First transgender literary meet of the country to be held at Sahitya Akademi, Kolkata
To step up the process of sensitising the society to the need for integration of the transgender community within the mainstream, Sahitya Akademi is holding a Transgender Literary Meet, the first of its kind in the country, on July 17, at its premises.
"We organised Nari Chetona on Women’s Day this year, where many transgender authors participated. Hence we thought of a literary meet solely for the transgender community. This time we are having only a poetry session, but next time, we will make the event even bigger,” says Mihir Sahu, officer-in-charge of the Akademi’s eastern region.
The programme is being coordinated by Manabi Bandyopadhyay, the first transgender principal of a college in the country, who is also on the Akademi’s advisory board.
“I have chosen five people from the transgender community, who are from various walks of life, who will be reading poems composed by them. It will be a platform for the transgenders to discuss the various societal issues and travails of their lives,” tells Bandyopadhyay.
The gutsy principal, who had asserted her sexuality nearly two decades ago, when even a mere mention of such issues would draw retribution and rebuke, feels that the transgender community is still a misunderstood lot and has a long way to go before they can lead a ‘normal’ life like others. “Some people feel we are eunuchs, some give us curious looks as if we are aliens, and still others feel we are not normal. During admission time in our college, many parents along with their wards come up all the way to my room just to see how I look and who I am. I take it positively, since people should be sensitised,” she says excitedly.
She has suggested names of five individuals, who will read out their poems in the meet. They include PhD student Debdutta Biswas, Rani Majumdar, Aruna Nath Anjali Mondal and Debajyoti Bhattacharya.
Thirty-two-year-old Bhattacharya, who teaches physiology at Hari Mohan Ghosh College in west Kolkata's Garden Reach area is excited to be a part of this meet. “It’s important for the society to understand that transgender people can also have a cultural lineage and that enlightenment and literary discourse has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of an individual,” says Bhattacharya, who is a self-declared transgender, waiting for sexual reassignment surgery.
Bandyopadhyay also adds that many still confuse all transgenders for eunuchs and have preconceived notions that a transgender invariably belongs to the marginal section of the society, usually poor with no formal education, job or enlightenment.
“But that’s incorrect to classify an individual based on his or her sexual orientation or assertion. There are many accomplished professionals in academics and other profession who are coming out of the closet and are declared transgenders. This assumption needs to be corrected for the transgender community to be acknowledged and that justifies the need for a separate literary meet,” she explains.
Bandyopadhyay, who is also the editor of little magazine Abamanab, which regularly features LGBTQ literature , is also quick to point out that it doesn’t mean that talent is exclusive to those who are educated. To prove her point she has also scouted poets from among the eunuch community who make a living out of singing and dancing on auspicious ceremonies apart from begging.
Anjali Mondal, a eunuch, from Mallickpur in South 24 Parganas district, is one such talent, who writes songs that are sung when they visit newborns. Even on the phone Mondal breaks into an impromptu jingle: Ma boley aye re Gopal, Ma bole aye, Amar Baap Chand Dhoni Ma Boley aye, Khelche Ratan Mani Amar Koler Bachcha Dhoni, Jashoda Mar Koley Nache Lila Moni (Run to me, Gopal, Call me your Mom)
“I am so happy to get this opportunity. Usually no one cares to give us a chance to showcase whatever little talents we have. When I sing these songs, hardly anybody listens to the lyrics. It is encouraging to get a platform, where we can read out our poems and get recognised." Thirty-nine-old Mondal almost starts sobbing.