November 11, 2008
I was woken up today by transsexuals asking for money.
Hijras are a caste of cross-dressers and very much part of everyday life here. Well, not exactly. Hijras ring your bell on special occasions: when a wedding is coming up, a birth has just happened, or if you just bought a brand new car. They ask money to keep the evil eye away from you and your family.
Of course, there are different kind of hijras. The mesmerizing dancing girl of Bombay who just happens to be a boy and the gaudily dressed hijra on a small town’s street are worlds apart. Some hijras are true artists, some are just painted beggars. I don’t know why, but people who wouldn’t give money to children on the street give money to hijras. Superstition, I guess. The evil eye is no joking matter in India.
The first time I saw a hijra I was in the third class compartment of an endless train – Amritsar-Delhi. Totally engrossed in The Count of Monte Cristo, I did not mind the ten-hour journey and didn’t even raise my eyes when yet another beggar reached my berth. I just shook my head and told him off. He insisted and again I refused, still reading, when I saw from the corner of my eye that he was doing something with his hand over my head. I finally looked up and saw, literally casting a spell on me, this ugly man dressed in a sari, his face scarily painted. I gasped. Then got back to my book.
I have nothing against hijras. They are an interesting sub-culture within the oh-so prude India, and I find the tradition of paying them off on weddings and births a rather amusing one.
That is, until this morning. The hijras were two, and they weren’t friendly. One blocked my door with her foot so that I couldn’t close it – I tried but hey, at the end of the day, in this silver embroidered shoe it was a big strong man’s foot blocking my door.
They told me to give them money because I had just moved in this new flat. Apparently, all the other tenants had given money, and I was expected to do just the same.
Now the problem, you see, was that they had woken me up, not a good idea if you want something from me.
I told them they could ask the landlord to give them a cut of my maintenance charges but that there was no way I’d give them money. As I said, they weren’t friendly: no singing or dancing but just plain aggression. I finally managed to slam the door on the two of them.
And went back to sleep.