Mona Ahmed, transgender & photographer’s muse, dies at 81

“Apart from me and her caretaker Jahanara, Dayanita was on video call from Venice in her last moments. Mona loved the camera...she died on camera too,” said a close relative, who has been living with Mona for nine years.

Written by Somya Lakhani | New Delhi | Published: September 11, 2017 2:45 am
Mona Ahmed, transgender, transgender photographer, old delhi transgender, transgender death, indian express At Mehendiyan, a picture of Ahmed and Singh. Express photo by Oinam Anand

The house — located inside Mehendiyan, a burial ground in Old Delhi — was unusually silent on Sunday. The wooden bed, next to a wall with a poster of a dancing Mona Ahmed, was empty as well. The occupant of the house, 81-year-old Mona Ahmed, is no more.

The transgender, muse of photographer Dayanita Singh, breathed her last on Saturday night. “Apart from me and her caretaker Jahanara, Dayanita was on video call from Venice in her last moments. Mona loved the camera…she died on camera too,” said a close relative, who has been living with Mona for nine years.

Singh had first met her during an assignment in 1989 and has documented her life since. Singh said, “Mona was the most unique person I knew. I feel hollow inside. She was my friend, my mother and my child. My loss is mine…for her, I am relieved she is at peace.” In 2001, Singh and Mona released a book titled Myself Mona Ahmed.

Merely metres away from her house, she was buried next to her guru Chaman on Sunday — a burial attended by close to 100 transgenders. “Her guru died on May 26, and that’s when she dipped into depression. Two weeks ago, she had a stroke…this was so sudden,” said Jahanara. When health hadn’t failed Mona, she was known to throw feasts and did what she loved most — dance. “Till the end, she was hoping to get better so she could dance,” said Jahanara.

Born Ahmed Hasan in 1935, Mona led a “dual life for many years”, recounted the close relative, and added, “When we went out, she would wear men’s kurta-pyjama…she felt she didn’t fit anywhere, which is one of the reasons she decided to live in a graveyard. She was not an easy person to live with at times but she did so much for the family.”

Facing the verandah, Mona’s room resonated with old numbers, sound of children playing marbles and the countless pets she once had. On the walls hang photos of her in a swimsuit, feeding ducks and getting ready — all shot by Singh. There are also frames of the photographer and her lifelong muse in the room.

Her neighbour, Arib Khan, 16, said, “She always wanted to be surrounded by people.. People call transgenders names… but she taught us there was no difference between us and her.”

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