Posted by Srividya Ram
Actions become involuntary when you do it so many times – our body operates just with our subconscious brain control – like driving a car.
For me, raising the car windows when the car stops in the cross road signals, is almost an involuntary action. Reason: – to avoid the group of transgender who are seeking alms. While I am not against giving some small amounts to the beggars on the road, I had valid reasons to avoid these transgender (atleast, I thought so!)
I pass through this cross road signal on my way to work, every day. Having the luxury of a chauffeur driven car, I normally start on my work the moment I get into the car. Laptop is on, connected to the network through the broadband (thanks to Reliance Netconnect) and I start clearing my mails and plan the day at work. It was one of those days where I was very intently composing a response to a critical email, unaware of the car stopping in the signal.
Suddenly a transgender puts her hand through the window and places it on my head (blessings is what I gather later!). I was so startled with this suddenness, I almost dropped my laptop. While the person is waiting for me to give some money and here I was so startled, that I froze. After a minute, I took a 2 rupee coin and gave it – but then, it was so vehemently refused and all I could make out with my knowledge of local language is that I am being miserly and bad. Seeing that I am lost and confused – with a considerate tone, the transgender says that minimum is ten rupees. I still continue to be in my dazed state and pick a ten rupee note, so that I can get off from this situation. Once the money is paid (it is actually 2+10), the person is off to the next car. I felt that I was being extorted – though it was 12 rupees, the way it was requested (!) for and the suddenness of someone extending their hand into the car with such ease, made me cringe. It registered in my mind as an unpleasant experience and next day onwards, I am so conscious that I open my laptop only after this signal and keep the windows up.
It is more than six months since I had been into this routine of being ‘careful’ in the signal. I keep seeing them every day; they cajole/bully the vehicle drivers/passengers, confirming the fact that there are others also in the general public who are uncomfortable with this. While there are beggars galore in the streets, these transgender are bit different – they are so well decked up (nice clothes, makeup and flowers!) and they demand the money (not beg!).
To be precise, I almost have forgotten about their existence during my growing up years, though when I was a kid – back in my hometown – we had a specific festival celebrated in the village temple which attracts all the transgender to our small sleepy village(it is actually the developing Annamalai University campus in mid 70s). It is the local temple festival (Pasupadeshwarar temple) during summer vacation every year – the transgender come there for two days from all over the state – they spend two days in and around the temple – I remember it is called ‘ARAVAN’ festival.
I vaguely remember the story goes like this (as told by locals) – In Mahabharata (one of the great Indian EPIC), Arjuna’s (one of the pandava princes) demon son – Aravan is to be sacrificed to Goddess Kali. This is done to please Goddess Kali so that the Pandavas can win the battle of Gurusekhthra against their cousins Kowravas (100 princes who were brothers). The precondition is that Aravaan wanted to be married before he was offered to Kali.
As no women wanted to marry a person who is to be sacrificed to God the very next day of their marriage, Lord Krishna took the form of a lady (so, this should be the transgender connection) and married Aravan.
The festival captures this spirit – it is a ten day festival and on the last two days the transgender folks from the nearby towns throng into the temple – day 1: they all are beautifully dressed as the bride to Aravan Day 2: their husband is sacrificed to God and they are turned to the hindu widow attire.
With summer holidays underway and the campus so sleepy, this festival was a major timepass – almost all the kids were in and around the temple those ten days – watching every small happenings.
I was no exception – used to be always out with my friends………..and that is the time I have observed these transgenders when I was a kid – parents were obviously skeptical that we kids spend so much time watching them and coming up with curious questions on whether they are girls or boys?
Many parents have put in the fear with their children that these transgenders may kidnap them – but then, I was undeterred – I always sneaked out to watch them, wondering about their way of life! I got an image that they are nomadic – enjoying their life! When they arrive at the temple during this festival, they are so well dressed up, laughing all the time, handling the teasing of local thugs, dancing and singing………even for a kid of my age at that time, I could clearly remember that I felt that they were enjoying their life
Over few years when I grew up, I slowly started realizing the challenges the transgenders face – how lowly they are treated by society at large – I also started focusing more on my other interests and my festival visits to temple were very limited – with family for an hour or two on the festival day.
I almost forgot about the existence of transgender in the years between, till I came across a senior in my classical dance training classes. It happened that the famous guru thanjavur kittappa pillai was our neighbor and there were no excuses resuming my classical dance training with him – While the Guru was a very soft and nice person, he was very strict when it came to the discipline and practice sessions – he never let one wrong step pass through. During those strenuous training was when I started noticing the senior in the dance class – very keen on the classes and was so focused – I figured out it was Nataraj ( I have to mention that I am so happy to see the progress Narthaki Natarj had made in these years – I just googled his name and was amazed to read about the acheivements! narthaki natarajl) – a transgender and a dedicated disciple to the Guru. I was again inquisitive and use to observe if there is anything I need to notice – apparently, all I saw was complete dedication to the art.
That is when it struck me that the transgender are individuals like me, but they have an enormous challenge of establishing themselves as normal human beings – and it kind of settled on me that if not helpful, we got to be empathetic towards them!
All my noble thoughts on being empathetic towards trangender were never once tried and tested in the years in-between till the recent episode – and I did not even remember about my past noble thoughts, but ended up being averse to the poor ‘alm seeking’ transgender in the cross road signal!
Recently, on one of those busy mornings, I am at the cross roads (Default the car windows are up) and was looking out. There was a guy sitting in a motor bike just next to the car – I could not see his faceas he wore a helmet – but could make out that he should be a guy in his late twenties and probably working for a IT company (he had the Targus Dell laptop backpack).
As the routine goes, the transgender were all around asking for alms – one of them came to this guy and asked money – this guy took a ten rupee note (so, he knows the minimum amount!!) and started talking – as his demure was too cool and the transgender was smiling and responding, I became curious on what they can be conversing. I slightly lowered the window to overhear the conversation – the conversation went this way – this guy enquired about how they are making a livelihood – I can hear the transgender sharing that it is a tough life as they are not accepted for regular jobs and their families do not accept them – the guy listened, but still closed the conversation suggesting that they should reach out to NGOs and find a decent livelihood and not beg on the streets – he still gave the 10 rupees and said he will not give any more in the coming days – the transgender again thanked and went away – this guy picked up his mobile and started coversing……
It just hit me – how natural this guy is – probably he is 10-15 years younger to me – probably he never had any so-called ‘noble’ thoughts of being empathetic towards the transgender, but then – he treated them as his equal – as part of the society – neither was he angry nor was he looking down (sympathetic) with them – but I felt he was empathetic!!
He was treating them ‘matter-of-fact’ with such a maturity of the mind. I felt at that time that there are people who are human and it comes so natural to them to be a human – they do not have to have noble thoughts and then translate them into action – they just act!!
I wished in that beautiful morning that this guy should protect his humanness in the years to come – he should have a good life and I felt that somewhere in between the growing years, I have more and more noble thoughts, but not real opportunities to test whether they are implementable!
It is the feeling of being blessed to witness something so natural – showing me that being noble does not just end in thoughts, but live in these simple actions!
I learnt something new again that day!