City Life – A Woman’s Life, GB Road Red Light Area
Her life in her words.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
[As told to The Delhi Walla by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous]
You will perhaps never invite me to visit your family. For I am one of the workers who live and work at GB Road, the city’s red-light area. I must say I used to work. Now I am old, in my late 40s, and have stopped working. I look after my teenaged children, and continue to stay in this kotha where I have lived for so many years. The kind kotha malik gives me spending money every month. Besides, I have my savings.
I also find it difficult to leave GB Road because I have become used to this neighbourhood. My boys were born here. The best friendships of my life were made here. The various girls whom I met over the years became like sisters to me. This kotha is my home, though now its business has dwindled. This season the kotha has reduced to just one working woman. The rest of the women have gone to other kothas. We are left alone. The maalik has not enough money anymore.
GB Road has about 20 buildings. Dark corridors with steep stone stairs lead to kothas on the first and second floors. Mine is on the first. I used to wake up around noon when I was working. Now I get up at 6 and prepare my younger sons for school. The bustle in the area starts during the late hours of the morning when the shops downstairs roll up their shutters. It is Delhi’s largest sanitary ware market. It could be true. Stores are forever stocked with wash basins and toilet seats. But what’s there for us in GB Road? No parks, no playgrounds, not even a beauty saloon. It is the petiwalla (street vendor) who brings nakhun-polish (nail paint) and lipsticks around midnight.
We face many problems here. Like, if the toilets get choked, plumbers ask for a great amount of money. We can’t even complain to the authorities. There is always the risk of harassment.
While the women serve customers throughout the day, evenings are busier. They dress up, apply powder, body lotion, and lipstick; and stand out in the balcony. By then the thoroughfare has started teeming with cars, scooters, rickshaws and pull-carts. Men stare up at the women while their women, those women of the samaaj (who are not sex workers like her) passing by in rickshaws, throw discreet glances. Sometimes, when we spot photographers, some of us take out our sandals and threaten them.
G B Road is a world of its own. But I can have a glimpse of other worlds from here. Lalit Hotel can be seen from our balcony. New Delhi Railway Station is 10 minutes away. Across the road is the Indian Railways Coach Care Centre. A theka (liquor shop) stands next door. In the old days, if a customer bought me a whisky bottle, I would share it with all the girls. We buy vegetables at Sitaram Bazar, behind Ajmeri Gate. Niyambar meat shop used to have very good mutton but now it’s no longer the same.
There are two mosques in the back lane and a Hanuman Mandir in front. We celebrate all festivals. The kothas beyond the mandir are more popular because they have fairer girls from Nepal and Assam.
It has now been many years since I moved here. I am from a small village near Bangalore in Karanataka. We were poor so I came here to support my old parents and younger sisters. There were other reasons, too.
GB Road had more life then. The number of daily customers have gone down. That we are growing old is not the only reason. Though it is true that kothas here gets most customers only on select occasions such as Republic Day, Independence Day, or during political rallies when men from other towns visit the city for a day or two. However, it is the immediate future that appears more worrisome. What would become of our children?
I am trying my best to educate my boys. GB Road is a dangerous place and I don’t want them to keep the wrong company. They go to a school beyond Connaught Place. Teachers are sympathetic and understand our problems. They have promised not to disclose our address to anyone. You see, my boys are always worried about their friends discovering where they live. I try to bring them up well. The rest is up to their kismet (destiny).
Money is always a problem. It becomes difficult to sustain your income as you grow older. Recently, I had to ask 5,000 rupees from a friend who lives in the samaaj (beyond GB Road). I may need more, but I cannot be sure if he would help me again.
Life’s like this