From Somnath to Manobi

Manobi Bandyopadhyay became India’s first third-gender principal at Krishnagar Women’s College in Nadia district in West Bengal on 9 June 2015. Selected for this post purely on merit, her message to her community is: ‘Education: If we learn, all our problems will be solved.’

Find out about the life of Manobi till she reached college. Step into her shoes and learn about her trials, her dreams and her struggles that defined who she is.

blog-creative-1People joked that usually girls bring luck to fathers, but this time it was a boy who had proved to be lucky. They said, ‘Chitta, this is a boy Lakshmi.’ It could have been pure coincidence that I, a boy, was being referred to as Lakshmi, but it was quite a meaningful one. Was this some kind of a premonition of things to come? A forecast that the boy was just outwardly male? Perhaps it was. At least, I like to think of it that way.

blog-creative-2‘Wouldn’t I look just as good if they decked me up like the other girls?’ I would argue with my grandparents. No one paid any heed to my demands and thought that I was just immature, and that the influence of my mother and sisters was too much on me. They felt that I needed to mingle with boys of my age.

blog-creative-3I would observe how the bride would get ready on the wedding night. I realized there was something different about the way they carried themselves and behaved. I longed for that red Banarasi sari, the veil and the jewellery that the bride would wear on this special occasion. To me that was the height of femininity and beauty and I yearned for that look. I knew that I would look better than any of them.

blog-creative-10The only silver lining was the fact that I was extremely good in studies. I was always on top of my class and that kept some mouths shut. In fact, when my parents would be accosted for not being strict enough to ‘bring me back’, they would proudly show off my marks and say that a boy who was such a genius was bound to be a little ‘different’. They knew this was no excuse, but they had no other way of dealing with this.

blog-creative-9When we did the dress rehearsal, they made me wear a saree and practice the dance. That was one of the happiest days of my life. Right from the expressions to the supple feminine body movements, I did everything so well that the teacher used me as an example to teach the other girls. She said, ‘Being a boy, if Somnath can pick up a girl’s steps so well, why can’t you all do that?’ I just smiled shyly and enjoyed the adulation.

blog-creative-4I wanted romance, security, the promise of a family in the future and, above all, love; all of which were missing in my relationship with Deb.

blog-creative-5In utter desperation, I would roam about trying to track him down and would find him having fun with his new gang here and there. I would run up to him and plead with him to return to me. I would cry and beg but he would just laugh at me and encourage his friends to tease me about my sexuality. One day, they ganged up and started hurling abuses at me. Shyam had unleashed them on me. I was mortified and pained.

blog-creative-6‘Are you male, female or a camel?’ I realized that I belonged to this camel category and there was a lifetime of misfortune ahead of me. But I still wanted answers to my questions.

blog-creative-7This doctor heard my story patiently and then asked me what I wanted. I told him that I had read somewhere that sex change operations were possible and I wanted to do that. I told him that I knew this would cost a lot of money, so I would wait till I finished my studies and started earning. He was shocked. He asked me to take such destructive thoughts out of my mind and remain a boy. He said that with counselling I would ultimately be able to accept the fact that I was male and that he would help me do so.

blog-creative-8College usually comes as a relief in the lives of most students. They finally find freedom after fourteen years of regimented school life. But this didn’t happen for me. I sent shock waves across the college on the first day. Students simply stood and gaped at this good-looking youth, in a long kurta and salwar, who, with a woman’s gait and disposition, was headed towards the Bengali department. I definitely defied definition. Word had got out that a hijra had entered the college in the garb of a student! Many had gathered to see me. Some started clapping their hands in glee when they saw me, some just whistled and catcalled and soon taunts filled the air. I hadn’t expected this scene. In school, I had faced ridicule once in a while but my friends, in general, liked me.

In this unapologetic memoir, you’ll get to know how Somnath, the youngest son of a middle-class family in conservative Naihati became Manabi Bandopadhyay and braved all the pain to be India’s first third-gender college principal.



The Penguin India Blog

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