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I was prepared to sulk, until I saw a tiny girl with a hockey stick

A serendipitous meeting with a movie character changed everything I had so far been told girls could be

“D, who's your childhood fictional crush?” a friend asked one evening two-three years ago. I was about to blurt out Megamind but stopped to think more… 

OMG! The memories and feelings I had forgotten the existence of, flowed back, into my veins and into my fingers. And now, I am writing this piece as an ode to her. 

Let me tell you about the day I “met” her, quite unexpectedly.

I was 7 years old when my family and I went to the theatres to watch Ta Ra Rum Pum. To me, it sounded like the most exciting thing. It looked like one of those fun family movies with teddy bears and a magical world (judging by its movie poster). I was khushi mein waiting outside the theatre while my parents went in to get movie tickets. Going to the movies  was a rare treat, so in my mind, it was reserved for special, entertaining films .

I was excited until I overheard my parents saying they hadn’t got the tickets, because the movie was housefull, and so we’d be watching Chak De! India instead. 

Standing in front of the big Chak De! India poster, I took a deep breath. I considered it for a moment, and then groaned, “Noooo…” I threw a tantrum about how I did not want to watch a “serious” sports film. That poster looked BORING. I wanted the fun Rani Mukherji film. I also really hated sudden change of plans. But my parents insisted. We had travelled, spending precious time and money, for this. “Nothing-doing, we are watching Chak De! India,” they said.

 I had been taught to swallow my feelings. So, I held back my tears,  stomped into the theatre and  sat down with my hands folded, pouting.  I was ready to be miserable for the next three hours.

But, 10 minutes into the film entered someone who was about to change 7-year-old me’s life!

She was running through the busy streets with her hockey stick, dribbling the ball and finally shooting it at a car window, shattering it . “Komal” her dad yelled. “Laundo ke saath khelne aayi kya?” “Aadmi roti mangega toh kya degi?” her mom asked. “Jeh,”' she says, holding up her hockey stick. 

The little girl is looking at Komal with awe, while Komal is playing hockey.

From the minute she entered the screen, Komal spoke fiercely. She took up space. She was assertive. She wasn't afraid of pissing people off. She stood her ground about what belonged to her,  be it her bunk bed spot or her position on the field.

She was the polar opposite to me.

I was taught to never speak up, to always please elders, to smile even when I felt angry or mistreated… to, well, bottle my feelings up tightly, and make sure other people's needs were always put before mine. So, watching Komal on screen, being unapologetically herself and fighting for what she wanted, made me feel seen, even understood, for the first time. 

Along with being a complete badass, Komal  was also witty, playful, mischievous, and such a menace when she would tease or challenge Preeti, her rival, in the movie.  

I had planned on sulking for three hours, but I LOVED IT. 

I was drawn into the movie because of Komal.  There was this kind of spark or joy or something that opened up inside me that day sitting in that theatre, that is hard to put into words. She instantly became someone I would look up to, even years later. 

Even her choice of clothes was freeing.

Komal had that cool school boy look with buttoned-up shirts, hoodies and comfy pants. (Wait, girls could dress like that? It was allowed?!) She was vocal about her dislike for sarees - which I related to. 

Growing up, I didn't have access to masculine clothes. I spent a lot of my years trying hard to be more girly- wear dresses, earrings, grow my hair. I did it to make my family, neighbour aunties and cis boy crushes happy. I cared a lot about what others thought of me and how they saw me. And would push myself to fit that person they desired. “I like you but I wish you grew your hair, you looked so pretty,” my ex would say. “Tu asa kapde ghalnaar tujhyashi koni lagna karnaar nahi,? (if you wear such clothes, no one will marry you) some aunty would say. “I found you cute but too tomboyish”. I was constantly reminded that everything likeable about me was “not being a tomboy”.    

Even today as a masc queer person who is into other masculine people, I find myself trying to be more feminine. I feel like I have to like my chest and be less boyish, to feel desired by them. To feel liked at least for once. So I’d tell myself, “Don't be who you are.”

But Komal, she was carefree and didn't worry about what others thought of her. Getting married or impressing men wasn't important to her. She simply wanted to play the way neighbourhood boys got to. This resonated with me a lot. 

It reminded me of when boys in my area wouldn't let me play with them because I was a girl. Even if they did, I was the kaccha limbu.  I remember thinking being made goalkeeper was the highest honour, till I realised they did that to keep me out of games and never passed the ball to me. Neither did my school allow sports for girls. All I wanted was the opportunity to play.

I had never in real life or on-screen seen a lovable character like Komal represented. It didn't seem like she was hard to love. Not only was she the top scorer, but also extremely hot, cute and had qualities I wished I had. 

I  admired how she put her ego aside and passed the ball to Preeti, at  the end of the movie. It showed how she cared for her team; and for a goal that was bigger than her. It showed how she could be a good friend – even to someone she considered a rival. (Side note: I like to imagine Komal and Preeti are in love, in an enemies to lovers way. I desperately need someone to make a spin off romance series with Komal and Preeti, ‘pretti’ please. )

As someone who struggled with understanding my identity and took years to realise that I am transmasc, having a character I could resonate with–someone that was Indian, dusky skinned like me, and also from a small town–helped me know that there were others like me. I never understood the obsession I had for her, but it  makes sense now. 

Komal provided me with an outlet to express my masculine self, especially since I didn't have any masculine figures around me while growing up.

For years, I was an obsessive fanboi. Whenever I’d see Komal’s (Chitrashi Rawat) pictures in the newspaper, I'd cut and stick them on my cupboard or notebook. I attempted to play pretend hockey with a stick and bottle cap. I was struck with the eternal gay dilemma —do I want to be her, or do I want to be with her? Even today, though the actress is quite femme, watching Chak De! India is a sort of escape/guilty pleasure. 

Komal, I wish you were real.  We'd be friends. You'd teach me hockey, we'd go out to play. I can imagine us climbing mango trees, where you would be the strong fearless one , climbing high up, and I would be the scaredy cat neeche ready to catch the mangoes, looking at your strength and bravery in awe. 

On the left, Komal and Div are sitting on the grass giggling. On the right, Komal is swinging from a tree’s branch and is throwing a Mango to the Div below, who is flailing their arms joyfully, in an attempt to catch the Mango.

Div Rodricks loves telling stories through their comics, illustrations and five-hour long voice notes.

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