The beat of the dholak, the tap of the bejeweled feet, the claps to match the steps and the song of celebration. Poonam and her group have been specially invited to celebrate the birth of a boy in this small house in middle-class Kanpur.
"People call us to bless their new-borns. We sing and dance at weddings. This is our livelihood," she says.
But once the celebration is over, everyone turns their eyes from this – the Third Gender – of our society. "People look at us differently. They do not even want to acknowledge our existence. When people call me 'kinnar' it hurts, but there is nothing I can do. I do not belong anywhere," she adds.
Society may not accept her, but the law recognises her and others like her. Legally, she cannot be denied any rights – to education or to get a job. West Bengal created history when a transgender cleared the bar exams and was appointed a judge. But for most transgenders, life is still difficult. "No one gives us jobs, no one gives us homes on rent. Our own family members don't want us to live with them. Even if they want us, society does not let them," she says.
Poonam lived like any other child with her family till she reached high-school. Her father was a farmer. "People knew I was a kinnar and this caused us a lot of social problems at home. No one wanted to marry my sister. I faced beatings, taunts, all kinds of humiliation. Tired of all the tension, I left home and joined the kinnar community. Now with cell phones and social media, I am in touch with them but no one really wants to meet me," she adds.
Poonam is now a guru to six other kinnars. Pooja is one of them. "I was studying well till 13-14. I thought I would be able to get a job. But by the time I was 15, it became difficult for me to continue studies. I sat at home. My guru got to know and came to speak to my parents. She urged them to let me live with others like me. So now I live here with mummy," says Pooja. For her 'mummy' is Poonam. Pooja has continued her studies and also goes for private coaching classes. She will write her class XI exams this year.
Their day begins like any other working person. Poonam gets ready at 7 am. She checks the mirror hanging in the pink walls of their home to see if the big, scarlet bindi on her forehead is looking good. Saumya, another member of the family, has gracefully draped her saree and is looking after the parrots that share their home. "If I don't feed them now, they will remain hungry till the afternoon," she says.
They have been living together in a well-furnished house of Manjhavan village of Kanpur district, for last seven years.
Even as they go home to home, showering their blessings, they have but one wish. "People seek us out on their special days, treat us like special guests, give us gifts and money. I don't want this special treatment. I just wish that instead of treating us specially one day out of 30, they treat us normally all 30 days," says Saumya.