Goddess who's a bloke was jobless in Big Smoke
Steven Cooper is proof that reincarnation can take many forms. The unemployed transvestite from Tooting in south London is now relishing his new life - being worshipped as the goddess of Indian eunuchs.
Mr Cooper, or 'Pamela' as he likes to be known, has been the local deity in the temple in Becharaji, a remote village in the state of Gujarat, for the past two months.
Every day, for an hour each morning and evening, the 32-year-old sits inside the temple, wearing a sari with his long hair tied in two loose pigtails, blessing worshippers and pilgrims.
Many of the worshippers are eunuchs who regard Mr Cooper as the reincarnation of Bahucharaji Mata, the Hindu patron goddess of Indian eunuchs, who according to legend castrated her husband.
This conviction came the moment they saw him, owing to his resemblance to the goddess as she is portrayed in posters and calendars.
'For the first time in my life, I feel at home and accepted in a way I never was in England,' he said. 'I'm grateful that I can serve a useful purpose. In Tooting, my life was boring and meaningless. I was just drifting.'
Pilgrims even believe that Mr Cooper can cure infertility. 'Several women here have told me that they have become pregnant after her blessing,' said Kirit Bai Jani, the temple accountant.
Mr Cooper, or 'Miss Pema' as he is known by locals who cannot pronounce Pamela, lives among 80 eunuchs at the temple guesthouse, eats a strict vegetarian diet, gets up at dawn, washes with a bucket of water, and has no problems with the intense heat.
'What appealed to me about this place was how people like me are accepted. Instead of being objects of ridicule, transsexuals are the object of devotion,' he said.
Mr Cooper first realised that he resembled the goddess when Indian friends in London told him about it.
He became interested in Hinduism and used to visit London shops that sold pictures of Hindu deities and temples.
Leaving his boyfriend behind, he arrived in India in February. After landing in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, he travelled straight to Becharaji.
Some local eunuchs are disgruntled at being upstaged by a foreigner, but Mr Jani says 'Pamela' is well liked.
'She is so popular that it would be silly to oppose her,' Mr Jani said. 'She is good for the temple too. She gets a lot of donations from pilgrims but gives them to the temple.'
Mr Cooper participates in temple ceremonies, walks around the village and also travels frequently within India. He recently visited Chennai and Bangalore in south India at the invitation of eunuch organisations.
'I have no desire to go back to the rain and greyness of London. I am enjoying my new life here,' he said.