When Mahii was in school, her heart was set on a career in hotel management. “Even before I knew what it meant or how one could do it, I wanted to work in a hotel. As I grew up, I realised how distant from reality my dream was,” says Mahii, a 24-year-old who identifies herself as a transgender. Mahii couldn’t finish school eventually as the bullying became vicious. But now, with the Third Eye Cafe in Vashi, things are looking up for Mahii.
The Third Eye Cafe is a new take on fine-dining. With a mix of different cuisines, the eatery offers good value for money. But what sets it apart is its staff. All are transgenders. “We have four transgender servers currently, one manager and one back-end help,” said Nimesh Shetty, one of the three owners and the brain behind the concept. An architect, Shetty wanted to do something tangible for the transgender community.
“I did my thesis on making a community centre for transgenders. While working with some activists, we tried to get transgenders jobs in many companies and organisations. Everyone liked the idea but seldom hired them. I decided to change that,” he said. In Third Eye, the staff are not trained but eager to learn. “I couldn’t even stand straight in front of customers, my self-esteem was so low. But I have improved,” Mahii said with a smile. Asked about the biggest achievement on the job till date, 24-year-old promptly said: “There was a family, a couple of days ago who asked for me to serve them. I had never served before and I was so nervous. But I just remembered the steps and did it. It went flawlessly.”
The only experienced member in the Third Eye team, Josein Fernanda, is a Goan who came out of the closet recently. “When my family is yet to accept me, what can I expect from the world? But here, I feel like I belong. When customers talk to me with respect, it’s all (seems) worth it,” Josein said.
Shetty said the idea of the cafe was not to romanticise the experience of its staff. “I don’t want us to be only known for the staff. They are not an anomaly. The aim is to make them commonplace. So that more and more places start adapting them into their workforce. The cafe aims to work as a common ground where people can get over their inhibitions about transgenders and really accept them as part of society, while the transgender staff hone their skills,” he said.
Even though the staff is inexperienced, they are trying to make the best of the opportunity. “I love earning and spending on my family. I am all they have, even if they don’t accept it. I believe they will eventually come around,” Mahii said.