Sanjana first became aware that something was wrong by the whispers of the women huddled in the corner. Still groggy from the effects of anaesthesia given during the cesarian operation, she could faintly hear the words bechari and what to do now. She looked around. The cradle next to her bed was empty.
“Amma”, she croaked, her mouth dry, ”Where is my baby?”
Her mother-in-law, Meena, detached herself from the group. With a look of distaste, she came closer to Sanjana’s bed and said, “Your baby? I wish you had had a stillbirth rather than bring such a shame on the family!”
Sanjana recoiled hearing the venom in the old woman’s voice. “ Amma, what happened, why are you so angry?” she pleaded. But Meena walked out of the room without a word. Sanjana turned her pleading eyes to the women in the corner, “please”, she whispered.
One woman stepped forward. It was Devika Chachi, one of the biggest gossips in Meena’s mandali. Full of false sympathy, Devika said, “Dear you birthed a healthy baby, but even though the doctor says it is a boy, the reproductive organs are not formed properly. Your child, unfortunately, is a hijra. The doctors have taken the baby to nursery as your amma didn’t want to look at the baby.”
Sanjana stared at Devika, her mind and body hurting. She was quiet for a moment before repeating, “I want to see my baby!”
“Why? Meena has already sent word to the Kinnar toli. They will soon come to take away the baby”, Devika replied. Sanjana couldn’t believe her ears. Take away her baby?
“It is my baby! Get my baby now!” Sanjana screamed.
Devika tried to pacify an agitated Sanjana. “Dear, why see something that is going to be given away?” But Sanjana refused to back down, growing more hysterical by the minute until Devika gave in. As soon as the nurse kept the baby in Sanjana’s arm, she felt her heart beating faster. Looking at the tiny baby sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the storm brewing, Sanjana felt love for the child whom she had carried in her womb for nine months overwhelm her.
I will not give my baby up! she vowed to herself.
Just then, Meena walked into the room. Looking at the baby in Sanjana’s arm, her face turned red with anger. “Devika! What is that child doing here? Take it away, the toli must be coming soon,” she demanded. Devika reached over to take the baby from Sanjana’s arms, but Sanjana refused to relinquish her child.
“Amma”, she said her voice like soft steel. “You control the house, your husband, my husband and even me. But you will not control my child’s destiny. My baby is a piece of me, and I refused to part with it!”
“So you will bring shame to the family?” Amma thundered.
“What shame in loving your child?” Sanjana retorted.
Amma threatened Sanjana with dire consequences, but Sanjana refused to bend. Finally, Sanjana used her trump card. Her father was the one who paid for the household expenses. She threatened to have them cut off. She told Meena that if she refused to let the child come home, then Sanjana would make sure that Meena’s precious vansh perished with her husband. Hearing Sanjana’s words, Meena paused in the diatribe she was about to launch.
Thus, Sanjana was allowed the small triumph of taking her child home.
But their lives were made miserable by Meena and the rest of the family. Sanjana, however, was not cowed down. She named the baby Srikanth, lavishing her love and affection, protecting him from the world’s unkindness. Three years later, Sanjana gave birth to a baby girl. Meena was still upset by the non-arrival of a boy child. But at least it was a proper girl, she said sarcastically.
The moment Srikanth saw Shruti, for that is what Sanjana had named her daughter, Shrikanth fell in love, never letting Shruti out of sight. Meena used to mutter about dark shadows falling over Shruti, but Sanjana and Shrikanth ignored her mutterings.
Shrikanth got up earlier than usual that day. Sanjana had promised something special and Shrikanth was eager to know more. The whole morning Shrikanth pestered Sanjana to tell the secret, but Sajana only smiled, saying, “Good things come to those who are patient.” Finally, after finishing all the household chores, she held out a new pair of shorts and a t-shirt. “Go and change quickly,” she said. Shrikanth gave a grin and scampered away to the bathroom.
Meena never let Shrikanth go out of the house, but today, it seemed Sanjana was going to take them out. When Shrikanth came back, Sanjana had also changed into a crisp cotton saree and two-year-old Shruti babbled on her hip. “Ready?” Sanjana asked. Shrikanth nodded happily. They were just about to step out of the house when an imperious voice spoke, “Where do you think you all are going?”
Their hearts sinking, they turned to see Meena. Sanjana stepped forward and said, “I am taking Shrikanth to school for admission. It is time for him to start.”
“You will do no such thing. This person will not step out and bring shame to the family!” replied Meena.
“But amma, if Shrikanth is educated, then he can become independent. I want to make Shrikanth a lawyer”, Sanjana pleaded with Meena.
Sanjana begged and pleaded, but Meena was implacable. She refused to give permission for Shrikanth to go out of the house. When Meena threatened Sanjana that she would have Shrikanth taken away, Sanjana immediately backed down. She knew Meena could call the kinnars at a moment’s notice. Dejected, the three went back to Sanjana’s room. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Sanjana hugged Shrikanth tight, apologising over and over again for not having the courage to fight for Shrikanth’s education.
The years passed, Shruti and Shrikanth became inseparable. Sanjana used to look at her children, and give gratitude to God for the love that they shared, still not tainted by the bitterness of Meena. But by now, things were very hard for the three of them. Despite multiple pregnancies, Sanjana had failed to carry them to term. Meena’s hatred seemed to increase every day and was usually targeted toward Shrikanth. Meena thought it was because of Shrikanth that she was not being blessed with a grandson. Sanjana became too weak to fight back.
Sanjana’s husband seemed oblivious to the suffering of his wife and children, content to follow the orders given by his mother.
And then Sanjana became pregnant again. But this time, both she and the baby succumbed to God’s will. Shruti and Shrikanth were devastated. They held on to each other, trying to overcome their sorrow at the loss of the only parent who had mattered. Both, however, were unaware of another blow that awaited them.
A month after Sanjana’s death, the Kinnar toli was called by Meena to take away Shrikanth. Shruti and Shrikanth clung to each other, but Shrikanth was dragged away forcibly. Restrained in Meena’s arms, Shruti screamed for Shrikanth until her voice gave out, but it was futile. In a few minutes, Shrikanth too had disappeared from her life.
Shruti was six, and Shrikanth was nine.
Shrikanth was scared. The Kinnars after taking Shrikanth from the house took him to their basti. It was a higgledy-piggledy mess of the huts, full of overflowing drains and teeming mosquitoes. Though most of the Kinnars looked like men, most wore the clothes of women. Shrikanth had never seen anything like that before. The only time Shrikant had worn Shruti’s skirt because it was spangly, he had been thrashed by Meena. To see men openly wearing women’s clothing was bewildering for Shrikanth. Moreover, they were loud, rowdy and boisterous. A far cry from the gentleness of Sanjana. Even though Meena and the family had treated Shrikant like a pariah, they were still familiar. And that familiarity had been comforting. The environment around kinnars was too confusing. There was a constant ache in Shrikanth’s heart where Shruti and Sanjana’s absence pricked constantly.
Shrikanth withdrew into a shell, refusing to eat or drink. Worried, the kinnars took Shrikanth to Aman, who ran an NGO for the betterment of transgender people.
Shrikanth sat in the rickety office chair, looking lost and forlorn. Aman felt his heart go out to the motherless, abandoned child who refused to meet his eyes. Aman knew he needed to make Shrikanth understand the truth without scaring the child. Impulsively, Aman asked, “Do you want to fly kites?” Shrikanth looked at Aman with eyes that had questions and sadness. Shrikanth shrugged his shoulders. Taking it as a yes, Aman took Shrikanth’s hand and went to the roof of the NGO’s office that overlooked the basti. As Aman flew a red kite, he saw, Shrikanth relaxing a little, looking at the colourful kites warring in the skies.
“Have you flown a kite before?” he asked Srikanth casually.
Shrikanth shook his head, “No amma, never let me”.
“Why didn’t amma let you?” Aman asked.
“She never let me come out in the open, she was scared other people would laugh at me”, Shrikanth replied, attention still on the kites.
“So you stayed inside all the time? You had no one to play with?” Aman asked, his heart breaking at Shrikanth’s replies.
“I had Shruti and ma!” Shrikanth replied, his voice full of pain and longing.
With a sigh, Shrikanth went and sat on the low parapet as tears fell uncontrolled. Shrikanth wished Sanjana was still alive, still with him.
Aman went and sat close to Shrikanth. In a low voice, he asked, “Do you know why you are here?” Shrikanth again shook his head.
“I just know something is wrong with me. I am not like my other boy cousins. Amma always used to tell me to hide when others used to come. Or else she would keep scolding me. Only ma and Shruti used to love me. And now ma is no more and amma has sent me to this place that scares me. I don’t know what am I supposed to do now”.
Aman bit back a curse. If amma had been in front of him, he would have strangled her, he thought savagely, for treating the child so unjustly. Getting his emotions in control, he started speaking again. “There is nothing wrong with you Shrikanth. The doctors assigned the sex of a male when you were born, but then your male reproductive organs are incomplete. The rest of the Kinnars are also like that. Rather than male or female, they are known as the third gender. Kinnar or Hijra is the name given to them by society. Once you attain maturity, you can decide for yourself whether you identify as a male or a female. You can even get gender correction surgery if you want.”
With his kind and patient words, Aman made Shrikanth realise that though Shrikanth’s family might have cast Shrikanth out, the kinnars would count Shrikanth as one of their own. They would be Shrikanth’s new family. Shrikanth let the words from the man with kind eyes percolate into his heart. Aman’s words made Shrikanth feel lighter. Shrikanth realized that more than hate, amma feared Shrikanth as she didn’t understand.
“Do you want me to ask any questions, Shrikanth?” Aman asked.
Shrikanth looked at the man with the kindest eyes he had seen and said, “Can I go to school?”
Aman grinned. Ruffling Shrikanth’s hair he said, “Of course, you can!”
Slowly Shrikanth was assimilated into the kinnar toli, learning customs and rituals. Aman became his confidante and father figure. Guided and helped by Aman, Shrikanth first went to school and then college, finally graduating as a lawyer fulfilling Sanjana’s dream. Shrikanth joined the same NGO where Aman had worked. Shrikanth’s pet passion became for the kinnars to get an education but knew it was an uphill task. The deep-rooted fear and dislike of society for the third gender made it difficult for them to join the mainstream. Srikanth had faced enough bullying and ostracizing in school and college to attest to that fact. But Shrikanth refused to give up, working tirelessly for the people who had become pseudo-family.
Twenty years passed, and Shrikanth was content, if not actively happy. He avoided being alone. Because when Shrikanth was alone, dreams would come to torture. Dreams about happy times with Sanjana and Shruti. The two people who had loved Shrikanth without any strings or expectations. Shrikanth used to wonder how Shruti was. Whether she still remembered Shrikanth. When the thoughts became too dark, Shrikanth would bang the door shut on the memories, immersing himself in work.
That day Shrikanth was busy in the NGO office, trying to convince a few transgender elders to take adult literacy classes when there was a commotion on the street. Puzzled, Shrikanth and the other members walked out to see people cheering and clapping. Shrikanth saw Vishnu, a friend and occasional bed-partner in the group. Shrikanth walked to Vishnu and asked, “What is the occasion? Why are you all not at work?”
Vishnu hugged Shrikanth tight and said, “Haven’t you heard? The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill has been passed. We can now put “transgender” in the forms for sex instead of male or female!”
Shrikanth stared at Vishnu, not believing his ears. To put their identity as transgender was a big step for them. Shrikanth chuckled, wondering if amma was still alive, and knew now she needed to call Shrikanth transgender and not box Shrikanth up as a male. Shrikanth’s attention was diverted when Vishnu asked if Shrikanth would come with them to the march that they were planning in the evening to the town hall to celebrate the verdict.
“I have a lot of work to catch up on”, Shrikanth started saying, but Vishnu interrupted by saying, “Aman sir would have been so happy today. He fought all his life for us.”
Vishnu’s words made Shrikanth pause. Shrikanth remembered the gentle soul who had become Shrikanth’s lifeline. Shrikanth had felt adrift and alone after Aman had passed away a couple of years ago. Shrikanth had felt as if he had again lost his family.
That evening, Shrikanth walked hand in hand with Vishnu down the tree-lined avenue under the rainbow flag. Though Shrikanth had read the law and had misgivings about it, at least the country was taking notice and not trying to act as if the third gender was invisible. The energy all around was infectious, and soon Shrikanth was also lost in chanting, dancing and merry-making. Suddenly, there was a tap on Shrikanth’s shoulder. Shrikanth turned around to see a young woman with deep brown eyes staring at him.
“I am sorry, but is your name Shrikant?” she asked.
Shrikanth nodded, bemused. The young woman looked familiar though Shrikanth couldn’t place a finger where they had met before. Opening her handbag, the woman took a photo and held it out. It was a black and white photo of a young woman in a saree, a baby in her lap. Shrikanth took the picture from the woman’s hand and immediately, the memories came flooding back. Of warm hugs and sweet lullabies. Of the feeling of being safe. Of being loved unconditionally.
“Ma!!”Shrikanth whispered, raising confused eyes to the woman who was now openly weeping.
“Bhaiya, it is me Shruti!” She said, her voice choked with emotion.
Stunned, Shrikanth sat down on the road, unable to believe what was happening. Is the girl really Shruti, Shrikanth wondered. Shruti also sat down, saying, “For the past one year, ever since amma died, I have been attending every pride parade, asking every kinnar I met about you. Today when I saw you dancing in a saree, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You looked exactly like ma. I had finally found you!”
Unable to resist any longer, Shruti reached forward and hugged Shrikanth tight. For a few minutes, Shrikanth sat immobile, but soon the warmth and love of Shruti’s hug penetrated deep in Shrikanth’s heart.
Hugging her back, Shrikanth let the tears flow freely, washing away years of pain and loneliness.
I am a cis-gender female who has tried to write from a third-gender’s POV. Shrikanth, in my story, is a third-gender born with inter-sex organs. Despite all my efforts, I know, that I might make mistakes in pronouns. It is not my intention to hurt anyone’s sentiments. If you come across any mistakes, please reach out to me and educate me so that I do not make the same mistake again.
I have tried to be honest in my research and approach. I am adding the websites that I have taken help from. Again, if any mistakes, the blame is on me.
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