BENGALURU: As a child, Kalki Subramaniam often drew a beautiful girl and imagine what it would be like to be, her, through her poetry. For Kalki art was a medium to express her gender.
She spent her younger days fighting for acceptibility. She started showing feminine characteristics during her teenage years during her academic years.
Kalki is now running a campaign to educate underprivileged transgenders and raising funds by selling her art. “Art can make a difference,” she says with pride as she arranges her paintings at a gallery.
Based in Pollachi, a small town in Tamil Nadu, she got the idea for the campaign when Fueladream, a city-based crowdfunding platform, approached her to raise funds on their platform.
She is aiming at raising `2 lakh through the site. Sixty per cent of the money she gets out of this will be given to four underprivileged transgenders for their education and medical expenses.
Refusing to name them, she says that “One of them is from Bengaluru and three, from Tamil Nadu. I will use rest of the money to make more paintings and raise more funds.”
Education can help transgenders lead a respectable life, she says. “It can get them a job, acceptance, fulfilment, confidence, respect and self-esteem,” she explains.
Subramaniam holds two Master’s degrees – one in Journalism and Mass Communication and second in International Relations.
With her qualification, she secured a job at an MNC where she never faced discrimination. “The money that I earned helped me fund my transition. I had my gender reassignment surgery in 2006,” says Subramaniam who has played a lead role in the movie Narthagi, an offbeat film about the life journey of a transgender woman – her quest for happiness and love, and finding her identity. She became the first transgender actor in India to do a lead role in a movie.
“Vijayapadma, the director of the movie, got to know of me through an interview in a Tamil magazine. I first thought it was a joke,” she says.
Her family has always been supportive. “At the age of 13, I realised that I am a little feminine. My family also knew this and accepted me as I was at the age of 16. They took me to a psychiatrist who assured them that I will be fine. The transgender community I was part of helped me. I felt happy wearing makeup and colourful dresses,” she says.
Her paintings, which are on sale, are on emotional experiences – love, happiness, companionship, pride, romance, desire, rejection and victimisation. “All these show the journey that transpeople go through,” she says.
The portrait of a horse titled Free Spirit is for the freedom of liberal souls and their beauty. Another one titled Rejection is powerful with a woman screaming against her oppression. The Two Halves depict how gender is fluid. Stereotypes shows how people look at things uni-dimensionally. Love Beyond Gender is on the limitlessness of love.
She has painted all of these using a palette knife.
Her collection of poetry has been published in a book titled Kuri Aruthean that also include illustrations by her.
Some of the illustrations have also been featured on clothes designed by students of JD Institute of Fashion Technology.
She started to work with transgender rights when her friend was raped. “We were 13 years old, my friend who was a sex worker, was kidnapped by seven men who raped her. Next morning, she returned with bruises all over her body. We wanted to file a complaint but could not because we knew that the police would not understand. They would question her. We wept helplessly.”
“Acceptance from family can better transgender lives,” she says as she signs off.