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‘I wanted to choose my own gender’

She has rewarded herself with the moniker ‘superwoman’. To her, women are special as they are an embodiment of love, liberty and intelligence. Meet Kalki, transgender, social activist, actress, entrepreneur as she unravels her tumultuous, yet liberating journey in a no-holds barred interview. No qualms, no inhibitions, no secrets. By Anitha Ramachandran

Kalki calls her journey so far a rich, beautiful and a colourful one. She asserts, “Life has taught me to be a warrior and fight the obstacles. And so I have. I carved my own journey and I am extremely joyous about who I am now.” She chose the name ‘Kalki’ as it means the destroyer of all evil. According to the Hindu mythology, Kalki is the tenth avatar of Lord Vishnu who is said to bring an end to all evil in the present era of darkness or Kali Yuga. “There are so many atrocities heaped on the transgender community. I am here to vanquish those atrocities and make the world a better place for my community.”

Born and brought up in the picturesque town of Pollachi in Tamil Nadu, Sabari (her previous name) had an eventful childhood. “I had a very simple upbringing. My father was into the truck business and my mother, a homemaker. My two sisters, Vasanthi and Uma Maheshwari are happily married. My brothers-in-law respect me a lot for who I am. Initially, they were confused about my identity and used to feel shy to talk with me.” She thinks ‘Sabari’ is a beautiful name. Though some of her friends address her as Sabari even today, she asks them to call her Kalki.

When her parents put her in a boarding school in Kodaikanal, she loathed it. But she slowly started getting fond of the place. “I was 7 years old and that was when I started getting effeminate. It was obvious. People started noticing this and teased me severely. I befriended Kaali and he was very protective of me in school. We were thick friends. Every time, I received a box of chocolates and cookies from home, Kaali and I used to sit under the tree and eat the goodies. I have lost touch with him and am searching for his contact details online!” Even before Kalki turned 10, she became aware of her gender identity. “I knew I was different but I did not know it would create problems for me and others.” When Kalki’s parents started noticing changes in her, they put her in a boys’ school. “I hated every moment of it. I was a girl trapped inside a boy’s body. People knew it, but they hurt me so badly.” Right from her teens, she had to deal with her classmates’ bullying. They cursed and hurled hurtful words at her. “It was so humiliating. My math teacher punished me for my feminine body language.” Soon, she started bunking classes. She spent time in the park thinking about the changes in her body and why people were ridiculing her. “I was confused!”

When Kalki turned 14, she dreaded puberty and the changes she was undergoing. She calls it a torturous phase. “I started searching for other people who are like me. That is when I found Apsara, my Guru. She was a flower seller and became my mother in the transgender community. She was lovable and protective towards me. She also introduced me to other transgenders. I was told that medical help is available. I was relieved.” But when Kalki saw no voluntary help forthcoming from doctors, she started taking hormone pills. These pills assured changes. “My facial hair became soft and receded. My breasts started to grow. I touched them every day and I felt happy. I felt the change.” Though her parents respected the transgender community, they were extremely upset to see Kalki and the changes in her. She was kept under the supervision of a psychiatrist for a month and was also provided counselling. “There was no solution. I was a girl. I am a girl. I wanted to choose my own gender.” She assured her parents that she would make them proud one day. “I told them that I will be there for the family and it does not matter if I am a man or a woman.” These soothing assertions gave her parents much relief.

If school was traumatizing, college was worse. Kalki became every boy’s teasing object. “Their collective and individual behaviour towards me was contradictory. Individually, when they approached me, they hugged me and asked me to come to their hostel room. They were attracted towards me. But when they were together as a gang, they ragged me severely. They made me dance like Silk Smitha and Disco Shanthi and I never refused. I used to do it with so much perfection.” She also had a little love story with her senior, Shyam. “At one point, the whole college thought we both were having an affair.”

When Kalki started spending more time with transgenders, she realized that they were viewed as taboo in the society. A master’s degree in Journalism triggered her to start a magazine called ‘Sahodari’ (sister) which was circulated among Tamil Nadu’s transgender community. “The magazine addressed medical, economic and psychological issues besides listing job opportunities.” Kalki then joined an MNC and headed a team of 10 men. She saved enough money from this job and went in for a sex change operation. “I became a full-time woman!” she exclaims. Kalki spent two years in Auroville in Pondicherry and she calls it her transition period. “It was like a school to me. People embraced me there and I made good friends. I got a job opportunity and earned Rs.5000 per month.” She joined Auroville’s theatre group and was part of their music project- Svaram. She also honed her acting skills and she calls this experience as a fruitful learning.

Kalki stepped out and came to Chennai where she learnt more about transgenders. She made friends, built contacts and started Sahodari Foundation. Kalki’s own brainchild, this foundation focuses on the social, political and economic empowerment of transgenders. “The foundation throws light on education, livelihood opportunities and legal rights we transgenders need to know.” Though, Sahodari is not supported by any international and national institutions or NGOs, many friends and well-wishers have donated funds. She also initiated ‘Project Kalki’ to train transgenders in community journalism, films, writing, blogging and podcasting. “The focus of this enlightening project was on young, destitute transgender women.” Kalki also started a matrimonial website called ‘Thirunangai.net’ for transgenders. “We realized that there are no such websites for the third gender. When men come forward to have sexual intercourse with us, why can’t they marry us?” Though the website was started in 2009, there haven’t been any marriages conducted. “There is going to be one this year!” she says optimistically.

Kalki also made her foray into celluloid. She acted in the film ‘Narthaki’ directed by Vijay Padma. The film is based on the biography of a transgender woman. “My acting lessons from Auroville helped me immensely.” The film received critical acclaim and bagged an award for the best social awareness theme in the Norway International Tamil Film Festival. “I might not be a star, but I am a good performer and actress.”

When Kalki stood in the DMK elections last year, she was refused a party ticket. “Though Kanimozhi supports our community, my friend Rose Venkatesan (also a transgender) and I were declined a seat. There was no communication from their side either and we were not invited for any of their election campaigns. A leader representing our community would have created a change.” Kalki is planning to ask the party again this year for a ticket. “If they decline again, I will stand as an independent candidate,” says she.

Though Kalki does believe in the institution called marriage, she prefers a live-in relationship till she finds a man brave enough to stand up for her, no matter what. “I would want a man to take me home and introduce me to his mother saying he wants to get married to me. That is what I am looking for. Right now, I am single and ready to mingle.”

From fighting for social causes to acting to being an entrepreneur, Kalki has played so many roles in her life. What does the future hold in store for her? “I have started Brand Kalki Enterprises, a venture to sell handicrafts made by villagers from Tamil Nadu.” Other projects that are in the pipeline include plans to start her line of chocolates, perfumes and clothes. “I don’t want to be the jack of all trades, but to be the queen of the world and of people’s hearts. I am the most liberated woman I have ever seen in my life,” she says in acknowledgment of the positive way in which she has lived her life thus far.

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