Life in a Delhi brothel
A small staircase, just enough to fit a human body, takes you to a kotha (brothel) in a bylane of crowded and dusty Swami Sharadhanand Marg, called Garstin Bastion (GB) Road, my window to life in a Delhi brothel.
My encounter with the sex workers in GB Road was purely accidental as I had gone there to buy some hardware products for my house. As I came out of a shop to smoke, two sleazy looking cornered me and started whispering Rs 300 for Nepali, Bengali or whatever you want.
For couple of seconds I was clueless. Sensing that I was not getting their message, the younger of the two boys, whispered again a young girl for enjoyment. They mistook me for a foreigner and were speaking in broken English. From their faces, it appeared they had just woken up from a hard drink previous night and were on the job again. And, I appeared to be a good customer.
The sudden encounter left met aghast and I entered the shop again. After a few minutes, I realized it was an opportunity to see something, which I had imagined only through Bollywood of 1970s. Nobody will allow a journalist a stroll in a brothel, which as per Indian laws is illegal but runs under complete police protection.
So, my disguise was a foreigner writing a book on lives of sex workers around the world. I stepped outside the shop and the two men were back. I told them what I wanted. Initially, they were hesitant but when I gave them Rs 500, they agreed.
As I walked up dimply lit wooden stairs of kotha no 76 with the two pimps escorting me, the human foul smell hit me first. It was like you were crossing police mortuary in Old Subzi Mandi, next to Tis Hazari metro station. I somehow managed to bear the sting.
As it was little early in the morning (11am) for brothel standards, there was not much activity. As I crossed the first floor, I got a glimpse of a life in a brothel. From a half-open door, I saw thinly-clad women sleeping in a small box sized room.
The older one, walking in front of me, asked me to walk straight and not to see here and there. The second floor was his shop and he asked me to wait outside a door, where I could barely see myself because of poor light. The entire structure appeared in a bad shape but my observation got disrupted with hand asking me to come inside.
As I opened the door, the world inside appeared totally different. A neat red-coloured carpet and a chandelier were donning the small main room. One of the two pimps told the woman, who appeared in her mid-40, that I was writing a book on sex workers. Her face turned pale, as she said: “Mujha kaya milaga”. “Eak hari pati,” was a prompt reply of the older pimp and for that she had to allow me to meet a few young sex workers.
She asked the younger of the two pimps to take me to Sonali’s room. He claimed that girl, who looked in 13-14 to me, was 18. “The Nepali girls look young and are good,” he remarked, displaying his paan stained teeth. The rectangular room with an iron grill overlooking GB road fitted a small bed and pot-sized table and a chair. On the far-corner was a fluorescent lamp with a few sparkling coloured dresses hanging from a wall. The floor still had bidi and cigarette butts.
I asked the boy to leave. He did, as I sat on the chair. The skeletal looking girl without saying started getting ready for the act. I told her I just wanted to ask a few questions. She was hesitant, but, I started with simple questions like what is your name and you are from where. After a few minutes and she opened up and told me how she was duped and brought to Delhi a few months ago from a village in Nepal.
She also recalled her bad days and how she was pushed into the flesh trade. “Aab sab thik hai,” was her words for self-consolation, as she is able to send a few hundred rupees every month back home. Her family back home is not aware about her plight as they believe she is a maid in Delhi.
The pimp returned and told me it was time to visit the Bengali girl as another customer was waiting for Sonali. I was escorted out and a man in his mid-thirties rushed in. “He is a regular customer,” the pimp quipped.
Two rooms away was my second interview. The room looked no different from the earlier one except there was a small idol of Durga kept neatly in a corner, in otherwise, dirty looking space.
A clean brown skinned girl with her hair open and in a petticoat and blouse was sitting cross-legged on the bed. Even before I entered she wanted to know what I want to ask. I said I wanted to know about you. “Everybody angrez wants to know that,” she said, while muttering out in quick succession her journey from a remote village in Bengal with some other girls and reaching GB Road about two years ago.
For her, there was no regret of being a sex-worker. “It is better to get paid for sex rather than being forced to sleep with someone,” she said, bluntly. To me, it appeared that the girl had learnt a lot about the ugly world in her tender age and has realized her future.
As I walked down the staircase to make my payment after about an hour in brothel, it was turn of the two pimps to tell me more about live there. Sex sells like hot cakes in Delhi’s dingy by-lanes of GB Road, one of them said, with other adding the life of these (illegally trafficked) sex workers is worse than slaves.
They are not allowed to move out and can only buy their pack of bidi from the pan shop downstairs. Once in a few months, the girls with the madam owning the brothel go out to shop. Everything else, food, condoms, cosmetics are provided in their rooms. Their work starts from late afternoon and extends, during busy season, up to wee hours. In between, there is always threat of a police raid.
Living in a dark-tunnel does not fetch more than Rs 2,000-3,000 a month for a sex worker in a month. Accustomed to fumigating lifestyle, some of them now fear the shining day-light and have no clue of improving life outside the crowded by-lanes.