by Archana Desai
Laxmi stood like a statue, with tears flowing like a river. In a state of shock, as if someone just pulled the ground from beneath her feet. She could not come to terms with what she just saw.
Her mind was an echo of images of little Meira, echo of her voice, her innocent laughter ringing in her ears even today as she was trying to come to terms with reality. The clock in Laxmi’s mind rewound taking her to the year 2001, thirteen years behind.
Meira was a very pretty child. Fair complexioned with dark eyes, and a lovely mane, she looked like she belonged to the world of angels. When Laxmi first held her in her arms, she could not contain her excitement. Laxmi always thought of Meira as a special blessing of Maa Durga on her. Meira was just a few days old when Laxmi got her home.
It was a very long day, in the May of 1991 and a wretched one too. Having visited at least two-three houses that afternoon for alms, Laxmi and her group of fellow transgenders were mostly turned down and asked to visit after two days. While returning home in the evening Laxmi like everyday stopped around the corner at Ashraf’s tea stall. Ashraf’s tea stall was very famous as it was situated in the middle of the busiest and the most notorious red light areas of the city.
Laxmi’s routine would be incomplete without sharing her grievances with Ashraf over a cup of free tea before heading home. Theirs was a strange friendship. Both belonged to opposite worlds, but shared every little detail of theirs with each other, everyday.
In fact they were known in the entire neighborhood as the ‘Phebicol Jodi’ (Fevicol) which only grew stronger with each passing day.
After their routine chat which majorly comprised of bitching about the ‘Aunties’ and the girls, they would shower the pimps with the choicest abuses, laugh their hearts out before returning to their respective routines. But their favourite among the pimps happened to be Bade Miyan.
Bade Miyan as the name suggests was six feet tall, broad built, fair complexioned man with sharp features and hawk like eyes. He had the knack to pick up the right girl and bring them to the brothels. But he was known and liked for a very strange reason, very unusual at least for a pimp. He never kidnapped or forced the girls into the business, He would only get girls who wanted to willingly join prostitution, so ironical but true. For this reason he was respected tremendously in that area.
Laxmi always felt nice after speaking to Ashraf. Though that particular day did not go off well, Laxmi was not unhappy. She was hopeful about, the next day- thanks to Ashraf and his pep talk. Her house was a five minute walk from Ashraf’s stall. It was in Hijra Basti. One particular thing annoyed Laxmi everyday while walking back home, the huge garbage dump, which was responsible for so many diseases and that awful stink which filled its neighborhood. While she was cribbing about the garbage to herself, she heard a faint cry. She looked around, but could not see anyone. The cry got a little louder and this time she felt it was coming from the direction of the garbage dump. She went closer and the cry got louder. Standing close to it she figured out it was a child’s cry. She rummaged through the garbage to find a small bundle of joy; she could not believe her eyes. It was a girl child wrapped in a torn sheet, abandoned by her mother. Little did Laxmi know that she was to become an integral part of her life. Laxmi picked her up and held her tight, racing towards home. Something within her did not want to look around or search or try to find out who must have left her there. She was feeling very selfish at that moment and she did not regret the thought even for a minute.
It was a custom at ‘Hijra Basti ’to first go to chief Aasha’s house, once everyone got back from work every evening and deposit their day’s earnings. They would all get together and narrate their entire day’s happenings. Laxmi was very nervous and excited about disclosing her unusual earning that day, but she was hopeful that everyone would accept the little one and welcome her warmly.
But she was wrong. Aasha advised her to go back to the dump and just keep the baby where she had found her. Aasha cautioned her against bringing her up saying that she did not belong to their world and even if she brought up the child, she probably would not want to belong to their community once she grew up and understood life. Laxmi’s friends also voiced a similar concern. They all cared for her and would never want to see her hurt. But Laxmi went against them all and decided to bring up the little one.
Her friends at first avoided her and showed their dislike quite openly but eventually when they saw Laxmi’s determination, they gave in. It was then decided by Aasha to have a naming ceremony for their new found wonder. The ceremony was done with a lot of pomp and show and all from the neighborhood were invited. Ashraf was there too. Laxmi named the little one “Meira”.
From that day onwards, Meira was mothered by almost everyone who lived in that Basti. She was the apple of their eyes. Like any other normal child, Meira was enrolled in a neighborhood school and was growing up to be a good looking, extrovert child. She was all of twelve and was after Laxmi’s life to let her throw a big party as she was entering her first teen year. Laxmi had never said no for anything to Meira, though at times she did regret that she had really spoilt her. This time too, she agreed.
The party was organized at one of the very up market restaurants in a posh locality of the city. She had called 20 of her friends. Laxmi had suggested that she would organize a huge party at the Basti itself and invite the entire Basti and her friends and have a grand celebration. But Meira disagreed and insisted that she was just interested in including her friends. Laxmi did feel a little hurt but overlooked it .She had spoken to Ashraf about it and he had pacified her by saying it was very normal for a teenager to rebel and Laxmi should not take such a thing to heart. Laxmi felt relieved after talking to him, like always.
A huge transgender conference was to be held in a different city and Laxmi was chosen by Aasha to represent their city. Laxmi was skeptical about leaving Meira though it was only a matter of three days but at the same time she did not want to let Aasha down as a lot of hopes of the community were pinned on her. With a heavy heart she bade goodbye to Meira, who was entrusted in the care of Aasha and Ashraf. Ashraf had agreed to drop her and pick her up from school all those three days.
The three days were the worst days of Laxmi’s life. She had never left Meira before even for a day. To add to the woes, it had rained heavily the day after she had left. Meira’s school was shut because the entire area was flooded. Laxmi’s train back home was delayed since the tracks were flooded too. Laxmi reached home, desperate to see her angel. To her utter surprise her house was locked, which was very unusual since Ashraf and Aasha knew she would be home any moment. Laxmi’s heart started thumping. Something was not right. She felt her blood pressure shoot. She ran to Aasha’s house. To her surprise Ashraf was also there. Their faces went white seeing her. And Meira was nowhere to be seen. Her heart sank. Something terrible had happened in her absence.
Months passed by. There was no news of Meira. Laxmi had lost her sanity. She would sit alone the whole day in her house, talking to herself, surrounded by Meira’s clothes, her stuffed toys, her books. She shouted and fought with any friend who tried to talk her out of it. Images of Meira would pull her out of sleep and she would weep inconsolably. It had been months she had spoken to Ashraf. He had come over several times but she refused his entry into her house. She held him responsible for whatever had happened.
Her mind took her to that fateful day when Ashraf had narrated, how as usual he dropped Meira to her school at her regular time. Unfortunately it started raining very heavily and the school gave off before half day. Every street was flooded knee deep .It was only post noon that Ashraf suddenly remembered that he should rush to the school to get Meira back On reaching the school, he saw the gates shut. He was aghast. He enquired with the gatekeeper who told him that the school had given off around 11.30 am owing to heavy rains. Ashraf requested the gatekeeper to let him in, hoping to find Meira sitting on the bench outside Principal’s office waiting for him like every day. He was heartbroken to see an empty bench and an empty school. He started frantically calling Meira’s friend’s mothers but to no avail. They were clueless. The remaining day and night and the next day Ashraf and each member of Basti combed the entire neighborhood, but there was no trace of Meira.
Two years passed by and Meira would be all of 15 in two days, Laxmi thought to herself. She had started going out of the house for her regular pheris. While she was getting back home from one such pheris, she heard about some new girl bought from another metro by Bade Miyan. There were rumors that her bidding would be held in a pompous ceremony to be held in Hotel Night Queen one of the prestigious and well known up market hotels in the red light area.
Never before anything like this had taken place.. Laxmi would always get upset when she would hear of any new girl’s arrival. But this newcomer had been brought to Auntie Rosie’s brothel. Aunty Rosie’s brothel had seen two decades in that red light area and was one of the very well known houses. Aunty Rosie was in the profession since she was barely fourteen. She was known to be a very loving and warm lady, unlike the other Aunties and madams around. Hers was the only brothel where Bade Miyan brought girls who were willing to join the profession with their own free will. It was strange but true. Many teenagers and college students who wanted to make a quick buck willingly would be brought here. And Aunty Rosie always called Aasha and her colleagues from Hijra Basti every time a new girl was bought or joined the brothel and seek their blessings.
That morning Aasha had requested Laxmi and a few other colleagues to go to Aunty Rosie’s as she was unwell. Laxmi could never refuse her Chief, though she was not at all up to it. But the fact that Aunty Rosie treated them well and paid them handsomely was all the more a reason for agreeing. It was 5pm and Laxmi and her colleagues, set out to Aunty Rosie’s house. Aunty Rosie’s brothel was like a normal household. Nothing loud about it. Clean and well kept, it lived up to its reputation. Aunty Rosie fed them with tea and snacks and led them upstairs to the room where the new girl was getting ready for the night. Aunty Rosie pushed open the door and the girl was standing with her back towards them. Laxmi and other colleagues were awestruck by her beauty. She was in a light pink Ghaghra with a backless choli. Her colour was fair as milk, hair tied in a loose bun decked with flowers and hands filled with pink and silver bangles. She must have been 5’5” tall, slender with beautiful curves.
She turned around and was introduced to them as Meira. Laxmi stood like a statue. In a state of shock as if someone had pulled the earth from beneath her feet. She could not come to terms with what she just saw. That was her baby, her Meira. She rushed towards her to hug her, but was in for a rude shock. Meira refused to recognize her. No amount of coaxing or cajoling worked. She just behaved as if they had never known each other before. Aunty Rosie stood confused, trying to figure out what was going on. Laxmi left the place in a huff. It was then one of her colleagues narrated the entire story to Aunty Rosie. Aunty Rosie was in tears. But Meira stood like a rock. She was not moved. She had decided what she wanted and did not budge for even a second. Aunty Rosie felt helpless.
By this time word was around the entire neighborhood and in the Basti too that the girl was none other than Meira. On hearing this Ashraf rushed to the brothel. He and Bade Miyan both tried to talk Meira out of the situation but she had made up her mind. Late that night Ashraf went over with Bade Miyan to Laxmi’s house. Bade Miyan apologized to Laxmi profusely. Meira was Bade Miyan’s find. It was on the evening of that fateful rainy day, when Meira was shivering all wet and alone at the station. Bade Miyan noticed her. He enquired repeatedly who her parents were or where she was from. To this she had replied that she was an orphan and was homeless and would do anything to earn big money. He offered to take her along with him to the city where he was travelling. Meira quietly went along.
Little idea did Bade Miyan have that this was a girl from his neighborhood. He kept her at his sister’s house in that city and got her to Aunty Rosie’s only a day before the bidding was to take place. This was all done with Meira’s full consent and willingness. For the first time in twenty years of his career, he cursed himself for being a pimp. Laxmi did not utter a word. Neither did she cry. Her world had just shattered in front of her eyes.
A year passed by, Laxmi had forgiven Ashraf. She had forgiven bade Miyan too, who had given up being a pimp and had started educating the children of the prostitutes by setting up a small school in that area. After that chaos in the night of the bidding Aunty Rosie had stalled the bidding giving a chance to Meira to rethink up on her decision. On the pretext of meeting Laxmi, Meira fled from there and nobody knew where she went.
One winter night while staring at the sky, some thoughts crossed over Laxmi’s mind and she rushed to Ashraf’s house, got him over and woke everyone up. In the centre of the huge chowk of the Basti lay a heap of clothes, toys, books, photos and everything that belonged to Meira. Laxmi lit a matchstick and threw it on that heap. That night Laxmi lit a pyre of Meira’s memories. She put Meira to rest and buried her love deep within.