When the man from the gas agency took Hima aside to talk to her, she didn’t realise it was going to be about the new staff she'd hired at her stall in Thiruvananthapuram. He asked her if they couldn’t get any other job – did Hima have to hire them at her food place? Hima runs Chapathi Casa, that cooks and sells different kinds of chapathis, and the staff that the man was referring to are Vasuki and Mahima, two trans women. They realised that the man was talking to her about them, ‘from the look on Hima chechi’s face’. They have faced this transphobia all their lives. Hima, however, decided to stand up for them – Vasuki and Mahima are staying, she said, even if it meant a loss of business.
“I asked the man from the gas agency what other job did he mean. And he said, something like ‘home nursing’. It is the same question a few other customers had too – ‘couldn’t they work somewhere they wouldn’t be seen?’ Some others would suggest I make them wear masks or purdahs. And then there are those who drive away on seeing them,” Hima says, describing the transphobia that many trans people face on an everyday basis.
“Whatever happens, I am not firing them just because they are transgender people,” Hima says.
Vasuki and Mahima ignore all such comments, they let Hima deal with it. “Only once, to the man from the gas agency, I had a talk. I simply asked him who all are there at his home. When he said he has a wife and children, I said I was no different a woman than his wife, it is nothing to laugh about,” Vasuki says. She is from Kollam and had completed her B.Ed. before she ran away from home.
“I spent four days at a railway station with just Rs 40 in hand. Then I met an artiste, Apoorva, who brought me to Thiruvananthapuram and introduced me to Renjini Pillai of the Oasis Cultural Society (an organisation for the welfare of trans persons). Apoorva and Dev adopted me as their daughter. And now, months later, my family back in Kollam have accepted me,” says Vasuki.
Mahima has not been as fortunate. She comes from Chittoor in Palakkad, and could only study till tenth standard. “I was beaten up for showing feminine traits even as a young person. I did not know then that I was a trans woman. In my younger days, I was in a boys’ hostel at school and had to face a lot of sexual harassment. After growing up, no one would give me a job anywhere. It was only two weeks ago that I came to Thiruvananthapuram, to Oasis. I got adopted by a trans woman called Nakshatra as her daughter,” Mahima says.
It has not been easy for them, choosing to work at Chapathi Casa. “I was not sure about it at first because I would always avoid being in public. But seven months after being at home, I thought I should get out. Now I take a bus and come, and I feel quite comfortable about it,” Vasuki says.
Mahima stays nearby and walks to Hima’s stall. Together, Mahima and Vasuki do everything from preparing the dough for chapathis and processing it in a machine and packing it. “The only legal requirement needed was that they carry health cards, just like all of us at the stall. I made sure we all have it,” says Hima, who did her MBA in Australia before coming back home to run a food place because of her passion for it.