This is a photo of two hijras (eunuchs) who appeared during a puja in our family recently.
I have travelled a long while since the time that I was in a cab in Bombay. At a traffic signal, a hijra leaned in through the window and much to my chagrin, grabbed my dark glasses and demanded money. When I gave her some, she pressed my head with her hands in blessing. I was a bit upset and angered.
Over the years, I have begun to sympathise with them. I am neither put off or frightened by them. Eunuchs typically land up in groups at weddings, housewarmings and such happy occasions and demand money. When people around me express their irritation, I ask them to think if any of them would employ a hijra. They beg because they have no choice – think of how tough it is for them to get out and face life every day, knowing they are alien.
Today as I watched ‘Guru’ a film about a hijra family by Laurie Colson & Axelle Le Dauphin, I felt that it could have only been made by eyes that could see the raw pain and yes, beauty in the life of the mocked and reviled hijras (eunuchs) in India.
The 1.15 hour documentary travels with Guru, a eunuch in Coimbatore and the 10 women under her care.
Within the closed doors of their home, life seems the same routine of any large Indian family. But out of this cocoon, they traverse a varied path.
From begging for alms to working as sex workers, they lead a hard life. There is a rare acceptability and honour in Lakshmi Amma, the hijras’ Guru’s achievement as a sought after cook at weddings and temple events.
The camera is unobtrusive and all pervasive, as it captures the dreams and the laughter, the yearning and the travails of this community.
Two things in particular struck me: the eunuchs call the castration they embrace ‘nirvanam’ (nirvana).
The second thing that forcibly struck me were the words of one of the eunuchs who says that she ‘longs to be free’ but that isn’t to be; eunuchs are taught from a young age to listen to their elders, to tread the safe path that the family has drawn and to always travel in a group. Substitute hijra with woman, and isn’t it the same that we were told and that we repeat?