Sunday, January 25, 2009

City Watch – The Twin Worlds of GB Road

The Delhi walla's pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls - Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
Contact for ad enquiries.

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

The many faces of Delhi's red light district.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Early in 2009 I Googled GB Road, Delhi's red light district, and got a shock of my life. The search page showed me sitting between two prostitutes!

What if Mummy Papa see this picture? They're a god-fearing couple living in a grey-coloured trans-Yamuna apartment. How would they understand that I had visited the kothas, a few months ago, just for the sake of reporting? That I had simply done a story, clicked a few pictures and it's that which is circulating in the net.

If such a scene ever arises, let my parents know that GB Road is more than just its first-floor kothas. It has Connaught Place-like corridors, Purani Dilli-esque havelis and even a HDFC bank - tucked right next to a Madame's establishment.

GB Road also houses a branch of the labour union Bahrtiya Mazdoor Sangh, plus a temple, a mosque, a school. In case you need a water closet, GB Road, as I'm told, happens to be India's biggest market for bathroom fittings. It's easily accessible, too: just a minute walk from the New Delhi railway station (Ajmeri Gate side); just next to the Anglo-Arabic Model School.

Despite having such 'respectable' trappings, GB Road, officially named after a sage – Swami Shraddhanand, is unable to get rid of its 'red light' tag. How could it? After every few shops, there's a signboard warning, "Beware of pick-pockets and pimps."

Besides, you see the ladies opening soliciting men for emergency love from their windows upstairs.

But a category of men whom they never bother are the shopkeepers downstairs. Watching these traders carry on with their business under the garlanded portraits of their black-and-white ancestors is rather odd. Do they know that just above their showroom is going on the business of the world's oldest profession?

How do these two universes live together?

Most shopkeepers refused to talk. Finally, one agreed. Dressed in a muddy-brown coat-pant and speaking in a perfect Eton school accent, he, however, refused to give his name and refused to talk about the ladies. Instead, he started discoursing on, of all things, Pearl S buck's novel The Good Earth.

My attempt to steer the talk to GB Road's red-light stardom offended him. "Shopkeepers are the most honourable people of our society and we have never touched, never talked to these women," he said. "The women, too, never come to our shops."

Maybe he was right. A few months ago I had gone... well, upstairs to a kotha and there the women had talked of freely moving around the city – Sitaram Bazaar, Connaught Place, Mehrauli and also, Golcha Cinema – but not the bazaar downstairs.

"Most men who come to GB Road instinctively raise up their head to look at us but these men are never the shopkeepers," said one of the women I talked to. "We, too, never make a pass at them."

So here we are. The shopkeepers and the sex workers manage to exist next to each other only by pretending that the other doesn't exist.

And yet, there is one bond that unites these two worlds – the children of the sex workers. One afternoon I saw three little school students, big heavy bags bending their backs, walking hands-in-hands. An elderly shopkeeper beckoned them with his fingers and offered toffees. The children giggled, took the surprise gift, said 'thank you', giggled again and went hobbling straight before turning right and disappearing into an unlit staircase – to upstairs, to a kotha, to what must be their 'home'.

The flag of the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

A strange red light district

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

My GB Road buddies

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Outside in the corridor

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Inside a showroom, upstairs is a kotha

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Your bank next door

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Old glory

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Another look

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Not just another bazaar

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Beware of 'pimps'

The Twin Worlds of GB Road

Last look

The Twin Worlds of GB Road


Rima Kaur said...

how must it feel to walk through the buildings of gb road.. does an average girl even venture there? is she perused as a prostitute? how does it feel to sit between them? what goes through their minds when they go about their business? how i wish to go to such places and see how life is lived there. i have my own permission, but there is a long list of people who will not bear to let me do what i want.

Anonymous said...

good post, Mayank, and who cares what Mamma and Pappa might think... you are doing what you do best... REPORTING! And you are reporting things that that do not get any attention anywhere else. You open a window on Delhi, and allow the rest of us (esp. Westerners - goras, like me)a look inside.

Kuddos, and keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

Lovely post.

Milan Kuchhal said...

well prostitutes are also the human beings,what if they choose to sell their body for their livelihood.
we must not forget that the never ending lust for sex of man leads to flourish this business,
if we have guts then we have to make arrangements of some decent and respectable jobs for women, so no one need to join this dirty old profession to earn bread...............

Anonymous said...

First, Nima, just go ahead and do it - who needs to know?.

Mayank, your folks know what you do in getting the blog out, so there. No area of Delhi should be immune from your kind of reporting. Akhir woh ladkiyaan bhi insaan hain - poverty is a crime. After all, who wants to be in such a profession?. No one grows up thinking "I want to be a sex-worker". The fact that their kids are going to school is a bright ray of sunshine, one just wishes they wouldn't be exposed to all this at such an early age and see how their parents are exploited. See "Born Into Brothels" and "Salaam Bombay". Keep up the good work, Mayank!. I live for your blogs. BTW, Swami Shraddhanand Marg is obviously an incarnation for the original name - what does GB stand for?.

Yogesh Naik said...

Good writing... and excellent real pics...


Raman Sharma said...

very impressive post. you presented a good picture here..

Sherebanu said...

How I'd love to witness an interaction between the prostitutes and the shopkeepers. The ladies would be on their best behavior - the shopkeepers would avert their eyes... I wonder why the defensiveness on the shopkeepers' parts and why the general deference on the ladies' parts. I'll let my imagination wander - there must have been some scandal that was handled well by the shopkeepers community, and the two types have decided to symbiotically exist together. After all clients also need general provisions... Interesting - Thanks for the post.

dreamer said...

ho bhagwaan!! its you!! third pic in first row!! gawd, mayank!! just pray that ma n pa dont get a strange idea to google GB ROAD!!huh??

and that too.. is your flickr profyl..\m/

Sajal said...


Surat said...

Really nice blog.

Anonymous said...

its amassing brother you done a good job but dear i want to tell a one thing why that all things are not legalized in our India like other countries(European)i already visited there prostitute areas which have a complete legal licences from approval
of there govt. because i think these types of thing like licenses to a prostitute areas will make them to strong that they have some legal rights from there govt and also this will leads to decreases the girls crime like sexual harassment etc those which will have some problem will directly goes there and decreases there tension about sex because we know although its me or you all are seeing girls like a prostitute whether she is a prostitute or not sorry use this last line but in my life i seen all mens are same in case of sex life and there ideas about any girl if is a little bit cleaver than others ...........................................
hope for the best and one thing the life which is seen by a prostitute herself is more experienced than others because she know how to tackle with whom

Anonymous said...

it was really hard to know the truth of these sex workers ..........
im a big fan of mayank...iwanna learn frm you :)

Anonymous said...

I would say...u did what we all so called respectable would have thought thousand time before thats not all mayank we have to ask our self are they not they not hv any right...i think its all about the mentality of people...n as young people of india itd our responsibility to make it right..again i would say u did a brilliant job..well done my friend.

Anonymous said...

hey very nice post mayank..i like these types of post and u r doing a very good job.....