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First published by Nether Quarterly in December 2020 and then by Literally Stories in January 2022.

Blue is the colour of anxiety, the smell of despair, the sound of confusion, the taste of fear, the touch of doubt.

For Jamshed, it brings back jumbled flashes of long-buried images and emotions. A neon cobalt-stained hospital wall at age five, the time he’d smashed his knee and waited endlessly for a doctor to arrive, any doctor. An inky high school test paper that he’d known he’d fail before even looking at the questions. A joyride in a stolen navy-hued Honda that had landed him and his slow-witted friend Pesi in jail for a night.

And then there was the dress. Niharika’s strapless maxi – that epitome of fashion debacle that underlined the 1980s – with its purple hue and sapphire bustiere. Never forgotten, despite the thirty years gone by since Jamshed had first laid eyes on it during a pre-graduation hostel social. Jamshed had fancied himself in love with Niharika at the time, but soon after, realized he’d loved the dress a lot more – and not on her, but on himself. When Niharika caught him modeling the gown, Jamshed’s hairy chest and arms almost bursting through the delicate fabric, she’d broken things off there and then. Jamshed had felt an avalanche of relief. And gratitude that he’d been able to keep the dress since Niharika didn’t want it back.

It’s a whole new century now. Blue continues to weave its strange magic of truth and untruth, peace and disharmony. Disowned by Ma and Pa, both now dead, and estranged from the Parsi aunties of his large family, for Jamshed, Blue is the one anchor in his unsteady life, one that refuses to abandon him. It tinges his days of employment as a clerk in a stock brokerage company, his pale cerulean uniform of trousers and shirt making him unobtrusive to the swarming office crowds at Churchgate. And it bursts into full bloom at night, when Jamshed becomes Jamila, cruising restlessly for rough sex with men in parks and bus stations. Sometimes Jamila wears the old dress, with an indigo boa to match. At other times, it hangs, relic-like, its faded patches now visible, in the rusty Godrej of her one room rental. There are still those cold moments when all Jamshed can hear in his head is a cacophony, like metal nails on a blackboard, all he can taste is numbing bewilderment, all he sees is a future of freakish dual sexuality and no hope. But there is the thrill and throb of this life too.

Jamila has her lovers. There is always one to replace the other when one gets married, or leaves town, or loses interest. Recently, there was a short and passionate fling with a traffic cop near Gamdevi station, so the police haven’t harassed her in months and breathing has gotten that little bit easier.

Today, after a long absence, Blue is back. Ominous and rumbling, Blue is right here and everywhere. This morning, before getting out of the cab at the curb before the clinic, Jamshed had looked up and seen miles of it in the cloudless expanse of azure sky, and splashes of it everywhere else – on the shirts of shopkeepers, on the dupattas of women, on the dancing waves of the pre-monsoon Arabian sea. Blue. Familiar anxiety, familiar despair.

Jamshed knows the signs, recognizes the inevitability of the outcome, but even so, as he sits this afternoon in the reception at the Holy Angels Auxilium Pathology Lab and waits for his test results, he finds himself praying.

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