The Parcel

Anosh Irani

The Parcel

Madhu - born a boy, but a eunuch by choice - has spent most of her life in a close-knit clan of transgender sex workers in the notorious red-light district of Bombay. Madhu identifies herself as a "hijra" - a person belonging to the third sex, man nor woman. Now, at 40, she has moved away from prostitution and is forced to beg to support the charismatic head of the hijra clan. One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a "parcel" has arrived - a young girl from the provinces, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt - and Madhu must prepare it for its fate. Despite Madhu's reluctance, she is forced to take the job. As Madhu's emotions spiral out of control, her past comes back to haunt her. This is a dark, devastating but ultimately redemptive novel that promises to be one of the most talked-about publications of the year. (From Alfred A. Knopf Canada)

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I go by many names, none of my own choosing.

I am called Ali, Aravani, Nau Number, Sixer, Mamu, Gandu, Napunsak, Kinnar, Kojja - the list goes on and one like a politician's promise. There is a term for me in almost every Indian language. I am reviled and revered, deemed to have been blessed, and cursed, with sacred powers. Parents think of me as a kidnapper, shopkeepers as a lucky charm, and married couples as a fertility expert. To passengers in taxis, I am but a nuisance. I am shooed away like a crow.

Everyone has their version of what I am. Or what they want me to be.

My least favourite is what they call my kind in Tamil: Thirunangai.

"Mister Woman."

Oddly, the only ones to get it right were my parents. They named their boy Madhu. A name so gloriously unisex, I slipped in and out of its skin until I was fourteen. But then, in one fine stroke, that thing between my legs was relieved of its duties. With the very knife that I hold in my hand right now, I became a eunuch.

Perhaps my parents had smelled the strangeness in the air when I was born, the stench of the pain and humiliation to follow. At the least, they must have felt a deep stirring in the marrow of their bones to prepare them for the fact that their child was different.

Neither here nor there, neither desert nor forest, neither earth nor sky, neither man nor woman.

From The Parcel by Anosh Irani ©2016. Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada.