Noor Jahan got
700 rupees that night...
Work in Chaturbhuj Sthan begins at noon, but the rush hours
are 4 to 7 in the evening. They close shop by 9pm. That
evening in the red-light area was a maddening experience....
Patti is one of the five bylanes in Chaturbhuj Sthan and the
most notorious one. Anu, a nautch girl of Shukla road warned
us. "No, do not go there. They will pull you by the collar
and force you in." We insisted we wanted to go and "see for
ourselves". Anu suggested "safer" places. We insisted again.
A concerned Anu covered her head with the dupatta
(the muezzin was invoking the Allah) and said "hai rabba,
not Khangi Patti". Mr Kameshwar Jha, the district welfare
officer relented. And we left for Khangi Patti.
Must have been 6 pm. The photographer kept his cameras back
in the bag, the car parked at a distance and we walked through
the lane. The lane is dirty, the sewers overflowing, the doors
ravaged by time, the narrow lanes bricked. Children still
loitered around and one could see smoke bellowing out of some
houses. Supper was being cooked.
We walked through the lane and most of the girls (there were
not many women around) waiting for clients scurried in. Strangers
are not trusted, specially those who look alien. There were
men who were returning from the mosque after namaj. We
looked for a place, a hide-out from where we could watch the
happenings. The house of ananganwadi sevika was safe.
We hurried up the stairs, it was getting late and our photographer
knew he could not use the flash. Children of the family were
warned. Do not say anything to anyone. Few bricks were missing
from the parapet. And we peeped down.
Bang opposite was a single-storied house, and there stood
four girls within an eight metre stretch. Two of them on the
same verandah. The one in purple lehanga and pink blouse
(her face was not visible) seemed to be the most aggressive
one. Three men crossed the road. Looking towards the girls
and gesticulating. Nothing happened. They walked past.
There were other men on the road keeping a watchful eye and
a little girl from the house we had taken shelter in ran out.
They stopped the girl in golden frock and asked aloud, "upar
kaun hai?" The answer was inaudible. Soon after a lone
man crossed the same lane. On our knees, we kept staring below.
The girl in purple pulled him. She actually pulled him in.
Within seconds he vanished. And we saw him walking fast, away
from the woman and our sight. The other three girls there
seemed more complacent. They just waited.
Suddenly this man in yellow trousers, maroon half-sweater
and black muffler appeared. must have come from the lane which
was beyond our ken. This time the girl beckoned and he stopped.
She still stood on the verandah, now more visible to us and
they talked. Was she bargaining? The gestures conveyed that
much. The deal seemed settled. The girl came close to the
man, very close. The next moment she was taking him in, her
hand in his. One just heard the door close. With a thud.
It was getting dark and Khangi Patti was no longer safe. We
hurried out of the lane. On the main thoroughfare, all one
could hear was the clinking of the ghungroos , loud
discordant notes and film songs at intolerable decibels. Harsh
voices and loud music; men on the streets playing carrom,
the girls waiting and strangers afloat. There were not many
vehicles around. Most walk in into the jalsa ghar.
Outside Roshan Jahan's 'showroom' (or 'office' as they call
it,) was a jeep. We walked up the stairs. The door was closed
and a sonorous song rent the air. Outside, pretty Roshan,
all of 23 and a mother of two stood, guard. Her sister was
entertaining the clients, there were five of them.
When the photographer insisted on clicking both of them, Roshan
refused. The sister in her was protective about her younger
sibling. "Let her be," she insisted. Roshan was ready to perform
for us again. The men grimaced. "No. I will not charge anything
extra", she pacified them. The four of them. The fifth one
was snoring away to glory.
There was music, there was dance, there were clients. Roshan
sang in between, breaking midway to catch breath. Two songs
and lots of gyrations later she was sweating. That evening
she earned Rs 700.
That was the nazrana. Roshan had been booked to entertain
the baratis for a wedding in Mahua on February 16;
The price: Rs 7,000 for the night.
Some houses away, Hamida, scrubbed fresh, waited. There were
no takers that evening.
By 9 pm, Chaturbhuj Sthan mingles with the night. Calm and
Tomorrow is another day. Oft-repeated.