The writer continues her reminiscences of encounters with sex workers
I had arrived at one of the brothels on GB Road in Delhi. Without much thought, I went up a flight of dirty, narrow stairs and came upon a group of women standing clustered around a door. Cheap perfume, mixed with the stench from the gutters, hit my nose. When they saw me, the screams were such as if a crow’s nest had caught fire. “Who’s she' Who is she'”
I took out some of my books from my shoulder bag and displayed them. A slightly older woman from among them elbowed her way through, pushing aside the motley group of tall, short, plump, slim, dark and fair figures. She shouted, “No one reads book here!”
I said, “Can I come in and talk at least'”
The older woman dismissed me curtly and shouted: “Get out! No one here will talk to you.”
“Listen, I won’t waste your time. I will only talk to those of you who are free.”
Suddenly, a burly man emerged from inside and stood in front of me. He wore a dark Pathan suit and had a thick moustache. On his head was a Turkish cap.
“What’s all this'”
“She says she’s a writer.”
The huge man turned to the girls and shouted, “You girls, go in immediately... No one will talk to her.” Then he roared at me, “Get out! Out! Writes novels indeed!”
His voice followed me threateningly and as I rushed downstairs, I tripped and fell.
I sat down on a pushcart and rearranged my things. My elbow was bleeding. But I put up a brave front.
The autorickshaw driver who had brought me there, Santokh Singh, however, was not the kind to let it go at that.
He looked up and started shouting in anger: “Ai! You whores! How would you know the difference between good and bad' And you scoundrel! Come down! I’ll teach you a lesson.”
I wanted him to shut up. A few hoodlums started gathering around us. A muscleman in a colourful printed shirt also appeared, asking, “What is it Sardarji' What’s the matter'”
Santokh Singh took him aside and whispered something into his ear. The muscleman shouted from there, “Hey you, Chhotelal. Take the lady up. Chhotelal!”
I must confess I was exploiting Santokh Singh. I knew how he felt for me and I was taking advantage of his feelings. I felt a sense of regret. He was younger than I was and yet I knew that he was ready to sacrifice everything for me.
As I started climbing up the narrow stairs leading to house number 50, I told Santokh Singh: “You may go now. I’ll go back on my own.”
After climbing the steps, I stood in front of what looked like a dark, low cell. Seven or eight girls were sitting on a wooden bench. Two stood leaning against the wall.
Further inside, there was a water pump. A middle-aged woman was washing clothes near it. She also ran up to the door. The edge of her sari was wet.
The muscleman disappeared through the inner door. There must have been other ways of leaving this warren of a house. Next to the water pump, there was a toilet and a square space screened with jute hessian curtains.
Near the water pump, the floor was covered with a thick coat of moss and slime. All around there were bundles of clothes.
Just then, a tall, strongly built Pathan came in and the girl sitting next to me got up and went with him. I was startled out of my reverie by a baby’s cry. A girl rushed out of one of the cubicles hidden behind the hessian curtains. She could hardly have been more than 13 or 14 years old. She took the baby from inside a box and held it in her arms. Then she unbuttoned her blouse and started feeding it.
I couldn’t help asking, “Is this child the mother of this baby'”
The woman who was washing clothes near the water pump shouted, “Madam, have you come to file an FIR because she is a minor'” The other girls rolled with laughter.
“What do you think you can do'” the woman shouted again. “I bribe the police for it. And I don’t force anyone. She has herself told the magistrate on oath that she is 18 years old. Now what do you have to say'”
There was again that shrill laughter from the girls.
“What is the future of this child'” I asked.
The one sitting next to me said, “He will go back to the village. We send our babies there, just the way we send money home to our village.”