Behind him, on a white board are math equations. Sanjo, sitting on a chair in front of it says math will always speak the truth. The way one plus one is always two and you cannot ask it to be four. The way there is the ‘not open nor closed’ set theory. Just like in cricket when the boundary could be in or out. The way he will always be what he is and not what others desire him to be.
Sanjo has sat in front of a camera to say these lines, for Jijo Kuriakose to video document what he had to say. Sanjo had been reluctant at first, uncomfortable of the attention a documentary might bring him. But his friend Sai Rahul and Jijo had convinced Sanjo of the larger good it could do – an awareness to many, a message to trans men that there are others in the community, and help is not far away.
Njan Sanjo – Jijo’s less than 15-minute documentary – goes through the daily moments of a trans man in Kochi, the cycle he rides, the streets he walks through, the experiences he shares.
Sanjo takes Math tuitions at home and does delivery for Uber Eats. Math has not always been his favourite subject. It was the only subject he failed in for his plus 2. But after that he had to learn it and that’s when he found he liked it and could relate so much to it. “I wanted to join the army and for that you had to learn in the Science stream. I reluctantly picked up Math but then I learnt to love the subject,” Sanjo tells TNM.
“If you have a conversation with him, most of his lines would end up in math or sports. Each of us has such interests. I have art,” says Jijo, founder member of Queerala, a welfare group for the LGBTIQ community. He is an artist and has conducted exhibitions under a series called Homomorphism themed on same-sex relationships.
Sanjo had of course had to face the kind of troubles a trans person goes through, in his fight for identity. Like the priest he met at a hospital who told him he was mentally unstable because he was crossdressing, wearing the clothes of men. But what really surprised him was the way his mother had calmly accepted his gender identity after a talk with his doctor, endocrinologist Dr Suja. But Sanjo understands everyone is not so fortunate, many in the community being ostracised by the family.
Jijo has earlier assisted filmmaker Jayan Cherian for Ka Bodyscapes, a film on homosexuality that had to go through a lot of trouble with the censor board to get released. But Njan Sanjo is Jijo’s first independent work as a director. “I have conducted talks in public spaces to spread awareness on the LGBTIQ community. But how many times do you say the same thing over and over again? I have realised that a visual documentation would have more impact,” he says.
A few such visual documentaries have already come, Jijo says – of Vihaan Peethambar, another board member of the Queerala, of Renju Renjimar, a make-up artist in Kochi.
Jijo wanted to present someone new. It is through his friend Sai Rahul that he met Sanjo. “He is an interesting person, the way he would bring math into everything.”
“He would always be one of the first to go to help a trans brother in need,” Jijo says. But between all his positive energy, Sanjo has his disappointments about not getting an official id card for his preferred gender. He reluctantly stood in the women’s queue to vote in the general elections, only because Chinju Aswathi, a candidate representing the community, was contesting. The Supreme Court had in 2014 recognised one’s right to self-determine one’s gender. Kerala has been the first state to introduce a policy for transgender persons in 2015. But the policy still largely remains on paper, says Jijo’s documentary.