Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

He-She

How is that for an unPC title?

I was sitting in one of my local-ish shops yesterday, having a drink, as I do when I frequent this particular shop. The owner is a colleague’s member of family (exact family tie I’m yet to fully understand) who I buy milk, eggs, biscuits etc from. It’s not a teashop, but he pulls out a little chair every time I’m there, orders tea from next door and we have a chat.

So we’re sitting, and chatting, and a another customer walks in. My shop-man (name unknown, I hardly know anyone’s name here, mostly because I can’t pronounce them) points at customer (standing in front of us) and says:

‘Not a women. Not a man’.

Then he hands the customer a two taka note, who takes it, walks out and into next shop.

During this exchange, I’m stared at by both parties who are expecting some kind of response from me. I shift nervously from foot to foot, and stare off into the middle distance. I mean, how does one respond to that?

After customer has left, I try my best to establish the facts of the case. This is difficult in Banglish. I can’t quite figure out if s/he was a transsexual, transvestite or maybe inter-sex? In fact, I don’t know if Bangladeshis care to make any distinction between these groups. It seems that there is a group of them (‘them’ sounds terrible I know, but I am yet to ascertain how to classify them) living in Rangamati. They are rejected by their families, and by society, and go from shop to shop for donations. I’ve seen something similar on a Paul Merton’s travel across India show, but the groups in India seemed to harass/threaten shopkeepers with evil curses if not given some ‘donation’. Not sure if this also happens here.

I have spotted this customer a few times before, elsewhere in Rangamati. In a beautiful sari, with lots of makeup. Pretty easy to tell this isn’t your average girl next door, even when passing in an auto-rickshaw. Next time I’ll man-up (*ahem*) and say hello. I’m intrigued to know how they survive here in Bangladesh, which is a pretty ultra-conservative place. Even in the UK, even in London, there is massive discrimination and lack of understanding. What can it be like over here?

2 Comments»

  estellevisagie wrote @

Wow, some great reading there. Those Flickr photos are amazing. Feeling much more informed now about the Hijras (will no longer use He-She…!). Thanks so much for informative comment Rezwan.


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