At times when the world remains dipped in a smorgasbord of big fancy things, small steps are rarely counted. When all focus falls on rainbow-coloured pastries annually ‘coming out’ during Pride months, Instagram switching to its pride-coloured #hashtags and corporate machines jostling in a fierce hustle-culture to display their work-place ‘inclusivity,’ small acts of defiance are rarely given the attention they badly deserve.
And even if they are, they mostly remain silently hooked to the margins. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. They do. In a journey, every act holds primacy, and this is precisely what queer and trans rights activist Akkai Padmashali’s memoir ‘A Small Step in A Long Journey’ plans to tell its readers. Today, when queer activism seems to be either hijacked by self-anointed allies on social media or remains relegated to the fiefdom of a select privileged few in the English speaking world, Akkai’s memoir brings something different to the table, something that is so often excommunicated to live furtively on the borders of our modern day ‘brownie point click-bait’ activism.
Published by Zubaan Publications, this book in Akkai’s words is a search for one’s gender identity, and brings to the forefront some much needed trans voices. To quote Akkai, this journey is “a journey we all travel.” In her book, she traces her footsteps on her way to finding herself, navigating a sea of sympathies, pity and transphobia. In other words, her story is nothing short of a quintessential search for acceptance, recognition and respect.
Akkai’s way of telling her story is terrifyingly honest and without mincing her words presents a right mixture of personal and political, which just proves more that the two are neatly interlinked. Her story is like an all-front battle, fighting the tensions, prejudices and discrimination on all fronts- be it personal or political. On the personal front, Akkai takes us through a harrowing experience of growing up, often being at the receiving end of loss, abuse and rampant bullying, which gets magnified manifold due to an unsupportive environment and a total absence of any representation and anchor points in society. Akkai’s journey in her words is a shift away from the idea of ‘victimhood’ and more towards reclaiming the spaces from discriminatory institutions. Her search for a like-minded tribe of people and her goal to reach out to those she believes have been ruthlessly suppressed by regressive norms and ideas are few of her many brave acts of boldness. And as for the political nature of the book, Akkai bravely puts forward her side of the debate- which is repeatedly put on the backburners in elite circles. Her life in itself is a political act, which is nothing short of a sharp attack on all shades of orthodoxies. Her memoir catalogues her life as a formidable opposition to every force that denies equality. Be it her vocal fight against the draconian Section 377 for its outmoded and anachronistic understanding of sex or calling out inherent contradictions and transphobia that exist in various social, feminist and other women’s rights movements, Akkai passionately pursues to interrogate norms and behaviours that refuse to accept the people the way they are and spares no one she believes is antithetical to equality. Her opposition to patriarchal influence on history and the narrow confinements of fundamentalism and orthodox rituals gridlocked in the fossils of time are crucial ingredients of her fight for dignity and rights, which she believes are the basic elements of every life.
It was a hard pick but I believe the book’s best part for me is its interrogation of what privacy constitutes. On the dominance of elite notions of privacy in contemporary debates and legislations, Akkai tells her readers that for many working-class and underprivileged sexual minorities, something even as basic as privacy is a privilege. “Bushes are my privacy,” she writes in her book, drawing on the inherent class differences and fault lines that ambush social movements.
So, it is for the very nature of this book that I believe makes for a mandatory read. Akkai’s story stays with you like a big question mark looming on the horizon, waiting to be answered. And perhaps, of all people, she knows best how to ask some tough questions.