Time's Eunuch

I felt panic run through me. Whenever I saw hijras, even on the street, waves of revulsion would engulf me. The same unreasoning horror which hit me when a leper came to my car window, and stuck out his bandaged wrist or stump, begging. I would roll up the window hastily, and refuse to look, or turn my head, or react in any way. I could not bear to look at that deformity, or someone forcing your sympathy. I knew the hijras turned up for auspicious occasions like births and marriages, and that they danced, sang and demanded money. But any time I’d seen one of them – garishly dressed males pitifully trying to look like women … I’d panicked, and moved away … FAST, with my heart pounding away! I’d heard stories of how they would make obscene gestures, threaten people, and extort money from them. Now, I put my finger on my lips, and whispered to Shamik and the man who’d been helping carry things up: “Keep quiet.

Maybe they’ll think we aren’t here, and just go away.” That hope was shattered when they started banging and trying to kick the door down.

“Open up, or we’ll have to break your door open.”

The workman helping me, warned that it would be best to open the door, and pay them off. “You won’t get rid of them otherwise. They’re very obstinate, and can become violent.”

This is daylight robbery, I thought grimly. I hated bullying of any kind, and threw the door open: “How dare you kick my door like that? You’ll break it.”

“Why are you hiding in there, instead of coming out and speaking to us with love?”

Love! I thought. This is ludicrous. The two hijras standing there weren’t as coarse and repulsive as some others. Maybe I could talk to them, reason with them. One of them looked like a gentle, nice-looking woman. The other one was a large creature, with huge breasts, and a darkly painted mouth. She had pink ribbons in her long plait, and she was wearing a satin pink salwaar kameez. “Well, you’ve got a nice, new flat. You should give us something. We’ll dance for you. How else are we to live?”

“Get yourselves a job,” I suggested.

“Who’ll give us a job. Would you?”

The feminine one of the pair, who had a red dupatta over her head, said in a mournful voice: “You have a husband, a son, and a new flat, but you don’t want to share a bit of your joy with us?”

This was human, and I could respond humanly: “Listen. I don’t have a husband, and I’ve got this place after a big struggle. With some difficulty, I can only spare this five hundred rupees. Now go away, accepting what I give you.”

The gentler one said “This is a posh neighbourhood. We usually ask for eleven thousand in this area. Our Boss won’t be satisfied.”

“Yes” said the one in the pink salwaar, who had a hint of shaved stubble on her face, “If our Big Boss comes up, all hell will break loose…”

“Let him come.” I said. I was perspiring, my legs were shaking, my mouth was dry, - but I struck a defiant attitude. I thought I might call the police, but my phone hadn’t been connected, and besides, I knew that the police didn’t generally act against hijras.

“Make it a thousand at least’ said the big-breasted one in a coaxing voice.

“No” I said. “You’ve forced me to give what I have in my bag. Take it, or leave it. Not a paisa more will you get from me.”

At this point, the Big Boss came up the stairs. There are all these stories about how hijras catch young boys, and make them undergo the most cruel initiation ceremonies, which include castration. The creature that came up the stairs seemed just the type who’d play a part in such an act. He had dark, coarse skin, which showed signs of shaving. A high forehead, with a receding hairline, as in many beginning to bald men, was crowned by a rough topknot. He had on a revealing georgette sari over a blouse, and flaunted unnatural, pointed breasts beneath that. Huge teeth, stained by paan-chewing, jutted from beneath crimson, painted lips. My stomach ached with fright, but I stood my ground. Even Shamik whispered to me that I should, perhaps, give them a bit more, but I refused.

“You have enough money to buy a big flat like this, but your heart is too small to give us more” said Big Boss. “Let me tell you, we pay our taxes, and we can give you a Receipt for your money.”

Like the other hijras, he had delicate flirtatious movements of the hands and hips, but the eyes were hard and desperate. I explained that the expense of buying this flat had left me short of money, with nothing to spare.

Big Boss cut in, with mock sympathy: “O.K. If you prefer, you could put a room in my name, and I can move in here.”

Horror of horrors, I thought! Meanwhile, the other two, who’d been so reasonable with me till now, suddenly changed, as if they had to prove their worth to Big Boss. They had already come into the front room. The big-breasted one grabbed an antique Victorian cake stand, which I particularly valued, and threatened to smash the new electric fittings with it. I couldn’t stand it any more. “You just touch one of those lights, and I’ll see to it that you spend the rest of your life in jail” I fumed.

Big Boss now turned really nasty. “We’ll have to start taking off our clothes. Naachna padega” he leered at me and the ‘girls, his painted fingernails fluttering like a dancer’s.

They were about to begin a parody of an obscene, erotic dance.

“Go ahead” I was shaking with fury now. “We’ll enjoy the show.”

I had called his bluff, and he knew he had a real fight on. He took off his slippers. So did I. I was determined to give as good a fight as I got. I hoped that they weren’t carrying knives…

At this critical juncture, one of the men from the Office in the Basement, came up the stairs. He called Big Boss aside, and whispered something in his ear. They had been listening from under the stairs, and had realized that the situation had become really dangerous. They felt it was necessary to work out some sort of compromise with the hijras, and get them off the premises, before it all exploded.

Meanwhile, Pink Salwaar had adopted a stony, impassive look. The Gentle One’s eyes had filled with tears: “Please forgive us,” she pleaded softly. “You are a nice lady, and we have not behaved well with you.” Big Boss didn’t seem to hear her, but looked balefully at me, before the three of them descended the stairs, behind the man from the Office. We gasped with relief!

The next few days were so busy with unloading, arranging the flat, and settling in, that I’d almost forgotten the nasty incident of the Hijras. Shamik kept vanishing to his friend’s house, and I yearned to talk to someone. I had an urge to call my erstwhile friend, Arun, but he was married now, and his wife would not appreciate it. As for Gaurav – well, he was great fun to be with – we’d laughed and chattered whenever we met, but I felt something missing in our relationship. Rather superficial, I felt. No, he wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I had vowed I’d wait for someone who’d be perfect for me, or not at all. After years of following my impulses, I had sworn abstinence and self-denial. And so I was alone. The dark night swallowed my tears. I felt I had so much to give, but there was no one to give to! This kind of loneliness is obscene, I thought. Obscene, like those hijras. Their obscenity rose from their ugly parody of sexuality. They segregated themselves in ghettoes of the misfits, the traumatised. While we walked with pride in the sunlit streets of “the normal.” Oh God, I thought, a flash of human feeling and compassion lighting up my dark sky, Weren’t we all hijras of the spirit, - if not of the body? Weren’t we all maimed and disfigured somewhere along the way? Hadn’t we all lost something precious, and slowly turned to granite? Weren’t we all eunuchs of time and circumstance?

A few days later, I was crossing the street, when I heard a cheerful call. I froze when I turned and saw Big Boss and Pink Salwaar. They were waving to me, smiling flirtatiously, delicately joining their hands in greeting, with not a trace of their recent hostility.

I might have turned sharply away, but something had changed in the way I saw them.

“Hello Madam. Namaste. Sab theek hai?”

Yes, indeed. I was alright, fine, in fact. All my anger and revulsion had dropped from me like a useless robe.

I saw them as people, whole, unviolated, trying to make something of a harsh life, just as I was. Time’s eunuchs, all of us, I thought.

I smiled back at them, and replied: “Namaste. Sab theek hai!”

 

 

Anna Sujatha Mathai

Anna Sujatha Mathai is an Indian poet who now lives in New Delhi. She has also lived in England and, more briefly, in the U.S. She has five Collections of Poetry in English. They have been  anthologized, translated into various Indian and European languages, and she has read them at various venues, in India, England and Struga. She has a short Novel, Shueli's Star, which is being serialised on StrandsLitsphere, and a few of her short stories have been published in Indian Literature, The Times of India, etc. This year, the Feminist Group, WOMEN EMPOWERED, awarded her with The First Kamala Das Poetry Prize.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Tuesday, December 25, 2018 - 22:24