By Mookan for Zubaan Books:
For three months in summer, the heat was scorching. The monsoon failed once again. We could not do any cultivation. The earth was dry, parched and huge cracks were visible on the surface. The parched earth was a metaphor for my life as well, waiting for relief. My mother had an incurable illness. One day, suddenly, she died and with that all her sufferings came to an end.
I wonder if my sister who eloped even knew about our mother’s death. She did not come for the funeral. A few relatives and people from the village attended just for the sake of a formality. My youngest sister was eight years old. Even though I did not know how to cook, I made her kanji (gruel). I had no work, and there was no money. Do I search for my sister whose whereabouts I am clueless about, or do I protect this vulnerable child?
I was in a dilemma. I had no one to turn to for support. At the same time, no one was concerned about my problems or me. I wanted to protect at least my honour. I decided to change my appearance to that of a man.
So I cut my hair, wore a lungi, and a shirt and gave myself a name: Mookan. I went to another village in search of work. I became the father of my youngest sister.
I was always afraid that people would know I’m biologically a woman. I was upset about the sudden uprooting in my life. Would I get work as Mookan? How would I work with a child? What would happen to our thatched house and the fallow land when I went to another village for work? Will anyone deprive us of even these meagre belongings? Grumbling about my life, I nevertheless wandered in search of work. Even if I got work, I would not get a place to stay. Also, in a new village, nobody called me to work because they did not know anything about me—about my family, about me, where I came from, and my caste.
I begged for food to feed my child (my sister). Although I was capable of working in the fields as an agricultural labourer, I could not get a job. What’s the use? This god has made me beg! What sin have I committed? I was shattered. I did not know where I was going or what I should do.
My little sister and I walked towards Kombai village in Kollimalai hills near Salem. We saw a pumpset in a field and both of us bathed. I drank the water and thought, ‘Shall I jump into the well with the child? Alas! I know to swim, so even suicide was not an option for me!’
The owner of the field spotted me. “Yaaru da! Who are you? What are you doing here?” he shouted at me.
“Sami! Lord! I am from Mohanur village.” I then told him my story. He still did not believe I was biologically a woman. He was certain that I was a man. And he was also certain that I was a kidnapper. Alarmed, he called other people nearby. “Tie him up! Kill him! The truth will come out!”
I shrank into myself like a criminal. If the child had not been there, I would have got beaten up. Luckily for me, one of the men in the village had married a woman in my village, Mohanur. He called his wife and asked her to find out about me. When she made enquiries, it became obvious that I was telling the truth.
“Go back! Even if you are dressed as a man, nobody will give you work if they do not know you. They will be suspicious of you. If they know you are a woman, will they let you live?” the landlord said to me.
He gave me a hundred rupees and asked me to go back to my village. I took the money. I walked on holding the hand of my little sister, my child, towards an uncertain future.
Revathi has been unable to trace Mookan after he shared his story with her. She hopes he is living happily as a man with his sister and hopes to find him in the future.
Note: Excerpted with permission from Zubaan Books from ‘A Life In Trans Activism’ by A.Revathi.