Life-changing teacher-student bond: 'My guru and I have a lifelong relationship'

Like many others in the transgender community, the guru-shishya tradition is important for Devyani, who found herself with the help of her guru

Avinash was barely five when he first discovered himself, dressed in a white sari, red lipstick and glittering headgear to play ‘Bharat Mata’ for a local competition during Ganeshotsav. While he found comfort in his feminine avatar that day, as the years passed, he began to be teased and harassed for being a ‘bayla’ — a derogatory term used to imply a man who has feminine behaviour or characteristics.

Devyani (right) and her guru, Mandar, offer prayers at a temple to mark Teachers’ Day, as part of their guru-shishya tradition. Pic/Shashank Sane

Confused and frustrated with the lack of support from either family or friends, at 15 Avinash ran away from his hometown to come to Pune, where he met a teacher who would change his life forever.

Ten years after he first discovered his sexuality, it was with this teacher, Mandar Guru, that Avinash would find his true identity as Devyani, and would go on to help others in the transgender community.

Devyani, who has since completed a degree in Hindi and currently works with the NGO, Sampathik Trust, to help others in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, said, “A boy wearing a sari can be a subject of appreciation till a certain age. After that, when family or friends encounter feminine behaviour in him, they start teasing him for a sin he never committed.”

“I was in school when my friends started calling me ‘bayla’. I was too young to realise what the word meant. They stopped playing with me. I had many female friends in school, but they also stopped talking to me. One day, I declared I would never go
back to school,” Devyani said, adding further, “Family members weren’t different either. They would insult and beat me. I used to spend days sitting at home wondering why I was being punished.”

“When I came to Pune, I found others who were like me, and I felt secure with my new friends. For the first time, I could openly express who I was and be the way I wanted to be. My friends provided food and shelter, but I still needed answers about my sexuality. That’s when a friend took me to Mandar Guru,” recalled Devyani, who stayed with Mandar for 15 days to explore and understand the transgender community, before joining it and taking on a new name from a princess in Hindu mythology.

The transformation was complete when she accepted Mandar as her guru in the Gurumantra ritual. Like in any traditional guru-shishya relationship, Mandar gave Devyani a Sanskrit mantra for the ritual, and tied a darshan, or a sacred thread around her neck to mark their bond. Not many are aware that the guru-shishya tradition is very important for the transgender community, said Mandar. “Guru is the one who shapes your life, the person who helps you accept yourself and understand what it means to be part of the transgender community. Once somebody decides to accept a guru, they become the chela and both take part in certain rituals,” he said.

He added, “Our community has transparent and respectable guru-shishya tradition. A chela can even change his or her guru if they wish. I don’t think any other guru-shishya tradition gives this kind of freedom. We don’t have a caste system in our community, but have families instead. And every family is named after one guru.”

Preparing for a visit to the temple to mark Teachers’ Day, Devyani said theirs is a lifelong bond, and added, “My Guru asked me various questions to figure out whether I truly was a transgender or not. Because of my guru, I learnt about the past, the present and the future of the community.

He has helped shape my life and will guide me through it. In return, I will support him and serve him till his last breath.”

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