Monday, November 29, 2004

Sex, truths and no videotape

In my profession, we come across a motley group of people - almost everyday. We get used to the variety, in a way, I guess to the endless stream of people: doctors, nurses, councillors, politicians, sweepers, teachers, public relations guys, movie stars, government officials. So much so we nearly become immune to the variety that spices up our lives.
But last Saturday, I met a clutch of commercial sex workers, madams of brothels and pimps, as part of a story on trafficking in the country. Never mind that. You can read my story when it appears in the paper, if you are interested.
There was this 'master' broker kind of person, you know, like the mother of all brokers (!). Let's say he was called M. I had met him earlier and he was thrilled to see me: "Vaanga madam. Nalla irukeengala" (Welcome, how are you?)
M, at one point of time, reigned emperor of all brokers in the South. Or so I was told. Now he is a pale shadow of his earlier self, has lost much hair, a few teeth and his spirit. He does a little work still, procuring nubile girls for the big guys in the city. " Ana, munna mathiri illai," (But nothing like before ) he said with a half sigh, a half grin.
So, we got talking. I asked about the "rates" for the women in the profession. For the uninitiated, there are rates, depending on the age, colour, height, weight and relative virginity of the woman. And M, without batting an eyelid said to me, "Madam, ungala mathiri nalla iruntha, nalla paisa!" (for someone like you, a good rate)
For a moment, just one, I was shocked, I squirmed. We are not used to being described like this, are we? And then, I smiled wryly, as I realised that for M, it was the best way of describing his clients. After that single moment, though, I was quite amused! After all, these things don't happen to all women! :)
Much later, I met B. A madam, once gorgeous, now just gone to seed. She cannot sell her body anymore, so she tries to sell other women's bodies. She also tries to do a little social service, perhaps in repentance, also perhaps it brings her a little money. I have met her earlier too, but it was the first time I had put foot in her hovel, six feet high, with a narrow, rough cement staircase (with a few missing steps) leading to it.
B, for some strange reason, was happy to see me too. And was thrilled when I mistook the young woman, in a photograph frame standing on an old Dyanora B/W TV, for her daughter. "Ennakku oru paiyyan than. Ithu naan than," she said coyly (I have only one son, that's me). She invited other "madams" to her 10 by 8 room, so they could all speak to me.
And when it seemed like I was done, wanted to go, she pushed a tattered copy of a once glossy magazine into my hands. "Oru chinna donation. Action Aid -ukku paisa kodutha, avanga HIV pasangalukku help pannuvanga," she said in her Tamil-with-a-strong-Telugu accent. She wanted me to make a contribution towards Action Aid, so that the organisation could take care of children living with HIV.
Sitting in that shack, a fan rattling over my head, a black and white movie playing in mute, on the only furniture in the room (a cramped bed) beside an aluminium pan placed below a hole in the tin roof to collect rain water, some chord stirred in me then.
Like my Diwali epiphany, this too was illuminating. Perhaps the message was the same: being linked with humanity. My hair stood on end and my hand shook as I took from her the tear-off fly leaf for the donation, feeling so completely touched, wholly humbled.



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