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Let’s Talk Books : Post Box No 203 Nala Sopara

Let’s Talk Books : Post Box No 203 Nala Sopara

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Post Box No 203 Nala Sopara

Navamalati Neog Chakraborty reviewed Sahitya Akademi Award winning novel “Post Box No 203 Nala Sopara,” by Chitra Mudgal, translated by Madhu Sriwastav. This epistolary masterpiece delves into the love between a mother and her transgender son, exposing the stark realities and societal prejudices faced by the transgender community.

Traumatic as is the innate plot, the novel ‘Post Box No 203 Nala Sopara’ is a revelatory novel, and brings out the stark ugliness of a society where we are left confounded to cringe and surrender. Epistolary by design, the novel brings out the love between a mother and her transgender son, and the transgender son’s concern for his parents and family from a distant alien address. Madhu Sriwastav has translated this strong suggestive novel, and it has beautifully come alive.

At the outset, let me state that being a transgender has nothing lowly or demeaning about it. It is a physical reality and is not a curse. It is an accident of birth. The novel brings out this truth that when a child is born to parents with genital deformity, a shadow looms over the family. The first is about coming to terms with the truth and the worry of easing out their own distress. Secondly the anxiety about the child’s future. Added to this, society thrusts on them two terrible realities. One is the arrival of hordes of transgenders to take the child away and as transgenders have their odd way and practised mannerisms, the neighbourhood is disturbed by their very presence and tongues wag. The family is therefore literally in an embarrassing situation. The reality as sensible people, is not seen or focused on. Such physical deformity may be in any form in a human body… about a heart, or a brain or a kidney, or say the absence of toes! Why ought the tag of ‘transgender’ need be put? How do they end up being denounced as offensive beings? It is due to sheer ignorance and superstitious beliefs and practices that these poor mortals suffer thus.

The protagonist Vinod belongs to a respectable family and is loved by his parents. He is an exceptionally good student, faring with star marks in Mathematics. His mother nursed big dreams for him. However, once the nosy transgenders smell his presence, they hound the Shah family, and although they meet with defiance initially, they finally succeed to take Vinod away.

In their thikana, they subject the boy to slaps, beatings, vulgar abuses, when he refuses to conform to their weird and rigorously practised hand clapping, wearing of flashy sequined beaded clothes, and revealing their genitals when alms were not given according to their demand. But Vinod simply refused, and the Sardar hated him for that.

At home the family feared to face the brunt of the truth about Vinod, becoming known among friends and relatives. It will place the family in ill repute. They therefore spread the lie that Vinod had died in an accident. What followed was Vinod’s correspondence with his mother. There are in the novel, seventeen letters written to Ba, which carry beyond Vinod’s news, news from Ba. It is a beautiful approach and has a novelty about it. Ba’s love and warmth is matched with her son’s concern for his parents and family.

In the thikana, Vinod a nice warm person is appreciated by Punam, Chandra, and Saira for they could smell the difference in his goodness and essential personality. He would read The Times of India, and managed to coerce Punam and the others to learn the alphabets and write their names. He would wash cars for money, buy the Hindi Stardust for them to read, and had about him such a gentlemanly niceness, that they all cared for him.

The letters in the novel were significantly a bid for Vinod to remain in touch with Ba, and learn about his family. It had to be done on the sly, as his elder brother had left home with his wife, afraid of being in close touch with the family stigma, and Ba had managed this Post Box address with a deliberation. The fear that grips Siddarth when Sejal is pregnant, has been brought out very well.

Vinod was not at all happy at the thikana and he did try to run away to Aligarh. But he was brought back to Delhi and was given the beating of a lifetime by Sardar. This alone proves that the transgender community has the envious spy system, that churns out news from the depth of the earth.

When through Punam Joshi he reached out to the local MLA, his life changed focus for the better. He had realised that the lot of the transgenders was so lowly, and was abhorred by society because of people like Sardar. They make them go to baby showers to dance and bless the baby, and return with a lump sum as alms. At times they are also beaten. Everything about them was staged out to seem odd and eerie to make them stand out as virtual eye sores. The picture is stark. Vinod decided therefore to do something for them, so that no parents will henceforth be forced to give away their children or be blackmailed in society.

It was the MLA who appreciated Vinod and his intelligence and made arrangements for him to give a public speech for the transgenders. Later he met journalists over a Press Conference and was able to bring forth his stand in no uncertain terms. His genuine intention was to benefit the lot of the people who pass by the name of transgender. Vinod shone in both of these and the impact of his reasoning, his truth in a rationalizing speech flowed with its strong impact. This annoyed Tiwari and Sardar. They were hostile towards him. The MLA was however very pleased and he nursed other plans for Vinod.

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At this time the MLA with his blind love for his nephew arranged for Punam to dance at the young man’s birthday party. After the dance the nephew with his friends fell on Punam with knife and fork, cutting her open for their simple curious pleasure. They tore open her clothes, and fell on her like beasts. A transgender also has to be tasted. As Punam lay on death’s door, news arrived that Ba too was seriously unwell.

The novel ends with the ugly truth that good people like Vinod Shah, always have enemies who rebuff their ways as Sardar and Tiwari disliked him.

The matter of the transgender in our world is becoming a serious thing to dwell on. The novel has therefore to end in a disastrous way, even as Vinod suffered at the hands of a system. Sardar was always the devil’s advocate and held all the transgenders at bay with the larger cache of secrets that shall keep them under check. Transgenders aren’t bad as Vinod and Punam testify. They are just victims of fate. The novel categorically states without voicing out the truth that, reservation is for them not the solution. Reservation will further bring them to the grip of that system. The lives of these sufferers will be further doomed. Self-awareness is therefore the key for society.

The translation of such books from Hindi is well appreciated. I appreciate Madhu Srivastav’s zeal. She has done well to translate this book to English, for a wide span of readers to know the truth about a much shielded, hush hush truth. It must have been a real challenge to translate a different culture, about a segregated mass of humanity, with all the beliefs and prejudices and adages that go for them. Translating words and sentences is one thing, but translating emotions passed on through letters by a mother to her dear son, is another. Happy reading folks!

Price: Rs 270.

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