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Rediff.com  » Getahead » He was the woman from a Ravi Varma painting

He was the woman from a Ravi Varma painting

November 27, 2012 15:00 IST
Bringing you an excerpt from Anita Nair's latest novel, Cut Like Wound.

Anita Nair is the author of several critically acclaimed books including The Better Man, Ladies Coupe and Mistress among others. Nair's books come as a breath of fresh air from amidst the clutter of racy, overnight reads that seem to be aplenty.

Her latest Cut Like Wound is a departure from her regular style in that it explores the underbelly of a metropolis, Bangalore. Among the various themes, she explores in the book are the issues of the transgender community offering fascinating insights into the human psyche.

By way of an excerpt, we bring you this passage from the very first chapter of the book. Read on:
It wasn't the first time. But it always felt like the first time as he stood in front of the mirror, uncertain, undecided, on the brink of something monumental. On the bare marble counter was a make-up kit. He ran his finger along the marble to check for dust. Only when he was satisfied that it was clean did he touch the quilted cover of the lid. The satin shirred under his fingers. Something leapt in him, a wave of pure delight that was enough to set him off.

A giggle emerged. A snickering sound of pure joy, girlish glee and unfettered excitement.

He switched on the series of light bulbs that circled the mirror. The electrician had stared when he had asked for the light bulbs to be placed so. The electrician's assistant had sniggered and asked his boss, 'Why does he want so many lights? Who does he think he is? Rajinikant? Is he going to put make-up on?'

But he had set his heart on it after seeing it in a film. And so he had frowned and said in his coldest voice, 'If you don't know how to, I can always find someone else.'

That had settled it.

In the mirror, he gazed at himself just once. Fleetingly. Then it was time. He opened the kit and started working quickly with a practised hand. The concealer to cover the shadows on his chin and around his mouth. The foundation, the fine creamy talc to smoothen the complexion, eyes enhanced with the kohl pencil, and a twirl of the mascara brush on the eyelashes for the wide-eyed look. He wet the tip of his finger with Vaseline and traced his eyebrows. A pat of blush and then carefully he outlined his lips with a lip pencil and filled it with a deep pink lipstick. He pressed his lips together and applied a coat of gloss. Glistening lips smiled shyly at the reflection in the mirror.

He took a tissue from a box and carefully wiped the counter. Marble was like skin, it showed up how it was used. He crumpled the tissue into a ball and flicked it into the bin. Then he stepped out of the track pants he was wearing and hung it from a hook behind the door. He averted his eyes as he slid off his briefs and, making a moue of his lips, tossed it into the basket that held the T-shirt he had been wearing.

Naked and wearing just his painted face, he walked out of the bathroom. Then he paused and went back again to the dressing table. He opened a drawer in which were six vials of the finest attar.

He opened the stoppers one by one and sniffed at the mouth of the perfume vial. Nag Champa. Raat Shanthi. Roah al Oudh. Shamama. Moulshree. And his favourite, Jannat ul firdous.

He chose Shamama. Tonight he would be a garden of flowers. A complex scent would herald his arrival and trail his footsteps.

The last door of the walk-in wardrobe was locked. Only he had access to it. He hummed under his breath as he opened the door. Green, green, tonight he felt like wearing green, he told himself as he pulled out a shimmery green chiffon sari.

From one of the drawers, he pulled out a pale-green petticoat and blouse. Then, with a smile, a padded bra and the matching panty. He was still humming as he adjusted the blouse and pinned the sari so it hung low, showing off his waist and his navel piercing. He touched the topaz in his navel. A frisson of excitement unfurled in him.

From the shelf on top, he chose a wig of waist-length hair. He placed it on his head and, as he looked into the mirror, something about the way his eyelids drooped told him who he wanted to be tonight.

With elaborate care he arranged himself so he was the woman from a Ravi Varma painting, fresh from a bath. He brought his hands to his chin and laced his fingers so the tip of the forefinger of the right hand touched the edge of his lower lip.

Hair to her knees, loose and flowing. The sari clasped between fingers, an attempt to cover herself but hinting at the nakedness of her breasts. The fullness of flesh. Shy, yet seeking more. All woman.

He laid out the earrings. He always wore the same pair. Old-fashioned pearl earrings with hooks so he didn't have to fumble with screws. He clipped a necklace around his neck and slid glass bangles on both wrists. The tinkle of green glass as he lifted the hem of the sari and stepped into two inch-high green-and-beige sandals made him smile again.

Excerpted from Cut Like Wound, by Anita Nair, published by HarperCollins India, with the publisher's kind permission.