When Prof R Raj Rao, the author of critically acclaimed novels ‘The Boyfriend’ and ‘Hostel Room 131’, first read transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi’s autobiography titled ‘Mi Hijra, Mi Laxmi’ one-and-a-half year ago in Marathi, he knew he wanted to translate it into English.
“Laxmi could have opted for a regular sex change operation, but she chose to be a ‘hijra’ and work for the upliftment of the community,” Rao, who is a professor and former head of the Department of English at University of Pune, told The Indian Express.
While an excerpt from the translation of Me Hijra, Me Laxmi (done in collaboration with P G Joshi, who taught English at K J Somaiya College in Kopargaon) first appeared in a online US magazine, Words Without Borders in 2013, it is now set for release in India during the World Book Fair in New Delhi next month.
Co-editor of Whistling in the Dark: Twenty-One Queer Interviews, Rao, along with co-translator P G Joshi, approached the Oxford University Press with a proposal to translate the book written by Vaishali Rode in Marathi into English. When we asked Laxmi for permission to translate the book, she gave it ungrudgingly, telling us how Salman Rushdie had met her in Thane for the book AIDS Sutra.
In the book, Laxmi speaks of how she was born a male child, felt trapped and decided to become a hijra, despite the opposition she faced from her family. Eventually, she won their support and this is what is led her to become an activist, who has travelled across the world to fight for the rights of hijras. Laxmi has never had to live the life of a typical hijra who sings, dances, begs and does sex work for a living. In her initial days, as a hijra, she worked in Bombay’s dance bars. Today, she is perhaps the only one in the world who has won the hearts of two famous Salmans – Salman Rushdie and Salman Khan. Khan personally telephoned her to be on his TV show Dus ka Dum, and she has also worked with Amitabh Bachchan in Big Boss,” Rao said. The translated version – spelt now as ‘Me Hijra, Me Laxmi’ – also has a 7,500-word Afterword by Rao.
Collaborative translations work better than single-translator work because one has the benefit of a second opinion, adds Rao. Laxmi is also very excited about the release of the book as she told Joshi that she was planning to get the prime minister to release it. While I don’t think that is such a good idea, it is her book at the end of the day, so she’s free to do what she wants with it. “I have travelled all over the world. Now, my book will travel,” she told Joshi.