Laxmi | Anita Khemka | Granta


Anita Khemka & Rana Dasgupta

‘Anita’s documentation of Laxmi developed into what has become a lifelong friendship bound by photography.’

Rana Dasgupta introduces the photography of Anita Khemka.

Hijras of all religions usually embrace Islam, which is traditionally sympathetic to their subculture, and Laxmi loved to visit Muslim shrines. She became involved with a Muslim transgender man. He was a well-known bodybuilder. In 2019 they were engaged at Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga temple in Ujjain.

But Laxmi’s public life was becoming more entwined with Hindu nationalism. At last year’s Kumbh Mela, she paraded with the swords and tridents beloved of the ideological movement’s militant wing. She courted the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, whose antipathy to India’s Muslims is well known. She moved to the capital city of Delhi in the hope of entering politics.

She came under attack. Many of her followers resented her alliance with the far-right governing party. They began to question her commitment to the hijra cause. In 2019, Laxmi found herself in a very different situation to when she first entered the hijra community. Eventually, she decided to attain nirvana.

The rituals surrounding gender affirmation borrow from those of marriage and childbirth. After lower surgery, there is complete seclusion for forty days. Then, like a bride on the eve of her wedding, she is scrubbed with yellow turmeric, bathed and dressed in green clothes, a colour that symbolises fertility. She emerges from the house to dispose of her old clothes in the river. An evening of dancing and festivity ensues.

Laxmi now finally finds her soul in harmony with her physical body, and her relationship with the camera takes on a new life. ‘We both know that I will continue photographing her until one of us dies,’ says Anita. ‘She is as much invested in this document as I am.’


Rana Dasgupta

Anita Khemka

Anita Khemka is an artist who is a founding photographer of PHOTOINK and currently works for The MurthyNAYAK Foundation. She has been photographing Laxmi since 2003.

Photograph: Ambrotype by Imran Kokiloo

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Rana Dasgupta

Rana Dasgupta's novels include Tokyo Cancelled and Solo, winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. His non-fiction book Capital won the 2017 Ryszard Kapuscinski Award for Literary Reportage.

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