Adreyo Sen is pursuing his MFA at Southampton College.
I am five and it is my first visit to the dentist’s. I remember being in a dark room, the dentist an impossibly polished man, tall, with immaculately shaved cheeks. Once my ordeal is over, he invites me to choose a pencil from a tin, each pencil exhorting the importance of brushing.
That first experience will draw me towards pencils and my best birthday parties in Bombay are those in which I return home with a pencil, like the green polka-dotted one I snagged at the end of a party featuring a magician whose sideburns scared me.
I lean towards red in the dentist’s office.
“Take blue,” says my mother, “That is your color.”
Ever since, I try to see blue as my color. Blue is the color of the sky and the sea that reflects my tempestuous quality. I shall have the same blue bag through school and my undergraduate years, finally forsaking it for an Artist’s Series Jansport bag. Before this betrayal, I shall refuse to give it up, no matter how torn and tattered it gets.
But I am drawn to red despite this. Daydreaming in boarding school, I imagine the brave men and women of my fantasies wearing red shirts and sarees and driving red cars. I accumulate an astonishing number of red Parker Vector pens. Many of the salwar kameezes I crossdress in will be red.
I think of red as vital, as bold, as the symbol of courage.
But when I cherish the mirage of my own femininity as an adult, I will draw closer to pink. I will own a pink iPod shuffle and a pink iPod Touch and imagine myself as plaintively feminine in long pink gowns and salwar kameezes. Pink will come to represent for me the richness of the female experience I am denied.
At boarding school, aware of my crossdressing, even as I imagine I am holding this secret to myself, my form mates will see this effeminacy as a pinkness, telling my teachers of my propensity to wear pink nighties, even though I never had a feminine garment in that color.
I will learn of this when I return to school after my undergraduate years, from a teacher I crushed on, and towards whom I was, frankly, a nuisance.
Proud of my candor, I told her of my crossdressing. To my disappointment, she dismissed it as a passing phase.