Mission Delhi – Reshma Khan, Kala Mahal
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Reshma Khan is enjoying chai this morning in an Old Delhi tea house where she seems to know everybody—all of them men. She’s the only transgender here at the moment. Lots of light-hearted joking is going about.
Ms Khan was born in this same neighbourhood (Kala Mahal), and gleefully declares, “Mein kala Mahal ki beti hoon (I’m the daughter of Kala Mahal)!”. Although she has an abundance of friends, the 35-year-old lives by herself in a single room home in Kala Mahal. “No, I never feel lonely.”
She explains that she works with a group of “kinnars” in Noida who sing and dance for households celebrating a wedding or some other happy occasion. “We’re paid in cash for our services,” Ms Khan says.
This work is demanding. She commutes daily in metro or bus, sometimes spending the entire day performing, “but sometimes I’m back home by afternoon.”
Back here in the tea house, outside on the lane, Ms Khan suddenly breaks into an impromptu performance of a classic Hindi film song as rendered in it by a courtesan. With one hand clenching her chai glass, she raises the other in mock shyness: singing a few lines of “dil cheez kya hain” from the movie Umrao Jaan.
The chai drinkers applaud warmly as Ms Khan takes a bow and then leaves for another working day.
[This is the 269th portrait of Mission Delhi project]