A day with another kind of woman.
I boarded the Borivali slow at Andheri station, embarking on what was a seemingly mundane day. She boarded the train at Vile Parle and without the iconic clapping and hawking simply went around placing her hand over the head of every single passenger in that unusually empty ladies compartment - as if she was merely observing her daily duty of blessing strangers. She was the quietest and most unassuming ‘hijra’ I had ever come across.
When the train came to a halt at Santa Cruz I followed her, hypnotized, my eyes fixed on her. I made my way through an exodus of rushing women and walked up to her.
“My name is Suman, and yours?”
She looked at me with surprise and shook my hand hesitantly. Then she said “Sapna” as her unevenly painted red lips broke into a slight curve.
Teaching Sapna all about selfies
Carried away by an inexplicable impulse I asked her, “Have you had lunch?” She shook her head, “no”. I asked if she would have lunch with me. Still heavily confused from what was happening, she muttered an unsure “yes”. Dazed and confused, the two of us walked around looking for a place to sit. Finding nothing, I gave up and blurted out the words, “Do you want to come to my house and spend the day with me?”
She looked at me as if to confirm that I wasn’t mocking her and then said, “I guess there couldn’t be anything better”. In the auto I told her I have a cat at home and asked if she was scared of animals, to which she said laconically, “Not animals, only humans”.
Sapna and Yuki getting along
It isn’t like I wasn’t scared or skeptical briefly because I had essentially invited a complete stranger into my house. I trusted my gut and hoped for the best. As soon as we entered my house, Sapna seemed to look more relaxed. I went to the kitchen to serve lunch and peeked out, sneakily clutching onto the only knife in my house to confirm I hadn’t brought in a murderer, when I found her sitting patiently on the mattress and stroking my cat. I felt guilty. We sat down to eat. She ate less than one third of what I served her and explained that she wasn’t used to having lunch and that the only thing she really craves is tea.
Up until now we had barely spoken, however the silence between us was more comfortable than awkward. I figured she was an introvert and I didn’t want to invade her space. I made some tea and sat across from her and asked her where she was from.
Biryani for lunch!
Sapna came to Mumbai thirteen years ago at the impressionable age of sixteen. She eloped with a friend from her house in a small place called Mominpura in Aurangabad, to get away from her angry father. Duped by that very friend who left her with a group of eunuchs, she found herself trapped, alone and helpless in this strange city. At that time she was still Javed Sheikh.
Years later she found out that her friend sold her to the guru of the group for fifteen thousand rupees. She stuck around for 7 or 8 months looking for work. All she was offered was a place in that house. At that time the idea of slipping into a woman’s attire was so repulsive to her that she blatantly turned it down. She hung around for a little longer till she had enough money to go home. What she returned to was a father who had died of shock at his sons disappearance, and a mother and two sisters who were now dependent on her. Seeing her life in Mumbai as the only option to earn money, she returned to the city and the group as they were the only people she knew. In a state of absolute desolation and destitution she reached a compromise with the guru - “I will beg on the streets but I will not sleep with other men”. Of course the latter part of the deal was never kept. Sucked into a vortex of intoxication, crime and prostitution, the world of eunuchs and transgenders from the lower strata of the society, Sapna never managed to come out of it. She was drugged, beaten and forced into pornography and sex work. She had been sexually abused by several men when unconscious, and was held hostage in a small room for months till she accepted her fate, her only interaction with the outside world was a door that was opened to let in food and customers.
Of tea and conversations
She says her family still doesn’t know about this part of her life and has kept two pairs of trousers and shirts for when she visits them. Also for when she goes to the mosque to pray on Friday. She also works as a masseuse to make some extra money. I asked her how she broke out of that house and leave them behind (now that she lives on her own terms with a small group of eunuchs, cross dressers and transgenders in Malad). To this she said, “I didn’t leave them, they left me. I aged and that was it”.
Looking pretty after our make-up session
Hers isn’t a new story, but it was very different meeting a victim of stigma and exploitation in flesh and blood. I wanted to lighten up the mood because I felt guilty for making her revisit her past. I told her a little about myself and that I loved travelling. I showed her pictures of my family and friends. She looked at my dressing table with amazement because she had no idea that so much make up even existed. I broke into a laugh and asked if she would like me to use some on her. I did her make-up, we chatted some more and bonded over casual misandry.
From our conversation so far I figured she barely goes out and has no friends. I asked her if she would like to go to the beach near my house. We went to Rock Beach and sat there quietly for several minutes. I explained to her that I liked beaches because water calms me, and she told me she likes the sea because it represents life. She listened to my banter patiently as she stared out at the sea before us. Then she told me two things that will remain a bittersweet memory for the rest of my life.
She said that in thirteen years she had never spent time with another person without any motive or business, the way she was with me. She also told me that in thirteen years I was the first person who made her feel human, because I didn’t care that people on the streets and on the beach were staring at me for hanging out with her. In that moment I held her hand and we walked by the sea. By now it was already evening and she was getting late. I dropped her to the metro station.
Bonding by the sea
Of course there are people who are going to think I am crazy for doing this, but it doesn’t matter to me. Because that Saturday was the most special one in my life. What it did apart from giving me a new friend and a deep insight into the life and conditions of the transgender and eunuch community in India, was teach me what constitutes being a woman for some.
On the way to the station I asked her - what gender she thought she belonged to.
She replied immediately,“Woman”, and then shortly after added, “not so much for my attire but the exploitation I have faced at the hands of men”.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Suman Quazi
Photographs by Suman Quazi and Zico