By Manobi Bandyopadhyay with Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey
As a twenty-three-year old, I realized that I needed a steady job because I had to fund my own expenses, which were not necessarily limited to cigarettes and drinks! I wanted to watch theatre, attend musical soirees, buy unisex clothes from Anandam or from Tyagraj Hall exhibitions and, of course, lipstick, kohl and what not!
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long. I got a part-time lecturer’s position at SriKrishna College, Bagula, for Rs 125 a month. I felt really happy. The arrangement was that I was to continue with my MPhil. Since this did not require my presence at JU every day, I could easily travel to Bagula on the Gede local train route.
It was a rural college and the teachers were treated like social reformers by the villagers. The college was in Nadia, the district that was made world famous by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—the famous Bengali spiritual teacher who still dominates the psyche there.
The day I entered college, people noticed my long hair and ‘different’ looks and word spread like fire that Sri Chaitanya had come back to teach at the college. I had a trying time making them understand that I was their ‘Sir’, like any other faculty member at the college.
It wasn’t easy reaching the college from my home in Naihati. I would first take a local train to Ranaghat and then change trains to go to Bagula. From Ranaghat, quite a few of us would travel together. The other teachers took a liking towards me and took me under their wing.
Interestingly, around this time, an offer to join the police force as a sub-inspector also came my way from the employment exchange but everyone advised me against it. The other teachers told me that since I was academically oriented, the teaching profession suited me best. They sympathize with me for not having a permanent job but encouraged me to continue teaching, so that they could appeal for me whenever a vacancy opened up.
I still think about my professor friends at Bagula—they were some of the best people I have ever come across. Most of them had been given residential quarters on campus but they preferred to travel from their homes. Some gave me keys to their quarters, so that I could take private tuitions there and earn a bit extra.
Through the employment exchange, I finally found a permanent teaching position at the Patulia Boys’ School which was situated between Khardah and Titagarh. I joined the school on 20 December 1989. At the time, they did not have a senior secondary section.
As a teacher of Bengali, I was supposed to teach classes V to X. I was very happy to join the school because I got to interact with young boys who, I believe, invariably instil freshness in one’s life with their energy and enthusiasm. Life was suddenly very exciting. I was told that with my knack for dancing, I could set up a dance and theatre group at the school. It was an additional responsibility which I grabbed. Soon the boys started calling me Jackson Sir. I had long curly hair and I danced, so they found in me a likeness to Michael Jackson.
Even after all these years, if you go to that school and ask about Jackson Sir, they will tell you my story. Though I was nowhere close to openly declaring my sexual status, and was still ‘male’ in the public’s consciousness, people around me were not blind to my definite feminine traits.
I was stunned at how, one by one, boys would come to me and confess that they were transgender but tried their best to hide this identity for fear of parental and societal backlash.
There were so many of them, but boys like Omkar* and Ritankar* became close to me. It was as if they were waiting for my emancipation to take place so they could follow suit.
Omkar is still in touch with me, and I have closely followed his academic progress from school to college and then to university. He also underwent a sex change surgery later on. He was from a very poor background but an extremely talented dancer.
He joined my school dance troupe as an eager learner and an attractive performer. I remember when he started dancing, his father pleaded with me to stop otherwise his girlish traits would become more manifested! I feel sad when I think about Ritankar. Despite my best efforts, he chose not to take his studies seriously and started having sex at a very young age. He had a male hunk of a partner with whom he ran away. I think he went to Bihar and left no trace.
My transgender clothes and feminine disposition had aroused a lot of curiosity in the neighbourhood around the school, and in the first few months, people would gather near the school to see me enter. They found it funny that a person whom they would have loved to call a hijra had actually managed to bag a teacher’s job at a reputed school. By then I had grown used to such attention and did not mind their stares. In fact, I also started smiling and waving back at them.
One very senior teacher at the time was particularly kind to me and welcomed me into the fold quite amicably. But gradually, I started getting the feeling that he was using me to get staffroom information. When I realized this, I started distancing myself from him.
Image courtesy: Penguin Random House India
But I soon fell head over heels for another fellow teacher—Biman Chowdhury.* He was handsome, had a good physique and was quite an intellectual. When he confessed his love to me and I reciprocated, he knew he was entering into a relationship with a transgender. We were both madly in love with each other and wanted to start a family as soon as possible.
We were both financially independent and did not care what people said about the relationship. Biman was desperate to have me as his wife and felt strongly about my sex change surgery. I too didn’t want to have anal sex with him. I wanted breasts and a vagina to satisfy my husband. He took me to a psychiatrist near Gariahat one afternoon. Just before the appointment, we had a quick lunch at a restaurant called Nirala where we promised to stay together as man and wife for life.
It was such a passionate moment that it will remain etched in my mind forever.
At the clinic, the doctor insisted on talking to us separately. She behaved quite normally with me but told Biman to stay away from this relationship as he would be wasting his life with me. I will never forget Biman’s face as he came out of the doctor’s chamber. He looked shattered and started vomiting. He couldn’t face me, but my instinct said that everything between us had changed. It took him a long time to get over the relationship and tell me that we were breaking up.
I am yet to understand how a doctor’s advice can break two people up.
*Names changed to protect identity
Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Random House India from "A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi- A Candid Biography of India's First Transgender Principal" by Manobi Bandyopadhyay with Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey.