Elphie is a brightly coloured elephant who is laughed at by regular grey ones. Elphie changes colour to grey in order to fit in, but later learns that one need not hide who one is.
The story of Elphie was told to children in Bengaluru by drag artistes on the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia recently. The children who listened to the story were from different backgrounds, many associated with non-governmental organisations who work with the underprivileged. They listened with rapt attention as drag artiste Maya, wearing a sari, and Lady Bai, in a dress and blonde hair, gave a simple but important lesson - one should not laugh at or bully those who are different.
"It started with the US and trickled down to our country. We need to have an open conversation. Even though Section 377 is knocked down, a lot of people ignore it. It needs to start from the grassroots, accepting people the way they are. Children don't have any clouded judgement and that is where we need to start the conversation, even if it is the simplest form of a story," the drag artiste who performs as Maya told NDTV.
Maya describes the story of Rainbow Elphie as a simple one without the complications of gender and sexuality. "I am so happy that we are telling people to stop bullying because it starts from school. You need to have an open conversation - the bully could be a victim too, in a way. We need to have a conversation to stop bullying in any way that's happening in any space," she said.
Lady Bai, the other storyteller, said she was "blown out of her mind" by the way the children reacted to the story. "They were like: We understand what you mean. We know equality. We know what bullying is, and we know how to stand up to bullies. It is relevant that kids learn it at this age."
Maya recalled holding another story-reading session at a school where a young boy was bullied because he came to dress-up hour in a sari. "The teachers at Poorna School took a pro-active step, saying that we need Maya to come here and teach children that there are people like me out there. After I performed, the questions ranged from, 'Are you a transgender' to 'What's that you are wearing on your head?', 'Why are you wearing this?' and 'Why can't you just be Alex (her actual name)?'. I said I am doing this because I want to entertain you further'," she said.
Lady Bai could feel the impact the story had on the young audience. "There was a difference," she said. "The first time we entered the room, they were like: 'Who are these people?', 'Why are they dressed like this?'. But now that they have seen us and kind of know what we are talking about, they know not to bully no matter how one is dressed, how one talks or how one walks. And I think that is a very good reaction! Especially when it comes to kids, it is amazing."
We spoke to the children who listened to the story to see what they had taken away from it.
"An elephant should be happy with what it has," said young Gaurav. "Do not discriminate. People, however they are, should just be happy. Don't bully or discriminate," said Yojit, one of them.
"Elephant should be that colour only," said Sonam simply.
Simran didn't have much to say, but when we peeped into her colouring book, she was colouring Elphie the elephant a nice, bright blue.
We asked Lady Bai if she felt encouraged to go with her blonde hair to talk to more children. "I am encouraged to go with my blonde hair anywhere I want now! Because I know there is a young generation out there ready to accept me with whatever kind of hair I have! And that they will be ready to go out with whatever hair they want too," she said.
The world has many colours and many different kinds of people in it, and that's a good thing. Children know what adults sometimes forget.