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Vol. XXXI No.7, July 16-31, 2021

A Kitchen by Transgenders, of Transgenders, for all Genders

by Padmaja Jayaraman

Trans Community Kitchen volunteers from the Porur wing out for food delivery. Photo credit: Sharan.

“Only the ostracised can understand other ostracised people’s needs and pains. We fed them, treating their suffering as if it were our own,” said Priya Ezhumalai, a transwoman, who volunteered with a group of 19 transgender people in serving around 65,000 people including transgender community members, homeless/street-occupying elders, destitute women, migrant workers, sanitation workers, ambulance drivers, and policemen on duty during the second lockdown in the city.

This is not just the story of 20 transgender volunteers setting up a Trans Community Kitchen in Madras to serve the needy. It is the story of how the trans community in the city can achieve great things if given the right opportunities. “Trans Community Kitchen gave us a shot to help the helpless. We succeeded in it. Now, we are confident that we can do any task we set our mind to,” said a volunteer who worked in the kitchen.

The Trans Community Kitchen functioned from May 2 to June 13 on every day of lockdown in Madras, with the goal of giving everyone Oru Pidi Anbu (a handful of love).

“The world is being eroded by a slew of natural disasters and diseases. The coronavirus is annihilating people without regard for their race or gender. At this point, the Trans Community Kitchen believes that anyone can win the world by providing oru pidi anbu to all the people beyond caste, religion and gender,” expressed Srijith Sundaram, the head coordinator of the Trans Community Kitchen.

The kitchen had two wings- at Porur and at Tsunami Quarters, Ernavur. Each wing had eight volunteers who cooked, packed and delivered three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), while the other four organised, coordinated, and kept accounts.

Sankari, the head chef of the Porur wing of the Trans Community Kitchen recounted her day in the kitchen. They woke up at 5 a.m. every day. Before entering the kitchen, everyone wore hairnets, gloves, ID cards and aprons. They then got down to cooking breakfast. Idlies, upma or pongal using millets were made. It would be packed by 8 a.m. and sent to the logistics team that delivered at various places. Next, the volunteers cooked lunch which was usually tomato rice, sambar rice, chickpea rice, vegetable pulao or rajma rice. It would be ready by 11 a.m. and leave for delivery in an hour. After that, there would be a break for two hours, and then they prepared dinner. It would be either upma, pongal, or khichdi made of millets which would be ready by 6 p.m., to be doled out by 8 p.m. They made food for 500-600 people every day.

Keeping in mind that everyone needed immunity power to survive the pandemic, nutritious food that included lots of vegetables and proteins was prepared. “Nobody knows if the homeless and the destitute were fed well. To enhance our immunity, we consume nutritious foods at home. They should also eat healthy food, right?” explains Priya, the coordinator of the Porur wing.

Ernavur wing volunteers pack food. Photo credit: Maya.

Putting their lives on the line, volunteers were serving food. As a result, they ran the risk of contracting the virus alongside, noted Srijith. Hence the team was very particular about the Covid protocol. The volunteers double-masked, donned PPE kits and gowns, wore gloves and went for delivery. Every time someone entered the kitchen, they checked their pulse, oxygen, and temperature, and the kitchen was sanitised after each meal. Furthermore, the volunteers got vaccinated during the first week of June.

Reminiscing on her experiences while delivering food, Priya reflected, “We supplied food not just to the destitute but also to people who worked in graveyards, frontline workers and cops. One day, in the middle of the afternoon, we met a cop sitting alone by a signal. The sun was scorching and he looked as though he was about to faint. He was not able to get water anywhere. Even the nearby shops were closed. He looked extremely thirsty and was sweating heavily. We offered him a bottle of water. He thanked us profusely and confessed that if they had not given him water, he would have fainted. Those words had a huge impact. While distributing food, we even received salutes from police officers.”

The Porur wing covered surrounding areas like Vadapalani, Koyambedu, Maduravoyal, Virugambakkam, Poonamallee and the one at Ernavur focused inwards, provided three meals a day to the transgender people inside Tsunami quarters, and also served the destitute in and around Stanley Hospital.

“Last year we were the ones who needed food. However, this year, we gave food to others,” Sowndharya Gopi, the coordinator of the Ernavur wing expressed her happiness.

When Madras Musings asked whether the society’s perception of the transgender population has changed as a result of the Trans Community Kitchen, Priya said, “Definitely it has changed. A group of people in our neighbourhood used to be apprehensive of our community. But Trans Community Kitchen turned them around. They apologised to us and even gave us groceries for the kitchen. They said that we are doing something [serving food to the needy] that they are unable to do, and hence they wish to assist us.”

Since June 13 the kitchen has been closed. The funds are frozen up a little bit, and they are only funded by contributions from friends, family and the queer community. People who saw their efforts on Instagram and other media coverages helped them. Furthermore, emails are sent to the contributors detailing how their money was used, and this accountability encouraged the same people to contribute on a regular basis.
When asked if the Trans Community Kitchen volunteers had received the Covid-relief sum of Rs. 4,000 provided by the state, they stated that they had got Rs. 2,000, and another instalment of Rs. 2,000 is in the pipeline. The volunteers are hopeful that if enough funds are raised, they will be able to reopen the kitchen.

Trans Community Kitchen can be reached out via transcommunitykitchen@gmail.com for contribution.

(To be continued next fortnight)

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