I almost didn’t submit an application for the Writers Victoria CALD Mentorship. After all I grew up in a household that spoke only English. True it was in a city in the Asian sub-continent, true it was in India. But we spoke English, we joked in English, we sympathised in English, we fought and made up in English. Surely I wasn’t a person of Cultural and Linguistically Diverse origins? But the night before the deadline I had an epiphany (with the help of a friend) I realised that any background other than the Anglo-Saxon one is considered CALD.
As a CALD writer, I now realise that we are different. And that is OK. It is better than OK. As writers we write with passion. We write with our heart on our sleeve. We write about intricate families, our school ground, our hometown, and the country that we left behind. We imagine a world that probably doesn’t exist anymore. We write about stories we believe could have happened so much so that they are happening concurrently.
I gained immensely from the few short sessions and the one-on-one meetings with Maria. I formed friendships and a strong bond that I hope can continue to inspire us to keep writing, through all that life throws at us.
Oh and thanks to my fantastic mentor I did manage to put to finishing touches on my manuscript and found the courage to send my story off and out into the big wide world.
Guru Nani– an extract from Hijrotic
An unpublished manuscript by Beverly Almeida
A shadow encroached over the grinding stone. Jaan squinted up. With the sun behind her Guru Nani was a tall striking vision in white. She wore a beautiful Tussar silk sari that glinted in the noon sun. It would have cost a month’s income. Jaan knew her saris well.
“Amma, how are you? So nice to see you, I have missed you.” Jaan jumped up abandoning her work. It was not a good time for her to visit. It was never a good time.
“You must call before coming so I can bring for you some soft drinks.” Jaan quickly wrapped her sari pallu across both shoulders like it was a cold day, “or hard drinks if you prefer.”
Guru Nani’s arrival was a signal for all the hijras to convene- those who were not busy with clients, those who had remained in the basti to prepare for the Holi festival the next day and those visiting. They came to touch their Guru Nani’s feet, brought cups of tea and fawned over her like courting peacocks.
Jaan’s Guru was grand-mother to Jaan’s chellas and everyone called her Guru Nani.
“Areh all of you so nice, to have such a welcome. I feel very good. That’s why I wait to come here? No, go back to your work. Let me talk a bit longer to my daughter… How are you Jaan, beti? How is everything in Juhu basti?” asked Guru Nani. “What news you have?” She questioned Jaan on each chella. “Are the Mehwallas giving you trouble?” She enquired about another less scrupulous hijra commune located on the east side of the railway station.
“They are keeping to themselves, for now.”
“Just you tell me, okay. The seniors will iron it out. And what of the ration card form I gave you? You just have to fill it up and give it to my man. And finished then and there itself he will give you a chit for it…”
“I filled it Amma but your man didn’t accept it.”
“Why? What did you do or did you say something? He is reliable.”
“For sex, I put religion, for religion I put sex,” one side of Jaan’s mouth curled up into a smile.
Guru Nani snorted and affected a look of awe, “Areh Jaan Fonda, is going to take on the Gowernmint of India. She will bring it down. Who are we to speak eh? Who are we to stand up for ourselves? As if anyone is listening. Just listen to yourself. Settle yourself down.”
Jaan grinned and shrugged, “I couldn’t answer the sex box, and I couldn’t answer the religion box so I decided to let them answer each other.”
She frowned and looked away. It should not be so hard. Perhaps she should get the local notary in the market, to change her name and sex on stamped paper. Anything can be done on stamped paper. Then she should get a bill in her name, maybe a gas bill. But she was tired of standing in lines, filling forms, standing in more lines, paying to be moved ahead, paying to get something that couldn’t be done anyway. She really didn’t want to play the game. So what if it got you rice, wheat, kerosene, sugar at the government subsidised rates. Everyone knew the ration shops were selling their stock on the on the side. They opened once a week and had a queue that extended from one bus stop to the next. The rice they sold you was not worthy of being fed to chickens.
Guru Nani interrupted her foraging thoughts, “And where is my most beautiful grand-daughter? Where is Maya?”
“She is at school, Amma.”
“Jaan beti, the jamat met again and one of the things we discussed about Gully Number 9 was Maya. Our Nayak stood up for you Jaan, because she is a child. But remember she is not your child, she belongs to all of us.”
Jaan got up, arranged her sari pleats and… stalked inside. Returning, she squatted down with a marble mortar and pestle.
“And children grow up, beti. Of everyone you have met meri Jaan, only I your Guru will stand by you. Wasn’t I the one to give you money to go to your native place to look after your sick parents? And then you come back married. This is how you treat me. Do you know how it looks? I still took you back, didn’t I? Even after you consummated your marriage and gave your wife a child. Shame shame on our house,” Guru Nani hit her head with the heel of her palm.
“Amma, I was forced into it.” Jaan’s family’s reputation her sister’s future marriage proposal was dependant on it. Surely Amma should understand it was not her choice.
Jaan picked up a hand full of cannabis leaves from the grinding stone and dropped it into the well.
“It is difficult to get good reliable dancers at our mujra, no?”
Jaan cocked her head on one side and added a cup of sugar.
“Maya can stay longer, at Gully Number 9, if it is your wish. But even a goat pays for its life and the love it gets at Eid. Maya must come to the Grant Road Marhaba Mujra to dance when she is of a reasonable age. That is the best I can do for you, yes?”
Jaan slammed down the pestle against the motar, bruising the cannabis leaves with sugar.
“See I do have your best interest at heart,” said Guru Nani. From between her choli blouse she fished out a small tiny jewellery box with delicate strands of saffron, “take this and add it to your mixture and your bhang will be the best and all seven hijra houses will be talking about it meri Jaan.”
#Editor’s note: More of Beverly’s writing can be seen on Writers Victoria’s CALD mentorship ‘tasters’ webpage