Lata is as charming as the moon is to the waves on a clear summer night. With her almond-brown skin, egg-shaped paunch and firm bosom, she transfixes every gaze upon her elegant stride. She is a transgender who boards the Churchgate-Virar local of 8:45 am from Mahim. Every day she gets on with her business cheerfully, joking around with her fellow passengers in the Ladies’ Compartment. A few days ago, she patted a young girl and said, ‘Don’t be scared of the world. The more you are scared, the more they’ll want to scare you’.
In the humid weather of October, I enjoyed listening to her daily zingers. I would adhere to my timings so that I never missed the 8:45 am local. Sometimes, she’d bless me for giving her some spare change and at other times she did so, even if I didn’t or couldn’t give her a penny. As she swayed her palloo imbued with the carefree bounce of chrysanthemums in the summer wind; all my fellow passengers admired her spirit. A few old women were her friends and she always made it a point to throw more of her witticism at them; so they giggled in glee despite the stench of Mahim’s Mithi river.
All was well until there came a day during the surprise showers of late November when Lata’s mood was as bad as the muck-filled streets of Mahim. She entered the bogie, more quiet than usual, as though her conscience had been rippled. Someone refused to pay her any cash, and at that, she broke down. In a bitter slash of resentment, she began ripping her palloo and unhooking her blouse. A few women held her as she screamed, “Ever since I was a child of eight, I’ve been feeding my family with this money you give me. So many years since, today you doubt me and my intentions? My happiness does not come from this petty cash, but from your trust and love. I bless you and wish you good, in return. Don’t you see it? All you see is this body right? Then come on now see it all you want. I am not scared.”
So many words had flown out of her, like the pot of suppression had shattered to pieces; only to spill relief onto her seething soul. Her courageous pursuit of happiness was both inspiring and painful. Fortunately, I still see her sometimes, when I pass Mahim, in her usual bubbliness, nudging a woman here and throwing a wisecrack there. Her manner is too kind for the world; Mumbaikars continue to stare at her, and she continues to bask in their attention with more pleasure than ever.