It was the year 2015. I convinced my friend to accompany me to G.B. road on a bright sunny Saturday morning. There had been a lot of speculations about this place in my mind and I really wanted to explore and see it for myself why and how the place got its notorious name. With each documentary movie that I had seen about this place, the anticipation just kept on growing and this place made it to my ‘must-visit-place’ list. Since my friend and I share a similar mind track it didn’t get difficult for me to convince her.
Finally, we were there. The G.B. road. I was taken aback by the strong stench from the uncovered drain. The foul smell, the silent stares and the sound of the butchering knife everything gave us an unwelcoming vibe. I started judging every woman we passed by, and I very much knew that those feelings were mutual. I knew that we were being judged too. I looked into the eyes of the men I passed, kohled and cold they were. Even with a baggy t-shirt, I knew I was being stripped off layer by layer with those eyes. Now slowly my excitement started converting into an unknown fear. An air of vulnerability engulfed me. The alleys were dark, very dark. I wondered, “If somebody gags and drags us into the darkness of one such alley will anybody be able to trace us? Will we end up in one of the brothels if nobody traces us?” I looked at my friend for a little bit of assurance, a little bit of reliance. She was with a straight face trying hard to cover up her own insecurities and anxiety with a reluctant smile.
We entered a wider road where we saw women almost in the literal meaning of the terms ‘hanging their bodies’ from the balconies to lure the men in the streets. Women in flashy lipsticks, waving at men who passed by. Some even waved at us with winks. It was a completely different experience altogether. We entered a Kothi, the one next to the famous kothi no. 64, very reluctantly. We gained some confidence when we noticed that nobody actually was bothered by our presence there. We reached the first floor where we saw a man clustered by a group of woman. They were discussing money and division, probably he was their pimp. We moved further ahead, the fear by then subsided and inquisitiveness started fueling us up. But the thrill of excitement disappeared, apparently because by then we had realized about the truth and the perils of the place.
The second floor looked very crowded. There we could see a ‘madam’, a middle-aged woman with a large bindi. We smiled at her but she didn’t seem to care. I whispered to my friend and told her to pretend to be from some publishing house coming in search of content for a project. She told me to hide all my insecurities and behave calmly. We looked around, women thronged all over, but no one seemed to care much about our presence. Just at that moment, we saw a woman in a neon green saree sitting on a wooden bench. She was in her late twenties; fair complexioned and with no makeup. We approached and asked her if we could sit near her. She replied back sarcastically, “Where else do you want to sit?” followed by a curse word and the others laughed at her sense of humor. At that point, we realised that they chose not to care about our presence but everyone was vigilant and conscious enough to circle out outsiders like us. We laughed at ourselves to ease out the tension. Since the ice had broken, now other women started interrogating about our presence there. We replied as decided about the project and publishing house.
After a brief conversation with the woman in the neon green saree, we came to know that she was from the state of Bihar. She had a petite body with beautiful almond eyes. I asked her, “Will you go with us if we pay for your time?” I agreed on paying 800 bucks which were double her usual charges for an hour. She asked me with a smirk, “What are you girls planning to do with me?” I got her line of the joke and assured her of her safety and told her about our intentions of spending the time to know her. “We are not allowed to go out like this, Madam doesn’t allow. I can say all about me right here and you can pay me 500 bucks…ask whatever you want to know. Where my family is? Or how many men I take in a day?” and there again she burst into laughter.
Suddenly, my friend asked her about a visibly fresh deep scar just below her neck. “These things keep happening; it will heal in a day or two.” “It will heal in a day or two” – those words were deep enough to get ingrained in my mind, those words kept lingering in my mind in her calm voice. A scar that was deep enough to qualify our societal standards of sexual violence, but then she was a sex worker, after all, these things were part of her work hazard which she couldn’t complain about. She couldn’t complain at all because she was getting paid for it. Even with all her rights as a sex-worker in India, if she decides one day to complain about her abusive customer the stigmatized system would make it hard for her to do so.
I looked at her face again that gleamed even with that scar on her neck, the almond eyes. She told that she didn’t have much memory of her family as she was sold off at a very young age by her step-father. In bits and parts, she gave some more account of her childhood memories and her childhood dreams. She told us some of her bitter experiences of how her stepfather attempted to rape her once and we got stunned to our very core. Everything just came to a silent pause after that. She passed a subtle smile at us breaking that silence.
“You girls get out if you are done, and pay her for her time….and click pictures of us and stick in your project,” shouted the ‘madam’ and everyone in the room burst into laughter yet again.
We slowly moved down the stairs back to that road with the stench, familiar this time. Both of us were beyond the reach of the feeling of fear and insecurity. We didn’t exchange words, but I knew that we were feeling alike. I looked at her teary eyes and held her hand tight. We bumped into some young boys of around 14-15 years in uniform, who were giggling their way towards one of the kothis. Probably they had bunked their Saturday class. They were showing each other the colourful condom sachets. They were excited and in anticipation just like we had been that morning. I realised that we had one thing in common, the boys and us. All of us had an appetite; the boys had an appetite for sexual libido and us for a shallow desire. A desire to explore GB road, a desire so shallow that was limited to a tick in a wishlist. All of us had been excited while entering those streets with the stench, but our excitement soon faded away. With every step, I kept asking myself questions. My mind got flooded with a lot of random thoughts. The pinch of guilt got too strong and unbearable for me. I kept asking myself, “How could I ever think of deriving excitement and thrill of adventure by exploring the reality of a fellow being? Wasn’t it a mockery of their lives that I even attempted to intrude into them?”
We did successfully see the GB road in all its content, in all its notoriety but we failed to feel it completely, we failed to deserve to feel it completely actually. We did try absorbing as much as we could of Reshma (the woman in neon green saree), of that stench from the uncovered drain, of the pain behind each smiling face hanging their bodies from the balconies to lure the men in the streets.
As I walked ahead, Reshma’s face kept flowing in front of my sight; the neon green saree, which was loosely draped, the almond eyes that evoked much more than she actually said. Her voice kept lingering my ears, “It will heal in a day or two.” Everything will heal in a day or two. Every stigma will softly subside someday and Reshma would come out of GB road with a head high to live up to her dreams. I kept on hoping as a little drop of tear trickled down my face.