by Fiza Pathan
I come from a small village in Karnataka where I used to stay with my family which consisted of my father, mother, an unmarried uncle and two elder brothers. All of us children looked like our mother. We all had her dusky Dravidian complexion and we all had a birthmark on the waist just like our mother had. When I was born, there was a lot of festivities in the house. The house was decorated with banana leaves and white rangoli and my mother was the talk of the village for having given birth to a third son. I am told that my father donated sweetmeats to the poor that day and my elder brothers held a special cricket match with the village children on the occasion of my birth.
I was given the name Farishta which means ‘angel’ in Urdu. But, where I was concerned, I did not feel like an angel at all. From the day that I began to reason, I only knew one thing . . . that I was born a boy, but in reality I was a girl.
From the day I could walk I realised that there was something quite feminine about me. I liked growing my hair long and oiling it with almond oil. I spoke in a very demure voice and helped my mother to cook the food of the house and decorate the threshold of our house with rangolis. I even used to dance like a girl to all the Bollywood songs my eldest brother whose name was Keshav used to play on his radio. I loved wearing a dupatta over my head like a girl but my family was dead against me doing so, especially my father. He did not like me acting like a girl and always used to beat me whenever I used to be myself at home.
Once he caught me wearing my mother’s bright red lipstick and powder infront of the mirror. He immediately picked up an old broom which always stood in the corner of the house and started beating me. My mother tried to save me, but by then everyone in the house and the ever curious neighbourhood came to the realization that I was acting like a transsexual or Hijra.
My father was furious and my poor mother was helpless unable to bear the burden of having given birth to a eunuch. From then on, the village children started to make my life very uncomfortable. When I walked about the streets they used to pelt me with stones and mocked me saying that I walked like a girl. Going to school became tough for the students in my class used to call me ‘Hijra’ and kick me on my private part. It was only my unmarried uncle who used to take up for me.
“Let the child act as he likes. This must just be a phase, he will grow past it.”
However, I was not behaving like a boy from any angle and as the years went by, the tauntings of the villagers grew louder and stronger. I was 13 years old then and had grown my long jet black hair up to my waist. It was my pride and my only true possession and my mother lovingly combed it every evening after sunset, after she had finished the chores in the house. My mother did not care what I did, how I acted and what my gender was. For her . . . I was her child and that was all that was important to her.
When I was in the 7th standard, I read in the newspapers about the Hijra community of Mumbai. I should have been studying for my mathematics test but I was engrossed in the paper, reading about what the journalist had to say about the lives of the eunuchs in India. That was when I decided to leave home, travel all the way to Mumbai and live with the Hijra community. I did not pass my mathematics test that year nor did I pass any other test. My father was so angry that he did the most dreadful thing possible . . . he called in a quack from another village, a witch doctor, and that witch doctor made me stand naked infront of him while he chanted some mantras which I could not understand. The witch doctor then poured the blood of a pig over me and then started to whip me mercilessly . . . especially my penis. My unmarried uncle could not bear the beating any longer and so caught hold of me and locked me inside another room where the witch doctor would not get at me. It was that night with pig’s blood all over my body and only a loin cloth to cover my torso that I escaped the house through the window and made my way to Mumbai.
When I came to one of the Hijra communities in Mumbai, they welcomed me with open arms. I was put under the charge of a Guru whose name was Jyoti who had been living in the Hijra community for 19 years. She was the one who bathed me and put some balm on my wounds which were made by the witch doctor.
“From today onwards Farishta, you are my daughter and I your mother,” said Jyoti as she dried me up in her small shanty which was shared by three Hijras along with her.
My Guru was a wonderful Hijra. She insisted that I write a letter to my family to state that I was safe and was living amongst friends. I did as she instructed. Jyoti then started to initiate me to the life I was about to live. The Hijras or eunuchs in her community worked as beggars or as prostitutes to earn a living. I had no problem with that kind of living; I had read enough about it in the newspapers. However, I requested my guru Jyoti to only allow me to beg for a living first as I was not yet comfortable with having any close physical contact with any male. She listened to me and was glad that I sounded out my opinion. Jyoti gave me three sari sets and taught me the mannerisms of a Hijra. I owe all that I know about being a Hijra to her.
As an initiate, I spent my mornings and afternoons begging with other young Hijras while in the evenings I would return to my Guru’s house to prepare dinner and clean her spittle vessel which would always be full of paan. Jyoti was a strict guru . . . no one could mess with her, especially not the sex hungry men of Mumbai who flocked to our territory every time . . . everyday . . . anyday. I once saw her kicking out a drunken man from one of the Hijra brothels who had dared to slap one of the prostitute Hijras.
“Go slap your wife who can’t give you pleasure like we do you snake or I’ll chop you and the body part that you men are so obsessed about!”
I started to look upto my Guru as my best friend, yet, in the stillness of the twilight hour when with my other Hijra friends I would return home to my Guru’s shanty, I would recall the touch of a pair of soft slickly hands on my hair and my tears would well up in my eyes. Guru Jyoti knew I was missing my mother and asked me whether I wanted to visit her but I said ‘no’ . . . as I wanted to wait for my operation to take place before I came face to face with my family again.
The ‘operation’ is the most important part of a Hijra’s life. When the initiate is ready for the operation, she has to stand naked in a room with the idols of all the Hindu gods and goddesses surrounding her. In that room will also be the initiates Guru and members of other Hijra communities. The vital organ of strength that is the penis with its testicles is then cut off by the Guru with a knife. The blood then is allowed to flow out from the wound after which hot oil is poured on it to heal. Then a big celebration is held as the initiate is now a full and complete Hijra or eunuch. Some operations like these are also conducted in clinics underhandedly as it is illegal to do so . . . my operation was conducted in one such illegal clinic without anaesthesia. The pain was unbearable and I fainted many times but I was happy from within, for now I had become a true Hijra.
My operation was conducted when I was 15 years old and I started working at a brothel with many other eunuchs. During this time I wrote many letters to my family asking them to reply back, but they never did. I even wrote to them that I had become a eunuch and was earning my living as a prostitute. I was not ashamed about what I was doing. I was earning an honest man’s earnings like any other (pardon the pun on the gender) and after giving some share of my money to my Guru Jyoti, I would save the other half for my family.
One day when I was washing my hair early in the morning, a letter came for me . . . it was from my unmarried uncle. It read:
It has been a long while since I’ve seen you my boy. I hear that you are a woman now or a Hijra. I knew you were one from the very beginning but yet I loved you, for love knows no gender. I’ve received all the letters you have been sending us over the years. Your father has disowned you but your mother cries for you every night and sleeps with your letters under her pillow. I’m glad that you are happy where you are my boy and earning your own living too. Do you still grow your hair long; your mother loved your hair and to tell you the truth, so did I . . . you looked like a fairy queen with your long raven black hair. Both your elder brothers are working in the fields with your father and your eldest brother Keshav has been married to a beautiful girl called Mirnalini. I’ve been ill of late and I therefore want to see you before my eyes close on this world forever. Will you grant your dear uncle a visit please?
As soon as I read the news I ran into the shanty and begged my Guru to allow me to travel back to my home town for a few days.
“Very funny Farishta . . . ha-ha-ha,” laughed my Guru Jyoti, “Once we become Hijras my dear, no family will even want to see our backside. We are the curses of the almighty God who rules over all relationships with a firm diving hand . . . MALE and FEMALE.”
I respectfully listened to her but when she looked into my kohl coloured eyes, she knew that I wanted to go home at any cost. So a train ticket was bought for me and I landed my village late in the night somewhat around 2 am.
I tapped upon the door and a young girl opened it whom I did not recognise. It later dawned on me that this girl must be Mirnalini, my sister-in-law. When she asked me who I was, I simply stated that I was a friend of the family. She saw a parcel of gifts in my hand, a few sweetmeats and incense sticks for the puja room. She guided me into the hall and went onto waking up the whole household. While I stood there in my makeup and sari I felt somewhat like a fool; fancy acting like a stranger in your own house. My father was the first one to come to the hall to see me. Lucky for him or lucky for me, he did not recognise me at all and baffled went towards my brothers to call them out. When they came out from the hidden chambers, they too did not recognise me. I placed the parcel of gifts that I had brought into Mirnalini’s hands and asked for my mother and uncle.
Mother came out of the kitchen where she used to sleep and looked on at me with no words to say. But father kept on pestering me.
“Who are you woman and what are you doing in a stranger’s house at the dead of night?”
My unmarried uncle then came out of his room. On seeing him, I shyly looked into his eyes . . . he knew who I was . . . and he was excited.
“Oh thank you Lord Shiva for hearing my prayers.”
“What prayers?” chided my father stern as always.
“Indeed who is she?” said Keshav my brother, “Madam don’t you think you are in the wrong house?”
I giggled and went towards my aged mother. Her eyes shone but her body was emaciated from worry. I lowered my sari ghagra and presented to her my waist upon which she saw with her own two eyes, the family birthmark.
I left immediately that night after praying in the puja room and after taking the blessings of my unmarried uncle. To avoid embarrassing my father any further, I kept away from him and only hugged my mother before I disappeared into the darkness of the night.
Copyright © 2014 by Fiza Pathan
Image: commons.wikimedia.org (for representative purpose only)