Ashi stands by the door of the shared house where she lives with Aziz and Nighat. (Photo: Bassam Tariq.)
Last week, my uncle took me to meet one of his old neighborhood's infamous icons, Aziz Mamoo. She lives in a small one bedroom shack located in the heart of a very disturbed ghetto. Aziz Mamoo is transgendered or, as they're known in South Asia, a hijrah. At the age of 11, she was kicked out of her house by her brothers and found refuge with the local hijrah guru, Hajji Iqbal. Iqbal took her in and taught the young Aziz how to sing and dance. Every town in Karachi has a designated guru who is in charge of the hijrahs in their area. The guru becomes both the mother and father to their communities hijrahs. The local guru feeds them, provides them shelter, and teaches them how to pray and live a modest life. When there is a birth of a child that is considered intersex, some families leave the infant at the guru's doorstep. After the death of Hajji Iqbal, Aziz Mamoo became the local guru of her neighborhood. Countless babies have been left at her doorstep and though she has very little to offer, she never turns them away. The two kids that live with her now are Ashi and Nighat. Many more lived with her before, but she kicked them out after they started doing, as she calls it, "number two work." 'Number two work' is a euphemism for prostitution and it's become a common job for many hijrahs in Karachi.
According to Aziz Mamoo, there are two kinds of hijrahs: those that dance and pray at weddings and aqiqahs (a celebration commemorating the birth of a child), and those that prostitute or beg for money on the main roads. Aziz Mamoo despises the latter.
"Woh bhanchots!" Those sister-fuckers, she curses, "they give us a bad name. We don't beg on the streets. We may not have much, but we do have our dignity."
Aziz Mamoo, center, sits on her charpoi with her two daughters, Ashi, left, and Nighat. (Photo: Bassam Tariq.)
My uncle grew up in Karachi and has had a lot of friends that frequent the prostitute hijrahs. He mentions that many men dress up as hijrahs just to be accepted as homosexuals. As he puts it, his friends rave about the fellatio these hijrahs give. There is a grey area when it comes to the street hijrahs, they are either transvestites or transgendered, but there really is no way of knowing from the surface. My uncle was keen on asking Aziz about her own sexual desires.
She was quick to reply, "We cannot bare a child nor do we have the ability to impregnate. We just desire two things: good clothing and decent food. With what we do, we make enough to live."
Aziz Mamoo started to feel a little uneasy and kept looking over at her clock. I wondered if we were overstaying our welcome, nevertheless, I was compelled to ask another question.
"If I have a child that's transgendered, would you recommend me bringing them to you? Or do you feel I should keep the child and raise them?"
It's important to note that in the middle of asking this question, Aziz interrupted me and muttered,
"God forbid that you have a transgendered child." After she let me finish my question she continued, "Keep them. take care of them, educate them. Don't let them stray into our line. We are uneducated. We scour our neighborhoods day and night looking for someone that will hear us sing and dance. This is no way for anyone to live."
Minutes later, my uncle signaled to me that it was time for us to leave. After we said our good byes, I asked Aziz Mamoo what she was doing for the rest of the day.
"It is Sunday," she said, "today is for us."
(Edit: Changed transgendered to intersex in first paragraph. Thanks, AnneH)
Ashi and Nighat laugh at an inside joke. (Photo: Bassam Tariq.)
Bassam Tariq is an independent filmmaker. His first feature, THESE BIRDS WALK, will be released in theatres this November by Oscilloscope Laboratories.