Megha Majumdar. Photograph by Beowulf Sheehan.
Megha Majumdar is the author of the New York Times Notable Book A Burning, which was nominated for the National Book Award, the NBCC’s John Leonard Prize, and the American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal. She is also the editor in chief at Catapult Books. She grew up in Kolkata, India, and now lives in New York. A Burning is her first book.
From A Burning:
Even a future movie star is having to make money. One morning my sisters and I are spraying rose water in our armpits, braiding our hair, putting bangles on our arms, and together we are going to bless a newborn. The general public is believing that we hijras are having a special telephone line to god. So if we bless, it is like a blessing straight from god. At the door of the happy family, I am rattling the lock thuck thuck thuck.
“Give, mother,” we are calling so that our voices can be heard deep within the big house. When nobody is coming, I am stepping back and looking up at a window. It is a big house, and the window is covered by a lace curtain.
“Mother!” I am calling. “Let us see the baby, come.”
Finally the door in front of us is opening, and the mother, wearing a nightie that goes only to her calves, her oily hair sticking to her scalp, her eyes looking like she has seen battle, is holding the baby and coming out. Poor woman is yawning like a hippopotamus. I am feeling that maybe I can make the mother cheer up, along with the baby.
So I am taking the baby in my arms, inhaling the milk scent of his skin. My eyes are falling in love with those soft folds in his wrists, the plump inside of his elbows. The others are clapping above the baby, singing, “God give this child a long life, may he never suffer the bite of an ant! God give this child a happy life, may he never suffer a lack of grains!”
The baby is looking surprised, with those big eyes. Maybe he is never coming out on the street before, never feeling the smoke and dust. For sure he is never seeing a group of hijras in our best clothes! He is screaming. His little mouth is opening to show pink gums and pink tongue, and he is screaming in my arms. He is a little animal. We are laughing. He is going to be fine, I am thinking, because he is having no defects, unlike myself.
The mother is looking harassed, and taking the baby inside. We are waiting for the sound of a drawer opening, some cash being counted by mother and father. But what is this, she is going inside a room, where a tap is running and water is falling. From here, over all the sounds of the street, I am hearing one sound clearly: She is washing her hands. She is washing her hands of us.
Meanwhile, the father is coming out in shorts and giving Arjuni Ma, our hijra house’s guru, three thousand whole rupees. He is sliding his glasses down his nose and looking at us from the top. One of my sisters is flirting with him for an old microwave or old TV. He is looking unhappy and pleading, “Where am I having so much, sister? Look at me. New baby and all.”
Me, I am only trying to see what the mother is doing behind him, in the dark corridor, her hands so, so clean.
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