In its effort to correct dominant prejudices against hijras, A. Revathi’s translated autobiography, published by Penguin India, The Truth About Me – A Hijra Life Story, positions the reader as an anthropologist of hijra life, in particular into the everyday violence they endure. Revathi sees her writing as an extension of her role as a rights activist, who has been working with Bengaluru-based sexuality rights organisation, Sangama, for over nine years. She speaks about reading, writing, and the reception of her book
What role does reading play in your life?
To tell you the truth I have not read much. I regularly read newspapers, weeklies and magazines but almost no literary books. Accessing Tamil literature in Bangalore has not been easy either, and managing to squeeze my day for time to read a novel, almost impossible. Though one book I’ve read twice, and which inspired me to write The Truth About Me, was Bama’s Karukku.
And writing, what has that meant for you?
Writing, for me, is a way of bringing together the two worlds that I am part of – the hijra community and my family. Be it writing my autobiography, short stories or compiling Unarvum Uruvamum (Emotions and the Body – a book on hijra lives in South India published in 2004), writing makes these two worlds talk to each other. In fact I believe that not just writing but all the arts offer us a way to do this. Art is able to connect us when all face-to-face conversations have failed due to prejudices or feelings of hurt and pain. For many hijras who have been denied access to formal education, dancing, acting and singing become potent ways to express their feelings and ideas to the rest of the world.
Recently my hijra friends encountered a woman on the streets who hugged them and begged them for my phone number and having got it called me to tell me how much the book meant to her and how it helped her rid herself off her prejudices and fear of hijras. This is what is important for me; to touch people’s hearts through my art.
How has the hijra community responded to your work?
Well, I’m waiting for this book to be published in the Tamil original and translated into Kannada so many of them can read it too. Right now, they are definitely excited for me. After the release of Unarvum Uruvamum in 2004, two hijras have written books about their life in Tamil; Priya Babu’s Naan Saravanan Alla released in 2007 and the other is Vidya’s I am Vidya, published in 2008. I’m sure the positive reception of my autobiography will inspire a few hijras to write. I only hope that their talents are recognised and encouraged by the publishing world.
Have you received any constructive criticism on your writing?
A few friends and journalists have asked me why I have mostly detailed the violence I have had to face while rarely recounting pleasurable moments. I believe narrating acts of violence other hijras or I have had to face is important to build awareness, but I agree that I should have described the everyday joys of living more because this is after all a story and not a report. I hope to correct this omission in the Kannada translation of my book.
What makes an autobiography different from someone else writing your story?
While interviewing other hijras for my first book I found that even I, being a hijra, was unable to get them to speak about certain aspects of their life freely. Writing my autobiography gave me a way to fill in the many gaps I identified in that book. I’m sure I would have shied away from talking about many of the incidents in my life to another person.
I have for some time also wanted to write about female to male transgender people because they are one of the most invisible communities in India. But I believe it would be so much more meaningful if one of them were to write it themselves. Writing my own story has also helped me examine my life afresh and that has been both challenging and enjoyable.