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Life in the red light areas is very different from the everyday life of a woman. But its time, we stop judging them, for we do not know their everyday struggles.
Music and lyrics have occupied an irreplaceable place in our life, they are therapeutic undoubtedly. The recent trend is to plug your earphones and switch on your playlist, seclude from surrounding, from people, from everything that isn’t interesting. I have such a playlist named – ‘Mann ke taar‘, the English translation will be inefficient t0 translate its depth but it literally means ‘Strings of heart!’. One of the soulful song in this list is sung by Asha Bhosle ji from Umrao Jaan (1981). Did you visualise the gorgeous but sublimed Rekha portraying a pariah Umrao? Yes, this actor has portrayed and lived every inch of Umrao.
That particular day I was feeling low over something and nothing soothes me like music. After boarding the train (as I was commuting to work), I played my playlist Man Ke Taar. The song was “Yeh kya jagah hain dosto?, Yeh kaunsa dayar hain, had-e nigaah tak jahan, gubar hi gubar hain.”
Needless to say, I forgot my grimness and was marooned in Khayyam ji’s soulful music and Asha ji’s compassionate voice.
Needless to say, I forgot my grimness and was marooned in Khayyam ji’s soulful music and Asha ji’s compassionate voice. A part of me was there in Umrao’s mehfil, feeling that pain in her voice, empathising with her hidden tears and sorrows. She is singing this song in her own village from where she was abducted and sold at a young age, where she had every right to study, enjoy childhood and bloom into a woman with dignity. The sorrow of being in her village amongst her villagers and being treated as a famous courtesan, pariah should have been excruciatingly painful for Umrao. She is helpless and vulnerable as her family has closed their doors on her for bringing disrepute. One cannot really help but feel sad for Umrao throughout her journey. Beautiful but untouchable, a life where she cannot decide for herself, cannot dream of a normal life with a man she is deeply in love with, cannot return to her own people.
By now, I have listened to this song for about 13 times and lost track of my worries but could not stop thinking of many such Umraos living in ‘Red Light Areas.’ What was their fault? These women must have been lured and trafficked into brothels but then this becomes a place forever, they accept, embrace and begin their journey.
As a child when ‘Red Light Area’ was beyond my understanding and I never dared to mention my inquisitiveness to elders in my family, seated behind my father on a scooter, we scooted through this Red Light Area – ‘Budhwar Peth’ in Solapur. The umpteen drives through this lane had left an impression forever. It was mainly during evenings that we drove from here and I always saw women wearing loud make-up, gajras tucked in their neatly done hair, cheap designer sarees with sequins and embroidery. The houses appeared like a railway where all coaches were same inside out, some with bulbs scattering yellow light, some with tube lights pouring more life and light into a room, pressure cooker whistling and the aroma of steamed rice and daal dissolving in air, some women carrying ghaagar/kalshi of drinking water from the nearby municipality tap just like any other family in Solapur where water is precious as gold. Two ladies who were neighbours and shared common walls were sitting on the thresholds of their respective houses cleaning-cutting-sorting vegetables but chatting and without even looking at each other, I observed the coordination. Daily life for them was just like it was for any member of society. It was normal but yet something abnormal and unconventional. A young woman in her early 20’s was sitting with a man in late 40’s or even early 50’s.
There were more women than men in those houses.
There were more women than men in those houses. I wondered why they wore so much of make-up and are dressed up every time I see them. Television educated me a great deal about ‘Red Light Area.’ When I was of that understandable age, I too was blooming into a woman then and there are certain issues where you do not need any teaching and explanation, basic instincts are enough. Internet during my growing up days was not at its peak of accessibility as it is these days. Further, when I moved to Pune, I could see these women in the oldest sect of the city near Laxmi Road. They breathe the same air, they walk on same roads, they fight for survival, they are blood and flesh like us and they exist just like us but yet the way society perceives them is so different.
As a matter of fact, prostitution is the oldest profession in human civilisation. No woman will choose prostitution as a profession. For a majority of these women, it has been circumstantial and situational. They lead a highly insecure life, with no pensions, no legal security, no dignity and a ‘lonely life.’ Age’ is a key factor that keeps one going in this profession, unfortunately, ageing cannot be avoided. A one night stand can be emotionally taxing and for me it is hard to believe that they get used to this. What if they get emotionally involved with a client and wish to lead a normal life? Will the society treat them with dignity? Should they have any children out of these illegitimate relations, what would be their future? Needless to say, these children will lead an abusive life and will be bullied for no fault of theirs.
Being a woman, I empathise with all these Umraos but being pragmatic, is that enough?
Being a woman, I empathise with all these Umraos but being pragmatic, is that enough? For everyone, there are two plans, A and B. On failure of Plan A, we revert to Plan B but does an optional plan exist for these women? Is there a ‘U turn’ once they reach this destination? Ignoring physics, the fastest of all is our mind, I was only listening to a song and my mind travelled back to my childhood, my observations then. In a span of 30 minutes that I take to travel to my workplace, I thought about Umrao to ‘Red Light Area.’ I deciphered the meaning of Red Light Area, colour red is for courage and boldness. When you enter a ‘Red Light Area,’ it means you have entered a land where these courageous and brave women live and do not fail to make a point about their existence.
To all of us, it is impossible to study the gravity of their problems. We may fail to help or choose not to help them but at the least we can stop being judgemental and disrespectful to any woman irrespective of her profession. No matter what at the end of the day, we share the same clan – Womanhood.
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