Mona Ahmed singing, Aao Kee Ham Tumko, Batayen Kyaa Cheez Mohabbat Hotee Hai (Come so I can tell you what love is really about) for Kaka (Sardar Mahijit Singh), Deborah (a friend visiting Delhi from Wales), Charlie and some other friends of ours. Mona Ahmed is considered one of the jewels of the Hijras of Delhi. A visit to her home is like a pilgrimage. This time around, it was late at night, after a meal in Old Delhi, and upon our arrival, we realized there was no light at her house. And that she and her gang of homeless, who she gives shelter to, were all asleep did nothing to alter our plans. Of course they woke up (such is Indian hospitality), and Mona sang a few songs for us and charmed all present.Welcome to India!
In the video above, I am teasing our friend Kaka about him getting older. But really, Kaka is ageless. Not one to tire, he can outsmart and outlast any and everyone. That he is a great dancer, antique dealer, and textile expert, only adds to his charm. Everything Kaka touches becomes golden. From his ancestral home in Civil Lines, which is so beautifully kept, restored and appointed, to the farm house in Delhi that he is now working on. Of course there are the Havelis he has created and designed in Mehrauli Village, for his business partner and our dear friend Nalin Tomar, and then the other for a friend from England. To see these is to see an India of yesteryear. But enough about Kaka, this is about Mona Ahmed, a long time friend of Kaka, who he has generously shared with many others. Thanks Kaka!
Mona is a born entertainer. Just awake from deep sleep, it was not but a second before she began performing, entertaining and thrilling. Her bed is placed in front of a portrait of hers. A woman of strong features, she is handsome and talented. Maybe her talents and generosity of spirit are what make her so. And then that voice, and those gestures. She is a wonderful communicator. Our friend from Wales, Deborah, and my partner Charlie, who were both meeting her for the first time, were transfixed by her aura and presence from first sight. That she is of the third-gender, perhaps does not register with most, unless of course they are in the know. And should that matter? Of course it is relevant, but should it cloud ones opinions, color ones experience? That is the question. Do men and women ever have to worry about their gender when in company of others? Nope. Then why should Mona and others of the third gender ever have to worry. Maybe I am dreaming of a perfect world.. but I want to...
Could the portrait of her in her earlier days be keeping an eye on the Mona of the present? Is it placed as such to always keep Mona on the go? To ensure she does not feel she has to retire? To give her a push to keep pushing the envelope? There seems to never be a dull moment around Mona. I was meeting her almost after 8 years, and felt she had not aged at all. Bless you Mona!
Deborah, Wahid and Kaka watch Mona sing, as one of the homeless men she provides shelter to sits alongside the wall where he was sleeping before being woken up by us. He must be wondering where we all came from. Heathens, us, disturbing those asleep and causing a ruckus. Shame on us! But I know Mona was not any worse for it. And of course, through that disturbance, she certainly has left a few more minds reflecting on her, about life, about generosity of spirit and self, and about the way with which the talented around the world, can inspire others, and inspirit a sense of greater belonging to all that come into their world. Even if only for a short time.
Mona talking to all of us. And ensuring we are feeling warm and comfortable and also experiencing something only she can provide. A gritty, very honest form of music and dance, that is at once guttural because of the quality of her voice, but also because of the heartfelt, and decades worth of rich experiences that have burnished her person and her deep voice.
There is great elegance, dignity and pride in how Mona does things. Even as she sings, one knows she is minding every thing she does. All her gestures seem calculated, but still redolent of a lyrical root. How much or how little she might smile, is something that seems to be planned out of a sense of place that is embedded deep in her gut and natural instincts.
Everyone was amazed at all the articles from around the world, that have featured Mona and her life story. She was born a boy, lived as a gay man, until 1965 or around that year, when she got herself operated to become a Hijra.
To think that in the 1960's in India, there was a man who could dream to get castrated, at his own behest, and want to join the baradari of hijras. Quite interesting to say the least. This in a culture where even today some wonder if Hijras (eunuchs) are forcing others to become part of their community. Who knows where the truth lies. The Hijras I have met at our home in Delhi, coming to our home to collect money, and those I have met through our friend Kaka in a social setting, are all amazingly kind people. People who are at peace with their life. But of course what goes on inside their minds, and in the deep pockets of their communities and neighborhoods, is nothing I am aware of. I do give them a hats off, for preserving many old songs and dance forms. And I also thank them for being often, champions of other minorities within India. It certainly is not easy being gay, and so, I can only imagine how tough it must be for members of the third gender.
We watched her clippings, and also the men and women she had provided shelter to, sleeping against every wall. Finding warmth in the cold of Delhi. YES, parts of India get cold in the winter. Some bitterly cold. And in Delhi, as in many places, the cold is exaggerated because of a lack of heating in the homes. As Gael Greene once said to us after a visit to India in the winter, "my bones got chilled", and she was not exaggerating at the least. Days and days of cold weather, no radiant heat, and relying only on shawls and light jackets, can lead to a very cold body.
"come hither" is that the message being shared by the photograph. To me, it is a reminder of the power of Mona. Across the many different stages of her life, she has been preeminent because of different reasons I suppose. In youth she could have relied solely on her beauty. But did she? She had her song and dance as companions, to use to entertain and charm, even to educate. And something tells me she must have been all about a personality that was pretty rounded. Relying on all her attributes, not just the looks. It is this very all encompassing and vividly alive aura that makes her magnetic and deservedly handsome.
The walls are cracked, paint is peeling, the surroundings meager and in a state of disrepair. But that cannot be said about Mona. She is in her prime. All 72 years that she has lived thus far, have given her something to celebrate, something to recognize and be aware of, and added their tonal magic to her voice and a special rhythm to the dance of her hands and feet. Certainly it has not been an easy life for Mona, or the many others that are marginalized by society because baseless fears of ignorant people. But there are those like Mona, that still find it in themselves a welcome love and kindness for the very antagonists that have been against them without any reason. It is this very magnanimous side of Mona that makes me always feel uniquely special around her. As if I am in the presence of something greater and inspiringly different than the mere mortal company I usually keep and provide for to others myself.
You can buy a photojournal about Mona Ahmed called Myself Mona Ahmed. It is photographed by Dayanita Singh. It was during Dayanita's NY release of this book that I met her. And soon after, on my next visit to New Delhi, Kaka took me to visit Mona, and I got to experience her magic first hand.
Below is the little information there is on the amazon page for the book.
Product Description"So one day I met some eunuchs in a park, and they made me friendship. I felt very happy to meet them and very comfortable for the first time in my life. They were singing and dancing very well. After one week they invited me to stay in their house with them."
"Myself Mona Ahmed" is the first book by New Delhi-based photographer Dayanita Singh. It is the story of eunuch Mona Ahmed whom Singh met and began photographing more than ten years ago. Mona Ahmed is a member of a secret community that normally does not permit access to outsiders. We follow the daily life and the rituals of the eunuchs, are invited to their parties and ceremonies, and learn about prejudice and the reality of a eunuch's life. We witness the story of Mona's castration and the loss of her adopted child. Mona is a member of the real third gender. She is a very sensitive person, as her moving e-mails to the publisher of Scalo show. To preserve Mona's own voice, and to give her the power of expressing herself, these emails are published in their original form, with as little editing as possible.
7 x 8 in.
- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Scalo Publishers; illustrated edition edition (September 15, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 3908247462
- ISBN-13: 978-3908247463
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 7 x 0.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Average Customer Review: No customer reviews yet. Be the first.
- Amazon.com Sales Rank: #1,473,024 in Books