Where there are no fathers.
It was 5 pm. And there she was. Behind a pillar. Peeping. A little girl. Flat-chested, wearing white flared trousers, a garish sequined coat, hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. She looked ready to go to a birthday party.
It was 5 pm. And there she was. Behind a pillar. Peeping.
A little girl, barely 13. Flat-chested, garishly dressed,
beckoning men - customers ready to spend the night with
her. The price: as low as two rupees for the night. I sat
there shuddering at the thought of a pre-pubescent girl
having sex, but Nassema never thought about it - she had
known no other life.
But she wasn't. Instead she was beckoning men, looking for customers willing to spend the night with her. The broken signboard that read 'Khusboo, Dancing Girls and Party', was a mere façade. There was some music and clinking of the bells, but men who came, came for the girls, not for the music.
I was doing a special report on Chaturbhuj Sthan, a redlight area in Muzaffarpur in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. There are 543 families and nobody really knows how many girls, maybe 1000, maybe more. They have come from all over - Nepal, Barabanki, Azamgarh, picked up from villages or sold by their hungry parents for a pittance. Most following the profession of their mothers.
While Khusboo gestured, Naseema Begum hurried down the rickety stairs of the same dingy house. Not more than 14, yet already a mother. In red crumpled saree, powder as thick as plaster and flaming red lipstick, Naseema had been initiated into the game when she was 11, even before she had attained puberty. But sex was a way of life for her ever since her mother brought her the first customer. The unkempt, shriveled mother and nine siblings had to be taken care of.
I sat there shuddering at the thought of a pre-pubescent girl having sex, but Nassema never thought about it - she had known no other life.
That night I also sat with an inebriated man in Roshan Jahan's room. The stench of liquor fused with the mustiness of the dark, dingy room. It must have been 8 in the evening and
the man, probably a rich landlord, wanted a nice evening out - an evening with a gyrating woman and the anonymity that comes with dimness.
That was the first time I sat with a drunk man, smelt his breath. I sat next to him because the room was not just dim, it was also tiny. There was just enough space for Roshan Jahan to twirl a little and thrust her pelvis. An old man dressed in a gaudy silk shirt played a rickety harmonium. It wasn't really music; Bano's pelvic thrusts were mere thrusts, not elegant dance movements. There was no rhythm, they were purposefully meant to raise the testosterone level of the clients. That night the man was so drunk, I don't think he even felt the fire between his legs.
He threw a couple of rupees at the dirty carpet and walked away. Beyond the dirty, moss-laden cement stairs the inebriated man must have forgotten the evening, the gyrations and the Roshan Jahan. Not Jahan. She would loathe herself for remembering the man's face, but the money she could not. It would pay for her son's school tuition fee. A son, whose father she knew not. There are no fathers in this world. Just men.
The evenings in ChaturbhujSthan are strange. The male relatives of the sex workers are rendered homeless, their homes cleared for their mothers and sisters to entertain men. Each crossroad is littered with young men playing carrom or chess; others pimp for their sisters or scamper with tea and fried snacks for their sister's/mother's clients. There is no shame in their eyes; they go about pimping as if it were a regular blue collar job.
In Khangi Patti, a bylane reserved exclusively for flesh trade (the ubiquitous blue dancing girls signboards were missing), fear ran through my spine. The musclemen, who guard the sex workers and clients, do not like strangers in that area, specially unknown women.
My photographer hid his camera and we walked into the bylane, not knowing what to expect. We hid on a terrace to see what evenings in this notorious lane were. Opposite us was a dilapidated house, with three decked up girls standing behind each pillar, barely one yard away from each other. That's barely their territory.
A man, shy and shabby, walked past. The first girl pulled him in - they haggled over the hourly rate I believe, I was too far to hear their whispers. The man ran out….
Another came, this one more confident and less unkempt than the previous me. The drill was repeated, he got pulled in, they haggled…. He went in… Nearly 15 minutes later, he came out of the building, zipping his bright nylon pants…
The price of those 15 minutes - rupees 5; that's just a little more than a cent.
It was getting late; I had to file the story for the newspaper's Sunday edition. We drove some 60 miles back to work.
In the darkness fate gnawed at me - I did not choose the womb. Neither did Roshan Jahan or Khusboo.
What if Fate had played dirty with me…