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Supariwali Maadhu

Supariwali Maadhu At fourteen I realised I was not a normal girl. This bothered me, but I did not confide in anybody. I am sure my parents knew, but they never mentioned it. I had other brothers and sisters, but I'd rather not talk about them.

My dad used to sell supari. I enjoyed working with him. I helped him in his business till I was fourteen. My name is Maadhu, people called me Supariwali Maadhu. I loved that name. Even today, in Bombay I am known as Supariwali Maadhu. In Koliwada you can ask anybody for me, I am well known.

I was born in 1956. I forget the exact date. I have never celebrated it anyway. I was born in Bhavani which is a small town near Erode in Tamil Nadu. I had a normal childhood. I went to a C S I school in my town. Since the beginning I did not like school. Nothing registered in my head so I gave up after I passed class II. My parents never forced me to study. In those days people were not so bothered about educating children, particularly girls. I decided to help my dad with his business.

A Karakattam troupe had come to our town to perform in the local temple.Karakattam is a unique dance form. It is normally performed only in temples. In this the dancer balances a pot on her head throughout the dance. I loved that troupe. They also spoke very nicely to me. I told them that I would like to join them. They agreed to take me with them. I saw an opportunity to escape and I seized it.

Supariwali Maadhu I went to Erode with them. There were men and women in the troupe and I was the only eunuch. This fact did not seem to bother them and for the first time in my life I felt happy. I spent my teenage years dancing all over the state. I was with them for five years.

After sometime I grew tired of dancing and wanted to do something else. Just then I came across a group of travelling actors. Like us, the Sundal Janaki group from Salem performed plays in various villages during temple festivals. As our dance troupe was performing in the same village at the same time, I asked Janaki, the leader of the actor's group, if I could join them. She readily agreed. She said a dancer was always welcome as villagers love dance. My dancing troupe agreed to let me go.

I spent three years with the Sundal Janaki group. I loved it . It was a new group but I still felt lonely. I saw men flirting with women, quite a few couples also came together in our group. I felt out of place. I yearned to be part of a society instead of a freak in another society.

Fate intervened when a group of eunuchs descended on Salem from Delhi. I was overjoyed to see so many of my kind together, earlier I had seen one or two. They told me that they were going to Bombay. I wanted to go with them and they agreed without a second thought. I reached Koliwada, a suburb in Bombay when I was 22 years old.

I was adopted by an elderly eunuch. This was the custom. Today, even I have adopted a child. Her name is Shantini, she is 18 years old. She was missing her parents so I sent her home for a holiday.

Supariwali Maadhu In Bombay we earn our money through various methods. My 'adopted' mother gave me a lot of options. I could bully passersby on the train, at traffic lights or almost anywhere. A few of our kind also indulge in prostitution.

I didn't bother joining any of these people. I was, after all, a professional dancer. I formed my own group and trained them. We perform when there is a birth in a family or a marriage. We don't go around asking for work. The families concerned come looking for us as it is a part of Hindu custom. I charge according to the affluence of the families. We average 60 rupees a day.

Twelve years back I bought a chawl (a shanty) in the Koliwada slums for Rs 15,000. The government does not give us any concessions though every other minority gets something or the other. We are not entitled to education or jobs. We don't even get ration cards because they are meant for families.

My father located me with great difficulty in Bombay. He pleaded with me to return home, but I refused. I did not return because I knew at home everybody would want to know why I was not married. I knew they would ridicule me and my family if they discovered the truth. I did not want my family to be ashamed because of me.

Supariwali Maadhu Many people wrongly believe that all eunuchs are Tamilians. There are eunuchs in every state. In a city like Bombay eunuchs of different states live at different places. As we all speak many languages it is difficult to differentiate.

We have been around since time immemorial. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, is cursed to be a eunuch for one year of his life. We have been cursed to spend our entire lives as eunuchs. We have never approached a doctor for help. Do you know any doctor doing a research on this subject? Nobody will. Nobody finds us worthwhile.

We are the pariahs of society, but I do not hold it against God.

As told to A Ganesh Nadar. Photographs: Jewella C Miranda