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Updated: September 4, 2010 17:28 IST

Glimpses of hidden lives

KALA KRISHNAN RAMESH
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A much needed introduction to hijras' lives and their community.

A.Revathi's The Truth About Me is an autobiography that needed to be written and deserves to be read, not only because speech is a crucial element in the texturing of queer spaces, but also because Revathi herself believes that telling her story – which is also the story of her community – can bring changes in perception regarding the identity and rights of hijras. And for the general reader, there is much in these three- hundred-odd pages to be absorbed by; at a basic universal level, The Truth About Me gives readers – like the woman who appears in these pages – glimpses into the otherwise hidden lives of hijras, so that it becomes possible to have reactions to them beyond the customary fear-hatred-scorn. Revathi herself hopes in the Preface: “ …that by publishing my life story, larger changes can be achieved. I hope this book of mine will make people see that hijras are capable of more than just begging and sex work.”

Impact

The reader veers between shock, a sort of guilt by implication and relief as Revathi recounts event after event of violence and abuse, and the rare moments of joy and fulfillment. The Truth About Me manages a constant reversing of the lens from individual to community and vice versa, to enable readers to get a sense of how organic the community is to every aspect of a hijra's life.

At another level, however, it's difficult to ignore the absence of a layering that would be expected in a life narrative like this one, resulting in the story often carrying the tone of a public testimony in an NGO space. The rather difficult negotiation that NGO-influenced writing has to make between public and private remains unresolved here, and because Revathi chooses to squeeze her story into a framework of rights and identity, the private suffers and we don't really get a sense of the interior life of Revathi, which she does promise the reader in the Preface. But perhaps, that complaint needs to be addressed to the editor.

Effective

That being said, it's important to point out that The Truth About Me works quite well as an introduction to the life of a hijra and her community, with its easy chronology and linear progression, and its limited palette of characters and emotions. And that will certainly give readers reasons to re-examine attitudes to this community of citizens, who moulting society not only could not find a place for, but who it seems determined to criminalise and marginalise as a matter of casual routine.

The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story; A.Revathi; Tr. V.Geetha; Penguin; Rs.299

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