Back in the mid-1950s, a short story by my mother, then a single girl in her twenties, was published in a mainstream Tamil magazine. It was about a child born with mixed genders whose family, afraid of society, quietly ‘disposed of it’ to eunuchs although the mother was heartbroken to lose her baby and kept praying for its well-being. Long after, a party of eunuchs turned up at a wedding and among them was a young person with a birthmark whom the mother recognized as her discarded child. But she dared not rush up to hug him as she longed to and her anguish was immense.
After my mother’s sudden death when I was not quite fourteen, I was sent off alone every year in the summer holidays from Delhi to Madras by the Grand Trunk Express with strict warnings about getting off the train. But I did, especially at long halts like Nagpur, to stretch my legs and buy local snacks with my small hoard of train money. Curious passengers wanted personal details but I hid behind a storybook or a blank stare.
The only people I was somehow not afraid of at the railway stations were the occasional ‘napumsakar’ (the word I knew them by) for my mother and her mother had both told me that eunuchs were greatly to be pitied and to always speak affectionately to them and do namaste nicely.
In my early twenties when I lived alone in Europe as a ‘Tea Board girl’, I worked a whole month in a fancy department store in Nuremberg in Germany. I often had lunch with two very sweet colleagues, Kristen and Tomas. Tomas was gay and one morning he showed up with a black eye and a cut lip. The neo-Nazis had thrashed him but the stoic dignity of this good, gentle boy was absolute.
Years later, when yet another part of my life was irrevocably over, I often sat late on one of the benches on the seafront across the road from the Oberoi Hotel, Bombay, staring blankly out to sea. Two thin, elderly napumsakar asked me for alms one evening, and lost in my thoughts, I snapped at them in Tamil to go away. “Oho, you speak Tamil, do you? Why are you sitting here crying by yourself, pullei (child)?” they said, and perched like birds on either side.
Ashamed of having snapped, I asked the cycle-chaiwala for three teas and after we drank a companionable cup together, they blessed me in the name of ‘Samayapuram Amman’. This startled me because whenever I fell ill, my mother had pressed the Samayapuram Amman medallion that hung from her mangalsutra on my forehead before seeing the thermometer.
Strange, the memories which flood back, with such a big decision pending. Sexual variations are simply another natural variation, like being able to sing, or not, though obviously with starker consequences. Sexual minorities cannot reproduce but they have the same emotional, intellectual and social yearnings as others. They can lead useful, honourable lives if allowed by law and society for they too are children of the same Jagat-Janani.
The views expressed are personal.