Confronting the stigma associated with transgenders
I have written four books and they were all about love and relationships. I realized, while writing these emotional books, that love extends beyond the relationship between a couple. Actually, we all have preconceived notions about romance. In novels, ‘romance’ is always depicted as the chemistry between a girl and a boy. But for me, romance is the enjoyment, the contentment, in any relationship. This could be between a couple, among friends, or anyone with whom you have a genuine relationship.
With my new book, An Unexpected Gift, I thought I would explore hidden human emotions and feelings that go beyond romance. I decided to write about the life of a transgender woman. What is your first reaction when you come across a eunuch or a transgender person (in the Indian context, there are derogatory names like ‘chakka’)?
Coated in rouge, kajal, powder and lipstick, they dress in colourful sarees and roam in busy marketplaces in groups, asking people for money. We have all encountered them while travelling in trains and buses. Sometimes, we’ve seen them dancing outside homes where a baby has just been born.
How many of us ask why these transgender persons do not have a regular job? Why is there such a stigma surrounding them.
Once, I was in a train, travelling to Hyderabad for a book event, and I met a transgender woman who was asking for money from passengers. ‘Why don’t you do some other job?’ I asked politely.
‘We are not that educated,’ she replied.
‘Still, you can work in someone’s home as domestic help, rather than asking for money in a train,’ I countered.
‘Will you give us a job in your house?’ she asked.
I was dumbstruck by her question. I never pick subjects for my books just for the sake of entertainment. I always look to convey some social message in my stories. This incident gave me the basic inkling of what I wanted to write about next. To understand their lives more, I interviewed at least forty transgender women in person. I went to their homes, and discussed in detail their sufferings and experiences.
I was surprised to find out how many transgender people hide their identity just to be able to live a dignified life. Transgender people are often the last to be hired and the first to be fired. An Unexpected Gift is the story of Sheetal, who struggles to get and retain a job. Whenever she shows her ID card—which states her identity as a transgender woman—she is sacked. She hides her identity just to find a job and a means for survival. She loves kids and finds work as a baby-sitter.
When her identity is revealed, she is asked to leave the job. Sheetal wins the support and help of Abhay, who stands by her side through thick and thin. Abhay helps Sheetal on the condition that she will never accept anything that would diminish her as a human being. Even though they face the society’s prejudice in their journey, they eventually win in their own way.
Sheetal always wanted to be a mother, but being a transgender woman, she is not allowed to adopt. Amidst this, how she goes on to become a mother is the crux of the book. My story is inspired by a real-life Sheetal (not her real name), whom I met in Pune. She is the one who still hides her identity to live among us. I totally respect her decision. I am sure her story will help others to fight for the rights of transgender people. Of course, there are people like Abhay and Subhajit, who stand with them and help them live their lives with respect and dignity.
An Unexpected Gift is the emotional story of a woman’s struggle to become a mother, with the message that being a mother is not associated with biology and gender. It’s about feelings.
But still, I ponder as to why we discriminate, both consciously and unconsciously. The journey of transgender people in a country like India is full of struggles. However, despite facing all these problems, they create their own way, and the law now helps them.
I hope my book helps change the mindset of people. Sometimes, I feel we are all social animals, perhaps more animal than social