The Little Known World of Transgenders
By Sandeep Sahu
Think of transgenders and the images that come flashing across the mind are those of garishly painted wannabe women landing up at your place for the customary bakhsis whenever there a birth in the family, seeking to fleece unsuspecting people in trains, bus stops and other public places with their nauseating antics or waiting, all decked up, on the road side late in the night to woo the prospective ‘customers’. The impressions of this columnist were not entirely different, used as he is to regularly watching a group of transgenders soliciting by the side of the road leading up to his home whenever he has returned home late in the night. For the first few days after they settled at the basti close to my place, they even waived at me urging me to stop. But once they realized they don’t stand a chance, they allowed me to drive past without any fuss. Every now and then, I would see cars, auto rickshaws or bikes parked in front of the place they stay or speeding off into the darkness with one of them in tow.
In another part of the city, I recently lost my way while returning from a reception late in the night and got down from the car to ask the paan vendor for direction. On my return to the car, I found a transgender seated in the front. She (or is it he?) first asked whether I would like to have some ‘fun’ and when I refused point blank, insisted on being paid Rs 15-20 (I wondered why). I had a real tough time getting her (let us stick to ‘her’ since every transgender would like to be seen as a woman) out of the car and managed to get rid of her without having to pay anything. The whole incident left a bitter taste in the mouth.
But I had quite a surprise in store for me when I went to meet Meghna Sahoo, the transgender who made history of sorts last Republic Day when she married Basudeb Nayak, a 32-year old previously married man and a father of a four-year old son, to do an interview for a story the day after this incident. Here was someone who did not fit the image of a transgender by any stretch of imagination. She was highly educated (with an MBA degree to boot), enviably articulate (including in English and Hindi) and remarkably candid about her trials and tribulations, her inner feelings and her love life. The hour or so that I spent with her and her husband turned every notion that I had about transgenders upside down.
There was no hint of rancour as Meghna talked about facing the rejection and humiliation for her womanly instincts
that is the fate of her ilk at every stage of her life. Unfortunately, rejection for her began at home when she started showing her feminine proclivities at a tender age, something that she hasn’t forgiven her parents for. Though she insisted on the consent of her parents after Basudeb proposed to her, she did not allow her father to do the ‘kanyadaan’, the one ritual that every Indian father considers his inalienable right, and got Barada Prasanna Satpathy, her mentor and Editor of ‘Bajrakila’, the newspaper that she works for, to do the honours instead. She talked – again without any bitterness – about how she lost her job as a marketing manager at Lal’s Lab, a leading pathological laboratory in the country, after she listened to her inner calling and started dressing up like a woman soon after undergoing a sex change operation. But rejection and dejection was not all she talked about during the long conversation. She also recounted the love and understanding that she received – primarily from her fellow transgenders, but also from others.
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Not surprisingly, Meghna’s affair with Basudeb, like many affairs of her generation, began on the social media – Facebook to be precise. “When he proposed marriage during a chat, I told him point blank that I was not one who would want to be a runaway bride. I told him; ‘If you want to marry, go talk to my parents and get their consent’. And he did. That’s what I liked about him. Though I have had several affairs with men, some of whom had also proposed to me, he was the first man who showed the courage to go the whole hog,” Meghna told this columnist as her husband listened on amused.
[An aside here. As we were chatting, a young man arrived in the room and wished Meghna on her marriage. In a moment of rare candour that left the young man red-faced, she introduced him, a mischievous glint unmistakable in her eyes, thus; “He is one of those who proposed to me, but ultimately ditched me.” The young man did not know where to hide!]
I asked Meghna whether she has any regrets about the fact that she can’t become a mother and her reply floored me. “Why should I? There are millions of women who can’t become a mother. I am luckier in that I have a son. I shall give him all the love he needs from a mother.” She was referring to the four-year old son Basudeb has from his first marriage who Basudeb says can’t do without her for a moment.
And what about Basudeb? What made a perfectly ‘straight’ man, who was once married to a ‘proper’ woman and had even fathered a child, propose to a transgender? His reply was equally stunning. “After separation with my first wife, several proposals came my way but I said ‘No’ to all of them because I was worried about my son’s upbringing. If I had married a woman, she would have given birth to her child and would have treated my son as her step-son.” This was truly remarkable. Most, if not all, men would refuse to marry a woman if they come to know that she cannot become a mother. But here was someone who married a transgender precisely because she can’t become a mother!
On my way back home after the interview, I kept wondering how little we know – or care to know – about the world of the transgender, how easily we put all transgenders into a pre-designed straightjacket and how little empathy we have for them.