Art by VERONIQUE PIASER-MOYEN

One Person at a Time

Last year, Anandi had called me one afternoon with good news. “Bhaiji, I passed first class in Open University exam.” She had finally gotten herself a 12th standard degree. And she was betting on it to be her exit ticket from a life of suffering, the horrors of which very few of us can imagine.

“So, what now?” I asked.

“You know I wanted to be a doctor. But that’s too much to study. No no. I can never do that. So, I was thinking I will become a nurse. Tai also agrees.”

“That’s good. I will get you the forms for the nursing college, then?”

“No no. Thanks Bhaiji. I got them myself.”

“Waah. You used the internet and downloaded the form?”

“Haan, Bhaiji. That Asha phone you gave — I have 3G connection in it now. I wanted to join Facebook also. But Tai said no.”

“Haha. Once you go to nursing college, Tai won’t stop you.”

“But Bhaiji, this form has two long answer type questions. What do I write?”

“What are they asking?”

“First is…hmmm…’Why do you want to be a nurse?’ and the second one…’Who is your inspiration for becoming a nurse?’ I wrote the other answers. But I don’t know these two questions.”

“What do you not know? You know why you want to be a nurse, don’t you?”

“But Bhaiji, if I write I couldn’t be a doctor, then…”

“No no. Why did you want to be doctor?”

“That you know, Bhaiji.”

“Spell it out for me.”

“We Hijras are not welcome in any hospital. Most of them refuse to treat us and the few who do, only give first aid in the emergency ward or send us to chemist shops. Chemist shops also don’t always give us medicine. They ask for Doctor’s note. But when we can’t even see a doctor, from where will we get the note? So I wanted to be a doctor. But that is too much to study.”

“And who is it that treats you now, when the doctors refuse?”

“Tai only. She only cauterizes the new ones from the streets. She mends us in the morning when we come back after servicing the night-time clients. When we are sick, she puts the wet cloth. She grumbles all the time and curses us all the time, but we know she will not sleep in peace when one of us is suffering. Tai has seen it all. She has gone through this for thirty years.”

“And you are telling me you don’t have answers.”

“I can’t write these answers. If they know I am Hijra, they will reject the application.”

“They will come to know sooner or later. We might as well be open now.”

“But…”

“Are you ashamed?”

“Of being Hijra? I am proud. But they won’t understand. Nobody understands.”

“We have to try.”

“Ok, Bhaiji. I am doing it because you said it. Else I would never have done it. But I am telling you, they will reject me. You just see. One year we will waste this way.”

She was right, of course. She got rejected. In fact, someone told her specifically that she got rejected for being Hijra.

Many months later, I called Anandi today.

“So, when were you going to tell me?”

“Who told you? Tai?”

“Yes. She called me up.”

“She doesn’t forget these things.”

“So, this year I am assuming you didn’t write those answers that way.”

“I wrote them exactly like that. I am Hijra, Bhaiji. You are right. I can’t be ashamed of that.”

“Then how come you got selected today?”

“Remember what you said when we first met? Stories can change people. One person at a time. Someone changed with my story, I guess.”

Anandi will join college this July. And I know she will make an excellent nurse. She is the first in her adopted Hijra family to have dared to study. And the first also to get admitted into a college. As she makes her way through it all, I hope her story spreads, gets shared, gets talked about. I hope it changes more people. One person at a time.

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