It was a particularly warm summer afternoon when I met Anjali for this interview. While I knew the interview would encompass harsh realities of the society that we live in, I didn’t realize that it would shake me so deeply.
Anjali, previously Arif, was born into a lower middle class, Saraiki family in Rahim Yar Khan. The youngest brother to five siblings (four sisters and one brother), Arif – like 1 in 1500 babies globally – was born with an intersex body.
For the first few years of her life, Arif/Anjali had lived a life sheltered from the discrimination and abuse that would eventually envelop his existence.
However, Arif’s care-free life was abruptly snatched away when at the age of 5 years his elder brother accidentally entered the bathroom while Arif was showering and realized the difference in his sibling’s physical appearance.
Later that day his father sat Arif down to explain how he was not like his other brothers physically and had an intersex body.
Anjali’s voice trembles while narrating the events of that fateful day. “What was my fault that I was born with an intersex body?” asks Anjali. Her tone is rhetorical. She no longer expects an answer.
I offer her a glass of water that she accepts graciously, however the tremor in her voice is still there. After taking a sip she continues her story.
It was at the age of eight, Ajnali recalls that she first encountered sexual abuse. “My maternal uncle asked me to sit on his lap to eat the candy that he had.” Like any child his age, Arif, craving the candy in his uncle’s hand, got in his lap at once. However, when his uncle started caressing Arif’s legs and placed pecks on Arif’s neck that he became uncomfortable.
“I was so traumatized by this incident that I spent the entire night crying in my bed,” he shares.
Arif parried molestation for years till one day, while he was standing near a vegetable vendor, a man groped him so viciously that he was unable to move for a while. Tired of being hounded by lusting men, Arif ran away from home.
Anjali takes a long pause. By now her eyes are watery and her voice weepy. “Men are dogs,” she said. “Not just women but we are harassed by them too,” she adds indignantly.
“When I ran away from my home and came here in Karachi, I was approached by a man who seemed helpful. He took me to a colony of transgender people and left me there. I spent hours knocking on doors asking if they had a place for me in their house and their family,” Anjali whirls her hands trying to explain. Finally, Nargis, a senior transgender, adopted her and she started living with her and seven others in a two-story house constituting four rooms, one washroom and a kitchen.
She stops crying at this point. “Auntie Nargis named me Anjali,” she says, and there is a certain relief in her voice that seems to transcend time and space.
Anjali, Nargis and others living in the house earn their bread and butter by dancing in weddings and occasionally begging.
Talking about her life Anjali explains in a shattered voice, “I can’t experience basic things that ‘normal’ people do, such as falling in love or simply eating out with family!”
At this point I thank her for her time and for opening up to me. Walking back with a heavy heart, Julie Anne Peters’ words come to me:
“Me? I had no dreams. No longings. Dreams only set you up for disappointment. Plus, you had to have a life to have dreams of a better life.”