The writer continues her narrative of a visit to a red light area in Delhi
The visit to the brothel was proving to be a harrowing experience. Somehow, however, I had gained a measure of confidence.
Now, before going back, I went into another room. To do so, I had to cross another room, which seemed to be on a mezzanine. In place of the usual posters of filmstars, the portrait of a courtesan of the past adorned a corner of a wall.
Its wooden frame was worn out. She had plump and well-formed legs and arms, like in a portrait by Ravi Verma. In her pointed nose, she wore a nose ring. Her face was veiled with a dupatta. Her pyjamas were in the style of the courts, in heavy peshwaj and zari.
I had read about Padmini, Chitrini and other kinds of women in the shastras. I was reminded of the description of a Shankhini. “These extremely beautiful women are always smitten with the arrows of Madan, the god of love. They leave their husbands, frolic with others and have sex with a glad and thrilled heart.”
“How old is this portrait'” I asked.
“Should be a hundred years old.”
“Who is the lady'”
“Who painted it'”
“A white man. She had taanka with him.”
The prostitute gave me an arch look and smiled. I understood.
In the meantime, I had taken out my notebook. But it was not easy to put things down in black and white.
As I was coming downstairs, I noticed some more cubicles. These must never have seen a fresh coat of paint. Their walls were peeling off like the skin of a rotten muskmelon.
There were stoves and rags scattered everywhere, and women were sitting around them like bags of wheat.
Finally, I came out in the courtyard. Surprisingly, Santokh Singh was still there. He was pacing in front of the shops selling marble, iron rods, cement and other goods. He came towards me and told me that he had parked his vehicle near the kerb.
In the building next to the one with the signboard of Bharat Marbles, a group of whores, garishly dressed, was peering down at the road below from the balcony. A motley crowd of men, young and old, tall and short, was staring up at them. It was a horrible spectacle. Like a butcher’s shop, with live human flesh hanging from hooks. I had never before seen such a disgusting sight.
As we were making our way through the gaping group, a shrill voice assailed my ears. “If you are really men, why do you stand there ogling' If you have money on you, go up.”
A thin boy from among the ogling crowd tittered, “Look, look, now a hijra wants to teach us how to be men!”
Angered by the taunt, the eunuch went down past me and swooped down and caught hold of the boy. Shouting in a kite-like voice, she dragged the boy to the bottom of a flight of steps and said, “You wicked brat, I’m taking you up there. I’ll even pay for you.”
It was followed by a free-for-all. I somehow extricated myself and hurriedly made for Santokh Singh’s three-wheeler.