Times of India Review - On Nobody Can Love You More

Times of India Review – On Nobody Can Love You More

Photo Essay - People Like Us, GB Road

Life in the red light.

[By Arunima Mazumdar]

Arunima Mazumdar of Times of India talked about Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District, a book by The Delhi Walla, on the newspaper’s website. Click here to read it, or see below.

Lifeless posters of Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Amisha Patel and Mahima Chaudhary are plastered on the walls. They smile back at you from the cramped room that has never been graced by the sun’s rays. Turn away from the walls and you’ll find the living posters of Sushma, Nighat, Mamta, Roopa, Phalak and Fatima – roaming about idly or simply busy with daily chores. Welcome to life in GB Road, New Delhi’s notorious red light district.

Mayank Austen Soofi is a blogger and author who writes about Delhi and its people. His latest expedition into the streets of Old Delhi comes bound in a glossy, green jacketed book called ‘Nobody Can Love You More – Life in Delhi’s Red Light District’. Although there is no prologue, the story of GB Road’s sex workers begins even before you open the book. While the front cover is a picture displaying a make-up tray with cheap lipsticks, dull-red bangles, and blurred figure of a woman, the back cover is that of a green door bolted by a heavy iron lock, and a fragrance-less jasmine gajra twined along the handle.

‘Nobody Can Love You More’ tells a story that everyone (including me) has been inquisitive about but not many have dared to, or perhaps, got a chance to explore. Mayank’s narrative is neither emotional nor heartless. It is, in fact, a commentary on what he sees. “I used to go to GB road every evening to teach English to a kotha owner’s kids. Soon, I became a part of their world and it was like visiting any other friend’s home. I had absolutely no intention of writing a book back then but I couldn’t close my eyes to the world around me. So, I simply carried my notepad, made notes about what I saw, experienced, and came back home to write about it. The decision to write a book came much later,” says he.

In the course of decoding the abnormality of GB Road, there are times when Mayank tries to escape the murk by entering “civilisation”, a Connaught Place cafe for him, where “uniformed stewards” bring him “club sandwich and Darjeeling tea”. Later, when he revisits those dark alleys in the middle of a foggy, December night and the police arrive, he is not left with any choice but to take shelter in teen sau (300) number kotha, which he ironically calls “home”.

Real women, real stories

Women in GB road are as normal as others. They cook, pray, raise children, on occasions nag and fight, and earn money. “In the very first chapter, I take the reader into Sushma’s world”, says Mayank. But understanding the life of a sex-worker is not easy – how she entered the dhanda, how much does she earn from one customer, what is the share of the kotha owner, where is her family, if she ever truly fell in love, what would happen when she ages – are some of the questions that you cannot blatantly ask. In one chapter, Mayank says that he had to drink their unfiltered water and eat their food, because why else would they share their stories with him. “It wasn’t like I went there for seven days and wrote the book. I spent almost three years getting to know them. I talked about my life, shared my fears and even told them about my favourite authors. Even though they knew nothing about them, they listened with interest. It’s a two-way street. I wanted to share my story because I was interested in hearing their stories too,” explains Mayank.

It’s also amusing that any topic that is meant to be kept under-wraps is the one that generates most curiosity. One such chapter is where Mayank meets Hasan Khurshid, a legal journalist who lives near GB Road and who tells him that as kids “while walking on GB Road, we were not to look up…for decent people like us, looking up at the kothas is a taboo.”

The bystanders

What’s remarkable about the book is the fact that Mayank has taken into account all those who play a role, small and big, in shaping the disposition of the sex-workers. First, there are the shopkeepers who operate right below the kothas and yet behave as if they don’t exist. Then, there are men in the nearby mobile stores, who are least bothered about who comes to them for a talk-time recharge as long as they pay up on time. And lastly, there is the local priest who performs a satya narayan pooja in the homes of Muslim sex-workers. But never do these people disregard the women with contempt. Their honesty is evident when one shopkeeper says, “GB Road is a part of our society. How can you say that they are not civilized?” and also when the mobile store man defends them by saying, “They never cheat.”

Everyone wants to escape

The women, the kotha owners, the children and even the pimps, everyone dreams of escaping the shackles of GB Road. But in the end, deep in their hearts, they all seem to know that “GB Road is a quicksand. Once you get into a red light, it is very difficult to get out.”

‘Nobody Can Love You More’ doesn’t evoke any sympathies for GB road, its women, children and their circumstances. Neither does it justify their choice of work and existence. It is a perspective of a neighbourhood distanced from the accepted societal norms. It is a reminder and a comprehensive understanding of the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

Available in book stores and shopping websites across India

City Book - GB Road, Inside Delhi's Red Light District