Ridim, Konnagar, West Bengal
As a transgender person, Ridim, (He) 23, has weathered a lot of challenges at this young age. He has worked as a bartender, swimming instructor, healthcare staff, and security guard until he lost his job due to the pandemic and started a flower selling business recently. His story is about finding inspiration in the darkest of moments, especially darker for a transgender person.
Sitting inside his mosquito net Ridim checks his cellphone (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
Ridim was born as Sweta Bannerjee and assigned a female gender at birth. It has been an uphill task for Ridim to explain his predicament to his family. When he lost his last job as a security personnel, Ridim’s love for flowers gave him a sudden inspiration.
Ridim enroute to the Kolkata flower market (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
His hometown Konnagar is 20 km away from Kolkata. The lockdown meant the local trains were not plying for a prolonged period of 8 months. Therefore Ridim's bicycle became his trusted steed, his only means of transport to reach the flower market.
In the darkness, before dawn, Ridim would cycle through the dimly lit by-lanes, snaking through desolate fields. This was his usual route to reach the highway while the curfew was in place.
Ridim brings out his flower bags to set up his tiny flower shop in front of his house (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
"When I came up with my business idea (to sell flowers), my friends were full of enthusiasm. They helped me by cutting small branches from trees, to set up a tent and make this tabletop - that's how my tiny shop was born," says Ridim.
Ridim in action, at the Kolkata flower market (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
When Ridim started in the flower business, he had no idea about the art of haggling. After months of trial and error, he is quite seasoned now.
Ridim would carry his bag on his head after buying flowers from the market (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
Ridim is now used to carrying heavy loads and negotiating his way through the crowded market. His phone was stolen in the crowd recently, and even though it is troublesome, he leaves his new phone at home now.
After coming home, Ridim relaxes on his bed (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
Once home from the market, Ridim takes some time to unwind. Pointing towards the scribblings adorning the mirror, he shares, "Those are the names of the girls I fell for".
Ridim recently broke up with his girlfriend, a relationship of 6 years. “Although I have gone through a lot of heartbreaks in my life, I never tend to learn a lesson from them, and I trust people very easily”, sighs Ridim.
Ridim loves applying serum in his hair after his bath (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
"I have always wanted to style my hair into spikes, just like other boys. But my folks refuse to let me," rues Ridim. He makes up for that by applying a little serum when no one is looking.
My neighbours have always been very curious about my orientation and my whereabouts. They would often gossip about me. However, when I started my business during the lockdown, they have shown support by buying flowers from my shop instead of going to the market. Some would come straight to my house and wake me up early in the morning even before I open my shop, to buy flowers”, smiles Ridim.
Ridim arranges the flowers in his shop as his neighbour's pet Lily looks on (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
"Lily, my neighbour's pet cat, always keeps me company. I have made her my business partner," laughs Ridim.
Ridim packing flowers for a customer at his shop (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
"Mostly my neighbours come to buy flowers from my shop. But I am planning to shift the shop out of my house to a more visible intersection. That way I can draw customers from other localities too," says Ridim.
Ridim holding a bunch of Tuberoses (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
Ridim can only make a couple of visits to the market every week. Every day he checks whether his flowers are still fresh.
Ridim stares at his phone while his father watches the television (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
To this day, Ridim’s parents are in denial about his gender identity. He is still humiliated by them before their extended family. "About 9 PM my family converges around the television. Though sitting in the same room, we continue to live in our own bubbles. We hardly ever find a common ground to communicate."
Ridim tending to his own garden (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
Not being able to relate to society around him, he finds solace in nature. If money was no object, he would invest in an aviary. As for now, he holds his little garden close to his heart.
Ridim loves being in nature. Here he lies with the sun and flowers kissing his face (2020) by Paromita Chatterjee#COVIDHeroes
When I asked whether he wanted to remain anonymous in my project, Ridim's reply was quick: "No, I want people to see me for who I am. My trans-ness is not a disease."
Artist Paromita Chatterjee
Paromita Chatterjee is a documentary photographer based out of Kolkata. Her work has been published in various national and international magazines and newspapers like Tehelka magazine, The Hindu, The Wire, BBC, Aljazeera, and more. She has a natural affinity towards women's issues, gender identity crises, environmental concerns, and anything under the socio-political spectrum.
Project location: Konnagar, West Bengal
#my2020hero is an initiative by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Chennai Photo Biennale Foundation (CPB) to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of real-life heroes by sharing their stories.