Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0

I went to North India a few of years ago. It was my second visit to Rajasthan, which translates as “Land of the Kings,” and was a pleasant one. The region lived up to its moniker, as it was regarded as exotic both by the locals and by visitors from other countries.

When I was in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, I stayed with a local businessman and his wife, who were wonderful hosts. My host had a personal connection to one of my colleagues at the company I worked with. Despite the fact that I was a friend’s friend, I was welcomed with open arms and generous hospitality. My hosts considered me to be the cultural representative of Japan, which they considered to be a developed country. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that I received VVIP treatment! 

The entire time I spent in Jodhpur was one that I will never forget. It has a population of 1.5 million people, making it comparable to a large city, but it is more like a spacious rural town in the middle of the desert. The palatial houses in the city are constructed of sandstone (known as “Jodhpur Stone”) and have marble flooring. The temperatures fluctuate between extremes: they can reach temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius in the middle of summer and drop below 20 degrees Celsius in November, the month in which I traveled.

It was enjoyable to live like an Indian. A saree or the Punjabi dress (also known as Salwar Kameez) was my uniform on any given day of the week. The saree is a beautiful 120 cm wide garment with a length of 6-7 meters. It is a traditional Indian garment. If one wants to drape it, one should start by wrapping the cloth around the waist and leaving about 2 meters for pleats before wrapping a portion of cloth around the waist, chest and shoulders. The two meters left loose are used to create an artistic pleated skirt, and the final two meters, known as the “Pallu,” are left to trail behind the wearer like a veil. 

Despite the fact that many Indian women continue to wear the saree on a daily basis, I discovered that draping one around is not an easy thing to do. As a result, I asked my hostess to assist me in wearing it every day during my stay in Jodhpur. Fortunately, she was only too happy to oblige.

A cousin of my host’s took me on a sightseeing tour one day. Towards the front of one of the palaces, I came across an entourage of enormous, well-built women, dressed in sarees and ornaments that were far more elaborate than those worn by ordinary women. The women were giggling and chatting in raucous tones, all the while clapping and dancing around the dance floor. These ladies, in contrast to the shy and modest Indian women, were boisterous. A small group of people, mostly men, had gathered to take in the spectacle from a distance. 

From my previous travels in South India, I was familiar with the women in question. They are Hijras, a clan unto themselves, shunned by society…. They weren’t even women, to be honest. The hijras were males who had been castrated. A small number of them were born intersexed.

I’d heard that these impotent individuals kept their clan afloat by kidnapping and emasculating young males. However, it was later revealed to me that this was not always the case. Males suffering from gender dysphoria (a feeling of acute discomfort with the gender into which they were born) frequently ran away from home and chose to become members of this clan.

The hijras became aware that I was looking at them. Among them was a massive congenial one who grabbed my arm and invited me to join in their celebration. I decided to join them because I enjoy singing and dancing and because I somehow felt a strong sense of empathy for hijras. I didn’t think it would make a difference if I spent a few minutes with them. After all, my hosts were extremely intelligent individuals. I didn’t expect them to think in the same way as the average person on the street that I had encountered in South India. I was completely wrong. 

“Get in the car!” my host’s cousin yelled at me, a rude command. I broke away from the hijra group and followed the instructions given to me. I had a sneaking suspicion that my host’s cousin would have shoved me into the house if I didn’t obey him. That was the extent of his rage. 

It was obvious that attitudes had shifted suddenly. My host, who had treated me like a VVIP up until the previous day, did not treat me with the same level of courtesy. He informed me that dancing and clapping hands in public with the hijras was the worst thing I could do, and that it was equivalent to becoming a prostitute yourself. It appeared that even foreigners such as me were not exempt from ”this kind of behavior.”

When I arrived for dinner, I noticed that I had been assigned a seat that was the furthest away from my host. This was out of the ordinary, as I had previously been assigned a seat next to his until the previous day. In addition, the VVIP treatment that I had received was revoked in other ways. It was as if I had only become ‘unclean’ by imitating the hijras and nothing else. I then realized that the hijras were despised by everyone, including those who were well educated. It was a heartbreaking feeling to realize this.  

It was in my nature to defend the oppressed and those who were in difficulty since I was a child. I had always been a defender of the underdog. As a result, it was not surprising that I felt a great deal of sympathy and empathy for the hijras. 

From Jodhpur I flew to Mumbai and continued trip to South India, with a better understanding about hijras.

After I returned to Japan, I spent a significant amount of time researching and meditating on the hijras. My interactions with the people of the community in southern India were also documented. These experiences inspired the writing of a series of non-fiction articles followed by some novels/novellas.

next article: My First Encounter with Hijras (2)

I have been a story writer since 1998 and have published many novels/novellas in both English and Japanese. Protagonists of the following fictions are Hijras – including ordinary males who turn into Hijras over the course of the story:

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