Just a smile

Sometimes along life’s winding road you meet people who change your life forever, change how you perceive life, change the way you act and even challenge your power of reasoning. It could be someone you have known your entire life, it could be someone you just met or even someone you just pass on the road.  A life changing encounter can happen anywhere at any moment, it’s just a matter of whether your heart is open to accepting it.

This is the tale of how a fellow human changed how I look at life in a matter of seconds, how a Hijra lady changed my outlook on how I should live and how she inspired me to be a better version of me, a better human being.

For those who don’t know about the Hijra community, they are the third gender of India. If you are a traveler in India there is a good chance you will come across them on a train. There are small clans of ladies who get on trains at random stops and swipe through the train asking for money in return for blessings, and when you don’t they tend get a bit aggressive. Even though they have been legally identified as the third gender and has been granted many rights (legally), till date they do have to face a lot of discrimination and ill treatment from the society they live in.

The first time I met a Hijra lady was when I was 7 years old, on a train form Chennai to Agra. At that age I shamefully admit that I was scared of her, simply based on the fact that,  for a girl of 7 who lived a life filled with unicorns, butterflies and parental problems I found her to be a little too aggressive for my comfort. Thereafter for the next 3 years during which I traveled constantly up and down the great Indian railway, I got accustomed to the presence of Hijra ladies but I was still scared and intimidated by them.

When I came back to India in my teens, again I had numerous encounters whether it was on the train, road or at a shop. I realized that the younger me was slightly wrong, most of them were not aggressive just a bit pushy to the normal liking, and most of them are displaying these traits because of the image and situation that the society itself has created for them.

I would see them all dressed up, laughing, singing, doing all the normal thing we all do but with a flair of confidence that was just a dream for me. I was intrigued, curious, so as the “Curious me” would always do I started reading about the community in hope to better understand them. And I was fascinated by the history they are linked to, but at the same time devastated to learn how much discrimination these fellow humans have to bear on a daily basis.

That’s when I started to observe them more closely out of curiosity, and what I saw in real life was even more heart breaking. I saw how people would treat them in trains (way to go 7 yr old me!) or on the road. I listen to people talk about them with a tone of fear in their voice, saw how people would ignore them in the most brutal way possible, I listen to people telling me not to engage, I listen to people telling me how they can grant blessings and curses and why I should keep my distance, I saw people twitching when they walked by.. I saw the discrimination, I saw the labeling, I saw it firsthand. The treatment most of them got in public was one such that no human should ever go through. I wondered how they bear all this, I wondered how they go by their day with all this negativity following them.

All my questions were about to be answered on another ordinary train ride..

I remember the moment I saw her on the train, she was beautiful in her own way. Her ways demanded attention. She was but another passenger but she had such a vibrant air to herself, the way she carried herself with so much proudness. She had this smile on her face that showed how happy she was with herself, she looked content, she was happy on her own feet..

At one point she got up to go towards the door, and on her way she bumped in to another Indian lady accidentally (The jolting and bolting of the train was the culprit). Everything happened in a matter of second, how the other lady looked at her with eyes filled with anger, disgust and fear and how she pushed the lady away in an inhuman way, so much hate and anger displayed in such a short time. In all the chaos what registered in my mind most was the fact that the Hijra lady didn’t lose her smile ever for a second. She had that smile plastered on her face as if to give a silent answer to the ignorant humans around her.

Her simple smile was a statement of courage, love for self and her ability to mute the ignorant around her. A lesson that most of us need a 101 class on. Its not easy to learn how to stand your ground when your swarmed with ignorance nor is it easy to love yourself and keep that smile alive when you’re judged each passing moment, but she knew how to and she showed me that it’s possible. And in that moment I learned that I have the power to resist reacting to everything that happens around me – A simple lesson that changed my perception of life for the better in an instance!


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