Wednesday, 27 January 2010

It's your turn - a short story (2004)

“Do I have to stay here all my life?” She questioned me with such innocence that I couldn’t restrain my tears. Every young girl who has come under me has asked me the same question. And every opportunity, I have told them, “You don’t have to, dear, you don’t have to.”

It has been 18 years since I am into the profession, and I’ve seen all sorts of lucky and unlucky girls. The lucky ones had their saviours sweeping them off to safer places, while others have stayed on to rot in the squalor. Like me.

“What do I call you?” the girl was asking.

Everyone around me has called me ‘amma’ these eight years. Eight years. That is too long a time. Eight years ago, our old ‘amma’ was on her death-bed and she had told me, “You’ll be the next amma.” Amma. The name commands respect and embodies motherly love. But how many can actually feel and exhibit these, under the circumstances? I did not like out old amma, I just feared her. It is as likely that these girls now feel the same way about me. Not that it is some job I like. But I am helpless. I can do nothing at all, for I am chained. Chained to the wills of those around me. Amma is the matron, not the Chief. She will never be one.

I clearly remember the day I was brought here. I was drugged by a man in the train. The tragedy struck when I was on my way to Vellore from my village in Trichy, to study medicine. I had secured 96% in my PUC and was the first girl in the village to go for an MBBS degree. My father has prepared to send me to Vellore, to my paternal aunt’s house, but not without vehement protests from the elders of the village.

The entire village had got together to organize a ‘sabha’ and threatened to expel our entire family if I were to study further in such a distant place. Was it not enough that a girl had been allowed to study so much further while she should be learning to cook and clean, that now she should be permitted to go so far away from her parents and pursue a life on her own? they argued.

But my father was a staunch believer in women’s rights and he stood up against the whole village. One by one the villagers were convinced about his resolute purpose and irrefutable arguments. All for the sake of his dear daughter in whom he believed. Whom he dreamt of as dressed in white, serving the patients in the nearby Government hospital. And what an ill luck that he should be sick on the day of departure and that she should travel alone. Shattering this dreams and now serving….

When I opened my eyes, I was in a well-decked cot, complete with garlands of roses and mogras. I was bewildered. “Where am I?” “What is going on?” “Am I dreaming?” As I wondered on, the doors to the room opened and a big burly figure strode up to me. I cowered and withdrew myself a few steps.

But those firm hands caught hold of me, and what happened later was only a subconscious memory. O! The agony of the moment! Even after 18 years, I shudder at the thought of it – the struggle, the screams, the shame.

And for hours thereafter, I was totally unaware if what was going on. For two days. I lay in a semi-doped state, begging pardon of my father and shouting for help. And I remember a tight slap across my cheeks. Then I slipped into the unconscious again, waking up only the next morning.

Amma came and talked to me, telling me I had no option but to stay on. And I was an absolute stranger to the city of Mumbai. The city where street oys turn into Bollywood stars. Where crores are spent everyday on entertainment. Where a boy washing a car today would be driving one years later.

But the red light area is always a prison; cordoned off from the city life and yet so close of the people in it, entertaining men irrespective of caste and religions, people from all walks of life. And yet…

God! I just cannot dwell on our position in this wretched society. Unwanted, and yet in demand. Scorned by the members of the same gender that should understand us. Looked down upon by the same gender that uses us. Hmph!

Anyway, life has to go on. There is someone at the door already. Oh! It is 8 o’clock! Business will perk up. “O Saraswati! Isn’t it your turn first?”
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