A tantalizing look into a mysterious Indian subculture. While attending a friend's wedding in India, Jaffrey, a freelance...


THE INVISIBLES: In Search of the Eunuchs of India

A tantalizing look into a mysterious Indian subculture. While attending a friend's wedding in India, Jaffrey, a freelance writer, noticed a group of mimes outside the gates, singing songs off-key and making obscene jokes. Although they appeared to be transvestites, she soon discovered that they were known as eunuchs, that their presence was expected, and that most Indians showed little curiosity about them or their community. Once she began exploring, with a foreigner's eye and an Indian's family connections, she found that many Indians had deeply conflicted attitudes toward the eunuchs. Were they transvestites or transsexuals? Were they Hindus or Muslims? Were they invited to attend such events as weddings, or merely a nuisance to be paid off and sent away? Was their presence auspicious, merely unsettling, or positively frightening? Did men join the community of eunuchs voluntarily, as a means of resolving problems of gender identity? Or were young boys kidnapped and castrated against their will, as some social reformers and politicians claimed? Jeffrey's curiosity on these matters led her to a series of interviews with the eunuchs and with the police, with whom they had a sometimes mutually beneficial, sometimes antagonistic relationship. The resulting story is more than an academic monograph or Sunday travel supplement article, although it has characteristics of both. Jaffrey is an impressive stylist who makes every word tell; she has an eye for significant detail. She understands that India is not part of a timeless Orient, but a rapidly changing modern nation engaged, sometimes reluctantly, in redefining issues of gender and sexuality. Although Jeffrey only occasionally refers directly to Western debates about transvestism and transsexuality, her examination of the ways in which Indians have been struggling with issues of gender and sexuality helps broaden our own public and private debates.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 1996


Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996