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Transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi's memoir 'Me Hijra, Me Laxmi' is a revelation. It's a painfully honest account of how the eldest son of a Brahmin family becomes the face of India's transgender community. From confusion about sexual orientation and violent sexual encounters, Laxmi has come a long way as activist and catalyst for change within her community — she was the first hijra to represent Asia Pacific at the United Nations and World AIDS Conference in Toronto.


The first chapter of her searing memoir describes violent gang-rape yet Laxmi rose like a phoenix from the ashes. I was numb when I read ''He molested me again, and then again. He was accompanied by his friends and all of them took turns to violate me. The physical and mental torture is indescribable.'' Later, dealing with sexual orientation was tough. ''When I was attracted to a man, I did not think of myself as a man. I thought of myself as a woman. That is why I became a drag queen, donning women's clothes and dancing at parties…'' Laxmi pursued graduation from Mithibai College and wore her sexuality on her sleeve; she became a model coordinator, staged dance shows, became a bar dancer... till she decided to become a hijra and felt a "great burden" had been lifted as she went through the rituals hijras go through, accepting some and resisting others. Today she's spokesperson of the transgender community, relentlessly fighting to establish their rights in India. She has appeared as contestant on reality show 'Bigg Boss' and admits ''Salman and Sanjay always referred to me as LaxmiJi. The suffix 'ji' is reserved for people worthy of respect. It has never been used for hijras…'' Well travelled, she refers to Amsterdam as second home, a place where ''everyone was so non-judgemental… It did not matter whether one was straight or gay, man or woman, hijra or non-hijra. There was a tolerance towards all. And not just tolerance, but acceptance.''


For the rest of Laxmi's story… you'll have to buy her memoir! It's engrossing — not due to overwrought revelation — but Laxmi's struggle to establish her identity. It's worth reading if only for the way it illustrates the issues transsexualism brings on like ''foreign travel required a passport, and could a hijra, born male and now a female, ever get a passport? I did not want my passport to refer to me as 'male'. I wanted it to refer to me as a hijra.'' Something we take for granted… I found her narrative so touching, like when she sighs with relief that unlike hijras who are shunned by their families she was blessed with acceptance. Asked about Laxmi on a reality show, her late father replied, "A hijra can be born to any family. If we spurn them and show them the door, we leave them with no alternative but to become beggars. Driving Laxmi out of the house was out of the question."


What Laxmi offers, through her life and her work, is a window on the wondrous possibilities of humankind. Do read 'Me Hijra, Me Laxmi'… the unflinchingly courageous memoir of a hijra who fought against all odds to carve a life of dignity, on her own terms. That it's subject matter is Laxmi's transsexual journey is almost secondary to the clarity of introspection as she searches for an answer to that most elusive of questions: "who am I?"


Me Hijra, Me Laxmi

OUP, Rs.445.

'Me Hijra, Me Laxmi'
'Me Hijra, Me Laxmi'
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