'Bureaus' by Maalini Krishna
In India, every home has a bureau. It’s like a closet – a compact metal
box, in which we store our items. Inside, there lies a small box with a keyhole,
containing our most valuable items – gold and jewellery – things we
use to impress others. It’s hidden, locked away, only opened on special
occasions: large family functions in which we dress up, put on costumes and
makeup, put on a front. It’s where our pride lies.
The bureau in my house is large enough for me to fit inside. And I do. I
envelop myself in the darkness, my figure squished against the clothes, that
are folded up neatly, each having their own place in the bureau. My figure
seems to threaten their order, but it doesn’t. The clothes grow wrinkles under
the stress that my presence causes. I hold onto the walls of the bureau, the
metal walls reeking of iron, like blood. Here is where I spend many days – in
solitude, in apprehension. I am caged.
Some bureaus have shelves or sections. The largest bureau of India – the
national one – finally abolished the 377th section, allowing those items that are
similar, to finally be kept together on the same shelve, where they belong. If two items fit together, what’s to stop them? Slowly, they’ll be taken out of the
shelve and used together so often, that they’ll be considered one item.
Sometimes, I am not inside the bureau. I sit in my chair, looking out the
open window. The brightness blinds me. Instead of warm comfort, it burns. I
cannot just sit on this chair like all my classmates. Even though I’m out of the
box, I still feel anxious and unsure. A gust of doubt hits my face. It
encompasses me and won’t die down. The strong forces of the world’s wind,
hold me down, not allowing me to return the bureau. I am trapped.
I open my phone, another metal box. The latest sports news talks about a
Dutee Chand. Her name occupies the headlines, sparking debates with
'experts' brought in from all corners of the country. The blaring sounds of
disapproval blasting in the living rooms, as people settle down for their evening
chai. All because she had worn two of the same items, and had opened her
mini box, which did not have anything as desirable as what others wanted and
expected. All because she ran through the winds of society and chased the
rainbow. All because she opened her heart.
I smile. It’s a curious feeling. She was free. I could be too. Day by day, I
try to escape the box that confines me. I put a rainbow heart on my Instagram
bio. I follow those who go with the drag of the wind. I follow those who have
items placed on all shelves, those who don’t care about how it’s organized.
Everything in the bureau, they’re all items. The labels on the clothes are taken
off. Their boxes are open to the world.
It’s the first day at school. I spot a girl who’s inside the bureau, like me.
We look at each other knowingly. We have the same type of bureau. We start
to share our valuable box. I hold her hand. It holds me steady from the winds,
which have now turned into a tornado of fear. However, I have someone to
hold on to, someone to share my bureau with.
Not all houses in India have a bureau big enough to fit inside. Some
people remain in the scorching light, getting sunburnt. They live in lives of
discomfort. They are not given the chance to have a small box full of their true
items. They will never get to use the clothes they wish, but our country is
I get out of the bureau. I come out of the closet. I open the small box,
showcasing my heart to the world. I take a step forward, hearing the wails of
the wind from outside, trying to shut the doors of the bureau. But I am free.