In a country where transgenders are often abused and denied basic rights, transgender rights activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi’s life is an inspiring tale of battling against all odds.
She shares her journey with readers in her autobiography, which was originally written in Marathi. The book has now been translated in English by novelist R Raj Rao, and English professor PG Joshi and is titled, Me Hijra, Me Laxmi. Excerpts from an interview with R Raj Rao:
Q. Tell us about the original work in Marathi; is the book an autobiography or a biography?
A. It’s an autobiography, since it is in the first person. However, Laxmi did not write it herself. She narrated her life story to Vaishali Rode, a journalist, who then wrote it in Marathi. Our book is a translation of the Marathi book.
Q. What was the vision behind translating this book?
A. We felt that Laxmi’s story had to reach a wider audience in India and elsewhere than a Marathi book would allow. I took it up because transgender people are subaltern within a larger queer subaltern category, and are only just finding their voice.
Q. Tell us about Hijra literature. How is this book integral to it?
A. Hijra or transgender literature is in its nascent stages. This is only the second hijra autobiography, the first being by Revathi, translated from Tamil by V Geetha. Most hijras are uneducated. They sing, dance and beg for a living, and are sex workers. There’s no question of their writing about their lives. Laxmi and Revathi are exceptions, like a few others, such as the late Familia who committed suicide. But even if the hijras could write about themselves, they’d be too ashamed to make their lives public. Their morale is low. Laxmi and Revathi are pioneers. I hope they inspire other hijras.
Q. Did you make any significant change to the original work?
A. The original work was repetitive; it read like a compendium of facts. While translating the book, I had to dramatise Laxmi’s story. I had to tighten the writing and get rid of some of the useless facts. My job was that of a trans-creator than a translator. I also wrote a 7,500 afterword that appears at the end of the book.
Q. How was your experience of interacting with Laxmi?
A. I met Laxmi just once, to ask her for permission to translate the book. After that, we stayed in touch over the phone. Laxmi is a warm and friendly person. We get along very well.
Me Hijra, Me Laxmi, Translated from the Marathi original by R Raj Rao and PG Joshi, Oxford University Press, Rs 445. Available at leading bookstores
Q. How would you encapsulate the significance of the book?
A. The general reader will shed their bias and prejudice about hijras when they read the book. They will realise how hijras are no different from us. The injustice meted out to them will make readers angry. But with transgender studies becoming an important part of university education today, the book will be an important resource for scholars and researchers.
The book Me Hijra, Me Laxmi recounts Laxmi Narayan Tripathi’s tale of courage
... The short review
Me Hijra, Me Laxmi takes one through Laxmi’s childhood as the elder son born in a Brahmin family living in a shanty on the banks of the Siddheshwar Lake in Thane, and goes on to narrate the shocking abuse she underwent from the age of seven.
It narrates the struggle to make people accept her gender identity, her education, the passage to activism and the many careers she straddled, including that of a dancer and a model co-ordinator. It also looks at the relationships that Laxmi had and how they impacted her life.
The book offers insights into the daily life of transgenders: their challenges in acquiring a passport or document of identification, certain misconceptions surrounding them and the lack of a support system, apart from their community.
They are given few opportunities to progress, thus leaving them with no option but to beg, dance or trade their bodies. The book is a must-read for those who wish to learn more about the transgender community, which is often shrouded in secrecy.