Arts Illustrated
The Bold & the Beauttiful

Chronicling the life of the transgender community working Mumbai’s local trains

Team AI

Trains are undoubtedly imagination’s best friend. The metaphor of a journey, its unfaltering, meditative rhythm, and its ability to purposefully pack in a myriad experiences that begin and end at the station platform, are reasons why creativity naturally gravitates towards and lives within train compartments. And sometimes, these fleeting stories that magically abound like mushrooms in a field are picked by the right hands.

Anushree Fadnavis’ portraits of trans people or hijras in the local Mumbai train is one such example. The portraits are evocative in how the images are framed, where what isn’t revealed is somehow in the foreground as against what we do see. ‘Most of the trans-women I have spoken to have been very sweet and humble. Some don’t trust me, while some share their stories easily. All I wanted to do with this project was to show the world their humble nature and how amazing this community is. I think it will take me a while to understand them and for them to accept me,’ says Fadnavis. ‘In the recent past, there has been an increase in the number of trans people in Mumbai’s local trains asking for money. This is their job and this is how they earn their livelihood. These pictures may be mere portraits for some, but if you look close enough they tell you a lot. Through these pictures I want to show the humans behind this tag “transgender”,’ explains Fadnavis.

Shama, the cross-dresser. I shot this picture last year. I had stayed back to catch the last train that leaves from Churchgate. The platform was relatively empty. A few minutes before the train was about to leave, I noticed a group of transgenders & cross-dressers. I followed them and asked them if I could click a few pictures. When I was taking a picture of Shama, I noticed the others in the background were changing out of their party clothes. They usually do that in the train. It seemed they were heading back from a party, though they never give me the details.

It’s midnight and a transgender stands at the doorway in the ladies compartment. It’s very common to see them this late in the night. They usually are on their way to some late night event or are on their way home.

Shama, the cross-dresser. I shot this picture last year. I had stayed back to catch the last train that leaves from Churchgate. The platform was relatively empty. A few minutes before the train was about to leave, I noticed a group of transgenders & cross-dressers. I followed them and asked them if I could click a few pictures. When I was taking a picture of Shama, I noticed the others in the background were changing out of their party clothes. They usually do that in the train. It seemed they were heading back from a party, though they never give me the details.

Sharmila applies lipstick as she gets ready for her work on a railway platform in Mumbai. Sharmila, Zoya, Kajal work at late night events. That’s what they told me.

Rajni hides her face as I photograph her in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train.

Miss Preeti Pintu, age 25 years, and Pinky (on the right). I saw them at the station and hoped they would get into the train, and they did. They were apprehensive at first when I asked them if I could photograph them, but once I explained the intention behind my project, they happily agreed. They were dressed so beautifully and I loved their eye makeup. They told me they were sisters.

Radhika, a transgender, watches her friend Jaya, also a transgender, as she interacts with people in the Mumbai local train.

Anita, on her way to work. She has a tattoo of an angel on her back, which she calls her ‘Angel’.

This is Sarika. She works in the mail trains unlike the others. She tells me a lot of men call her Hema Malini and Aishwarya Rai.

This is Nishu (27), her name earlier being Nishawar. I have met her twice in the Virar fast train. The first time I met her, she told me how she has faced gender discrimination and she left her family because she didn’t want anyone to point fingers at them. From childhood, she always felt like a girl; and now she stays alone but she is happy. Nishu has studied till 10th grade and she is well-versed in English; my conversations with her were also in English. She says, ‘People have to respect us like everyone else. I don’t know why they react so badly when I ask for money. It’s not like I am asking for your boyfriend or your house!’

I see her most of the time in the train during the late hours. She is one those people whom you meet in the train almost every other day and you acknowledge them but you don’t know their name. Unlike other transgenders who love to dress up, she wears a simply sari most of the time. When asked why, she replies: ‘I used to be thin before, even thinner than you. That time I used to wear all types of clothes.’ She says times have changed, as earlier people never had any ATM cards and would have cash to spare; so now they earn less than before.
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