A crisp yet soft voice on the phone greets me. Kalki Subramanian is on the other end.
She dons many hats — that of an actor, an author, a transgender activist and an entrepreneur.
When you ask her what defines her and who she is pat comes the response. “Kalki is a woman with pride who stands up for gender equality and transgender rights. She tries to be the ultra modern fashionable girl, but her heart identifies with that of a village girl. She is an artist and yet strives to be a successful entrepreneur. She is a bad cook, a good poet, and an angry young woman who is sometimes absent minded and misses her glasses to find them after all raised on her head.”
From a 16-year old boy who was confused about his sexual orientation and identity, Kalki has come a long way since then. Her positivity and self-belief have seen her through tough times and critical decisions. She tells people, “If a confused little boy can become a heroine, then anything is possible in this world, all we need is determination, courage and belief in oneself.”
Breaking the stereotyping of transgenders and demonstrating to the world that being a transgender is nothing to be ashamed of has been one of her biggest challenges. She says, “Like anyone else we too can contribute positively towards our country and the society we live in.”
To reach where she is today, Kalki’s had to cross many hurdles. First was coming to terms with her own self. At 16, life was in a turmoil due to the tussle between the anatomical gender identity of one’s sex and the psychological identity of the other. “It was the most difficult period of my life. I was in school, as an effeminate confused boy student,” she says.
There was a realization that the adolescent young boy, would not be the same as the grown up adult, the world was expecting to see. It was a very terrifying moment to deal with. Overwhelmed with thoughts about family acceptance and their reaction to her true identity, often pushed her to think of even suicide, though she never tried it.
One day she picked up the courage and spoke to her parents about her gender identity crisis. “My parents broke down, they were frightened about my future. I was sad to see them crying so I made them a promise that I would make them proud if they let me be. They did. It took a lot of hard work but I kept my end of the promise.”
Kalki’s list of achievements is long. She walked down the path of entrepreneurship when a friend, a young artist approached her for help in promoting his craft, especially musical instruments. With this she invested in his products and began selling online. Brand Kalki Enterprises was born. “I started earning and it was exciting to see the profit in my hands. Today we are doing good, my friend is very independent, travels across the country for his business.”
She is soon starting a new venture called Kalki Organics offering pure, eco friendly, zero chemical organic soaps and personal health care products.
Kalki writes in both English and Tamil, and has written extensively for trans equality for the past 10 years. She loves poetry and recently her first collection of poems was released as a book in Tamil named ‘KuriAruthean'(Phallus, I cut). She says,
The poems are strong expressions of the journey of people like me who are women of another kind. My first literary work has been acclaimed and it established me as an author. I am now working on my English book and my second Tamil book.
The transgender community across India has been battling for basic livelihood, dignity and social acceptance. “Most of us have been thrown out by families, experience lack of education, lack good housing and medical services and live without any assurance and security for our future.” So Kalki has been actively advocating for legal recognition of the transgender community of India — from lobbying for their rights with the judiciary to campaigning for gender non conforming students in educational institutions, for their right to education and continuing studies in an enabling environment when there is no discrimination in academic institutions and no school dropouts. She is also associated with Sahodari Foundation that is working for the social, legal and economic empowerment of the transgender community of India. “I am making an effort to bring a firm positive change in transgender people’s lives through Sahodari,” she adds.
With self-belief and self-respect as her greatest motivation, Kalki says, “I am different, yet I am as good as anyone else, striving to be the better and the best. I keep learning constantly in life.”
In 2009, she started a matrimonial website for the transgenders and in 2011 even acted in a lead role in a Tamil film, ‘Narthaki’, a beautiful biography of the transgender community. The movie brought her appreciation from both the critics and even worldwide audience.
Kalki has received great support from her friends and family. She has been courageous and refrained from blaming destiny and fate for her situation. “I believe you need to raise up and make an effort to change the situation. It is not the failure that brings despair, it is the fear that does so. For me, the love and acceptance of my family is my biggest strength and keeps me alive. It is the most important thing in my life.”
A major source of confidence has been the books. “My confidence comes from the books I choose to read. My life was built by the knowledge I gained by reading.”
Another one of her Tamil poems ‘Viddiyaiezhuthinen’ (Destiny, I wrote) has been included in the text books for students of Bishop Heber College in Tiruchirappalli. To our remark of that is a lot of feathers’ in her cap, she simply says, “I am blessed. Blessed to be this person I am.”