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    Her first time in a coffee shop
  • In 2003, I worked with Thomas Wartmann, a German filmmaker on his documentary film, ‘Between the Lines - India’s Third Gender’. The film focused on 3 eunuchs through the lens and narration of a photographer (myself). Laxmi was one of the protagonists of the film, a young man who had been sexually abused by the male members of his family from the age of six to twelve. These experiences, he says, shaped his sexual identity. Since his sexual experiences were with men, although forced, he was now only attracted to men. Yet he did not see himself as a homosexual but a hijra (eunuch), the third gender. He says, “I am more than a woman and less than a man. I have the soul of a hijra”.

    Hijras (eunuchs) have lived in India for centuries on the fringes of society and theirs is a secret, complex and ambiguous world. They live as a community in a hierarchy system with a Guru (leader) at the top and chelas (subordinates) below. They make a living by singing and dancing at the birth of a child, by begging at traffic signal stops and by prostituting themselves. Laxmi does none of this.

    Laxmi defies the age-old custom of community living – she lives with her biological family, teaches Indian classical dance at a reputed dance institute, acts in films and is a social activist. It is unheard of for a eunuch to enter a coffee shop, let alone sit in one for hours. She sits in a coffee shop with as much élan as she does while walking down the steps of a mosque dressed as a woman.

    Her relationship with her biological family, her neighborhood, and society at large has changed gradually over the past sixteen years I’ve known her. Whilst filming her for the documentary, she would never wear female apparels at home. Today, she is castrated, the head of the Kinnar Akhada (a Hindu religious order) and is believed by people to hold spiritual powers and is a leader in the transgender rights movement.

    Laxmi is a mixture of profound warmth, intelligence, ambiguity and tempestuous emotions. I spend time with her and hence I photograph her.

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    At home with Shashi, her brother
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    Her father
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    The day she got back from Toronto
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    Meeting me at Leopold
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    On the steps of the Haji Ali Dargah
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    Driving through the city
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    On a film set
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    Going to Amsterdam
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    At our favorite Chinese restaurant
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    With her mum and Shaheen
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    With her father and nephew
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