An unlikely refuge


Brothels: a place I despised and condemned in my heart. When I began to visit GB road, Delhi’s only red light area once a week it became more familiar and felt more comfortable. I was less cynical and more open to people around. As I drank too-sweet-tea served in plastic cups with the ladies who were now friends I keenly observed their world. Once I was helping a lady put henna on her hair (the ladies use cheap cosmetics and beauty products but they do try to maintain their looks.) it was her turn to go on business. Business is usually done in a small prison like dark room, and locked from outside by other ladies until it’s done. After she left I turned to another lady who was cooking  mix veg over a kerosene stove. This was one of my favorite thing to do – to watch them cook. Often, I would come home inspired to cook the same recipe and it would turn out really good. Minutes later, the lady with henna comes out of the business room, throws the safety thingy in a dustbin, and washes off her hands with soap and joins us in the conversation. She had only sat down with us, a thin under-nourished boy comes asking for his cut. The lady fishes out a hundred rupee note from under her bra and hands it to him with a gaali (abuse) and scolds him for catching a stingy customer.

During summer, I would often sit with them under the fan drinking soda and talking about random stuff. Their favorite topic was – when I would get married. A girl should find a husband or else her future is bleak, they told me. It’s not easy for a girl you know, they said. The summer heat also kept all their customers away so the business was low and they looked bored having nothing much to do. At the sound of foot steps climbing up the stair case, an active conversation would come to a sudden halt only to realize that it wasn’t a customer coming but a vendor selling fruits. An old fruit seller, I had seen him around many times. He must have looked like Hugh Jackman in his glorious days. His strong jaws, tall stature and thin skin wrinkled in countless folds over his face, it was obvious he was a good looking jaat even at his sixties. He wrapped a white pagdi (scarf) around his head, and upon it rested a round basket of fruits covered with a transparent white fabric. I was curious how he would treat the ladies and how he would be treated in return. Surprisingly, there was mutual respect and no one crossed their limit, except for few younger ladies who tried to tease the old man and he never responded to their tease and minded his own business. The ladies would quickly choose their choice of fruits, and the old man would take out his sharp knife, peal and cut the fruit on a piece of newspaper, sprinkle chat masala over it and serve. One day, I heard a lady ask the old man if he knew any remedy to get rid of the fetus. The old man replied in low voice with a very helpful, fatherly tone that eating raw papaya can cause natural miscarriage. And the lady asked him to get some raw papaya when he came next. He agreed, picked his basket, balanced it over his head and went on selling fruits to other rooms.

Two ladies who shared a more private room on the top most floor were the funniest. One evening they demanded for pakoras and they ordered for tea. A small boy in shorts, holding 4 glasses of tea safely tucked in a wire holder came in. As he finished giving everyone a glass of chai the ladies poked fun at him. Will you marry one of us, they asked. The boy stood shy twisting his body, mostly looking down. I felt curious to know more about the boy. He worked for a tea stall owner. His father sent him from Bihar to work and earn some money. He must be about 10 or 12 years old. He lives with his boss and is often beaten up and forced to overwork. On another day I had seen him crying and complaining about someone who had hit him and a lady was consoling him and telling him to stay away from troublemakers. It was a picture of one hurting person  consoling another hurting person.

As I began to know everyone here closely, like a 70 year old man who had made a small bed near the staircase and ran errands for the ladies who in return paid him in small amounts so that he can buy his meal, I couldn’t despise the place with the same intensity as I did before coming to this place. Hundreds of poor, handicapped and old people live on the generous giving of the ladies here. The poor and starving come here for refuge. And the women here provide them a living with the same money that they earn from selling their bodies.

Next, I will write about how I had heard about this one place where younger and more beautiful girls were kept. Only younger and richer customers were allowed there.

You can read more on GB road in my other posts as well.

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