“Like any typical family, my parents also took a while to understand and support me; for them, the fear was also about how I would survive in the world."
Some conversations leave you feeling intellectually richer, while others leave your soul nourished. This article is about a conversation that did the latter for me.
Meet Preetisha Premkumaran, India’s first transgender delivery agent, who has partnered with Uber Eats in Chennai.
Born as a male in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, Preetisha has had her share of ups and downs. When I ask her about it, she says, “I would like to look at the good things that have happened in my life. Why dwell on sad things that have happened already.”
In this conversation with The Better India, Preetisha speaks about her journey from male to female, her association with Uber Eats, marriage to partner Premkumaran, and what she wishes for in the future.
Preetisha was in class 9 when she started wanting to be a woman. She says, “At that time, I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I knew was that I wanted to be a woman. It was when I was in class eleven that I had a better understanding of my body.”
Preetisha travelled to Pune where she underwent the sex-change surgery. I asked her how her family reacted and she said, “Like any typical family, my parents also took a while to understand and support me; for them, the fear was also about how I would survive in the world.”
“There are certain notions associated with being a transgender and my family did not want me falling into those traps.”
She continues, “From being beaten up to being ostracised, I have faced many hardships along the way. Those are memories that I never want to revisit.”
Her experience as a performing artist
“One thing that I was also sure about was that I needed to live with dignity and respect. I never wanted to do anything that would put me in a compromising position,” she says.
Before she got the opportunity to become a performing artist, she sold keychains on local trains. “I never wanted to resort to begging to live my life; by selling the keychains, I started making about Rs 400 a day,” she says.
After her surgery, Preetisha lived in Pune for two years and then moved to Delhi where she stayed for six years.
Speaking about her time in the national capital, she says, “I would participate in many street plays. It gave me a lot of exposure. I would go along with other transgender people to homes where there were celebrations: marriages and new births, most often.”
“We would dance and sing to earn money. I never found anything wrong in that.”
She then moved to Chennai and continued to work as an artist. “The problem with this field of work is that there is no stable income. Some months are great because of the work that comes our way, and some others are terrible,” she reveals.
India’s first transgender delivery agent
With the help of Periferry, a start-up in India generating employment and business opportunities for the transgender community, Preetisha got the opportunity to be associated with Uber Eats.
She shares, “My world, until then, revolved around the performing arts and I knew nothing about this line of work.”
As a delivery agent, Preetisha’s days usually begin at noon and end around midnight. She uses the mornings for her household chores.
On an average, she has about 11 orders to deliver, which bring her about Rs 700 each day.
Recollecting some of the encounters she has had while making these deliveries, she shares, “I remember this time when I had collected a pre-paid food order from a restaurant. The ‘amma’ whose house I went to deliver the order looked at me with such affection in her eyes. She handed me Rs 20 and told me to have some tea. It wasn’t the money but the gesture that has remained with me. I could sense that it was a genuine gesture and it restored my faith in humanity.”
Yet another instance she speaks about is also heartening. “I had climbed up three floors to make a delivery, and the lady of the house asked me to come in and offered me a glass of water. Most Brahmin households would not do that, even today. At times like these, I know there is hope,” she says.
She says with immense happiness that she has not encountered or met people who look at her differently. She is proud of her work and wishes to continue living a life of dignity.
“My life has been a series of struggles and in many ways, continues to be. My wish is that transgender people are looked at in the same way as any other man or woman. That, in itself, would be a victory for us,” she says.
A filmy love story
In what can only be described as a filmy love story, Preetisha met Premkumaran, on a popular social networking site. They also made history in Tamil Nadu as the first transgender couple to get married in the state.
“Before we decided to get married, we were friends for five years. It was on Woman’s Day this year that we got married. It’s been a good four months,” she says.
We wish Preetisha all the success and happiness and hope that many other companies adopt similarly inclusive policies.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)