Queer Self-Reflections - Ponni Anjali
Duration: 00:42:38; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 29.798; Saturation: 0.117; Lightness: 0.333; Volume: 0.090; Cuts per Minute: 1.008; Words per Minute: 92.576
Tamil Nadu as a state was the first to have a transgender welfare board and to offer benefits and schemes to transwomen especially but it is uncertain how much of this was of actual benefit to the transgender community. Recent judgment in the National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014) has proclaimed that trans people are entitled to rights and dignity, including official recognition of their status as either trans or whichever gender they prefer. In contrast to the ill-considered petition on S.377 of the Indian Penal Code, the efforts of different groups including transgender people to get official recognition has been marginally more successful.
Namaste! When I think of this Bharathanatyam school that I started I feel very happy. I feel happy that I have been able to achieve to this level. This is the first phase. At the same time when I think about past I feel if it was all a dream.
I was trying for this kind of achievement and God has graced me with this level of achievement. I thank God!
My name is Anjali. When I think of this life, I feel very happy because my past life vas very unhappy.
I was abused and beaten up. To have learnt dance and achieved so much, makes me very happy. When I think of my past life and compare it to my present one, I feel very happy.
I started this Bharatanatyam School on 1 June 2011. This is something that I will never forget in life. I didn’t think this would happen so quickly.
Same as Ponni said. We are dancing as sisters. My aim was to start this dance school. I never imagined this would happen so quickly.
Earlier, Tirunangai (Aravani) meant to have a lot of love affairs.
I also had an affair with a boy called Arul. And I gave up a lot of things in life for him.
There were many things I didn’t do. I gave up a government job that had been offered to me.
I provided him with a very comfortable life.
I had a real talent in Bharatanatyam which he didn’t encourage. I didn’t practice so I couldn’t nurture that talent.
I had a difference of opinion with him and when I came out of that relationship,
I started taking Bharatanatyam seriously. I applied and studied Lower in Bharatanatyam. Studying this was of no use to me.
I wanted to take Bharatanatyam to the people, particularly to the Aravanis. I wanted the Aravanis to learn Bharatanatyam. I wanted to depict our lifestyles though a dance drama.
To take this dream to people, I required a person in pant and shirt. I was wondering how to represent our lifestyle in this form, when I met this Thirunangai Anjali.
I got an opportunity to teach her dance. I also got a better life for myself in Andipatti.
I conveyed my opinion to her I wanted her to come to Chennai and open a school there. It is my dream.
I could achieve it step by step. Anjali brought me to Chennai and encouraged me. She was my support throughout to go forward step by step.
I started a small class in an 8X4 room.
I started teaching the Aravanis community Bharatanatyam. I have come to this stage through a lot of progress in life.
Like everyone there was tragedy in my life too. I hav left house for 12 years. They have not accepted me. I too did not go and join them.
It was too painful thing and I even tried suicide.
But for me to have achieved to this level the main reason is my Tirunangai amma Geethamma, Ponni and many other friends.
Because of these people I have reached a stage of my life and happy.
I learnt dance and developing this art form and happily living with many friends. I dont know how to tell you because I had lost everythign and my friends brought me back to life.
Looking back at my life, one serious matter was that nobody in my family had finished their degree.
I had a desire to get a degree. They would stop the schooling by 6th or 7th standard. Later they would send us all for small jobs.
They tried to send me to job but I was very interested in studying and finished 12th standard.
There were lots of cotton mills in my area. I went to many of these places looking for a job but nobody gave me any work.
At last I got a job to look after accounts and I was doing it.
Somebody came to my house at 9 in the morning in pant and shirt.
He told me that he was going to a house where a marriage was about to take place.
I asked him about how he was he looking earlier in the morning while lifting loads and now he looked so different in pant and shirt. He told me that my work starts at 4 in the morning and got over by 9, that he’d get his salary and go home.
I hadn’t realized that there was such a job where you could finish work early and then still go to college. During my 3 years doing BSc in Mathematics, I used to lift loads in the morning and then run to college.
My friends made a lot of fun of me. At that time, finishing my degree was the most important thing in life.
I completed it amidst great difficulties. Now when I go back on the same road in a saree, I can’t believe that I used to lift loads on this road and run to college. It is all so funny to me now.
It is something that I can’t forget.
I have nothing to say.
When I was working with a NGO .There were many men and women working there but I was the only transgender.
There was a difference in the way they treated me in the group.
When we went out in a group, the women did not have the mental maturity to accept me as a woman.
They made me a part of the men’s group. I could observe these differences clearly.
After I started dancing Bharathanatyam, I started observing more differences. Facial expressions are very important in Bharatanatyam. For the Thirunangai, there is always an element of femininity in their movements and a lot of facial expressions in their natural behavior.
So it was very easy for me to show good facial expressions during the dance.
This was very helpful when I danced especially when I tried to bring out social messages through dance dramas. In my dance class there are many boys as well as girls.
I have the abilty to teach boys and the grace and femininity to teach girls as well. Because I am a thirunangai, this came easy to me.
I take classes in Ambattur. When I go there I have this fear about what others will think of me, a thirunangai taking dance classes.
But now nobody can sense the difference because the dance comes naturally to me. They give respect to my dancing skills.
People who attend my dance classes don’t think of me as different and they have accepted me.
But the ignorant public sees me as different when I travel in a bus. They hesitate to sit next to me. But when they come to know of my talent, they come and sit beside me and talk nicely.
Now we stand before a mirror. When we cry, it will show a crying image. If we laugh, it will reflect a laughing image.
Like that, in a society, if the thirunangai behaves like everybody else if they sit quietly while travelling by bus like the general public, there is a certain level of acceptance.
There is a greater level of awareness right now compared to earlier times.
There is awareness about who a thirunangai is. People accept us based on how we behave. When a thirunangai has talent, there is greater level of acceptance. When they don’t have any special talent, the respect and acceptance depends on the way they behave in public. When we’re travelling, if we’re ourselves, nobody bothers us.
There are men, women and thirunangai, but according to me, nobody sees me differently.
However they look at me differently when I go to a shop. They will ask me to do the procedure to remove the evil eye from the shop.
They’ll ask me to do this for children as well. This is the difference.
They’ll ask me if I am a thirunangai and ask me to perform these rituals.
In a bus it is all very casual but I remember times when they have beaten me, thrown colour at me and chased me out.
When I walked, they’d throw stones at me and out of fear I’d run away very fast.
They used to torture me like this but now in the past 3-4 years, there has been a gradual awakening. They now live together with the thirunangais and don’t look at us as social outcasts.
I was born in Pondicherry and studied till 5th standard there.
I came to Chennai with my parents and stopped studying when I was in the 5th standard.
In Chennai I made friends with 2-3 other thirunangai at the age of 14.
I went around with them for nearly 2 years. We had a good time.
I went to Mumbai at the age of 16. I faced a lot of problems there it was a very difficult time. I suffered for 5 years I truggled hard and I also had surgery then. After that I went back to Chennai and now teach dance at this school.
When i started getting involved with Tirunangais at the age of 14 there were a lot of problems at home.
My father would beat me up when he came home. For one year he kept hitting me.
The second year, he stopped. He stopped speaking to me.
They wouldn’t give me food or wash my clothes.
They wouldn’t think me of me as their child – they thought of me as a stranger. They would treat me as a third person – this was very difficult for me.
I never got any love from my parents. When I started changing, they treated me very badly. I never got any love or affection from them. I tried to leave but I couldn’t. They stopped speaking to me and started torturing me.
Then I started moving very deeply with the thirunangais. One thirunangai took me to Mumbai.
I was taken to a place where there was a lot of prostitution. I became a sex worker. I suffered there for 6 months.
Not able to bear the difficulties, without telling anybody, I moved to another place.
There I was doing prostitution, here I was begging.
There was no difference between the two. One was done at home and the other on the road.
Whatever I earned, they used to hit me and take it away. I begged and pleaded for them to perform the surgery.
They did that for me and after that what work did I have there?
After the operation and after I’d spent all my money, I came to Chennai.
There somebody, one thirunangai adopted me and I stayed with her for a month. Afterwards I got an opportunity.
I heard from friends that in a place called Andipatty near Madurai, they were teaching Bharatanatyam. They asked me if I were interested.
I was very interested and there was no need to spend any money as it was free.
There Ponni became my friend and she told me that we could go to Chennai. She told me that I was like her sister and that I could always go to her house.
She was studying and had come up the hard way. Step by step we progressed and have come to this stage.
We have faced a lot of difficulties in life which we overcame.
The main reason for starting this class was a thirunangai. Her name is Auto Gopi. She drives a share auto to earn money.
There is an organization called Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation from where she arranged loans for other thirunangais to buy autos.
She told me that she’d arrange for a similar loan for me for an auto but I asked her instead to help with the dance.
Immediately she said we’d try and called Ponni and took me to TIDCO where we got a loan immediately for starting the school.
I am deeply indebted to this tirunangai and TIDCO for getting us the loan. Without TIDCO, it’d have been very difficult for me. Ponni has a lot of natural talent and TIDCO gave us a loan on that basis.
Hello. My name is Ponni. I was born and brought up in Tuticorin.
I was the last child in my family.
Since childhood, I’ve been behaving in a very feminine way but my family never looked at me as different.
They never told me to behave in a more masculine manner.
Since they didn’t treat me differently, I grew up with these feminine characteristics. I had a few small wishes and one of them was to learn dance.
In my family, for generations, nobody had studied beyond 5th or 6th standard.
When I finished 8th standard, my parents told me to stop my schooling and search for some work.
I fought with them to study further and my elder sister came from Madurai to fight on my behalf. I have 2 elder brothers. My elder sister argued with my parents saying that they hadn’t educated 2 sons and that they should at least educate the third one.
With great difficulty, I finished my 10th standard. Again they started pestering me to stop my studies.
They told me that I wasn’t going to get any job after studying anyway.
Again my elder sister came to fight for me. She told my mother that I had to be educated and that I would study and earn for the family.
I studied up to 12th standard. I joined a big school late and since I was very much interested, I joined the first group (science group).
I first started dancing when I was in 11th standard. I had wanted to dance since much before but I had no opportunities and I was scared.
There was a personality development class in Tuticorin. There was also a dance class called “Naannal”.
I persuaded my teacher to let me join the class. He teased me asking me if I was going to become another Kamal Hassan.
Because generally for Bharatanatyam, a dancer should be very fair, beautiful and have good facial expressions.
I kept thinking that I should learn Bharatanatyam but nobody came forward to teach me.
I first joined ‘Naanal’ in 8th standard but I left it because of the 10th standard exams. I re-joined it in the 11th standard. I finished ‘Alaaripu’ and ‘Adavu’.
I had to stop once again because of the 12th standard exams.
Then my family once again started asking me to leave my studies as I had finished 12th standard now. I didn’t call my sister this time because I didn’t want her to be involved.
She struggled to help me study till 12th; couldn’t I study on my own now?
In the 12th holidays, I joined as an accountant at in Kayal Market. I used to get paid about Rs 300 per month and I gave it all to my family. They gave me Rs 10 out of that for my expenses.
I visited many mills for work but no one gave me a job. I wasted one year in this process.
Tuticorin is a harbor city. I tried getting jobs on ships but failed. I was too shy to go around asking.
I was very thin and I was afraid that they would find something to tease about me.
There was a person called Bai in our colony who used to lift loads at 4 in the morning.
He would be back home by 9 AM.
I thought that this work was nice. I joined as a labourer for lifting loads at the port. When they placed heavy loads on me, my head would shake.
Even though it was difficult, only by doing this could I earn money for further education.
I would pause and do the work slowly like a girl.
Many people teased me but I was working as well as studying so I never bothered about these taunts. I was also not sexually abused and other parents would point me out as a role model to their children.
They asked me to advise other students as well.
Only my father knew about this. Once he came to the shop to buy wood. At the time I had applied to study BSc and my teacher counseled him and made him sign the admission form for this.
My mother didn’t know about this for 6 months.
I used to take my uniform to my workplace at Kayal Market. In 1996, they used to charge Rs 2 for using the bathroom.
I used to take bath there, change into my clothes and run to college. I did this for 3 years while finishing my BSc Mathematics.
My mother found out after 6 months of this and felt bad that her son was lifting loads as he studied.
After she found out, she didn’t object. I finished my BSc.
All thirunangais have a crush on men. I also had a crush on a relative of mine.
I lost many things because of this attraction.
For example, I lost the government job that had been offered to me. I got a job in the Railways – I said no to that as well.
My friends scared me saying that there would be a lot of boys there.
I would get shivers when I thought about working amongst all these boys. So I left that as well.
I thought I’d do a diploma in Bharatanatyam.
There is a government music school in Tuticorin where I finished a 3 year diploma.
While I was studying there, I got a very good opportunity – the college was going to teach 15 thirunangais Bharatanatyam and I was offered the post of trainer.
This was at Andipatty, a small town near Madurai.
In that training course, there were a lot of powerful Aravanis. I was very afraid because so far I had interacted only with thirunangais who used to wear pant and shirt like me.
I had never interacted with the thirunangais who used to wear sarees.
I was afraid to teach them and scared of how they’d behave with me. But they gave me a lot of respect as a master. They also respected the art form a lot. They gave me the respect students gave teachers.
I realized something during this training- that I should learn Bharatanatyam well and take this dance to my people and the common man.
I wanted to learn it from ‘Naanal’ in the 8th standard but couldn’t – I wasn’t given admission.
One, because I wasn’t fair.
Two, my parents never came for the admission – I had asked them myself.
The reasons that made me want to start a class were - one, the way they rejected me.
Two, I wanted my people, those who had an interest in dance to come forward and form a group.
I wanted to teach them dance so that we could put up a dance drama about ourselves. About the past, present and future of the Aravani community.
I also wanted to portray the bad treatment meted out to women like dowry deaths, female infanticide and also environmental issues.
I decided to form a group of thirunangais and put dance dramas.
I had a lot of opportunities to talk openly about many issues. In that group, Anjali was very interested in the art form.
I asked her to come to Chennai with me because a lot of things were happening in that city. Anjali encouraged me in this idea.
I told my family about moving to Chennai. I gave them all the money I had earned lifting loads. I did all that a son does for his parents – I settled them in a house.
I told them my lifestyle would be different from now onwards.
I made them understand that I was different – I had a feminine disposition. They also knew from the beginning that I used to draw rangolis, do the household work like a girl. They never suspected me. Even when others teased me, my mother would defend me.
Because of the support my mother gave me, I never did anything wrong like running away to Mumbai.
Because my parents accepted me the way I was, I felt I had to develop myself in the best way possible.
I got an opportunity to go to Chennai. This had always been a dream. It had never turned into reality.
I joined an organization and got a regular salary. I did a diploma in Masters of Social Work.
Anjali was the one who gave monetary help and made me study all this.
Life went on like this for some time.
I met a thirunangai called Tirunangai Autogopi who told me she could arrange for a loan for me to purchase an auto if I learnt to drive one.
But I said my dream was to start a school of Bharatanatyam even if it were a small room of 10X6 inside my house. I trained around 10 aravanis in Bharatanatyam and we put up dance dramas on social messages and our struggles.
I didn’t teach Bharatanatyam to the general public.
Since I didn’t have a proper place, I couldn’t teach anybody else this dance. I asked Aathir to arrange a loan for opening a Bharatanatyam school for me and she agreed to try.
She spoke to someone called Sheela Rani who was about to transferred from there in 2 days time.
She told Aathirai to call me immediately. I had done a lot of Bharatanatyam programs with other Aravanis.
I ran to her place with all the paper cuttings about these and also took a CD of my dance performance along.
She immediately asked me my name and where I’d come from. She was impressed by my dance. I told her I’d given a lot of dance programs and that I had passed Lower grade in Bharatanatyam and also that I was learning Nattuvangam from Shivakumar sir.
She asked me to perform one dance piece for her. I performed the Ganapathi Kavuthuvam in front of her.
She told me that she was convinced that I could train the aravanis in Bharanatyam and that I could take this dance to the common man, She said she would arrange for a loan for me.
Immediately the trader’s association president, Mr. Rajeshanna gave this place to me rent-free.
Others did not give me any place for this. The opinion about thirunagais was not good.
They’d call me a thirunangai and refuse me accommodation. They would accept me in a pant and shirt but if I wore a saree, they didn’t have the mental maturity to accept me.
This Rajeshanna told me that he had been observing me for the past few years and that he liked my character very much.
I was participating in an auction chit conducted by him and I had observed all the rules and regulations correctly. He had a very good opinion of me and gave this place to me.
The government gave me an opportunity to start the dance school and now I am learning the nattuvangam.
I am given a lift up to Ambattur. First I had only 4 students in the school. Everybody was afraid of a thirunangai taking the class.
The first week 4 people came; the second week - 10. By the third week it became 14. I gave a dance performance In the nearby Perumaal temple with these 14 students.
Both Anjali and I danced. I had taught Anjali all the adavus and the other nuances of Bharatanatyam.
If it was s a weekend class, I would take class on Saturday and Anjali would take class on Sunday.
Sometimes I would go to Ambattur on Saturday and Anjali would take those classes as well.
Slowly we progressed and achieved success. Now we have 25 students in this class.
There are 3 older students in the class.
Two boys have joined our class and recently a small boy got admitted.
I asked their parents how they were letting their sons learn Bharatanatyam from a thirunangai.
They replied saying that learning dance was more important.
Many male actors who perform have not turned into thirunangais. Likewise our boys won’t turn into thirunangais either.
They want their boys to learn dance and earn a good name. We believe that these boys will not turn into thirunangais.
Now the first year has been completed. 2 weeks from now, in the second week of July, I am going to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the school. I am celebrating this in a very open space and hope more and more people will join.
Ponni and Anjali have started a dance school in Chennai for children of lower caste communities and for other thirunangai (transwomen). The usual occupations for transwomen are sexwork and begging, and it is with great difficulty that transwomen are able to find other ways of sustaining themselves.