On the third day of the Hyderabad Literary Festival held earlier this year, as I walked in to the Authors’ Lounge for my daily chit-chat with fellow delegates, I met three remarkable women whom I will never forget.
These were three of the members of India’s first transgender band – The 6 Pack Band. Ravina, Asha and Bhavika were speaking and performing later that day. Their session clashed with my workshop, a fact that I was sadly aware of. Hence I was delighted to find myself with these ladies, in the same room and with some time to spare.
They were engaged in a conversation with some Filipino artists. After the customary ‘hellos’ and smiles, I settled down on one of the couches, going through my reading material. A few minutes later, a chance meeting with Bhavika at the tea counter got our conversation started.
It can be a difficult moment when we meet someone different from us. In a world constantly trying to hardwire us into believing that everything that is ‘different’ is ‘bad’; even if we don’t believe in that ideology, we sometimes find ourselves utterly confused about how to behave. I was constantly struggling with ‘Am I staring too much?’ or ‘Am I looking away and fidgeting too much?’ I am a person who considers herself quite liberal in a lot of matters. I have nothing but immense respect for the LGBT community and the courage they signify. And yet I knew there was a discomfort which I couldn’t understand or acknowledge. I didn’t know how to tread; too recklessly could offend them; but too cautiously, would alienate.
We got talking, about everything and nothing, as two strangers who meet at a tea counter are wont to. Ravina and Asha too had joined us by then. All three of them were dressed in lovely pink sarees; and as a saree aficionado I couldn’t help complimenting them on theirs. And although we had been talking for a few minutes by then; that compliment changed something. Suddenly their smiles became wider and their voice a little more uninhibited. It took me a while to realize how welcome that compliment was for them. Perhaps, it was a clear indicator to them, of my acceptance of who they are.
Perhaps. I am not sure. I couldn’t even be sure that they were looking for one.
With the confidence with which these women were conducting themselves, it didn’t look like they needed any such ‘nods’ from us. And yet I could see how it made them a little happier and relaxed to get one. But isn’t that true for all of us? An appreciative nod, even if we aren’t looking for one, makes us smile?
All through the day, I kept running into them and our chit-chats continued. Regrettably, I had to miss their session because I was conducting a workshop at the same time. But luckily it was just across the hall from us, so I did manage to catch a glimpse or two. And of course, when they performed, the music managed to cover the distance and reach me. Their music reminded me of something that I have often read about Rhythm & Blues (R&B) or Jazz as a genre of music. The fact that these genres find their origin in the pain and suffering of African slave laborers lends a certain depth to it; a unique timbre of soulfulness, which is easy to discern but very hard to imitate.
Ravina, Bhavika and Asha’s music had a similar quality. Their voices came from their hearts, from a place of pain and suffering. And yet also a place of strength and resilience. I will not go into the details of their journey so far, in this article; for that please read up about them. But one can imagine without even reading more, that it wouldn’t have been easy. Today they have a band and their videos feature Sonu Nigam and Hrithik Roshan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. But that’s today! A today that is built up on a yesterday which we all can imagine would have been anything but easy. Especially in this country where everything is a taboo; and ‘the courage to be different’ is something to be avoided like the plague.
We do have a history of celebrating valor in this country. We celebrate the famous fighters and kings who stood up against the many invaders. We celebrate the strength and masculinity that it represents. But that is also how we have come to frame and define valor. The operative word here being ‘masculinity’.
“Khoob ladi ‘mardaani’ wo to Jhansi waali Rani thi!”
But what about Ravina, Bhavika and Asha and thousands like them. What about the nature of their fight? Fighting a world which wants to dictate them about ‘who to be’ and ‘how to live their life’. A fight against forced masculinity? How ironic it must seem to our world, that their valor is represented by their act of them embracing their feminine side? How indigestible a fact it must be, that the color they have chosen to represent them is a rather garish ‘pink’; underlining and underscoring the effeminate. Would their fight find the supporters it needs?
The answer to those questions was evident in the sight of the jam-packed hall which they were performing to.
I can’t deny that I could spot quite a few people who were clearly there for the wrong reasons; their voyeuristic innuendos obvious in their sniggers and side glances to each other. But it was heartwarming to know that the majority of the people in that room sat mesmerized; by the music, by those beautiful souls who made that music, and their indefatigable spirits which carried that melody far and wide. I saw moist eyes. I heard hearty applause. And I saw people rushing to hug them and compliment them when their performance was over.
And among that swarm of admirers, I saw three women warriors, standing victorious, standing tall.
Have you ever watched them perform? What is your opinion on the rights of transgender community?
Share your thoughts and comments using the box below.
This article, featured as an IWI Select Read, is written by IWIite Radhika Maira Tabrez.
Radhika Maira Tabrez is a mother, writer, writing coach, freelance trainer and a motivational speaker. Her debut novel, ‘In The Light Of Darkness’, was awarded the ‘Muse India – Satish Verma Young Writer Award’ in 2016. This literary fiction novel, released in August 2016, has opened up to a grand reception and has been receiving rave reviews and critical acclaim from fellow writers and readers alike.
Her writings regularly feature on Readomania.com and her Facebook Page : ‘Just a thought – By Radhika Maira Tabrez’. Her stories have been published and recieved with rave reviews, in UnBound; Sankarak, Defiant Dreams, When They Spoke and Mock, Stalk & Quarrel.
To know more about her, head to our Know The Team page.
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