Muse and Iconic Transgender Person, Mona Ahmed, Dies at 81

Mona Ahmed is believed to have inspired the character of Anjum, from Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

2 min read
Muse and Iconic Transgender Person, Mona Ahmed, Dies at 81

Delhi's oldest and arguably most iconic transgender individual, Mona Ahmed, passed away on the night of 9 September. Even on her deathbed, the widely-photographed 81-year-old faced the camera as she breathed her last – she was on a video call to Venice.

Ahmed was every photographer's dream, a willing subject and a perfect muse. She was best captured by acclaimed photographer Dayanita Singh, who first met Ahmed for an assignment in 1989 and has trailed her since.


Incidentally, Ahmed was on call with Singh when she passed away. Singh told the Indian Express:

Mona was the most unique person I knew. I feel hollow inside. She was my friend, my mother and my child. My loss is mine… for her, I am relieved she is at peace.

Ahmed lived in the Mehndiyan graveyard in Old Delhi, which has served as a home to sex workers, beggars and many others, for over three decades.

The house, which sheltered Ahmed and her caretaker Jahanara, is reportedly plastered with posters of Ahmed, most of them clicked by Singh.

We removed many other photos after burying her out of respect for her memory.
Jahanara to The Delhi Wallah

Ahmed was reportedly depressed after her guru Chaman's death in May, and has since been relatively unwell. “Her guru died on 26 May, and that’s when she dipped into depression. Two weeks ago, she had a stroke… this was so sudden,” Jahanara told Indian Express.

Even as she was ailing, Ahmed hoped to get better so she get back to doing the one thing she loved the most, which was to dance.

Mona Ahmed loved to dance.
(Photo: Dayanita Singh/Instagram)

According to a report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Ahmed fled her home in 1955, when she was 20 years old.

A relative of the icon told Indian Express that she chose the graveyard as her home as she was convinced she didn’t “fit in” anywhere else.

Ahmed has been the central subject and muse for many an artist and their creations, including Singh’s 2001 book, Myself Mona Ahmed.

One of the latest works believed to have been inspired by Ahmed is Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The life of the main character of the book, Anjum, is believed to be based on the life of Ahmed.

Mona Ahmed was laid to rest at the Mehndiyan Qabristan, where she spent the last few decades of her life. She was buried next to her guru Chaman, and her funeral was attended by over 100 transgender individuals, among several others.

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