09 June 2008

SHE was HEre (sic)

Tuesday March 18 2008 10:19 IST
on NewIndPress.com

by Manu Vipin

DRESSED in a black and white skirt and figurehugging top with a matching gold necklace, long earrings and anklets, she looks fresh even after a night-long dance performance.

Only the trace of stubble and a gruff voice call your attention to the battles she has fought.

The talented classical dancer and the director of Lakshya Performing Arts Academy, Chennai, P R Rajesh aka Lakshya took 32 years to muster the courage to reject the sex she was born with and accept her gender.

The secret had till then been hers and hers alone. The feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

“I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what the label was. I didn’t know what the outcome would be,” she says. It was nine months ago that Rajesh from Aluva, now settled in Chennai, underwent the sex-change operation.

“I didn’t want to cheat anyone. I wanted to show the world who I was and now I am happy to live as me, a transgender,” says Lakshya who was in the city for a dance performance as part of the Sivarathri festival. And this was her first performance in her home town after her gender change.

“I was excited. Nobody recognised me and I revealed my identity only after my performance. Kerala society is still conservative unlike the rest of the country,” says Lakshya who has performed all over the world. But after the performance, she is pleased with the response from the audience. “I found a tremendous change in the attitude of people here,” she says.

Born into a middle-class family with four older brothers, Lakshya says she took to dancing at a young age. The movie Sankarabharanam had a great impact on Rajesh and ignited his passion for dance.

“I saw the movie when I was 12 years old and made up my mind to devote my life to dance,” he says. His parents supported him, and Rajesh started learning dance under Kalamandalam Sumathi.

He won many state-level competitions and when he turned 18 he joined Kalashektra, Chennai. “I learnt bharatanatyam for seven years and joined there as a guest artist and later as a teacher,” says Lakshya who is a post-graduate diploma holder in bharatanatyam.

She says all her life she was confused and lonely. “Women wouldn’t accept me and I used to feel hurt.” College life was painful. “I used to feel dejected at my repeated failures in love. I was attracted to boys and always, I was left heartbroken.

I even attempted suicide. When I look back I feel I was a real fool then,” she laughs.

It was her trips abroad that made her come to terms with her real identity. “There was lot of pressure from the family to get married. Initially I told them that I wanted to dedicate my life to dance,” she says with a smile.

Luckily for Lakshya her parents and her brothers accepted her. “She is talented and has a loving heart. I feel she has every right to choose her lifestyle,” says her mother Kamalam.

Post the sex-change operation, the transformation from Rajesh to Lakshya is complete, she says.

“Though there are challenges still, I’m no longer confused about who I am,” she says. “Since the operation I haven’t had any bad experience. I stay positive and believe that if you behave with dignity people will respect you.”

Lakshya considers dance as a medium to express her feminity and a divine gift from god. She is equally good at bharatanatyam, kuchipudi, mohiniyattom and folk dances, and has performed lead roles in Kalashetra dance dramas. Lakshya is also known for her skill in choreography.

She says she wants to dedicate more time to dance performances rather than stick to teaching dance at her academy. “I am young and now I have the energy to perform,” says Lakshya who is the recipient of T S Parthasarathy Award for Excellence in Dancing.

She is also a graded artist in Doordarshan. “I have seen many transgenders who feel sorry for themselves. But I feel lucky because today I believe in myself,” says Lakshya exuding confidence. “Today, I am secure in my identity.”