Kozhikode: When Prince Kumar curled up like a foetus and writhed in pain on the stage, his mother Aruna Kumar's eyes welled up. "I felt his pain. I thought it was real," said Aruna, who came down from Chennai to see her son's performance at the Kerala School Kalolsavam.
Prince, a native of Bihar, played the lead role in the drama 'Njaan' or 'I' by Ramavilasam Higher Secondary School in Chokli in Kannur. In the play, he was battling gender dysphoria. His internal identity conflict and public humiliation were more excruciating than the thrashing he received from the women in the market. Prince was caught with stolen bangles, bindi, kohl, and earrings. "Tell us why you are carrying women's innerwear in your bag," women asked in unison.
Prince could only mumble: "I don't know if you will believe me. I don't know what you will think if I tell the truth".
Unconvinced, the women dragged Prince to his mother, played by Lakshmi Nanda. Both the class IX students of Ramavilasam school.
The women accused the mother of raising her son without values. A furious and disappointed mother beat him up.
"Maa... I have a lot to say ... but how will I say it," Prince said in Hindi. "I am not a male. I am a female inside," he said in impeccable Malayalam.
Writer and director Savya Sachi tapped Prince to bring out the unawareness, unacceptability, and complexities in coming out. And he did it with remarkable empathy.
"Sachi Sir made us realise the problems and hostilities faced by transgender people in society," Lakshmi Nanda said after the play.
In one scene, a woman from the market abusively called Prince a 'Bengali'. But a friend, played by Vaiga Anil, hit back by asking: "Is not having Malayali parents a crime?"
This is in sharp contrast to Malayalam movies and mimicry artists using the term 'Bengali' to lampoon migrant workers in the state. In a play staged by another district on Friday, 'Bengali' masons were made to say they were thriving in Kerala because of the laziness of Malayalis.
The 20-minute 'Njaan' stood out for another reason, too. It used four languages -- Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam as the characters moved from one state to another.
Prince was adjudged the best actor in the Kannur district school competition for his role in the play. He did not disappoint Kozhikode either as the audience at Zamorin's Higher Secondary School gave Njaan a standing ovation. But Prince's own story is no less inspiring.
We came to Kerala only to provide good education to our children
Aruna Devi, mother of Prince
From Darbhanga to Kannur
Prince's father Dinesh Thakur (45), a carpenter, and mother Aruna Devi (35) moved to Kannur in 2012. It was not a journey in search of better-paying jobs. "We came to Kerala only to provide good education to our children," said Aruna. "We heard Kerala's government schools were good," she said.
Kerala did not fail her. After a few years, the couple bought five cents and built a house at Olavilam near Chokli in 2019.
But after the house was built, the parents had to find better jobs to repay the home loan. Aruna took up a job in a chocolate factory in Chennai. Dinesh Thakur found himself a job in Vellore.
The parents left their youngest son Yug Kumar (5) under the care of Prince and his elder sister Kirti Kumar, a class 12 student at NAM Memorial Higher Secondary School at Peringathur in Kannur.
"The two elder siblings ready Yug and send him to school," said Pradeep K, a teacher at Ramavilasam, a government-funded school. In the evening, the teachers pack mid-meals for Prince to take home. "Both Kriti and Prince have a bright future," said Pradeep.
Aruna said she might not return to Chennai. "I left because of the loan. But I cannot stay away from children," she said.