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Where innocence is bought and sold
- The author gains entry into a Delhi brothel
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The writer continues her narrative of a visit to a red light area in Delhi and her research into the lives of young sex workers

At the brothel, I watched a young girl — a minor — with her child. The little mother had finished feeding her baby. The other girls now took turns to play with the infant.

By now, another customer had arrived. He was very young and he looked as if he was a student. He had probably come straight from the railway station. He was slim, had long hair, and his shirt and trousers were drenched in sweat. I couldn’t look him in the eye.

What I had feared happened. He came and stood next to the girl-mother. She took back her child, opened her blouse and gave it another feed. She then handed the baby to one of the girls and went in with the boy.

Santokh Singh, my autorickshaw driver, was yelling from below, “Madam, come down. It’s getting late.”

I asked a heavily made-up girl sitting beside me, “Wouldn’t you like to do something else'”

“What should I do'”

“Teach in a school or something.”

“Teach in a school'” The very idea seemed revolting to all of them. She remarked, “I can’t even buy a pair of shoes with the salary of a teacher.”

An obnoxious smell emanated from the toilet in front of us. I took out my handkerchief. Santokh Singh yelled again, “There is no one here to tell you the truth. Come on. Let’s go.”

A few harsh lines from Ghalib rang in my ears:

“When my life was filled with infinite sorrow/ when none of my hopes was fulfilled/ how could I remember that I, too, had a god'/...If I find the door to Kaaba closed/ I’d rather go back than wait on my knees.”

Again, these lines of a Persian poet seemed to hang in the air:

“Those who sacrifice to the sword of divine love/ For them new life comes from unseen lands.”

Did those sex workers feel the touch of divine love'

Suddenly, a girl from inside a cubicle tumbled out and landed at my feet. Someone from inside the same cubicle ran out surreptitiously from the back of the room.

There was blood dripping from the girl’s white salwar! I screamed.

Everyone on the bench turned towards her. The woman at the water pump shrieked with concern. “Oh, that old goat from Bundelkhand must have come, or it may be one of those African students... Go, change your clothes... They are all animals!”

The girl went in.

I asked the girl sitting next to me, “Will you show me your cubicles'”

She looked at the older woman washing clothes. The woman nodded.

I followed her and stood in front of a cubicle. She lifted its curtain. A wooden bed occupied the entire space. There was a floral printed sheet spread on it. Of the five cubicles, two had their curtains drawn. The young student-like boy was in one of them with the girl-mother and the Pathan was in the other one with another woman.

What should be my next question'

Santokh Singh hollered again, “Come down now, madam.”

“Can I come here again'” I asked the girl who had shown me the cubicles.

She looked at the other girls who, in turn, looked at the woman sitting by the water pump. She was still washing clothes. She nodded her assent.

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