BOOK REVIEW : I am Saravanan Vidya
Price: 100 INR
Author: Vidya (A transgender’s autobiography)
India is a strange country! In spite of (so called) globalization, many of our core societal issues still remain unsolved – transgender inclusion being one of them. Some time back I wrote a post about Hijras in India, highlighting the issue of them getting into prostitution by default due to lack of other options. Thankfully few Hijras has put up a fierce fight against the society and tried their level best to resume a mainstream life by creating an identity. Vidya, a transgender is one classic example who fought all the odds by making a career with NGO and writing. The book ‘I am Saravanan Vidya’ is the autobiography of Vidya, where she details the struggle gone thro for transforming herself from a male (Saravanan) to female (Vidya). Filled with real life experiences, challenges, frustrations this book has brought in dark pages of transgender life into public, thereby asking few critical questions to each one of us.
Born in a struggling lower middle class family, Saravanan’s parents had lot of expectations from (also because of him being the only son) him with dreams of eventually seeing him as the District Collector by clearing the prestigious IAS examinations. Being the only son, everybody in the family pampers him with all that they could afford, thereby ensuring necessary support for his studies. Expectations were so high that he just cannot afford to think about anything other than first rank in the class. Saravanan recalls the tension and fear ran thru him when he got second rank for the first time in his 6th standard. His father was extremely strict with studies, couldn’t take the fact of him getting second rank and beaten up Saravanan for the same.
This typical Indian lower middle class story takes an unexpected turn when Saravanan starts getting his early inclination towards being a female. Early experiments come in the form of wearing his sister’s dresses (half-saree) and dancing his heart out by listening to radio songs after latching the door. This interest intensifies gradually when he starts liking indoor games played by girls (ex: pallanguzhi), and starts spending more time with girls of his age then boys. After moving into high-school, his feeling becomes uncontrollable, wanting him to be more of a female than a male. He also goes thru initial insults from his class mates by calling ‘Ali’ and making fund of his ‘female-type’ behavior. Somehow he completes computer science bachelor degree, with declining academic records. From a 90%+ scorer (and the first ranker), he slowly drops into 60%s, somehow ensuring first class. By this time, his father had lost all the hopes on him for making him as the District Collector without having any clue about what his teenage boy was going thru. There are multiple questions running in Saravanan’s mind now – Whom should he approach to seek solution for his problem? How can he live a life being physically male but feeling as a female? What answers he can give to his parents, who sacrificed everything for him with lots of dreams?
In search of finding a solution, Saravanan relocates to Chennai and lands up in a meager job with a drama troop. Thanks to some contacts in the drama community, he eventually moves to Pune for joining the Hijra community. Life becomes all the more difficult for him to make a living (by begging) and getting used to the Hijra community by following their rituals. The very fact that the Hijra community is the only option, who will help him to convert his gender, keeps him going against all the odds. In subsequent chapters, Saravanan clearly explains the issues faced in the gender conversion which I explained in my previous article.
First an individual should consult a psychiatrist who can either help them to come out of the ‘feeling’ of becoming a female or mentally prepare them for a gender conversion operation. Followed by this they go thru a complex operation which will physically remove all male genitals. After the operation they need to go thru some more psychological counseling, thereby ensuring that they get used to the new gender. The third and most important aspect is to have a well defined legal system for converting their gender, after which they will be treated as a female in the society. They are legally entitled to apply for jobs (as females), get married (leaving the fact that they cannot reproduce) and enjoy all the societal benefits. In India, none of the above mentioned process/system exists.
After going thru the painful process of removing male genitals (by a self appointed doctor in Andhra Pradesh), Saravanan finally gets rid of his male identity and changing name as Vidya. After becoming Vidya, life becomes miserable. Even after somehow escaping from the Hijra community, getting a job or getting basic documents (like passport/driving license/ration card) or find a decent accommodation becomes almost impossible task. Thanks to his drama troop friends Chennai she lands up in a job with an NGO in Chennai and keeping her writing passion alive by starting a blog. Eventually she ends up writing this book by explaining the darker sides of being a Hijra.
This book was a real eye opener for me as it helped me to understand the darker side of Indian society. As Vidya had a formal education, she is at least able to make a basic living. What about millions of Hijras in the country who don’t even have basic education? Why there is no legal or social system for accepting them as a part of mainstream society? How can we boast ourselves of being ‘global citizens’ when educated elite don’t even acknowledge such issues?