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In Transit

Picture of two trains, one already present on the platform, and another approaching the platform. They are both green in colour with off-white stripes on them

I. Chhattisgarh

Siva was a little boy who used to study in the primary school of little village Mareya. He studied in either the 2nd or 3rd class, he couldn’t tell for sure because classes for both were clumped together. Neither could he tell his age, specially when most kids simply could not learn numbers beyond small counts like 3, 5 or 10. Siva also had a vague idea about the country ‘India’ even though he had classmates curiously named ‘America’and ‘Stalin’. Siva also wondered whether plants had life,or if it was true that dead snakes if put back into their  ‘bil’ (snake pit) would resurrect. In Siva’s language – a mix of Chhattisgarhi and Surgujai, the sun and the moon are just one thing called ‘jon’.

Siva’s comprehension of the world was similar to that of the small child Aakash, in whose Gondi language, ‘Mara’ was the word that describes everything, not just the sky, but all of existence. The cosmos.

Siva’s limited existence revolved around his house, fields, faraway mountains, school and the weekly haat (open-air market).

When there was a rumour of child kidnappers, kidney thieves in their area, someone had been killed. “How did they catch the kidney thief, Baba?” Siva asked, not knowing that someone had been lynched on mere suspicion. As if to cover up the collective guilt of a mob-murder that took place in broad daylight, the elder replied, “They had found a false wig, sari, blouse, women’s things in his bag, makeup ka saman, and a knife too”.

II. New Delhi.

Hearing the story someone said, “Could’ve been a hijra right?”

Someone else quickly interjected, “Or just an actor, may be?”

III. Udainagar, Madhya Pradesh

In a crowded bus through hilly districts, squeezed between tribal people and non-tribal Indian hindus was someone who wore a red sari and a bindi, a 5 o’clock shadow on cheeks and chin; with one hand that fairy sometimes caught a falling pallu, sometimes a slipping wig.

IV. Baroda, Gujarat

The midnight bus to Bombay stopped near the highway, and two passengers boarded the bus. One in a steel grey sari and the other in a yellow and white salwar suit. Inside the sleeper AC Volvo the conductor made the salwar suit person a request. The passenger in the sari wanted to take the lower berth, the salwar person gladly accepted and threw their rucksack on the upper berth. Only in the morning somebody knocked on the sliding door of the upper berth, the salwar person slid open the door, the sari person extended thanks, and added, “I haven’t recovered from the surgery yet.”

Then the sari person waved the salwar person goodbye.And before leaving, added full of regret, of the untimely death of her father, of an ailing mother, of changing cities for work, and then before the final goodbye the hijra asked the kothi, “What are people like us called in English?”

V. Bombay

A young boy was going to meet a lover. At 5 in the morning. In a local train from Bandra to VT. He stood near the door when in Dadar a beautiful person, wearing flowers in their hair and looking so fresh so early in the morning, asked the boy for some money. The young boy in morning delirium shook his head in the negative, “I have no money”. The one with flowers in hair warned the boy, “Don’t lie to me so early in the morning”. The boy handed over a five rupee coin sheepishly, the train slowed down at the next station and the one in the sari ran up to the counter to fetch herself the first cup of morning tea.

The short pieces compiled above, titled ‘In Transit’ are the writer’s creative expression to a set of questions that emerge from the political categories of  gender, body, sexuality, performance, intercourse and identity. Some of these questions are mentioned below.

‘Said’ performance is real performance[1]. But is gender a ‘said’ performance? Or is it ‘unsaid’?

Between the ‘performed’ and the ‘real’[2], is ‘gender’ gender when the performance becomes real? Or is ‘gender’ gender when the real becomes the performance?

I want the ‘said’ performance artists to answer me a question. “Do you feel like a ‘different’ person when you perform?”

“Or do you perform the more ‘real’, deeper you?

Between performance and personality[3], there are also the narrow margins of intimacy.

“Do you perform a breakdown?”

The next piece is a literary rendition (biographical) of the writer’s own experience of transitioning.

At first it felt like the blossoming of a flower.

I had never felt so sexy ever before. The mirror, it looked back at my eyes. Enclosed within kajal lines.

I felt shy.

I had never felt so shy ever before. So shy and so sexy. Together. It wrecked my life.

I had never known of performance ever before. I watched it on TV. A footage of the parliament. Where Smriti Irani mourned Rohith’s life. That moment it became clear to me, why so many actors shift from screen to real life. Perfect individuals, acting like an actor, or acting like a politician, sometimes, both at the same time.

I had never known of phobia ever before. I watched it unfold in front of my own evil eye. “What creature is this?” asked the gully cricket playing guys.

The fear I had always felt surround me in public places, confirmed itself.

I could have called it transformation instead of transitioning. But it became clear to me that transitioning does not necessarily imply a caterpillar-butterfly story but that it means a gradual acceptance of the self (and the self is ever-transitioning); of being comfortable in your own skin (even if it means shedding skin); of perfecting your act (even if it means learning a few new things).

To trans is to survive the catastrophe of gender.


[1]Like suspension of reality in theatre. If it is ‘said’ that it is a concentration camp, then the stage is seen as one.

[2]Old debate of gender that has defied biological determinism but still exists as a psychological category, open to interpretations.

[3]Gender and sexuality as a category is applicable to individuals, but in a lived experience, is a shared reality between individuals. It no more remains a private affair.

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