Identity quest is one of the classical themes in literature. However, gender identity quest is relatively new. It is also one of the most painful quests, perhaps, because not belonging to either of the most natural genders can be an excruciating experience psychologically. The agony is aggravated by the attitudes of the ignorant and insensitive general society towards transgender people.
The authors of the book under review approach the theme in the simplest manner possible: by presenting a trans-woman and her problems. Kusum was born a male who was very uncomfortable with that gender. It’s only the body that is masculine. The spirit is feminine. The father is unable to accept that reality. Hence the offspring is abandoned. But (s)he is happy to get the support of a friend who eventually becomes a surgeon and will perform the sex-changing surgery. The love between Kusum and her doctor-friend was not merely friendship. The emotions had something sexual about them. The doctor is able to sustain his passion for his friend who is now a woman though not capable of reproduction. The doctor’s father is a thoroughly practical man who tells his son how he would be ruining his life and career if he marries such a woman.
The relationship is broken. Kusum carries the scar in her heart. Eventually another doctor, a psychologist whom she admires, will extend his friendship to her. How does she respond to this new friendship?
The book can’t be called a novel. It is a novella at best. The whole book is just 58 pages out of which only 40 pages are devoted to the story itself. If you are an experienced reader you can read it in about half an hour. The narrative is extremely simple and straightforward. The intention of the authors seems to be to highlight the problem of transgender people and evoke empathy in the reader.
But the claim on the cover that it is “a story meant to motivate all and sundry irrespective of their circumstances” is not misplaced. The “ekla cholo re” motif, borrowed from Rabindranath Tagore, recurs reminding the reader about the basic loneliness that all of us have to go through irrespective of our gender identity or any other identity. The going gets tough at times whoever we may be. When the going is really tough and you need the support of people, people are quite sure to abandon you. Then we must acquire the courage to ekla cholo, go alone.
I’m grateful to Santosh Avvannavar, one of the authors, for inviting me to review the book.