South China Morning Post Review – On Nobody Can Love You More
Life in the red light.
[Text by Victoria Burrows; the above picture was mailed to The Delhi Walla by an unspecified person. If you are this image’s photographer, kindly mail your name so that it can be credited]
Victoria Burrows of the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post talked about Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District, a book by The Delhi Walla. Click here to read it on the newspaper’s website, or see below.
The first full-length book on Delhi’s red light district is not the gritty expose one might expect. Mayank Austen Soofi, author of the popular The Delhi Walla blog, has written an absorbing, readable book about his three-year-long quest to understand the sex workers who live and work in the kothas (brothels) of the Indian capital’s infamous GB Road.
These prostitutes, having been sold to brothel owners as young women, charge 100 to 200 rupees (HK$14-$30) for sex. But Soofi finds that their extraordinary lives are in some ways so very ordinary: these women rear children, go shopping, cook dinner, sometimes fight among themselves, and fall in love.
Of the 80 kothas on GB Road, number 300 is home to the Muslim Sabir Bhai and his five women. The guarded and beautiful Phalak, Sabir Bhai’s apparent wife, has four children, the youngest of whom is blonde. There is Nighat, Phalak’s sister, the ageing Fatima, and Sumaira, who does not work because she experiences excruciating pain during sex from a damaged kidney. Soofi becomes closest to the kind, middle-aged Sushma, who lives on the roof and tells a story of her past that he is never quite sure is the truth.
Soofi meets pimps, priests, poets and local residents, each with their own judgement on what takes place in the small rooms above the sanitaryware shops that line the street. He hears about an earlier age when the red light district was located at Chawri Bazar, and the most glamorous and cultured courtesans were celebrated. At independence, the red light district moved to GB Road, which lies just outside the old city limits.
Soofi explores this half-hidden world with honesty – at times admitting to feeling revulsion – but without discrimination. It is not common for a non-fiction writer to place himself so conspicuously within the text, but readers may find themselves hoping for even more insight into his thoughts.
It is only in the final chapters of the book that Soofi professes frustration, and delivers this captivating idea: “These women. They are so open, yet so closed. Their bodies are commodities … [but] they guard their thoughts and memories more closely than others. Could it be they cherish the secrecy because there is no secrecy about their bodies?”
By reserving judgement on these women, Soofi not only upholds objectivity as a writer, but is better able to paint a fairer, less-simplified portrait of their existence.
He gives a full and nuanced sense of the complexities of life on GB Road, and is adept at navigating the shadows between the dark wretchedness and sunny familiarity of these women’s lives.
Available in book stores and shopping websites across India