pockets with under-the-table agreements for favours granted. Sometimes he wondered why he had chosen this profession. With his educational qualifications he could shine in any other sphere.
“But there are many things that bother me. The foremost is the way women are treated in our society. Housewives are blamed for not going out to work and earn; working women are condemned for putting career before families and being poor role models to their children. If I could only do my bit to change things!”
This morning, Vandan was to speak at a women’s gathering in the next village.
“I’m going to talk about the importance of women’s votes to bring changes in society. They should be encouraged to elect candidates of their choice, who will work towards making life better for them.”
For a village gathering, the hall was unusually packed.
“I see a sprinkling of men in the crowd too,” thought Vandan, “I just hope they aren’t here to heckle me.”
He spoke convincingly about the need to exercise their franchise even if it meant putting their domestic duties on hold for a couple of hours.
“What’s the use of voting if we must vote as our husbands tell us to?” asked one woman.
“It is your individual right to choose the candidate whom you believe will work for your welfare,” he answered.
“But it could cause dissension between husband and wife. Are you something of a trouble maker?”
Vandan turned towards the woman who questioned him. She was young and smartly turned out. She spoke like an educated person. The challenge in her voice was provocative.
“What I want for women is the dignity and freedom to make their own choices and not exist as shadows of their husbands. It’s hard to straighten up if women are satisfied bending low.”
Pat came the reply.
“Would you extend such freedom to your own wife Sir?”
“I would if I had one,” Vandan answered.
“There – I caught you.” She wiggled a finger at him. “You would probably change your tune if you had one.”
The crowd tittered. Vandan could feel his temperature rise and sweat trickle down his collar. He tried to ignore her and continued talking to the crowd.
“Women of this village, your votes carry weight. I encourage you to become the vanguards of change.”
As Vandan walked out of the hall, his eyes scanned the crowds.
“Where is that woman?” he wondered, “Was her intention merely to fluster me?”
But she had vanished.
“I hope she won’t show up at any of my other meetings,” he thought, as he brushed back that lock of hair from his forehead, something he always did when he was ruffled.
Unlike the other candidates standing for elections, Vandan was not much of an orator. But he had winning ways and patience to listen to people’s grievances. He was especially concerned about the poor and their struggle for survival. If he was voted to power, he promised to bring in reforms that would ease the life of the common man. His opponents envied his popularity.
“We must do something about it. We cannot let him win. The guy seems to have charmed the womenfolk. Some husbands are suspicious of his solicitude.”
“There’s a woman who keeps turning up at all his meetings and embarrassing him. We could enlist her help.”
“It’s pretty obvious that the young man has a weakness for women. We could fabricate some stories to project him in bad light.”
“But none of us are squeaky clean. We have our own peccadilloes. So how can we point fingers?”
“Don’t you worry. Anything can be achieved if we are willing to grease a few palms.”
“Then let’s start the ball rolling. We haven’t much time.”
Vandan realised that the woman was stalking him. She appeared unfailingly at all his election meetings, ready with a barrage of awkward questions. Her main aim was to embarrass him. Then even before he could answer, she was gone, making the crowd giggle at his discomfiture.
At one such meeting, Vandan lost his cool.
“Madam, perhaps you should bring your questionnaire to my office and we can talk about the problems bothering you one at a time, instead of you interrupting my meetings.”
“Thought you would never ask,” she said, smiling as she walked away.
She was there at his office next morning, even before he could settle down in his chair.
“Fire away,” he said.
“I only wanted your attention,” she confessed, “I know you’re a good politician unlike many others. What I want is a job, perhaps in this office.”
Though startled by her request, Vandan could make out that she was desperate for a job. She slid her certificates across the table. She was a graduate and had done a secretarial course as well. But there were no references from her previous employers. Vandan raised a questioning eyebrow.
“That’s because I’ve never worked before. I was abroad for the last two years looking after my sister who was ill. How can I ever get a job if everyone is looking for an experienced person?”
“Would you like to work in this office for a month on a trial basis?”
She grinned from ear to ear.
“When can I start?”
Vandan was impressed with her work.
“I couldn’t have chosen better. She’s a gem of a secretary. She knows what I want even before I ask. Now I can leave the office in good hands when I go for my election tours.”
Vandan was confident that he would gain enough votes for a seat in the State Assembly. The psephologists had already predicted a clean sweep over his opponent. But Radha’s behaviour at the office soon began to bother him. She literally threw herself at him and was angry when he didn’t respond to her overtures.
“Look Radha,” he said one day, “I gave you a job because you asked for it. You’re really good at your work. So let’s draw the line there. I haven’t the least interest in you as a woman. If this continues, you’ll have to go.”
As her behaviour grew intolerable, Vandan was worried what people would say if they came to know. She became so persistent that he was afraid she could physically harm him one day. So she had to go.
“Good riddance! I should have sacked her earlier.”
He could breathe easily again.
But his troubles were not over. She pestered him with endless phone calls and dropped in at his apartment at odd hours,
“Leave me alone,” he entreated. But when she continued to stalk him he threatened to call the police.
A few days of peace followed. Then the tabloids began to buzz with Vandan’s sexploits. Radha had taken her complaints to a Feminist NGO that championed the cause of every woman who came to their door for succour. She charged Vandan with sexual harassment and seduction. The activists were ready for the kill and lost no time in suing him. Suddenly there were many other women who couldn’t wait to complain against him. The NGO insisted that he be tried in a Fast Track Court. To his utter disappointment the political party Vandan represented, forced him to withdraw from the elections.
As Vandan sat in the court room listening to the women who denigrated him with baseless accusations, his limbs turned cold. He had never set eyes on any of them before.
“But where is Radha?” he wondered. “Is she afraid to face me with her lies?”
Radha who had initiated this mischief was absconding. The Judge was angry.
“Where is the prime accuser? This case can’t be adjourned time and again. Have her subpoenaed.”
The benches were packed with flag waving activists. Many members of the opposition parties had also come to gloat.
“This is the end of Vandan’s political career,” they thought, “Now our candidate is sure to win.”
Vandan knew that he would soon have to take the stand. But even before that could happen, Radha suddenly appeared.
“Here she comes to deliver the coup de grace,” the crowd murmured.
The noise in the courtroom reached a crescendo. The Judge brought his gavel down with great force.
“Silence. Or I’ll have the courtroom cleared.”
In a voice clear and confident, Radha confessed.
“I lodged a false complaint against the accused man. I was instigated and bribed by his political opponents. Some of them are here in this courtroom.”
She held up a cheque for Rs. 25, 000 and asked that it be handed over to the judge.
“Your Honour, I would like the court to investigate into the large sums of money that each of the other witnesses were given, to bring false charges against this man. All I can say is that he is an honest, hard working politician. I can vouch that he is not a womanizer. I don’t want to destroy his career.”
Vandan’s audible gasp echoed around the courtroom. He felt the warmth flow into his cold extremities. He had decided that if he was forced to take the stand, he would give proof of his innocence even if it meant revealing to the world, the best kept secret of his life. Vandan was a transgender – a female who had changed into a male. His parents had spent all their savings by sending him abroad for a gender change. Vandan had returned to India only when the doctors were sure that he could live as a male and take on a new identity. He had relocated far away from his parents’ home to avoid being recognized.
“Thank the Lord!” he mumbled, “If my secret was out, I would have been the butt end of many a joke and my life would have been ruined forever.”
Even as Radha stepped out of the court house, two burly men in white took their places alongside her.
“This time you’ve dodged us for all of four months. If you hadn’t got your picture in the papers we might not have found you so soon.”
“You always manage to find me,” she grumbled. “Do I have to go back to that hell hole?” she asked, thinking of her bed in the psychiatric ward. “I can’t even pronounce the name of my illness. Erotomania? Will I never get over it?”
One of the men said, “You are directionally challenged. You almost destroyed the life of yet another man. How many so far? Six? Now you know why the hospital can’t let you loose. But tell me, what made you come clean Radha? It’s actually a positive sign. I didn’t think your warped brain could feel pity for the man you were out to destroy.”
“I guess I’m on the mend. One of those spells of lucidity and this time perhaps a twinge of conscience.”
“If only you wouldn’t run away every few months and stop taking you medicines!” the other man said.
She heard a voice asking her to stop.
“Radha,….Radha …. Wait a minute. I have something to say to you.”
“No,” she said, “Get me out of here as fast as you can. He must never know.”
But Vandan spotted the van from St. John’s Psychiatric Hospital as it drove away.
“Oh my God!” he muttered brushing back the lock of hair from his forehead. “Someone from above must be truly watching over me.”