We're having a technical event in my college.Which is a supreme excuse for all the students to get together, work a little, and enjoy a lot.On this very excuse, me and my friend went to buy some stuff cheap from the city's old market. This market is away from the heart of the city. It is crowded, with more people and vehicles on the road than they can handle, and full of activity.Whether its ten AM in the morning or two in the afternoon. Which is when we went. Me and her.
After checking off about seven-eight items on our list we asked this very pleasant uncle where we can find old tin cans. How many did we need? About fifty.Okay, no problem, we were told. Just take the first right,another right and you'll reach the old scrapyard.Silence. Actually,said he, I wouldn't exactly say its the safest place for you two.
Now that was confusing, but desperate measures call for desperate action, so we went anyway. We found the shop (again, a very nice uncle helped us there) and with 30 tin cans rattling in our hands and content blooming in our minds, we turned to find the way back to our parked car. Now meaning no disrespect to any kind of area in my "laadki" city, it seemed to us that every small crooked lane, every single old building and every single shop (hardware, mostly) looked exactly alike.I must say, before they became so crowded and old, these wadas and shops must have been a subject of great interests for architects and students.I know for a fact that architecture students still come and study the structure of this place.But we were, lets face it, pretty much lost.
So my friend came up with the bright idea of hiring a rickshaw to our car, as we couldn't find it anyway, and by the looks of it, weren't going to any time soon.As we loaded ourselves and our humongous pile of junk into the rickshaw and gave him very questionable directions, we were off.
My friend was fidgety from the start. Something about the streets and the people made her uncomfortable.I, however,was having fun.The place is truly amazing.It's startling how much space is being used here.There was so much business there.There was so much going on. Shops for every possible thing. Every inch of the city area was used up for either business or..err..pleasure?
The thing is we missed a turn.Which did not make my friend any calmer.So our rickshaw uncle (not nice) assured us not to worry. We'll just take a turn in here.This left. That's the one.
Left we went.
My friend ,who seemed to see where we were heading, said "Apna naseeb hi kharab hain, do you want something cold to drink..."
In one second, my mind went numbingly blank. It's like I was transported to a different world.The kind of world we get to see on screen. Or read in those very descriptive books. Someone was holding my hand. Shaking it. Panic.
It was my friend. Her face was white and her hands grabbing onto my faded kurta, cold.I was about to turn to see her terrified expression,or mine reflecting on her face. But I was too caught up. There they were. Broad daylight. It's like this. The lane that we entered was cramped, and had a hundred tiny wada-like places which had some more windows and lots of doors.Suddenly it seemed like the streets we had been to before, were scantily crowded. This was crowd. I had never seen so many bodies being pushed around before. If a person just stood there, he would be carried by the throng of people surrounding him.It was a real surprise that our driver could actually drive through this place.
At every single door,window they were there. Pink.Red.Yellow.Silver.Golden.Pink.Red.Green. Just flashes we caught at first. But the crowd slowed our rickshaw down. They were heavily dressed for a hot summer day. With fake brands embossing their(otherwise naked) bodies. Tight black skirts, ending well before their thighs. heavy gold jewelery.And the Pink Lipstick.
Not just that though. Their heavily made up eyes, scanning the crowd, filtering people who're there to browse and potential customers, leaning against the doors or each other smoking, laughing, talking,yelling,shouting and passing the look.Their clothes too tight for their bodies, and vice versa.
They came in all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and costs. On careful observation, you could tell the important ones from the newbies. On thing was the same with all of them though. They all looked straight into your eyes. Their eyes, through the darkened Kohl and the bright blue eyeshadow, looked straight at you, challenging you to say something. A movie started playing in my head. A tall strange man approaches a house. The others try to entice him to look at themselves. He points to one house and enters.It's 43 degrees outside. Hot and sticky. Scorching heat. Two pm in this heated afternoon. The room is small and hot. No ventilation. Dirty. One small bed. On the floor. The man and woman are in for about twenty minutes. After which he zips up and leaves. Out of that world to come back only next week.
She gets up. Cleans up. Washes her face. Reapplies the pink lipstick. And resumes her place at the door. Her purse one note heavier. And the luring game begins.
Round two for the day . .
The red, pink , green flashes do not end. The shouts, the pulling and pushing of bodies on the street do not end.Or so you think.Just as abruptly as the lane arrived, it vanished.
Now, I know it was a Red Light area. My friend knew it was a Red Light area. So did our driver. And of the hundred lives who lived in and around that place. Is it enough to just brand that area and leave it at it? I thought that such an area would mean high security and the like. How difficult is it to enter this place, make a sale and leave? No one to see you, no one to recognize you, if you come back. I'm sorry but wasn't this illegal once upon a time? Oh, still is? Doesn't look like it. And how easy is it, for two twenty year olds like us, to just walk in there?
This area is a home to more than 5000 sex workers, and the number is on the decline, thanks to the goodwill and hard work of many social activists and some fast work by the city police. Is this enough? It certainly did not look anywhere close to being enough.
We arrived in front of our parked car. It was my car alright.With the happy yellow sunflower on the dashboard.
The rickshaw driver turned back and said, " Thirty Rupees, madam."
-- Amruta Lakhe is an engineering student in Pune. She blogs at http://buy-me-love.blogspot.