(Names changed to protect identity)
The cross-dressing festival for men in Kerala
“Are the pleats okay?” Renji asked for the last time before exiting the green room. He checked himself in the mirror. He was wearing a maroon chiffon sari, with sequins on it. His face shone more in joy than due to the chamayavilakku he was carrying.
Renji was a transgender from Palakkad, Kerala.
He was attending the chamayavilakku at Kottankulangara temple, Kollam, Kerala for the seventh time. A celebration, an offering, by men of all ages, cross-dressing as women. They adorned themselves with jewellery and beautified their faces with thick makeup. Men did it as a thanksgiving for the blessings of the goddess Vanadurga.
Related reading: Five fascinating stories about Bahuchara, the deity of transgenders and masculinity
Celebrating goddess Vanadurga
Legend has it that cowherds who were resting in the area tried to break a coconut on a rock and the rock started bleeding. A subsequent devaprashnam revealed the presence of goddess Vanadurga in the area and a temple was built for her. Cowherds dressed as women performed the poojas the first time. This has led to the custom of chamayavilakku held on two days every year according to Malayalam calendar. Transgenders from all over the country throng the temple during those two days. In fact, they wait for the days of chamayavilakku.
It was those days which allow them to display their identity, their true self, unabashedly.
There were thousands like Renji from various parts of India, united in the realm of God. The moments were as if a homecoming for them, who have to live hiding their desires from the society. They laughed, talked, revived their friendship, and separated with a promise to meet again.
The others, like me, were surprised and at the same time confused at their ecstasy.
Don’t you want a selfie?
“You look beautiful,” his friend Charumani from Andhra Pradesh said with a glint of love in his eyes. They both laughed and walked out, ignoring the mesmerised visitor, me.
“I wanted to talk to you,” I said running behind them.
They both stopped and stared at me with a smile hidden behind their lips. An unwarranted shame, for no reason, crept inside me. Are they mocking me? I stood silent for a moment, as I knew I might stammer before the next sentence.
Perhaps I am the first person who wanted to talk with them. Most wanted a selfie. Obviously, the society was always curious about the people who did not follow its dictates. These transgenders have decided to walk the path they desired, the path of love. They could have hidden it from others, but they were not ready for that.
“Only talk!” Renji laughed. “Don’t you want a selfie?”
We are objects of amusement
“People normally don’t talk with us, they only want selfies,” Charumani added. “We are an object of amusement. Haven’t you seen clowns in circus?”
“You still hold grudges against society it seems.” I shook my head. “Many from your community have achieved greater heights. There have been apparent changes in the way society looks at you. And significant amendments in the rules to accommodate you as a part of the society.”
“That’s true,” Renji agreed. “But it may take another decade, at least, for many in the society to treat us as normal people.”
I did not have any answer to that. We talked about half an hour, before they joined their friends from other parts of the country. Renji introduced me to a transgender couple, Ramana and Vishwa. They have been together since 2001. To my surprise, they were not the only couple there.
Renji introduced me to at least a dozen of them.
Society is still far from accepting them
Then Renji shared a secret, “We will start staying together soon, Charu and myself.” He winked. Unadulterated pleasure reflected on his face. Charumani grabbed his right hand with an affectionate smile.
“Will you be marrying?” I raised my eyebrows.
They both laughed hysterically. I could understand how foolish my question was. What is the need of societal customs when they are together from heart? On the other hand, will the society approve of their marriage? I suddenly remembered that we are living in a nation where IPC Section 377 is still revered.
Isn’t it time to change our thoughts, our attitude, towards them?