On Nobody Can Love You More – The People of the Book, GB Road
A journey into the red light.
[By Helena Kaartinen]
It is evening and I’m walking in circles in my hotel room in Delhi. My brain feels mushy and slow, as it always does when I get up after a post-night flight nap.
There is a big bag on the floor, filled with presents; one for a man, six for the women, and four for the children. I’m about to visit an Indian brothel. There is a red-light district in Delhi, actually a road aligned with hardware shops, and sex is sold in the apartments above them. All of the apartments are numbered.
My Indian friend who recently published Nobody Can Love You More, a book about life in the red-light district, has invited me to come along and visit the people living in number 300.
The taxi driver takes me to the area where I meet my friend.
I feel like I’m in a movie. I am overwhelmed by lights and noise. We reach building number 300 and walk towards a narrow stairway. There are some people sitting on the steps, but it is too dark for me to see their faces. I lose my balance as we climb, and reach for the wall for support.
We pass a man, woman and child on one of the floors, but continue further up.
Finally we stop at the entrance of a room, in which a woman is rinsing dishes under a tap, and another is seated on a long bench. My friend greets them in a familiar manner. I follow him and offer my hand. A light touch of hands, a smile, and an exchange of names.
We move to the next room, where our host and a three-year-old boy are sitting. The boy is wearing jeans and a suit-jacket. He giggles and runs away from me. There are two rabbits on the floor. I nearly commit a faux pas by not taking off my shoes before stepping on the carpet, but realize on time and remove them.
Our host speaks very little English. One of the women, who is called Sushma in my friend’s book, knows a few words of English, and wants to try them with me. I compliment her on her scarf. Big mistake! Now she wants me to have it. Or at least to come and stay at her home-village next time I visit India. She is feeling a little tired at the moment, as she usually works from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.
I go out to the balcony. I want to know how it feels to stand where these women market themselves. The balcony is long and narrow, perhaps only about 70 cm wide. I step on to the balcony and find myself eye-to-eye with a goat.
Little by little, the whole household has gathered on the carpet. The teenage boys have come home; they speak polite and grammatically correct small-talk English. I tell the others that I come from the same country as Santa Claus. It obviously bears no significance; Finland could as well be in Indonesia. The children taste a few chocolates I got them. The host climbs up through an opening in the ceiling and disappears somewhere. He returns with a scarf for me. I wrap myself in it.
The children’s mother is proud of her offspring, like all of us mothers are. She gave up work a few years ago. One of the boys shows me his drawings. The mother insists on offering me something to eat or drink. We talk about our favorite Bollywood films. All is well. Actually better than well. The atmosphere is warm and humane.
It is time to leave. Customers are waiting, and the boys must go to bed, as they need to get up early for school. Sushma hugs me and touches my cheek. I touch her cheek back. We look at each other in the eyes for a long time. Both of us have very small eyes.
It is easier to go down the stairs than up. I feel lighter. My heart is no longer pounding nervously, but beats steadily in understanding.
When I’m seated in the taxi again, finally on my way back to the hotel, my mind feels like a big balloon, inflated with humanity, kindness and surprises. In one evening I have received all my season’s presents: I have been allowed to give, share, and experience. Could a person ask for anything more?
Nobody Can Love You More