Dhaka, Bangladesh
Story of a transition

Story of a transition

As promised, Manobi Bandyopadhyay bares her heart in this biography, while fending off social disapproval and legal persecution. She remembers growing up as Somnath, feeling girlish at a very young age, dressing in his sisters' frocks and wearing their cosmetics. By his teens he became so open in his mannerisms and habits that his family despaired about his future. And indeed, in his search for affection, he often became trapped in a culture of abuse. The writer's language is barefaced and often crude, but she is honest about her obsession with love and romance, writing with self-confidence as well as self-pity. She admits much of the love she found was 'animal' love, which she did not wholly dislike. But her writing soon gets maudlin, heavy with heartbeats, goose bumps and tears. Lacking humour and irony, it leaves the reader squirming with impatience. Manobi's life story is not her first published work, and it is certainly not the first soul-baring from a transgender. It is not even written well. But when a subgroup struggles to achieve social equality and respect, an accretion of its work helps break down prejudices. That is one reason to read this biography. The book is otherwise wordy and sentimental and reveals weakness of thought that the author seems entirely unaware of. She talks of being more educated and gifted than her transgender friends, or indeed any friend, but she shows little evidence of actual superiority in thinking. Only when she embarks on her M.Phil does she finally feel it is time to develop intellectually. When she earns, she hopes to buy cosmetics and clothes rather than to achieve independence. We tremble that such a slow-maturing mind gravitates toward teaching. Despite this unpromising start Somnath does get a lecturer's post, becomes self-supporting, and stabilises enough to transition toward bodily femininity through hormone therapy and surgery. Her ideas of becoming more female-flirting coyly, being glamorous and attractive to men-will trouble many women readers. Manobi is outwardly female, but surely this is not all that womanhood amounts to.

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