LIFE STORY OF PONNI
“Childhood is the best of all the seasons of life” – Venugopal Acharya
Forty-Three year ago, in 1978 a beautiful boy was born to the couple Karupusamy and Jayakudi in a small town of Tamilnadu, India called Thootukudi. Little did this boy know that he was a special child of God and was blessed with a remarkable talent.
The little boy was named Ponraj. Being the youngest in the family of two elder sisters and two elder brothers, our little hero was always an enthusiast and A boy with big dreams. During childhood, dance was his attraction, fascination, and passion. A dance performed on the T.V or a song would always, make his legs move and fill his heart with desire towards dance. The boy was indeed blessed with art from birth and that’s what he believes.
As years passed by, Ponraj grew up to be an excellent child. His passion for dance grew. He loved spending time with his sisters designing Kolam (a form of art composed of straight lines, curves, and loops, popular in Southern India). He embraced being feminine, and he eventually realized that his preferences, actions, and sentiments were more identical to those of a woman. He saw the world from a women’s perspective and that was his first step towards a whole new life.
The family ran a small business, selling mixture (A savory) in carts initially and later setup a shop. It was a tradition to involve kids into family business early in their life. The boys of the family were allowed to attend schools till sixth grade or eight grade and drop out to support the business. But Ponraj’s interest in studies made him an exception. Education is the basis for any civilization to flourish and that’s what Ponraj believed in. With the support of his eldest sister, he successfully persuaded his parents to allow him to continue his education.
He enrolled in the Karapete School, which was known for preparing students to excel academically. The institution had a reputation for being harsh, and students frequently dropped out. Ponraj’s perseverance paid off, as he completed his 10th grade with flying colors
The paths of life are always winding. The difficulties it places in your path are a mere test of your perseverance. Ponraj faced all the challenges that life posed and graduated from 12th grade with flying colors.
But it was just the beginning………
MATH IS MY LIFE
Ponraj was a transformed soul by now. He was well recognized and accepted as a transgender woman by his friends and family. “He” turned to “She”. ‘Male’ tuned to ‘Female’ and that became her proud identity.
Ponni had bigger dreams and ambitions for herself. She was excellent in Mathematics. When other students cried remembering the nightmare of numbers and formulas, Ponni quoted ‘Math is my life’. She believed her talent in Math was a gift from God.
After her 12th grade Ponni wanted to continue her studies, but life was waiting, challenging her in ways she never predicted. Ponni’s mother Jayakudi was always protective of her kids, especially Ponni. She refused the idea of allowing Ponni to pursue her graduation.
But our superwoman was always a rebel, she started working at the vegetable market, writing accounts. She believed if she could earn and support her family in expenses, her mother would agree and give her the permission to study. But she was proved wrong when her mother refused the plea once again. Being the fighter that she was, Ponni silently retaliated by doing nothing and stayed at home for a year. She refused to give up on her dreams. After a year’s fight Ponni decided to fulfil her dream.
She requested the supervisor at the market to help her with another job to manage her college expenses. She started working as a laborer carrying heavy sacks of vegetables. Her hands and legs shook as she carried sixty to seventy kilograms of brinjals on her shoulder, but she never gave up. She worked every day at the market till 8 A.M and rushed to her college after her work. Ponni’s fellow mates discouraged her & exclaimed that her body would turn manly, which would be despised in the community. However, Ponni who understood the importance of education and college never let the demotivation get the best of her and continued to manage her part time job and studies well.
Coming from the transgender community and working at the market was never an easy task for her. The fear of acceptance, the fear of being taken for granted always clouded her mind. But thanks to God, she was accepted and respected. She believes it was the gift of God.
With all the challenges that were thrown at her, she still managed to complete her bachelor’s degree in her favorite subject Math from V.O. Chidambaranar College of Arts and Science at Thootukudi. Math indeed had earned her success. She was the first graduate and the only graduate that her family had ever seen…….
“The dream is not what you see in sleep, dream is which does not let you sleep”
– A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Master of Computer Applications (MCA) was a popular course and was Ponni’s field of interest. She wanted to follow her dreams in the area of MCA, but fate had other plans for her. When MCA became a farfetched goal, she turned to one thing that she was passionate about from her younger days, DANCE.
After her B.SC in Math, Ponni started her Diploma in Bharatanatyam at Arasi Music school in Thootukudi. Dance was her childhood dream and pursuing dance was her dream come true. As she began the course, instructor Thiruveni mentored her and brought her dance, to life. Mr.RaviKumar guided her throughout the course and ensured she graduated successfully. Thereafter, Ponni performed on various occasions and won several awards. Ponni always believed in “Knowledge shared is doubled” and being the kind soul, she helped her fellow colleagues with dance and choreography and also made sure they won.
In the year 2004 an NGO recognized Ponni’s talent and she was selected to be a trainer for 20 other handpicked transgenders. In her training journey she befriended Anjali, a student who admired Ponni.
Ponni’s life took an unexpected turn when she moved to Chennai from Thootukudi. In Chennai, her life was different and inconvenient. Transgender people were mocked and ridiculed. They were distrusted because they were suspected of kidnapping children. Ponni had grown accustomed to humiliation, but it never deterred her. She accepted everything with a smile on her face.
She and her companion Anjali began their quest by teaching Bharatanatyam to two children, and after a three-month effort, they finally delivered their first performance at a nearby temple. They amazed the audience with their dance. Their performance received appreciation, people who frowned upon them earlier, praised them now for their talent and a trust was built among the localities. The number of students rapidly increased from two to thirty-six and a dance academy in the name “Abhinaya Nrityalaya Samooha Kalai Palli” was born.
This was just the beginning of a new chapter in Ponni’s life…….
THERE IS NO SHORTCUT TO SUCCESS
“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure” – Mark Twain
Acceptance is never easy. Ponni who had faced many rejections in life, found light in Nataychar Thrissur Shivkumar master. He approved of Ponni’s talent and accepted her beyond the gender identity. He trained her to be a better mentor to the students, he helped her setup a livelihood,he provided her opportunities to teach at numerous institutes and schools. He handled, the people around him well and Ponni learnt the art of communicating and managing people from him. Even today Ponni dedicates her success to this guru who helped her build a life.
Ponni completed her post-graduation in Bharatanatyam from Kumari Rani Meena Muttiah College of Arts & Science. She performed on stage and in dance theatre acts that addressed societal concerns such as dowry, female infanticide, child abuse and many more. She went on to instruct other children.
Every person she knocked on, appealing for an opportunity to learn, is now proud of her and has become one of her best mates. Everyone who had previously rejected her and refused to assist her were astounded and eager to assist her now. She’d turned her setbacks into triumphs. She had turned every humiliation into a source of appreciation. With the stones thrown at her, she had constructed an empire. Many people came to trust and respect her. People’s perceptions of the transgender community had shifted as a result of her. She was a source of pride in the neighborhood. She had triumphed in yet another battle in her life.
She taught that success was based on hard effort, devotion, and a never-say-die mentality. She told her students that society is a perfect reflection of themselves. If you are good, with good intentions and thoughts, society will treat you well; if you are bad, society will treat you badly. She instilled in them the values of kindness, humility, and goodness.
One day, Ponni booked flight tickets for her parents from Thootukudi to Chennai and felt a sense of achievement, only when she saw true happiness on her parents face when she gave them their first flight experience. This was one of the proudest and memorable moments of her life.
Ponni received many accolades. She was featured on many newspapers and magazines. Ponni’s talent and achievements stood out and her work spoke on her behalf to the world.
“Part of being a person is about helping others.” – Regis Murayi
Our champion was not just one in her life, but also a champion in many lives. When in Chennai, Ponni worked at Madras Christian Council of Social Services in the counseling department. She saved kidnapped children and kids trapped in human trafficking from their mental trauma by entertaining them with her art and dance. She taught them Bharatanatyam and folk culture. She was a fresh breath of air and a great diversion for the lost youth.
Ponni always strived to keep the art alive. She firmly believed that Bharatanatyam is a knowledge that deserves to shine and not get lost with time. In Vyasarpadi, a small neighborhood in Chennai, she trained students free of cost and accepted fees only from the affordable class to manage her expenses. For her, dance was pure and a divine form of art and not a mere business. She was a perfect guru for students with passion.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles” – Christopher Reeve
Legends are brave, legends are fighters and so was Ponni. The stigma attached with the transgenders still prevails in the society and is one of the hardest to break. Before the year 2000, transgenders were restricted to slums in Chennai. After this year the discrimination slightly reduced and there was an air of change. They were well educated and seen in all sectors. Acceptance was at its beginning. The cities continued to grow while the villages still outcasted transgenders. Ponni was a warrior princess who fought all these battles and emerged victorious. She made a name for herself and proved her talent stands beyond her gender identity
Ponni didn’t not just excel in Math and dance, but also, she completed her Master of Social Work (MSW) in health and substance abuse. She is a humanitarian. She always empathizes with the poor and needy. Additionally, she conducted summer camps for children and taught them art and craft
“A role model can teach you to love and respect yourself “– Tionne Watkins
Ponni who has been an inspiration to hundreds, draws her motivation from her role models.
Ponni’s strength was her mother. Her mother was a fighter just like her who would fight the world for Ponni. She was always the support system who motivated her to walk the right path and achieve everything she dreams of.
Anjali, her transgender colleague, her student, her soul sister, an all-round talent was the pillar of her life. Anjali motivated Ponni to be her best, give her best and fight for what they deserve. She was the backbone, a second mother to Ponni who took care of her and stood by her, in her ups and downs
Nartaki Natarajan, a well-known name in Bharatanatyam is an inspiration to Ponni. The path carved out by her has inspired Ponni to walk that road and enjoy the journey through out. Ponni aims to make the path better by clearing the stones and thorns that hit, for the future generations to come.
Ponni draws inspiration from the talented Shobana. She admires her expressions and her body language. She has been a crazy fan of hers since her childhood. Sreekala Bharat is another dancer who inspires Ponni to give her best performances.
Ponni’s optimism is her superpower, and her noble thoughts and dreams add to it. Ponni dreams to create a platform accessible, to all passionate students. She dreams to serve the needy, teach children and motivate them to pursue their passion in dance. She and her team aim to create more awareness and influence people to never give up. She believes in multiplying knowledge and spreading of art and folk culture.
Ponni’s dream begun when she was rejected by an independent dance institute to learn dance. The story goes back to the year 1991 when Ponni approached a dance institute to master dance. Despite having the money to afford the dance class, Ponni was rejected as her parents couldn’t vouch for her interest. A disappointed Ponni contacted the founder of the institute. When the founder asked her if she wanted to be a famous actor, she simply replied that she wanted to be an amazing dancer, impressed by her spirit the founder enrolled her for the class. This was the beginning of Ponni’s dream to make dance accessible to all the interested students and not discriminate them.
Her ambitions motivate her and transforms into her greatest asset. Ponni’s perspective on life and her life approaches are what distinguish her as a fascinating transgender lady.
A chapter by Ponni
“Life is never easy. Its full of challenges. If its only happiness, then that’s not life”
I view all my struggles, as stepping stones for my success today. Had I not struggled and fought for what I want, my life would be different and not what it is currently.
Sorrow and joy are the two faces of the same coin called life. As long as we have both our life continues to exist. Every time we try converting our bad days to good, is when we learn and grow in life. Our every effort teaches us how to deal with the bad in this world.
Let me illustrate it with an example of muddy water in a pot. When the water is kept still, all the mud settles down and pure water rises up. Similarly, with consistent efforts our problems will lie below, and our success will rise up.
When life and people mock you, smile should be your only answer. Every time people laughed at me, I complimented them for their smile which left them guilty for their actions.
When we look back at our journey, it’s the struggles that makes our achievements worthwhile. The path we have walked seems beautiful and our success gains value with our struggles. The happiness we feel looking at our achievements after crossing all the hurdles in life is incomparable.
When normal people fall in life, there are multiple helps received from your family, friends, and society. There are multiple people to extend their hand to pull you up. But when a transgender falls, we learn to be our own helping hand, we learn to stand on our own and fight. We learn this very early in life. That’s the life of a transgender. Life is tough, and with it we also get tougher. Our struggles make us stronger.
Parents need to accept their children irrespective of their gender. A transgender faces, lot of problems in life. With parents support and love the child blossoms into a beautiful flower. My parents supported me and today even with 2 sisters and 2 brothers, my mother is living with me and I take care of her!!
Life is a fight, the more we learn to never give up and gather ourselves, our fight becomes enjoyable. The more we enjoy fighting back our challenges, is when we actually enjoy life!!
Ponni’s journey has truly been an inspiring story.
Transgenders today still face a difficult time in being accepted and respected in our society. Let’s pledge to make their life easier with our support. Let’s extend our hands to the pride community and make them one among us.
– Written By SAP Volunteers for SAP stories
We Support Transgenders