“During the 10-day Hindu festival Mayana Kollai, the troubles of transgender women are distant as they transform into the deities they worship and are revered by villagers. The transformation takes place in an atmosphere of reverent, somber concentration. Laugh lines vanish, replaced by an impassive mask. Skin becomes stone.” C. Feit The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Mortal to Divine and Back: India’s Transgender Goddesses, by Candace Feit The New York Times
“As they prepared to perform in the Mayana Kollai festival in a fishing village in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, some of the dancers slipped into trances so deep it appeared they might have fainted. Indians who decide to live as kothis — also known as hijras, kinnars or aravani, depending on the region — are born male and typically have male lovers.
Unlike transgender people in the West, they leave a conservative mainstream culture for an equally conservative subculture. Some live in communes with a strict network of rules under the authority of leaders they refer to as mothers and grandmothers.
Others live with their parents or head heterosexual families. Many reveal their identities as teenagers and are met with years of taunts and beatings… But during the festival, which takes place in either February or March each year, these troubles are impossibly distant.
Any trace of human expression is lifted, and the kothis begin to resemble the deities they worship. The ordinary is tethered to the divine. —
For those 10 days, the kothis are treated with reverence by the villagers, who flock to see them dance without any mention of their gender identity. Walking the town’s streets, the kothis are invited into house after house to give blessings.
Kavia Varshini, a traditional Indian dancer, is a celebrity in this part of Tamil Nadu. When she walks through crowds after a performance, people rush to her side to have their picture taken. She is one of the lucky ones: There is no family expectation that she will marry.
At the end of the festival, their moment over, the kothis return to ordinary life.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic. Next, have students look at the pictures in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Some of the dancers slip into trances.
- Any trace of human expression is lifted.
- The kothis begin to resemble the deities they worship.
- The ordinary is tethered to the divine.
- The kothi performers were solemn as the festival approached.
- For those 10 days, the kothis are treated with reverence by the villagers.
- Kavia Varshini, a traditional Indian dancer, is a celebrity in this part of Tamil Nadu.
- There is no family expectation that she will marry.
- As kothis converge on the village, rivalries can flare.
- Another kothi is under intense pressure from her family to marry soon.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
…during the festival/festive which takes place in neither/either February or March each year, these troubles/trebles are impossibly distant. Any trace of humble/human expression is lifted, and the kothis begin to resemble/assemble the diets/deities they worship. The ordinary is tethered to the divine. —The performers crowd/crowed into a small room near the template/temple to apply makeup, a proceed/process that can take as long as two hours. By the time they finish, their faces have disappeared beneath a shell/shawl of color — half-person, half-goddess.
Grammar Focus: Prepositions
Directions: The following sentences are from the news article. For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.
Prepositions: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over, through, from, during, up, off-
Unlike transgender people ___the West, they leave a conservative mainstream culture ___ an equally conservative subculture. Some live___communes with a strict network___rules ___the authority___ leaders they refer ___ as mothers and grandmothers.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them complete the following. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Have each group list 3 questions they would like to ask any person mentioned in the article.
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.