Mili was jolted out of her reverie by the rap – tap on the window glass of the car. She looked sideways sheepishly at ‘Sundari’. It was the regular signal stop a few miles near Mili’s house. She worked as a technical trainer and drove to work every day, somehow her thirty eight years of life in the hub – hub of the cosmopolitan was faced with mid – life crisis. She needed money for her kids’ education; her career had hit a dead end. She’d tried everywhere else for better prospects and was tired of this tread mill race. Life got nowhere; the road ahead only seemed to be getting steeper and steeper. She was exhausted; there seemed no purpose, no enthusiasm and finally no happiness in her cumbersome life.
Mili searched frantically in the glove box of the car; finally she looked up and said “Sorry Sundari, no change today, maybe on my way back home?”
Sundari looked down; the sandalwood paste horizontal ‘tikha’ on her forehead seemed to have contained the harsh sunlight. She smelt of Medimix soap, Parachute coconut oil and Ponds Dreamflower talc. ‘Sundari’ was the transgender whom Mili invariably met at the signal at least twice a day.
The signal turned orange, but Sundari stood firm. Mili looked at her again; Sundari clapped her hands in the ritualistic manner of the third gender who considered themselves feminine.
Mili put the car to gear when Sundari said “Give me something that you always have.” Mili was baffled, what did she have? She searched Sundari’s eyes, the cars behind her honked incessantly. Sundari said “Baby smile, you always do.”
Mili drew away, Sundari disappeared in the rear view mirror, Mili realized that Sundari had that ‘missing’ piece of puzzle that completed her life. Smiling, she breezed through the day. It was twilight, the air was cool, Mili’s mind latched on to the tranquility that was reflected from Sundari. She waited that evening to talk to Sundari. Sundari came along like a whiff of fresh air.
“Baby, nice to see you here.” She said
“I want to know you, Sundari, I see that the smile on your face is intact irrespective of the situation. How is your life? What makes you so bewitching?”
“Baby, come I’ll buy you coffee” said Sundari
As the steam of the coffee wafted through the air, Mili accompanied Sundari to the yellow, red and black, tricoloured shores of Cape Comorin – the land of the virgin whose nose pin was the guiding light for many lost souls at the seas.
“I was born a transgender; I have no idea who my parents are. My family, friends, confidantes, my world was my fellow community mates. There was no school that admitted any of us, no formal records of our births or death. Yet we existed in the society, seen by many, heard by few and recognized by none. In a small village, people’s hearts were large and hands were warm and giving. There was no dearth of food and odd jobs came along, not to mention the string of customers, mostly truck – drivers.”
“I never felt hungry or lonely, I felt loved by my family. In our village our community has a tradition of visiting the ‘Kanya Kunari temple’ once a year. We empathized with her, the one who waits eternally for her beloved. We sought her blessings and hoped that one day our beloved will come along and we’ll be blessed with the sacred bond of matrimony.”
“I don’t know how old I was, but was one among those whose hair had not started greying still. I still attracted a lot of income and my charms were endearing to many. It was at this time that we went to the temple, we finished our rituals and had reached the sea to offer our prayers.”
Mili realized how different both their lives were, it was as if they were from different unknown universe. Yet she felt drawn to this fantastic being that sat opposite her, gripping her in her tale of a distant land.
“We could sense the unusual dead stillness of the water. For some mystifying reason, this calm created unrest in our minds. It was as if my heart was crushed by the icy hands of this eerie silence. Then out of nowhere rose water, water that towered over us, it touched the skies. It was as if mother earth had spilled her guts and had parted land and water to engulf all the Sitas that were wronged.”
“It was futile to even consider running, though I saw that all hell had broken loose around me. I knew that my wait for my beloved was over. I surrendered.”
“I woke, don’t know when, to find the world inside out, I saw the floor of the ocean, the only signs of life were the scavenging birds overhead. I struggled to my feet and trudged along directionless. I don’t recollect for how many days I walked, I survived on dead animals and tender coconut water. Finally I reached the station and camps to search for my family. But I felt cheated. My gut told me that they had all reached Lord Shiva while I was the only one who was damned.”
“I spent a few days in the camp, I was weak and dehydrated. The camp had started smelling of death. Diarrhea affected me and there were only make shift toilets.”
“It was during one such night that my life transformed. I was returning from the filthy toilet at night when a tiny hand gripped mine. I was bewildered to find a child. She was as cold as the dead and as scared as a hunted animal! Her vacant eyes unfolded a story of destruction. No amount of coaxing got her to speak. But she latched on, unrelenting. She returned to the camp with me.”
“I searched the photos, contacted the police and did my best to find her family, but to no avail. I named her ‘Deepa’ – My lamp. Something told me that she too would become like me, someone who just existed but did not live. After knowing that no one would come to claim her, I decided to leave KanyaKumari, decided to uproot myself and find new soil for Deepa to grow, thrive and for her life to become more fruitful. I sold my earrings and my nose ring – the only jewelry I had with me and the next day I came to Bangalore with Deepa.”
She continued “Here too, like my village, the narrow lanes of the slums have large – hearted people. I’ve never led a high society life but those people seem cloistered and suffocated in their magnificent houses and chauffer driven cars. I came across ‘Rani’ a transgender whom I met at this signal fourteen years ago. She heard my tale and offered shelter, she also taught me to read and write. She warned me about the people and the police here in particular. Rani was from Bangalore and was shrewd and smart, but her life as a transgender was no different than mine. She’s spent her life like an outcaste as the community here is not as closely knit like in our village. Just a few years ago Rani was hit by a car that jumped a signal, she’s now a cripple, manages quite well with her artificial leg, but has given up begging in junctions or even otherwise. As you know Baby, I beg in the morning and prostitute at night. But my nose ring is a guiding lamp to ‘Deepa’.” She laughed “I mean” she continued “With the money that I got after selling my nose ring I’ve enrolled Deepa in a school, a deaf and dumb school. It’s been fourteen years now.” She switched to the present
“I hear of a lot of changes and rules and regulations, some ‘cry for identity’, for people like us, but Rani and I are too old to understand them. We’re simple and happy with what life has offered us”
“I’ll never visit the past, now I live with Deepa and Rani. She takes care of ten children whose mothers go to different jobs, like selling flowers, cleaning houses, driving rickshaws and such. They pay us in cash or kind and our life is more than fulfilling.”
“Baby I always smile because I’ve found my beloved in ‘Deepa’. I’d never imagined that I could ever be a mother. And I’ve also found a mother in ‘Rani’.”
“When water changes its course, it also changes the course of many lives. Like three rivers converging into an ocean, we three have become one.”
“So Baby, I always smile. I’ve lived, I’ve laughed, I’ve loved, I’ve lost and I’ve gained.”
Mili was petrified; they bid each other good night. Mili returned home knowing that she’d also found her beloved. Her problems still existed, but they didn’t seem so huge. She still had no solution to any of them, but she felt less miserable. She had just visited a new realm filled with bliss and mirth. She felt lucky and honoured to have been chosen to get a glimpse of this new world which she would never have imagined existed so close to her. She smiled from within to know that she would meet Sundari every day until the water of life decided to change its course.
- Usha Srikanth