The story of Maya- India’s own drag queen
By Alex Mathew
I was staring at the ceiling with confused thoughts. I was wondering what to do with my passion. I loved to act and for that, I used to go to a theatre group known as Yours Truly Theatre. I loved to sing and for that, I used to go and belt my heart out at all karaoke bars.
However, I wasn’t getting a kick out of it and I felt I was stagnated as a performer. I performed as Alex for the Second Queer Arts Movement of India, with the songs such as Express Yourself (Madonna) and And I am telling you I am not going (Dreamgirls Musical). People just enjoyed it for my voice and I was damn conscious on stage.
Everyone came to me and said I have a wonderful voice. But, didn’t get any mention about my performance. I was sad and not satisfied. What could be missing?
I spoke to this sweet Tarot card reader and she pulled out card of “Tower”. That was the most deadly card of the lot. She felt sorry for me and pulled out other two cards which turned out to be good. All she said was I had to brace myself for a new beginning.
Oh yea! Thanks for just saying that. I have no clue about this new beginning.
In the weeks to come, I had to shut myself and wonder what I should do to be a great entertainer.
I came across this movie known as “Mrs. Doubtfire”; I was mesmerized by the actor Robin Williams. He could get into the skin of Mrs. Doubtfire with ease. The fun and joy of being in drag is thrilling for me. As always, I was spellbound by this movie since I was a young child.
I started to search more about drag. I came across several Indian actors who did it for once and didn’t continue with it. I came across Dame Edna and above all, Rupaul and her drag race. I met people and started asking them what you think if I started to do drag. Some of them encouraged me and some asked if it is necessary.
My intention was to perform only for YouTube where I perform as Alex and this drag character. I was speaking to my dear friend Romal and we came to conclusion that this drag character is a woman from Kuttanad. I wanted her to be elegant yet fierce, simple yet outspoken and dainty yet sassy.
I came up with a name, “Mayamma”. Maya means illusion and Amma means mother. So in short, Mayamma will be known as Mother of Illusion.
I had to travel to Kerala for a family reunion. I was still in two minds whether to do drag or not. So, on the night of the reunion, one of my uncles dresses up as a woman and goes on stage with his wife. For me, this was a sign from God.
I came back with my parents and sister to Cochin, I told my Amma about it and she was hesitant in the beginning. I said it is for a performance. Most probably, I won’t do it again.
I kept reminding her about the first performance drag that I did in school where I dressed up as Nagavalli, a character from the Malayalam movie, Manichitrathazhu. It was for a fancy dress competition. She just nodded and smiled.
Days passed by, she and I forgot about it and the day finally came where I had to leave Cochin and come back to Bangalore. I asked Amma, if she can give her saree and blouse which she doesn’t use. She was quiet and left my room. She came back with a purple pink saree with a purple blouse. She told me this is just for this performance and jokingly said, the blouse would be tight.
That’s when I knew I had started a journey. A journey I will never forget and that will change my life forever more.
The D day finally arrived; I was scared on that day. I was ready to call quits before the performance. But then, I gathered up courage and I went to the Humming Tree to meet Romal and see how it works.
I hadn’t practiced anything and I was wondering what I was going to do on stage. I badly wanted to sing a hit Malayalam song known as Appangal with Romal. Also, few friends of mine suggested that I should dance to Kajra Re from the Bollywood movie Bunty Aur Babli. I knew that song and all the dance steps.
Romal and I heard the instrumental of Appangal and he suggested that we sing in parts. Butterflies had turned into eagles in my stomach. I met Karuna and we went to the ladies loo together.
The moment I tied a skirt on my waist, I was feeling awkward. The blouse was tight in the beginning, but I could loosen it up with help from a friend’s grandmother. I started to fill the blouse with socks to fill my bosoms. The moment when Karuna drew kajal on my eyes, it welled up. She took out lipstick from her bag and applied it on my lips. I felt like a woman. A psychological woman!She dressed me up in my mother’s saree and put on the wig. Romal exclaimed, “OMG, you look like a beautiful woman.”
I took all my courage to step into the world as Mayamma with half inch heels. Here she is! Boys! Here she is!! Girls! Here is Maya. I walked to the floor where the stage was and I felt a strange breeze near my waist. I went and sat next to my friends who had come to see my debut. I was waiting to hear my name being called out.
The moment came, when I heard Romal announce my name on stage. He started to say a story about Mayamma, “On a pale moonlight, there was a coconut near the Kuttanad lake. One coconut fell into the lake and the lake fermented. Out of this lake, a beautiful lady walked out and that was Mayamma.”
I didn’t even know how to walk like a lady. But, one of my friends said, “Kick the saree and walk”. Taaa Dah!!! It worked. I didn’t trip or fall.
Appangal instrumental started and I felt like a different person altogether. Romal and I started to sing and that’s when I realized that I was on OFF key! I wanted to salvage that moment. I started to exaggerate as a woman. I strut, posed and turned around. I did a pose to show off my jasmine flowers. Romal exclaimed, “Look guys, look at those beautiful jasmine flowers.” Most importantly, I had fun. I thought I ran out of time. That’s when I asked one of the organizers, if I can buy more time.
Kajra re started to play and I felt I was Aishwarya Rai on stage. Well…Not exactly. I danced like a graceful maniac. People loved it. They finally got hold of the illusion. I felt happy and joyful.
But, darkness still lurked near the corner; there were gay men who are trans-phobic. They stood near the corner and made fun of me. I noticed it and it didn’t stop me from spreading my fabulous and rainbow glitter everywhere I went.
I went about and met my friends. I posed for pictures with people who loved me on stage.
This was the moment I was waiting for. I knew my life would be different from now on.
Finally, Mayamma had set fire on stage and to the world, she had finally arrived.
Alex Mathew is a 28 year old queer man. He works during the day as communications officer in an NGO known as Solidarity Foundation and performs as an Indian drag queen known as Mayamma/Maya the Drag Queen. He loves to sing and do funny dubsmash videos in his pastime.