On Sale Sans Discount

Blonde, long, straight tresses, shining under the street light on the shoulders of a pretty, broad framed, fair and clear skinned woman at 11:45 pm, across the street from my house overlooking one of Bombay's arterial roads – home to shoppers from across the city by day – and as I was to discover as soon as I kept up late, by night too. The age of the woman is hard to decipher, but her clothes, today a coordinated red trouser with a pale red deep neck tunic, preserve her radiance well. She constantly plays with her hair, adjusting her tee shirt now, standing akimbo now, resting her gaze at male passers-by: sometimes anxious, sometimes dismissive, sometimes tired, always cool and up for a haggle.

A stamped Gulmohar just fell out of the back pages of the book I've been reading – Ismat Chugtai's The Quilt Stories. That's what broke my description of one of the three prostitutes who operate out of the nondescript old mansion.

It's been only a while that I have begun to acknowledge the presence of sex workers as a prevalent and unavoidably huge chunk of society. Three set up shop late each night in full view from my living and bedroom window, which I observe in the comfort of the locked and safe darkness of my house. A faceless spectator for as long as I want.

Yes, yes, now you'll say you stare at prostitutes from your window? Haw.

But they're fascinating, I'd say. It's hardly voyeuristic when you think about it. Yes, they're people your parents, your boyfriend, your boss, your neighbours, your friends don't want you crossing paths with. And I ask, why not? I wonder what it would be like to have a cuppa चाय with her at the neighbourhood after-hours टप्री . Or cook and eat with her. Plain old दाल - चावल . And laugh. Laugh about the bumbler, my cats, the dogs on the streets – the ones they must dismiss and the ones they love petting.

It is uncanny, this constant parallel universe I've found myself in, overlooking a prostitute's. From being just a bridge-and-a-lane away from Bombay's oldest red light district, to witnessing transvestite sex workers at peak business hours on my way back from work to the wannabe film star's haven. Now here.

The journey has been from sheer ignorance and denial, to indifference to interest. The indiscriminate and infinite curses and descriptions of partition that Ismat Chugtai's stories are made up of, are a wealthy demonstration of both 'our' perceptions, and 'their' attitudes.

Don’t they have as much a God as we do? Don’t they feel as much pain in dealing with autowalas as we do? Don’t they work harder (sultry summer nights, heavy monsoon rains, fatigue, injury, fever) than we might ever have the gumption to?

The other evening I got home late and almost scolded my autowala for stopping right in their midst. That is also the night I discovered they aren't your regular prostitutes, they are also transvestites, which kind of makes them rather 'multipurpose' from our angle and 'ingenious' from theirs.

It will take me forever to enter into a conversation with one of 'them'. Their ability to snub so confidently intimidates me.


Huzaifa Pandit said...

Lovely post _ thought provoking and intriguing ........Enjoyed it.

Priyanca Vaishnav said...

Thanks Huzaifa :)