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Circles that ‘trans’form lives

Kotravai, a 30-year-old transwoman has had a life full of misery and sufferings – from being rejected by her own family, begging in the streets of Mumbai at the age of 14 to working in Sonagachi, Asia's largest red-light district as a cleaning staff, she has endured it all. Today, she walks confidently and

Published: 20th May 2018 11:20 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st May 2018 03:43 AM   |  A+A-

Sanjeev(L) and Kotravai(R) found a second lease of life at The Bagel Pot

Express News Service

CHENNAI:Kotravai, a 30-year-old transwoman has had a life full of misery and sufferings – from being rejected by her own family, begging in the streets of Mumbai at the age of 14 to working in Sonagachi, Asia's largest red-light district as a cleaning staff, she has endured it all. Today, she walks confidently and takes breaths of fresh air, thanks to The Bagel Pot, an exclusive bagel cafe in Ambattur, which hires transgender staff. The eatery opened its doors to the public on April 28 and its founder Rennee tells us about the joy of making bagels and helping Trans people find their calling.

“I believe that progress is from the gross plane (tangible) to the subtle (intangible). So, I was thinking how and where to begin this process from and food was what caught my attention first. I wanted to take the essence of western strategies and eastern philosophies and produce unadulterated, hand crafted food for people, which will touch their soul,” says Rennee about the venture.

After intensive R&D work, she decided to make bagels and the reasons for it are simple. “We become what we eat and what we eat becomes us. I wanted to start a restaurant where there are no enhancers used and everything is natural and handmade, from scratch. At one point, Instagram and Facebook were filled with posts of bagels and I thought, why not." she smiles.

Her love for symbols, abstracts and philosophies led her to try her hand at making her own bagels. “Bagels have some interesting history behind them. And finding bagels in the city is close to impossible. So, I began making them myself,” she narrates. A couple of months later, ‘The Bagel Pot’ was set up and before the café officially opened its shutters, the recruitment process for staff was in full swing. “We wanted the café to be a place where people can become better human beings and find their calling and themselves. Neelam of Perry Ferry (a social inclusion start-up) was someone I knew from college. So, when I wanted to hire transgender people, I reached out to her and that’s how Kotravai and Sanjeev were recruited,” she explains.

Today, the one criterion which binds all of them is their passion for cooking. “Kotravai is an expert when it comes to knowledge on flavours and textures,” she says and playfully nudges her. She quickly reacts, “Rennee ‘amma’ is the reason why I am so confident now. She encourages us. There are two conditions to work in Bagel pot – to have an undying passion towards food and cooking and to be a constant learner,” she says and heads to cut a dense, doughy and chewy bagel with a crisp and browned exterior; applies cream cheese and serves it in their ecofriendly plate. “I have learnt that cooking is a very therapeutic process,” adds Kotravai, a former community advisor.

We turn to Sanjeev, who has been quietly observing our conversation. “I am introverted and don’t talk much. But today, I feel like I should,” he says and narrates his life as a transman. “I was the only girl child in a joint family. Since I had a lot of male cousins, I began doing everything they did. I used to dress up like them, get my hair cut and play with them. No one noticed any difference until I attained puberty. My family asked me to behave like a girl. I felt threatened and was scared that they would get me married. So, I ran away from home. After travelling to Kerala, I lived there for a while, then reached Chennai and got acquainted with Perry Ferry,” he recalls.

Sanjeev has been living away from home ever since and rues that they lack awareness. “The lives of transwomen has been exposed now and people have started to understand. But, most people don’t even know that transmen exist. My family didn’t even believe that this was possible,” he says, teary eyed. Kotravai intervenes, cracks a joke and makes Sanjeev laugh briefly. Clearly infused with regenerated confidence, he adds, “I know these people have got my back and I will not let them down. Bagel Pot is like our home and customers will get food which is cooked with love and care.”

(The Bagel pot is located in OMR Food street, Ambattur industrial estate. For details, call: 9840512055)

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