Romila is a prodigy in mathematics. Eleven gold medals. Two bronze. 25 competitions. The 40 year old mathematics champion (she prefers not to be called a mathematician) has her name lingering on the lips of every spectator in a competition.
On asking why she prefers not be called a mathematician, she says, “I don’t formulate or invent theories. I only find different ways to use the existing ones to solve mathematical problems. That’s what a mathematics champion does. Meanwhile, a mathematician creates theories through research. He is the inventor and bearer and the cause of the existence of mathematics. I am no such person. I only specialise in using the theories better than the others,”
Just like her grace and precision of explaining things and solving complex equations, Romila elaborates on her story of identity transformation. She has a long history of struggle with her life both inside and outside the world of numbers and figures. Subjected with an elaborate experience of eve-teasing in her college days, she can handle sexist slurs better than competitions. “I had anticipated it much earlier before the whistle started,” she says, with a grin smile deceiving her trembled voice. “It requires a great deal of courage to dress up like a girl in a man’s body”. But her cheerful demeanour when she donned a sari never hinted at the probability of a contrary emotion.
I am personally acquainted with Romila because we had studied mathematics in the same college, though she was my senior. “TedX performances are more important than tournaments,” she says.
I still remember my calculus professor ardently telling our class how Romila used to attend college in a boy’s attire. Boy-cut hairstyle and kurtas on ethnic day. For two years, she desperately enacted as a boy until one day she let out her heart’s emotions to our professor. “The catharsis was so exhausting it seemed as if a child has been released from 7 years of solitary confinement,” Dr. Sarla Majumdar, our Calculus professor used to say.
“She cried and made me cry along with her. She asked me if I could allow her to behave like a girl. I was exasperated and being empathetic at that moment was too much of an emotional burden I had ever felt in my entire life. But I shared her burden. And helped her grasp the joy of a woman’s world that would eventually become hers. Romila knew this and decided henceforth to extract wordly luxuries out of the wonders of her genius IQ,” I recalled the words of Dr. Sarla Majumdar, our calculus professor.
“Though it did not come easy to her,” she would add.
Romila had talked about how difficult it was to concentrate on elaborate sums while spectators sitting idly in competitions would stare at her body to shame, occasionally mocking her attire and voice. “I smile vainly at them. A long smile until they are forced to deviate their observation. That’s the only response that works,” she says proudly.
“At 25, I went to Sweden to participate in the Sweden National Mathematics Tournament. At the end of the match, gleeful teenagers came to me, shaking hands and congratulating me. I was elated and took out my time to narrate my experience of the Olympiads match to the promising spectators of my next TedX,” she would narrate with an elated spirit.
A successful life of a transgender never comes easy. Particularly not in India, On a particular TedX performance, she narrated how she, along with members of transgender community participated in the protest against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 which made sex reassignment surgery mandatory to apply for change of gender identity in documents.
“The long years of struggle, nights spent on rehearsing long algebra formulae, hours of concentration amidst those unpleasant sexist viewpoints that young boys chose to pass off with a crooked smile (for which they sadly paid), to collect awards for tournaments, all these are solely directed to attain respect for my confused skin. Forced surgeries are a sign that transgenders cannot be accepted as a third gender in India. Are my awards not enough a sign to prove transgenders can be equally capable?” she said leaving some spectators in awe of her articulated oratory skills while some chose to retrospect on the unconstitutional law they didn’t seem to care about earlier.
However, one must know Romila is a wonderful cook. When she cooks, her mother cannot help appreciating her culinary skills. I have had the fortune of being invited for dinner at her house. Invite- a word no more delusional to her. She is a mathematics tutor too. She teaches Indian scholarship students who take pride in her story of struggle and elegance. Romila is a dancer too. A two-time Bharatnatyam stage performer. She takes dance classes too. Occasionally, only to transgender men and women. “Dancing is an art of exploring your body,” she believes.
“Romila is multitalented. No, she is gifted,” her father says, proudly looking at the collections of her awards staged on her study table. I could sense the pride purging out of his skin almost as clearly as one can spot dew on a leaf.
“An unstereotypical life gifted to a stereotyped body,” I thought as I turned to watch her dance-making geometrical shapes with her Mehendi clad hands.