Social Documentary Photographer Anita Khemka/PHOTINK is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the project ‘Munna Guru & Ramkali’.  To see Anita’s body of work, click on any image.

 

In a drunken state with her ailing mother in Lucknow, India, 2001.

 

On her way to bathe. Delhi, India, 1999.

 

With her sister in her home-town, Lucknow, India, 2001.

 

Being attended upon by Gayatri, her chela (assistant), Delhi, India, 1999.

 

Praying inside a mosque, Delhi, India, 1999.

 

My grandmother’s house was a stone’s throw away from Munna Guru’s house in old Delhi. As a child when I misbehaved, I was always threatened that I’d be sent away to her house. As a result, I grew up fearing Munna Guru. Her loud voice, aggressive body language, facial hair was all quite intimidating. It was during my teen years that my fears turned to curiosity when I discovered that she was a hijra, a eunuch. The ambiguity of her gender fascinated me, and I wanted to know her. What was it like to be born without a defined sex, to be addressed as ‘she’ one moment and ‘he’ the next?

 

Ramkali having a bath.

 

In certain sections of Indian society, giving birth to a child with a genital defect and bringing it up is considered a matter of shame. Often parents give away such children to eunuch clans to bring up. Unlike many eunuchs, Munna Guru’s mother did not give him away — she chose to defy society and bring him up. Till the age of 18, he lived with his mother in Lucknow and then moved to Delhi to find others of his ilk. He identified more with his feminine side and began to refer to himself as a woman. 

 

Ramkali at a badhai occasion – a boy was born and she along with other hi-res has gone to bless the newborn and collect money.

 

For the next 30 odd years, Munna lived amongst hijras. She started off as a chela and with the passage of time, her beauty and charming disposition made her a favorite with her Guru. Slowly, she made many chelas and was quite celebrated within the community. Despite all the attention, she took to the bottle fairly early in her life and developed a serious drinking problem. Her life was tragically cut short in early 2003 under mysterious circumstances. 

 

Ramkali (centre) with other chelas of Munna Guru.

 

After her death, her chela Ramkali became the guru. Spending time with Munna while she was alive, one could hardly escape Ramkali’s presence. She was bold, attractive and had a strong personality – traits required to become a guru.

To photograph Munna Guru and her chelas was an experience. But to photograph her with her biological family was a privilege, one that gave me a great insight into the complex fabric of human relationships.

 

Ramkali leaving after collecting badhai.

 

All images © Anita Khemka/PHOTINK 

Text © Anita Khemka

 

 See also:

Laxmi

By Anita Khemka

 

 

 

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