I must have been seven, when I heard the word 'hijra' for the first time. We were all playing hide and seek, when I saw a huge group of them walking towards our colony. I was the one left outside while my friends were in the hiding. I couldn't quite decide whether I should rush back home or stay there. They scared me for some reason, maybe it was their body language, or the dark make up or maybe or the way they looked so different from the rest of us. I rushed to look for my friends, found three of them hiding under the staircase. I told them about the sight I just witnessed.
"They are hijras", one of my friends said. "They have a partially male and partially female body structure’, told another. ‘You shouldn't ever annoy them, because if you anger them, they might curse you. And trust me; a hijra’s curse is fatal." It was from my friends that I got my first information on transsexual people. All I could figure out was that they were intimidating people from whom you should just avoid at all costs.
I grew up to come across transsexual people more often. I noticed that they visited happy homes, newly wedded couples or new parents. I understood that they haven’t got anything to do with scaring little kids. I understood that they were not even distantly related to witchcraft and wizardry. I understood that they were not evil. I understood that a huge portion of what people constantly kept telling me about them was false.
Years later, on just another busy Monday afternoon, I was stuck in the Delhi traffic jam. A ‘hijra’ knocked at my window. I took out a Rs 10 note that was clinging to my jeans pocket. I inadvertently smiled at her while giving the money, apologizing for not being able to give much. She looked dumbstruck by my smile. I couldn't clearly figure out the reason, but then I guessed that smiles were a rare thing for her. I could notice her face brighten up and she was certainly not faking it. She looked genuinely touched. She leaned forward, put her hand on my head and said a prayer. You know the thing they say about you getting to know right from the look in someone’s eye when they actually mean something they say, it is true. I could read the genuinity in her eyes. The traffic cleared a little, the car moved. The incident moved me. It set a thought process into action.
Was wondering why we couldn’t live together in harmony. Why a life this hard should be forced upon them! Why should our birth determine everything? Why! Meaningless, futile questions!
The ritual of going around asking for money, sometimes by going as far as threatening people with a fatal curse, probably sprung from the fact that this was all that they were left to do for a living. We were so busy hating them for being physically different from us that hatred is what we got back. It’s like settling scores, I presume.
Being friends with them and accepting the fact that they have as much right as anybody else to enjoy every joy of life-be it giving them place in educational institutions, public parks, private malls, restaurants and most importantly in our lives, might be a distant dream, which maybe my grandchild will be able to realize. Till then, we can just begin with a smile. Maybe, we won’t get one back in return. But, then…we might just do our bit. I don’t think it’s all that hard.