While sitting on that wooden chair in the hallway, along with other extremely nervous candidates, I could hear my heart pounding in my chest and my brain going numb with anxiety.
This was my twentieth attempt. Yes, I was keeping a count. And my subconscious mind already knew how my journey back home was going to be that day. Sitting by the window of a crowded bus, watching the busy city growing busier, and wiping my moist eyes, just before my stop, I carelessly looked at other people. There were eight men and nine women.
My fingers, quite inadvertently so, clutched my plastic folder harder as I stared blankly at the floor as the next person was called in. I stared at the small floral designs on the floor tiles and wondered what a life full of the fragrance of flowers felt like. I closed my eyes and few glimpses of my life flashed by; sleeping only four hours a day to finish all the studying, then, my daughter (adopted) asking me why I studied so hard to which I replied,”they say hard work always pays.” I jolted back to present and I wondered how long it would take for me to prove that.
My life had been a long and arduous journey of sobs and sniffles. I was born with a curse. At least the people around me had always been making me believe that it was a curse. When my parents had discovered the truth about me at the time of my birth, they had left me in the footsteps of the Railway station where the sweepers used to have lunch. One of them had a kind heart, and he took me in. He provided me with food and shelter from the very little that he earned. Whenever I looked at his face, I saw God. And God was nothing like how they portray in calendars and photographs. God looked just like an ordinary man, but with a heart of gold. Since then he had been with me in all my battles, which were extremely tough to conquer, to put it mildly. As more and more people came to know the truth about me, they started distancing themselves from me and everything related to me, and soon my world was shrunk to just my little home. People felt ashamed of talking to me. Nobody wanted to touch me, being afraid of contracting the ‘disease’ by accident. People stared at me in public transport, their curious eyes shooting questions that felt like poisoned arrows.
My name was called. My trembling feet carried me into the room. I stood there while the interviewer was busy scribbling something on his notepad. I was asked to sit. When I settled, he said, “So, Ms. Ketaki…,” and he looked up. He was flabbergasted. That was the moment I knew I was once again doomed. I should not have even bothered writing exams, my heart told me because there was no use. One look at me and all my hard work get tossed into the trash.
I was too tired of questions by then. I smiled and said, “There is no need to be so surprised, Sir. If you want, I can leave.”
I was about to get up when he said, “I didn’t ask you to leave, Ms. Ketaki.”
I looked at him, paused for a moment, apologized and settled down again. This was probably the first time somebody had asked me, a transgender, not to leave.
The interviewer checked my file meticulously and kept asking me questions related to my life and the field of work. I could tell he was impressed with my written exam scores. When he was done, he kept down the file and said, “I…I know how hard the journey might have been for you this far. But, I think I can say it is going to be better from today.”
My heart skipped a beat. “Does this mean I am hired?”
He smiled again. “I’m afraid I can’t disclose that now.” He kept my papers with him. By then tears had welled up in my eyes. He paused and said, “The hardship you must have faced being a transgender, Ms. Ketaki, is unimaginable. But trust me, you deserve every bit of respect. You are way more capable than the people I have interviewed. You said you have a daughter, right? How old is she?”
I wiped my tears and said, “Ten.”
“I think she will be proud of her mother today.”
The interviewer pushed the glass of water towards me with an extremely comforting smile. After I gulped some of the water, he picked up my grade sheet and said, “You have scored way more than the decided cutoffs. I am… I am a bit curious… how did you manage to score so well?”
“Sir, I was at this for a long time.”
“So, you are the very embodiment of the saying ‘Practice makes you perfect’?”
I smiled. I did not know what to say. He broke the silence with a few questions regarding data analytics, and my answers impressed him. When all that was done, he extended his hand, and I shook it. The reassurance in that grip was the fruit of my years of hard work.
I looked into his eyes and found respect for me. I found admiration. He treated me like a human being, and not as a failed experiment of God. It was a pleasant feeling.
When I was returning home, in a crowded bus, by the window, I had moist eyes just like I had predicted but for an altogether different reason. I knew I had a job now. I was going to give myself and my daughter a better life.
Sanjeev Himachali is a Strategic HR Consultant, Talent Strategist, Management Consultant and a Performance Coach. He exhibits over a decade and a half years of progressive, leadership experience and core competencies in talent acquisition, management, and development, HR program management, compensation & benefits management, and staff engagements.