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The Childhood of Aftab/Anjum/Anjuman

MA Sem. 4

Gender Studies

The Childhood of Aftab/Anju/Anjuman

Literature reflects society better than anything else and therefore contains the best discourse on society as it actually is. The marginalized and weaker sections of society are especially shown by fiction writers and dramatists, making readers aware of aspects little-noticed otherwise. Literary discourse has largely been responsible for changes in people’s perception and treatment of women. There have been several novels through which injustice to weaker sections in society has been demonstrated.

            Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a unique text not only because of its stunning literariness but because of Roy’s sensitivity in the creation of a character that is biologically described as a Hermaphrodite. Aftab, Anjum or Anjuman (the three names by which she called from babyhood to maturity) is the character who occupies more space than any other character in more than one-third of the novel. Though the term hijra is used for her we are told that she is not exactly that. Anjuman becomes a case study for how people look upon and behave with those that are neither men nor women. We are made to realize how unsympathetic humankind is towards these marginalized beings. They are repulsive for those that nature has made normal and not even considered fit to adopt a child whose parents are unknown.

            It is important to note that this character is called both “he” and “she” depending on the situation in the novel. Hence we can also refer to this character as he or she and even as both at different parts of the answer.

            Right from the beginning of the novel we are shown that someone who is not in the possession of one of the two main genders – male or female – will find it virtually impossible to get a respectable place in society. Anjum, therefore, finds it best to settle in a graveyard and pass her time there, watching the crows come in as the bats leave for their nightly flights. This happens after she has made every effort to be absorbed into the main folds of normal people, and then with her other fellow hijras. Roy has done a great job in painting a picture of the graveyard where Anjum lives more like a thing than a human being.

            When Anjum is born, her mother thinks that it is a boy because her girl-parts are not clearly visible. She names her baby, Aftab. But then, with time, the girl-parts begin to take shape and trouble the mother no end. She hides this development from her husband and goes to people who she thinks might help medically or by operating on the girl-parts. But these efforts are wasted and the heartbroken mother has to accept that the baby is neither a boy or a girl. She will in time be called Anjum.

            The childhood of Anjum is beautifully painted. She starts showing interest in music and sings tunefully. But soon her voice begins to crack and she realizes that all her training in Hindustani classical music will not bear any fruit. She is quite confused and unhappy. One day she sees a hijra and is attracted to her. Aftab follows the hijra and sees her dwelling which is called Khabgah or the place of dreams. He begins to visit the Khwabgah frequently and begins to believe that he has found a home in this place where hijras live. At the age of 15, he finally starts living in Khabgah where there seems to be great fulfillment for him because he can express himself as a girl without being ridiculed as he was in the earlier place. It is here that he becomes Anjum from Aftab and feels good in this gender variation.

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