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Conversations with sex workers in Delhi's red-light district.
[Picture by Shashwat Saxena; text by Mayank Austen Soofi]
I have been to Garstin Bastion Road, the city's red-light district, just next to New Delhi railway station (Ajmeri Gate), more than once.
Earlier I would only walk in the streets while sex workers would aggressively beckon me from the windows of their kothas. But I was scared to go in. There have been stories about how young 'inexperienced' men were lured inside and then robbed of their mobile phones, wallets, shoes and also clothes. I was better safe outside. Sometimes, being a wannabe photographer, I would take out my digicam and then there followed a volley of maa-behen swearwords directed towards me.
However, one evening, I gathered up courage, climbed the stairs, knocked at the door and walked into a kotha -- and into a living room.
There were around half a dozen ladies, a few looked as if they were in 40s while the rest were very young. None expressed disappointment or disgust when I confessed that I was not looking for sex and had no money to offer. That I only desired a few hours of conversation.
The ladies asked me to sit down on the floor and we all gathered together. I was served with chai, namkeen and anda-bread. We then talked life. They shared their secrets with me and I shared my secrets with them. Sometimes a customer would come in and any one of them would take her leave -- without much fuss -- and re-appear after a while -- without much fuss. But such comings-and-goings did not interfere with our chat.
I soon discovered that we all there faced rather similar challenges concerning money, work and relationships. The ladies talked about their families back home in the village while I shared notes concerning my folks. In the end, all of us performed namaz and thanked Allah for the happiness we have been able to snatch from the hands of destiny.
Such is life