Signs of Deconstitution
The Gender Outsiders' Razzmatazz
In one of the habitats of the hijra (colloquial for a transgender ) communities in the mega mix of a city that is Dhaka, in a Shayampur slum to be precise, the mascara, eye lashes, and the dazzling sarees, salwars and dopattas seem to vie with one another to neutralize the gaze of the onlooker. The camera homes in on the unfolding drama, which is nothing short of a razzmatazz that reads like a narrative consisting of exotic hieroglyphics as the protagonists represented make merry dancing and singing for an absent audience, or as an end in itself.
The witness, a young lance-man, who intends to bring a slice of that quality time enjoyed by the hijras to be sited/sighted in venues outside of the secluded home of these social outsiders, seems to have an eye for the goal-seeking signs including the shine that accompany the merriment. The depiction in photographs, therefore, is a mediation, unravels as it does a semiosis in the wake of the performances where the real is to be read in two layers of construction – one which reveals the immediate in its visible form of 'presence', and the other which is inscribed in it as 'absence'. The experiential translated into mediated images is thus recognized by a lack as the personalities and their everyday lives, which, we may only imagine, are hidden behind the façades they themselves construct, and thus remain unrepresented.
But to make things interesting, there is this realization that the spectacular presence of these othered humans in action, kitschy as it may seem, is in itself ordered as a semosis in need of interpretation.
Taken by Samsul Alam Helal, the photographs resulted from his resolve to trace the transformation of Pintu to Payelee (a girl's name), who, according to Helal, was forced to leave home and settle in the hijra community in Shayampur, where around 40 hijras live in a slum environment in 10-12 feet long rooms serving as their home.
Sixteen years back, Payelee's Saudi migrant parents were shocked as their son began to wear another skin: the 'female' attires, long hair and 'excessive' makeup were both offending and puzzling for his family. The family's eldest offspring, his brother, once punished him for such 'unexpected' behaviour. Following this incident, her mother suffered a serious depression and eventually died of a heart attack. Since then, Pintu has been living as Payelee, and together with her friends, is struggling to eke out a life under one roof. Their community lives off the tolls collected from shops and families of the locality, and occasionally by dancing and singing, and in desperate times, by begging. Dancing and singing have become an inseparable part of their lives giving them a sense of purpose and liberation – a way, perhaps, to release pent-up emotions. Despite all the predicaments, love often comes to their lives; though in most occasions affairs are short-lived as they are often jilted and even forced to prostitution by their boyfriends. Negligence and betrayal are an inseparable part of hijra 'reality', thus, a hope for freedom seems to be echoed in their singing and dancing and the cosmetics and clothes they wear.
- DEPART DESK