Sunday, October 3, 2010

Betwixt & between

Part bildungsroman and part manifesto, The Truth About Me is, fittingly, a book that does not fit fully into either category.

The Truth About Me: A Hijra
Life Story; A Revathi
Penguin; Rs. 299
Revathi, born Doraisamy in a small village in Tamil Nadu, journeys through incredible violence in multiple cities to arrive at Sangama, a sexual minorities human rights organisation in Bengaluru. She has had a sex-change operation, danced for a living, done sex work, done no work at all, and finally alighted on activism to find a way out of the vicious cycle of deprivation and ostracism to which the hijras are prey. Moving from a tale of personal woe to a defence of civil rights, this book covers a lot of ground about the make-up of hijra communities in Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Mumbai and, finally, Bengaluru, where the author now lives. It also charts a movement from particular grievance to universal rights in which the plight of the hijras is turned into the plight of all women and then into the lot of all sexual minorities. The Truth About Me grows, in other words, from being parochial to cosmopolitan, always engaging pathos in order to get its point across.

When not engaged with the larger horrors to which hijras are heir, however, this pathos can seem overwhelming and repetitive. True to the conventions of a bildungsroman, the narrative of Revathi’s life story follows a repeated pattern of arriving at a place, settling in, and then running away because of unmet needs or unsatisfied ambitions. But more often than not, these frustrations are seen as personal setbacks rather than as systemic injustices. Self-pity threatens to drown out analytical judgment for at least two-thirds of the book. But perhaps that is the point? Without seeing the horrifying consequences of being a hijra, would we be able to get behind the necessity for justice that those horrors demand? Perhaps not, but the sheer repetitiveness of sentences like “I don’t have the strength to bear the blow upon blow that keeps falling on me” (297) do detract from the sense that this book is also an activist’s multifaceted manifesto.

Full review here Deccan Chronicle

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