Another day begins in Mumbai. I have much too much going on. In my life, in my heart, in my head, with work etc. We all do I guess. As Sapna, Harrish and I make our way to a place I’ve never even heard of in my city, our rickshaw explodes with political talk, India, the possibility vs the reality of change and solutions. All that chattering comes to a halt as we reach our destination and find a smiling Dipesh awaiting us.
The four of us started walking through the chawl. This place has Muslims and Hindus living together in peace side by side. I started looking around and it took me back to a different life, in a different era. Kids playing together outside, every huts doors wide open, roosters running around, everyone keeping the area clean and plain happy faces all around. I dressed very simply as I did not want to stand out or seem different, but I guess all of us just didn’t look like we were from there, so the novelty factor got everyones attention as we passed them by. Smiling eyes peeked from windows, happy shop keepers waved and excited children led us to the exact place we had to go to. Just then I saw a coal iron – it was so beautiful. I asked if I could take a picture, the lady who was ironing was more than happy to let me and posed even with a big smile. The other girls around her chuckled and hid behind the curtain. Once I finished clicking, they were all more than eager to speak to me and tell me how this is the best iron for clothes.
We then proceeded to ‘The HIJRA Community Centre’ at Char Chowghi. We were welcomed by Gauri Sawant, a woman who is witty, charming, hilarious, motivated, inspiring, strong and she shed so much light upon us. Appropriate considering it’s Diwali! We greeted the Guru Ma, sat on the floor with a few more women and the talks started. We were offered so much to eat and drink, it was heart warming. Initially we politely declined. We were asked to answer with a simple yes or no. Gauri asked ‘If I came to your house would you accept me not even having a glass of water or tea? Would you let me leave just like that?’ Our ‘buts’ started and she thundered ‘just answer with a yes or a no – it’s that simple’. We smiled and indulged in their hospitality. Growing up in India, having a ‘proper’ education, it’s amazing how we are still so unaware of our own people and their ways of life.
There is a difference between a transgender and a Hijra. A Hijra is a part of a community – like a sufi Community or Parsi community. No one just becomes a Hijra just like that. They have Guru Ma’s, they are each others solace, friends and family. If you see one in a sari or dressed as a woman, refer to her as she – not he, not it. Did you know they have to go through 3 years of psychological consultation and evaluation to be able to get permission to have the operation? Do you know they save a lot of their own hard earned money just to be able to have that operation? I’m sure you cannot imagine the pain of being trapped somewhere (in their case in a mans’ body) when all you want to do is get out. I can fully understand them, I’ve been through that and it’s not a fun feeling – you feel as if you’re trapped in the tiniest jail cell, its walls are constantly drawing closer to you, you cannot breathe, you’re choking, suffocating, screaming and yet all people around you do is laugh, instead of lending you a hand.
They are often abandoned by their families, shunned and mocked by society, raped, disrespected and considered unworthy of love. They are ridiculed for being true to themselves – here’s my question, how many of us actually have the guts to see who we truly are, be who we want to be and not care about how difficult life will be and how much pain it will cause one mentally, emotionally and physically? We are conditioned by society and so if something or someone is different to societys’ warped concept of normal, they are termed weird, crazy, mentally ill, f*cked up etc. Why do we fear individuality? Why do we fear things and people that are different? A lot of this can also be linked to procreation and Lord Brahma. I won’t delve deeper into this, but reading and understanding Hindu Mythology and Indian history during the Mughal Empire will explain a lot and prove that all of this is and has been a part of our ‘culture’.
These ladies were so polite, respectful, fluent in English, well educated and knowledgable about current affairs and laws. Despite everything they have gone through and still go through, they stood tall, smiled constantly and cracked us up as they spoke. They want to be accepted but aren’t because of irrational fears, preconceived notions that are all man made. Sure, there are a few rotten apples, but don’t we all have them in every community, in every family? That doesn’t mean we judge them for it. And who the hell are we to judge anyway? What gives us the right? Our own self-made, self-superiority complexes?? I’ll be honest, I don’t like it when they touch me and threaten to curse me if I don’t give them money, but then again how are they supposed to feed themselves, get medication etc? Who looks after them except their community? We give beggars, old and handicapped people money, but nothing to them because they are a nuisance. Why this discrimination? How often have you said/heard ‘Oh shit, quickly roll up the windows, the Hijras are coming. We’ll be safe behind the glass and if we turn up the music we won’t hear their curses..’ I’d just like to say, I’ve also met many Hijras that I’ve not paid, only spoken to nicely or smiled at and they’ve left me with a blessing. One of them even paid for my friends rickshaw fare when she fell short of cash.
It takes guts to commit to being a member of the Hijra family. Don’t just think of the physical part. That’s being narrow minded. Look at the commitment to a lifetime filled with hardship, discrimination, hate and injustice and still rising above it all, standing tall with a big heart and open smile. They have seen more life than most of us. They are souls of awareness. They have nothing more to lose and in that, they have their freedom and happiness. Something all of us crave, hardly any will achieve.
It was time to leave; we clicked pictures, got blessed by the Guru Ma and as they walked us out till the rickshaws, all I felt was an overwhelming sense of inspiration and strength. We were meant to make theirs a Happy Diwali, instead they showered us with immense love and happiness, leaving us with good, positive and motivating energy.
We headed towards an 85 year old ladys’ home next. Dipesh met her at his doctor. He’s been helping her out whenever possible, bringing her clean sheets, sorting out her meals, her walking stick, cable connection etc. She’s lonely, has no one to talk to, no family or friends left, her daughters have abandoned her and therefore is left with hurt, anger and her memories of a painful past. We picked up some juice, chocolate and oats for her.
Vatsala spoke in Marathi. Each time she spoke of her past we changed the topic, made up stories, each of us told her what we do for a living. She told Sapna to cut her hair the next time and made me sing for her. I knew just one Marathi song… just 2 lines of it. Everyone encouraged me to go for it regardless. Her face lit up and she sang with me. And then we sang it again, this time everyone joined in. She ate chocolate, drank juice which she refused to do before. She told us it felt nice to have us here, that when she’s alone she only has memories, having Krishna (the only God she has ever believed in and calls Dipesh that) and his friends around keeps her mind occupied. When we walked in, she spoke of how much she wanted to die. As we left, she asked when we were coming back and where we could go to the next time, so she has a change of scene.
I couldn’t get myself to write about this yesterday because it was so heavy, there was so much to just take in and absorb… I’m still reeling. Moments like these, days like these put life and my ‘issues’ into perspective. I have so much to be grateful for, how can I have the audacity to be sad, upset, crib and whine about my life?
We are all human beings at the end of the day. Not Hindu, Not Muslim, Not Jew, Not Christian, Not Hijra, Not Gay, Not Lesbian, Not Indian, Not Pakistani, Not Rich, Not Poor. None of these stupid religious and political divisions!!!! We are all one. We are all love. We are all from the same Source! We will all be reduced to ash and bones.
I leave you with something Gauri said that just hit me, touched me and will forever stay in my heart. She said it in Hindi, but I’ll translate it into English. ‘No matter how high up and successfully the kite may be flying in the air, fact is the thread and it’s reel are always on the ground, right? And that’s where it should stay, for we all know what happens to the kite once that thread gets cut. And that is life… you never know when the thread may get cut.’
Happy Diwali everyone… Stay enlightened and spread the light.
The lady with the coal iron.
The signboard above, where the Guru Ma (in picture) lives.