Sitting within the confines of my comfort zone, when I recall the events of the day, I feel an urge to share it with every interested person who wishes to listen. The simple reason being, I went to a place which was no ordinary; GB Road. Situated right in the heart of the national capital of India, the area is ‘peculiar’ because it is the home to thousands of didis.
My day started off with a visit to one of the most famous ‘kothas’ of the road, number 64. As I climbed up the stairs of the building, I could feel my heart racing in anticipation of what was going to happen next. The repetition of one question in my mind was very prominent, how will our didis react to the presence of an ‘outsider’ like me? I had the humble company of Gitanjali and Pratima, which I believe, was enough. I noticed that the stairs were pretty crowded with men, and I thought that there might be some other work or business going on in the same building. I had no idea that all those men had only one ‘business’ there. As soon as we entered the place, the sight of a crowded hall welcomed us. Though, the scene wasn’t as scary as I had imagined, it wasn’t charming either. I could see various didis and men of all ages, in the crowd. Opposite to my expectations, it was a well lit hall with a proper marbel flooring. We were escorted to a room which looked more like a cashier’s room. While didis were conversing with Gitanjali, I could notice the happiness and warmth on their faces which otherwise was almost missing. It felt good to see them pull each other’s legs, laugh and talk in a jovial manner. For all those who fail to see beyond their bodies, there exists a heart which craves for love, understanding and compassion.
Didis were so friendly and welcoming that I almost forgot that I was meeting them for the first time. Many a times I glanced outside the room, only to see a variety of ‘customers’ standing in front of their allotted rooms. I was surprised to see that majority of men belonged to what we call ‘good families’. Most of our didis standing there were very young, mostly in their later teenage years or early 20s. Gitanjali mam clearly shared a bond with our didis that surpassed all the formalities and the sight of our didis laughing their hearts out to her jokes was mesmerizing. In the corner of the room, was a small ‘mandir’ dedicated to various Hindu gods. Despite of what they go through each day, their faith in God isn’t shattered after all.
Post spending a good deal of time at the place, we then headed to a different brothel which was adjacent to the previous one, but on the same floor. The scene was no different there. The place looked like an exact replica of the previous one and once again we were escorted to the cashier’s room. Gitanjali mam had a long talk with the didis around and this time I had a little to share too. I was becoming more comfortable and confident while talking to them, which was clearly a good sign fulfilling one of the purposes of my visit. It was now time for us to leave.
As soon as we came down the stairs, I could see many men staring at Gitanjali and Pratima in a way which was very derogatory. There were many instances when men stopped and asked for their ‘rates’. Agonizing is the fact, that people view every woman on that street as a sex worker regardless of how she dresses up or behaves. There was an instance when an almost a 60-65 year old man came and stood next to Pratima and kept staring at her.
Since I am not good with numbers, I do not remember the brothel number but what I clearly remember is the shady stairs of the building. Upon reaching the second floor, we greeted our didis sitting on the doorway waiting for ‘customers’. As we entered the place, there was a small passage allowing only one person to pass at a time. The structure of the building was very similar to the chaals of Mumbai but much smaller. Gitanjali entered a room to talk to one of the didis while I and Pratima chose to stand outside. Almost all the rooms had a false ceiling made of wood which served as an extra floor within the room itself. The rooms were very small and congested. The condition of the rooms was far from livable, let alone sustain a family of four or more. I found the aura of the place very dull and depressing. The best thing was that didis were atleast trying to be cheerful and welcoming when we arrived. A smile on their otherwise grim faces was the only thing that showed some hope.
Our next destination was another ‘kotha’ on far end of the road. On reaching the second floor of that building, we were welcomed by some bright faces. We sat on the furniture reserved for customers. The place was poorly lit with pretty old furniture and pale walls. While Gitanjali was talking to our didis, a man suddenly came up the stairs and stood still on the doorway. The man, in his early 40s, was completely drunk and he was pointing a finger at Gitanjali. At first, I couldn’t make out what exactly he was trying to do but when I saw didis shouting and asking him to leave, only then I realised that he was ‘choosing’ Gitanjali out of all the women who were sitting there. The man left in a haste, but the whole situation forced me to think that how disrespectful it must be for a woman to be in a situation like this. Our didis go through the same situation repeatedly for many years, devastating every bit of confidence in them.
This time, I talked to didis more freely and openly. I tried to make them laugh, and to my surprise, my poor sense of humor worked. I felt myself much closer to them and to our cause. While sitting there and gazing at them, all I could think was that how unfair life has been to them. They deserve a life free of all the shackles, a life where adversities aren’t the only things that they have to deal with, a life where they can be respected citizens of the country, a life where they are accepted and much more.
After a well spent day with our didis, my curiosity has been replaced by the feeling of love for them. No matter where I will be in the future, I will continue to do my bit for them. I realise that we have a long way to go, but now I feel that I am much more prepared than before to go all the way for them. The realization might appear to be an instant one, but it’s the way I feel while writing this up. Not to forget, thank you Gitanjali and Pratima for taking along with you a newbie like me who otherwise would have been a mere ‘customer’ in the eyes of our didis.