By the side of the road Hindu pilgrims wait to leave Puri. With their bags packed, they wait patiently for their bus to take them back to West Bengal. In India, timely efficiency is almost a foreign concept so these travelers catch a quick nap before the long and bumpy bus ride home. They do not fret or agonize over the delay. Of course, anything is possible. This is, after all, India!
In the distance the sound of drums rattle the pilgrims, like the early warnings of a brewing storm, spreading waves of concern and curiosity. They sit up and stand at attention looking down the street. Is there a problem with the bus, they wonder.
An odd assemblage of drummers, dressed in typical Orissa ikat tunics with red-head bands tied around their foreheads and with long feathers tucked inside bob gaily as they parade down the lane. Leading them, standing on top of a pushcart is a wild haired man stomping forcefully. To an outsider, it doesn’t add up until I see what looks like a woman dressed in a magenta sari dancing.
After catching a glimpse of the dancer, I have a better notion of what is going on. The dancer is a eunuch. In India, these eunuchs form communities and virtually function as one of India’s many castes. They are known as hijra. Their very existence embody all the paradoxes that is India. They instill fear yet are welcomed. They keep tabs on their neighborhoods. They always know when someone has given birth to a new baby or is about to wed. They appear. They dance. They demand money. Their presence is auspicious. Payment is made and gratefully, they vanish.
So when I identified the hijra, I knew that this event was probably in honor of a pending marriage.
Just as suddenly as this little parade appeared, it disappeared, the crowd dispersed and the bus rolled in for the pilgrims. Life returned to whatever is normal for India!