New Delhi: India's transgenders are so despised that they use a little psychological trick to prevent their sense of worth being crushed under the weight of contempt.
They never show their hurt. Instead, they smile in public.
What better song then, for the country's first transgender band to mark its launch than a rendition of Pharrell Williams hit single Happy?
The music video of the song is vibrant and colourful and features Indian rhythms and sounds. It has attracted more than 1.7 million hits on YouTube and given the group, the 6 Pack Band, a great start to their career. Their second song, Sab Rab de Bande (All God's People) has had 3.4 million hits.
"It's unbelievable, bigger than anything we ever thought would happen to us. People put our name in Google and there we are. I feel like a star," 24-year-old band member Bhavika Patil says
The group is the brainchild of Ashish Patil, head of Y-Films, the youth wing of Yash Raj Films, the famous Mumbai studio that makes motion pictures, who wanted to send a positive message out to society about transgenders through the medium of entertainment.
Ashish Patil realised that they were never given a chance on Indian talent shows and yet was sure they had talent. So he asked Bollywood music director and composer Shamir Tandon, to train the group to sing and dance, create an image and compose songs for them, record and launch them.
Tandon worked with Bhavika Patil and the others – Fida Khan, Asha Jagtap, Ravina Jagtap and Chandrika Suvarnar – for nine months, starting last spring. The first thing he had to do was win their trust.
"When your own parents have kicked you out at the age of eight or nine, saying you aren't our child, when you have gone through that trauma, you don't trust easily. All they have known in life is being mocked or feared. They thought we were going to mock them too," Tandon says.
All the band members say they have grown up feeling male from the outside and female from the inside. Most were thrown out of their homes early because their parents, even if they loved them, feared society's disapproval.
Transgenders, also known as 'hijras', live on the margins of society in India. Unable to get work and forced to beg at traffic lights, they go into prostitution or sing and dance at weddings and birth celebrations to earn a little money.
Patil was unusual in that her parents loved and accepted her. "They let me wear dresses and raised me as a girl. But my father said I had to get an education so that I didn't end up begging and my mother told me not to do anything that would dishonour them. They are very proud of me and this band," she says.
After completing a degree through a correspondence course, Patil managed to get transgender roles in a few television serials. She used the money to pay for her mother's cancer treatment. Later, she finished a diploma in nursing and worked for a year as a nurse in a Mumbai hospital.
Patil resigned from her job, however, when she realised that the management were exploiting her insecurity and neediness by paying her less. When she heard of the auditions for the band, she applied.
Tandon only realised how totally excluded the transgender community was when he began the auditions. Where to find them? Where did they live? He had no idea and was forced to look for applicants at traffic lights and train stations. He discovered how totally prejudiced society was when the band had been formed and it was time to shoot the video.
"People shooed us away, even educated people, from the locations. They wouldn't let us enter. It was like 'No transgenders or dogs allowed'," he said.
A transgender pop group is certainly revolutionary but members of the community have been breaking barriers in other fields too. The latest example is the launch in January of a Mumbai taxi service, Wings Rainbow, whose drivers are all transgender.
That came after Madhu Kinnar was elected mayor of Raigarh in Chattisgarh state last March. In 2014, Padmini Prakash started anchoring a television news program in Tamil Nadu. And Rose Venkatesan became a TV show host in 2008.
In a landmark ruling in 2014, the Supreme Court recognised the country's estimated two million transgender people as a third gender and said discrimination against them, based on their belonging to neither gender, had to stop.
These victories, which indicate a slight softening of attitudes towards transgenders, stand in stark contrast to many Indians continuing to regard homosexuality, on the other hand, as a 'disease' to be cured. It is still a criminal offence here.
For Patil, the changes are welcome but not enough.
"We need to see one transgender at a bank counter, behind a hospital reception, behind the shop till, in every ordinary place. We are human too and we need jobs to fill our bellies,' she says.
But she also has some self-criticism. Referring to the gaudy make-up and clothes that some transgenders tend to favour, she adds: "We also need to change with the times. We need to stop speaking loudly and wear less make-up. Why do we make our lives unnecessarily difficult by standing out so much?"