Fate does have a quirky hand. In Sohini's case, fate dispensed with an anomalous one. It is the first to strike even a casual gaze. Her hands are beautiful. Long and slender, leisurely shaping it down to five delicate fingers. Fate lines housed on the reverse could ask for no better an unfurl. No better a muddle up. No better a reversal.
Born Hirak Subhra, the body was only a trapping for the woman beneath. "My boyhood was an accident. Neither did I exhibit the characteristics associated with boys my age, nor could I heed my basic instincts. It was a dilemma that all were aware of. But preferred to brush aside as the failings of an effeminate boy," she traces the beginnings of a misplaced identity.
It was all inherent call. To dress like and don mantles better relegated for daughters. As a child, Sohini recalls her active participation in shopping sprees. "Nothing was bought without me. Gifts for relatives, for my father, or my father buying for my mother - I did them all. A good artist, I think discretion in selecting the best sprung out of my knack for creativity".
Hindsight does the reasoning. Fate falters once again. Hirak, perhaps led by Sohini within, had a distinct soft comer for Ganeshas and kittens. Perhaps, a new beginning and feline grace.
At ease in the company of girlfriends, reliving the pain of taunts and sneers cups tears in her kohled-eyes. "After a point, having tempered out with the pain, nothing affected me. Complaints lodged with the school principal only worsened the situation. The boys came back with a greater vengeance. Relatives introduced me as a daughter of the family at get-togethers."
Despite the attempts to fake the ways of a man, the solution was anything but near. In snatches of time, when left in solitude, Hirak took to dressing up in a sari. Applying make-up borrowed from the neighbours. His mother's dressing table, all of a meager talcum powder and, Beryline, paled when pitted against the I secret line-up in his drawers. I the passing years enrolled him for graduation in Political Science at the Maulana Azad College. "Never did I step into the canteen, union room or the male toilet. The fear 01 being ragged or passed remarks at coupled with the shameful acceptance of retiring to the male restroom, kept me away. I was the Zeenat of my college," confidence now restored, Sohini laughs at the world's weak-willed complacency.
Love too chartered its course. A short-lived affair with a boy in college, she says, wizened her beyond. But nothing was preparation enough for a nasty episode as a student at the Government Art College. "It was a function and I stood waiting for my group of friends before entering the hall alone. Boys passing by asked me to go in. I did and took seat in a quiet row. There was mirth in the air till finally I was physically assaulted for greater fun. All this in the presence of teachers. For the first time, I felt what a women goes through when raped. When modesty is outraged."
Guess it was convenient to brush aside fears, and wait till time blamed its mistake. But I have no misgivings towards my parents." Taken regularly to psychotherapists, psychiatrists and psychologists, it was a quandary all accepted. None solved. "Some even stated that I was a woman trapped in a man's body. But legalities prevented them from prescribing cure for the same," she adds Her parents died a few years ago, in quick succession. One given to failing health and the other to a stroke. Livelihood was assured as a textile-designer' of competence. And strength now came from household help, Malati Giri. But life itself was inching away from reality. It was a mere existence. "I was being pushed towards ending my life. Which I did." On a desperate lookout for medical miracles that salvage identities suppressed thus, Sohini came across a piece on Dr Sheila Rohatgi. A meeting later, 'it was perhaps the first time that Sohini hoped for another tomorrow. "I was sent to psycho-analysts. On basis of their reports and medical tests, Dr Rohatgi accepted that I was healed a transsexual and sex-change was the only cure." Grateful towards her co-workers, Malati and a manager in office (with whom she had a brief affair), for their support in her confused state of existence, it became a do-or-die battle. The process was a long drawn out one and frightfully expensive (Rs 5,00,000). Hormonal injections to lower the male testosterone cost Rs 10,000 for each shot. Six pricks later, she . was shuttling between Kolkata and Delhi ~ for the laser treatment to remove facial hair.
IlA year later, on a cold January morning in 2002, the second operation (to create. a vagina) finally took place. It took two beds (to accommodate the tall case), six-and-a-half-hours and the skilled hands of Dr Rohatgi to transform Hirak into Sohini. "There was no feeling at first, except relief that a foreign body was removed. Later, the joy set in. Today, when asked about my age, I say one-and a-half years old," she says. Save conceiving, Sohini's womanhood is now a reality. An avid music buff and a die-hard fan of Lata Mangeshkar, the name Sohini was suggested by a friend. "It is also the name of a raga. Later I learnt that Sohini also meant someone who has borne a lot," she explains the choice of name.
Never one to have fallen for crushes on hero, Hrithik's entry however changed her stance. "My favourites have been, Sridevi and Shabana Azmi. There was no hero I ever like. Hrithik has something I soft and yet is so manly that he towers as~ nature's perfect handiwork." , The resident of a middle-class locality, the change was surprisingly' well received. Perhaps all did discern the man.
Nerisms and carriage earlier. But stepped back when it came to annulling the facade" to realise the inner truth. Relatives, she' says, were never in the frame. As for new bonds, well there is good news. "After my feature in Femina, my phone did not stop ringing. Some of course, were crank-callers. Some genuinely appreciated my guts. But when the editors called me to say that a Chennai-based businessman would like to solicit a matrimonial alliance with me, it was unbelievable. Ever since, we spoke on the phone till he came this month to meet me. We vi be well and May sees us tie the knot," says Sohini, blushing.'
Come May and Mr and Mrs Iyer, it seems, will be the toast of town. Marriages, as they say, are made in heaven.
Lines cross. And fate has its way parity of morphology and psychology, where the former must be altered in order to align with the latter. Long before the terminology of "Gender Identity Syndrome~' crept into common jargon, Dr Sheila Rohatgi was performing sex change operations in Kolkata.
Her surgeries, though represented before the medical community, was conducted away from the media spotlight that is now focussing on her last case - conversion of male Hirak. Bagchi into female Sohini. The sex change operation has not only generated its share of social awareness but also thrown up. uncomfortable questions about legal, religious and ethical rights.
Medically termed as sex reassignment surgery, the procedure involves changing genital organs from one gental to another,. "A male patient suffering" from Gender Identity Syndrome has normal masculine morphology complete with beard and an Adam's Apple. Only his mind is that of a woman's, leading her to exhibit feminine affinity for cosmetics or frocks. , Most reported cases are of girls with a man's mind, feeling trapped in their body. Such girls will have to be changed into boys, through a procedure that - is more complex than the reverse," says Dr Rohatgi. Patients displaying this syndrome are termed "transsexuals." Though Harry Benjamin first tackled the. subject, it was Cauldwell who coined the term "transsexualism". In 1970 Money and Gaskin identified the disease which we today know as Gender Identity Syndrome. A study . put the proportion of transsexualism in America as one in every. 50,000 people. Dr Rohatgi is wary. Of putting a number to the. magnitude of the problem in India.'
Social conditioning since childhood is often responsible for giving rise to trans sexualism Dr Rohatgi cites the example of a patient - the youngest sister among her siblings, all girls - being raised by a parents as a boy. "When her menstrual cycle began the patient was confronted with a gender crisis. She was suddenly expected to behave as a girl. This dictate Was impossible to obey, since her psychology had developed as that of a boy," says Dr. Rohatgi. She was surgically transformed into a boy and as Dr Rohatgi attests, "She and her family have been happy ever since." , Not all cases, however, are so readily accepted. High in Dr Rohatgi's roster is the case of a boy whose patents ate divided over the issue of his gender incompatibility. "The father abandoned his family, after holding the mother responsible for their son's Gender Identity Syndrome," she says. "Sex change surgery is non-reversible, there is no room for regret after the operation."
Though trans-sexualism should not be confused with inter-sexualism, the lane seldom results in disparities in gender. Inter-sexualism is the condition when a person's genital' organs are not well formed, resulting in mistaken gender. "Sometimes the testes do not descend to the scrotum or the penis is not well developed leading to the boy child being wrongly registered as a girl. In case of girls, an enlarged clitoris may be mistaken for a penis," says Dr Rohatgi. Both cases require only slight operations to rectify the malformed genital organ.