Memo from Nizamuddin Dargah – Meeting the Other Sex
The world of the hijras.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In November 2010, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi extended its pension scheme for deprived sections to the city’s eunuchs. They will now get a monthly pension of Rs 1,000. A few evenings later in the courtyard of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s sufi shrine, The Delhi Walla came across a group of eunuchs, better known as hijras.
You, too, must have seen them — in public gardens, at traffic lights, and perhaps also in your apartment complex if there had been a wedding, a birth, or some such happy occasion in the next-door flat. Rarely with regular jobs, hijras earn by asking for money; in exchange they offer their blessings. No one is sure about their sexuality. Are they men dressed as women? Are they people born with both the sex organs? Are they castrated men? Are they simply transgender people? Are they as flamboyant in private as they in public?
These mysterious people might get chatty with you but they rarely share details about their lives with people outside their community. They are very secretive.
In the shrine, the hijras I found, were as ordinary as other pilgrims. Most were in white salwar kameez, with a dupatta covering their heads for modesty’s sake. Strange, you might wonder. Aren’t hijras immodest people by nature? Aren’t they always in bright sarees, backless blouses and heavy makeup? Isn’t their entire effort focused on looking different so as to excite curiosity or even repulsion from the people?
But these eunuchs were going unnoticed. Sitting in a cluster, they looked like other women in the vicinity, except that they were a little more feminine, more elegant, more beautiful and had beard.
They start talking to me. “Meet Mummy,” said Nimo, the prettiest of them as she invited me to join the group. Mummy, whose name was Reshma, had movie-star enigma on her face. She nodded at me and offered the Pepsi she was drinking. Next to her sat ‘Papa’ who had… err, a deep cleavage! Apart from Nimo, Mummy and Papa had two more ‘daughters’ — Muskan and Pushpa. Muskan was the only one in man’s clothes.
Nimo told us that they had come from Shahdara, a trans-Yamuna locality in east Delhi. Their lives were similar to that of other hijras — moving around in tolis (groups) and extracting money by making a show of their sexual uniqueness. Mummy said that they keep a record of the auspicious events happening in the neighbourhood and make sure to land outside each happy home. There, they sing and dance till given money by that household.
While we talked, the evening progressed. Mummy invited me to her home in Shahdara. It was then that Guruji, the master of the family, appeared. She was praying at the dargah mosque. (In Nizamuddin’s shrine, eunuchs are spared the humiliation suffered by women pilgrims, who are not allowed to step inside the saint’s tomb.) Sporting a turban and wearing a long kurta and lungi, Guruji blew air with her mouth over the heads of her disciples. It is the Muslim way to protect one from djinns and other such evil forces. She then turned to me, hesitated a little and then blew the air over me, making me a part of her family.
Nimo and Mummy
Papa and Muskan
Pushpa with a child
Pushpa and Nimo