The Parcel by Anosh Irani
Indian-Canadian novelist Anosh Irani's latest book delves into the world of India's transgender community
Madhu takes us deep into Bombay’s red light district, through a maze of carefully guarded brothels to the house of hijras: India’s officially recognised third gender. These people occupy a hybrid social status – low and outcast, but believed to have a long history of curious spiritual powers. It’s a transgender community, here using sex work and begging to make ends meet.
Then Madhu is given the important task of preparing a ‘parcel’ for its opening. The parcel is a ten year old girl, sold from the provinces by her aunt. Madhu must break the mind of this girl, to save her from the intense pain – and possible madness – that resistance to her new life will bring.
Early on, there is a slight tendency to explain too much – to connect too many things to a single metaphor. Then the self-consciousness of the language drops away, and Irani’s storytelling reaches moments of brilliance. It is a powerful, distressing tale of a community that is, in one light, on the very edges of society; in another, it is deep in society’s armpit. The physical and psychological traumas make for difficult reading, but this is no sob story. Irani’s portrait of Madhu and her community is tender and heroic, comic and tragic, dignified and destitute all at once.