Mul Singh, 48, From BikanerWhen I was 12, my mother died. A month later my father left the village and never returned. He also passed away. Our circumstances were such that I could not study further. I was the fourth of five brothers. I used to do the housework, but some relatives told me “What will you do now? You’re not studying, you might as well start working.” I started working in a cycle repair shop. With whatever extra money we had, we’d watch movies. After watching a movie 10-12 times, I’d be able to memorise the songs. When I was 17, I had a few friends who said “We are going to Bambai. Will you come too?” I said yes, and tagged along because I loved the movies and wanted to see Amitabh Bachchan. Once I reached Mumbai, I wondered what to do and started looking for work. I laboured during the day and slept on the footpath with my three friends at night. Whatever work came my way, I did it. I worked as a caterer, I worked in a hotel, as a watchman, learnt to drive so I could get a license and worked as a driver.When I was working with a catering company, I met and even shook hands with Amitabh Bachchan! It was a party for Kalyanji Anandji’s 25th anniversary. At the party, they said anyone who wants to sing can go on stage and perform. So I sang a song from Muqaddar ka Sikandar, “Rote hue aate hai sab, hasta hua jo jayega, woh muqaddar ka sikandar, jaan-e-man kehlayega!” I sang this in front of Kalyanji Anandji and all his guests. They [Kalyanji Anandji] were so happy they gave me a gift and told me to keep singing and be happy in life. Lovely, 23, From Darbhanga, BiharI was one of the last girls in Class 7 to get married. I was 13. My husband was 20 years old. He came to see me and liked me immediately! He confirmed the marriage right then and there, and I was really happy because he was from a family my parents liked. He was not old either. We got married in a week… Romance for me was when my husband supported me when my saas scolded me. Waise toh she looked at me just like her own daughter, but since I was not very good at cooking, I used to get scolded. Those were strange days. Things I felt bad about back then, I would just laugh at now. Like, my saas scolds everyone, not just me — I used to take it personally that time and cry in the fields. To make me stop crying, my husband as a joke would come with the jhadu and pretend I was his saas. We had our first son when I was 16. I was very happy. We would even do thoda hasee-mazaak after our son fell asleep. My husband was also one of the few husbands in the village to be helpful around the house. My friends’ husbands would scold them if they were asked to go to the shop for groceries, but mera aadmi never told me anything…he would go all the way and buy me sirf ek haldi ka stick also if needed. Jolly Saikia, 26, From Mariani, AssamI hit puberty back in 2006. My grandmother, whom I shared a room with, was the first person I told that I’d started menstruating. I woke her up in the middle of the night to tell her.Menstruation is celebrated like a big festival in my town. It’s called Hanti Biyan. The date and duration of this ritual are decided by the local priest. The duration also varies with different people. For the first 3 days, you are not allowed to see any male or anyone in your family, you have to use a separate washroom and are only given dry fruits to eat. Then on the 4th day, women in your family will come and bathe you. You are then allowed to have only one meal per day which should be cooked separately from the family meal.My grandmother was happy to know that I had finally begun menstruating, as I was the last girl child. So she went to our home village to thank the gods. And taking advantage of her absence, my father broke the ritual a bit and gave me two meals a day. While chips and chocolates were not allowed to be eaten during periods, my siblings sneaked in these stuff for me whenever they could. I also got a lot of gifts, lots of cash and gold, and had lots of fun. When I began to develop breasts, I started pestering my mother to buy me bras. When she ignored me, I started trying my sister’s or mother’s big bras, pretending and laughing, “Oh! I got big boobs!” That’s when my mother finally agreed I really need my own bra.I was just happy to be wearing a bra! I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up. After I hit puberty, so did two of my close friends. We would constantly talk about it. There are many code phrases for puberty like in Assamese — like hanti holo or murheitu hoi gol or mahekya hol. I still remember how one of my friends started freaking out when she got her first period in school and I, to calm her down, said, “Arre kuch nahi hai! Katrina Kaif ka bhi hua hai!” Everyone started laughing. I was 14 when I first started dating, the guy was 6 years older than me. We used to send letters. I had no idea of a romantic relationship. I was just craving any love I could get. I dated on and off till class 12. I kept chasing one relationship after another.Growing up, I had no idea that gender and sex were different. I only knew the idea of being binary and gay. I knew that I was not homosexual but I also wasn’t binary. I just knew I had behavioural traits that are feminine and those that were masculine. I had no queer friends growing up. It was only when I was studying for my Masters that I met queer people and some of them would become family-like for life! It wasn’t until a dear friend, R, said to me one day, “Maybe you are bigender?” that something in my head just made sense! Years and years of wondering and not having any clarity just felt lighter! Anju Rai, 79, From LucknowWhen I was 16, my mother was in a critical situation and when I was 18, she passed away. That’s why at the age of 16, when a lot of those things happen, all that never happened to me because I stayed at home most of the time. Boys had tried to line-maro me during Saraswati Puja (they’d get an opportunity because we’d be singing in a chorus), but nothing more than that. At 19, I got married. In those three years, from when I was 16 and 19, so many things happened that my teens just flew by. So I didn’t have that typical teenager or post-teenager experience.My Baba was very conservative. He didn’t allow us to wear salwar kameez and we started wearing sarees in 8th grade. On Sports Day, I used to take my clothes to my friends house and there phatafat I used to wear my salwar kameez. Even when my music tutor came, Baba — who was very fond of music — used to sit in and listen. A few days before my music exam, the tabla-wala would come to practice with me. Bechara tabaliya! The entire time that he was there, my old and practically-blind father sat behind him. Because of the Chinese War going on, my husband’s family was in a rush to get him married. Our wedding got fixed, but he had no idea. After a week or two, a letter went in his name, saying “This is to inform you that your engagement ceremony has been fixed with Kumari Anju Rai” My husband initially was very angry that he was the last to know he was getting married. He would joke and say that he only went through with the wedding because of the photos he was sent of me — “I saw the photos and said, theek acche, cholte paarey (ok, this works for me).”If I could change one thing about my adolescence, I wish I could have stayed with my mother for longer. Mo, 24, From BangaloreAdolescence for me is like a blank canvas that I am slowly figuring out the details of. I seem to have repressed most of it because my memories of it are quite traumatic.I was always the shy and quiet kid who spent their time in the library rather than playing around with the other boys in PT (physical education) classes. The day I sprouted my first strand of body hair I went screaming to my mumma feeling horrified that I was about to die. I also found myself getting more and more confused and distanced from my classmates who were boys when the rest of them had fully sprouted beards and cracked voices and I was in 12 th standard, still looking like “a kid”. Growing up in Saudi, the chapters in our textbooks on reproduction (and anything scandalous, really) were heavily censored and I did not know this was supposed to be a “normal” occurrence. Our textbooks did very laterally mention intersex bodies, but those were always talked about as an “abnormal” thing or a “disorder”. When I read about intersex bodies, I somehow identified with it internally, even though I did not admit it to myself immediately.Even though I was not exactly bullied, there was always a certain distance I felt between me and the others in my class. I remember reading about reproduction in our NCERT textbooks, reading about how by a certain age, “boys should look like this” and “girls should look like that”. I remember looking at the textbook and distinctly feeling ki these are not the bodies for me.I do recognize and appreciate my body now, although I wish I had the resources and encouragement to do so back then. Sappho, 23, From Chennai Around the age of sixteen, I moved with my parents to a very small town, which was very strange for me. I did not have access to the internet a lot, so thinking about “my identity” was not something I was doing very much. I think because of that, my first experience of my own transness was very much internal, without any sort of reference for what words or experiences I could compare myself to. Once I got a little bit older though, I was able to figure out how to be a bit badass and smuggle a flash drive into school, which I would then use to download and store stuff from the internet that I found interesting. I then became part of a lot of online spaces that really served as community for me and also were very useful resources for me to be able to talk about and describe my identity. I was very active on queer spaces on Tumblr, Discord, Reddit and the like that also introduced me to a lot of queer literature and history. I am now a fully crystallized trans Sappho. Sanjay Sharma, 34, From DelhiWhen I was a kid, I didn’t know much about puberty. I grew up in a joint family where no one had the time to think about all this. And my parents – they never told us when the sun is going to rise down there. NGOs and school teachers were the only sources for such information and that was also very conflicting. NGOs were like, “It’s normal to have an erection at this age”, and teachers were like, “Treat girls like your sisters. Boners and masturbation will make your brain weak.” So it was kind of confusing back then.I found out about puberty when I was in class 6 or 7. Some of the boys in class used to masturbate. I remember once, I saw some boys masturbating openly while sitting in the front row. I was sitting behind them and I didn’t know exactly what they were doing. One day when I was taking a bath — we had a common bathroom in our house — and I felt something. My erect penis. I wrapped my towel around me and whooshed straight to my room. I thought it had happened because I’d rubbed myself too much.I had a homework buddy in class 8 and one day, I went to his house wearing this pathani kurta that was very well-fitted to my skinny body. You know how these guys drool over skinny girls! So, as we were doing our homework on his terrace, all of a sudden he took me to his room, removed my pajamas and started touching me down there. I followed his lead and both of us were lost exploring each other’s bodies. He was so damn cute! We used to look for excuses just to do that again and again. But one day he was gone because he’d changed schools. My first, unfulfilled love.In my class, there was this tall guy, he was 6’2’’! He wanted to join Delhi Police. I flirted with him so much that it finally melted him and we were on fire! We would sneak out to the forest behind our school and have all kinds of … adventures (you know what kind!). But we never went too far. Now I wish we had.Growing up, I had never thought of myself as being different and these experiences didn’t feel strange. I mean, all these boys were just crazy about me, they used to flirt with me. For me, it was normal.It was only after graduation that I understood I’m gay.
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