Reader discretion is advised
He was walking in an overly crowded street, people walking around and doing their day to day tasks. The hawkers were busy attending to customers while the beggars were looking at them with the hope of getting something. It all seemed normal, just like the many streets of Karachi but something just did not felt right to him, the environment, the general air of the area, it seemed polluted. Deep down he knew what was different and for a minute he felt the urge to simply leave, but something kept him from going back. He had to do it, for once he wanted to show that he could also do such bold things.
He was thinking all this while standing near a pan shop, “han sahab, chahye? He had not noticed this man before, a lean dark individual, rather tall wearing a white shalwar kurta, he was smoking a cigarette and coughed while talking. The guy was looking at him blankly like he had asked him something very casual, may be because it was his everyday routine.“What? What do you mean?” he tried to act as if the earlier asked question made no sense.“I can get you the best rates and my cut is only 2%” Well he thought, I have come here for this very purpose then why shy away from it. He nodded his head and the lean man started walking, after a seconds hesitation he started to follow him. They walked for about two three minutes crossing various streets and entering into new ones. This new area was far less crowded and he noticed that there were very few hawkers here, also doors to most of the rooms were open. He understood that this must be the place, he was now standing in a red light area.
He was siting in a rather small room, an odd aroma filled his senses which he realized was due to the agarbati (joss sticks). The room had no window, a small ceiling fan and the only light source was a dimly lit lamp. There was a small dressing table in one side which had a half broken mirror, a comb and few scents. The bed on which he was siting was a plain wooden one with a clean white sheet spread on it. The only other furniture was a small stool that lay in the corner. His heart was beating fast, it was something he had never experienced before and although he tried hard to look calm his forehead was all sweaty.
When she first entered the room his natural reaction was to stand up from his place. The girl walked a few steps and calmly sat down on the stool. He looked at her in one glance, she was a mid aged women in her late twenties, was wearing a rather smelly dress, hair all open and makeup all over her face which was very badly done. Even by looking casually at her he could tell that she was not feeling well, most probably due to fever or headache. A few minutes passed when finally she broke the ice, “do you intend to do anything? or have you paid just to stare at me?”. Her tone was sharp and voice was shrill and for a moment he thought as if she had insulted her, however he quickly realized that this must be her normal tone. When he spoke his own voice felt alien to him, he was sure it sounded as if someone spoke from the grave. “I just want to talk” he was certain the girl had smiled at him as if she was insulting him “just talk?”, “why is that a problem?”, “No, why it would be a problem?”, “What’s your name?” “Neeli”, “unh no I mean your real name, what is your real name?”, “is this an interview? who are you?
He thought at first to let her know his real name and details but then changed his mind, he had no idea why but he felt unsafe in telling his real details. Still when he spoke he said out the truth.
“I am here for a research, actually I am a student of journalism and want to make a report on you people”. He had no idea why he had said “you people” and instantly regretted saying so, but the girl showed no sign of displeasure. “We people” she smirked, “ask whatever you want to. I don’t mind talking to someone, for a change.” She had said the last words with such bitterness that it made him shudder, the very thought of the life that girl was spending made him feel terrible.
“So where were you born?”, “here, Karachi”, “and how did you end up here?”, “its a long story” she said this in a deep and saddening voice. “I have all the time in the world”, “time means money in our world” He smiled and took a deep breath “it means the same in ours too”.
The room was getting hot so they both went to sit on the roof top. It was early evening so there no one else was around, the weather was pleasant with a slight breeze. They both sat at some distance, he lit a cigarette and she asked for one too.
“I was ten when my father died leaving behind an ailing mother and two children. My elder brother who was thirteen then worked in a local cement factory by the day and attended night school. After my fathers death he started working double shifts as amma (mother) was too ill to do anything. I never got the chance to attend school and used to work in other peoples house with amma. I don’t exactly remember how or when, but my brother became a drug addict. Initially it was something amma thought she could get hold off, but as days passed he became more and more infected when finally he stopped working at all. All day long he used to sleep and whenever he woke up it was all hell for me and amma. He used to beat us up for money and sold all that was available in the house.
By the time I was twelve, bhaiya (brother) had became a hardcore drug addict as well as a thief. Days went by before either of us would see him, when he last came to home amma tried to stop him from going. She begged bhaiya to stay and promised she would give him money for drugs, but bahiya wouldn’t listen. That night amma died, may be it was her illness but to this day I feel bhaiya is responsible for it. There are two nights I will never forget, the night amma died and the night when I became what I am today. She stopped at this and wiped her eyes,took a few long puffs. Silence fell, he was looking at her, some what mesmerized and touched.
“You know sahab, whats the irony of life?”, “what?”, “it never leaves you, until you are completely destroyed”. Her voice was trembling now and he knew that the human inside her was alive. It took her a few minutes to gather herself again, maybe she was lost in thoughts or may be she was just tired of speaking. When she spoke again however her voice was back to normal. “Bhaiya had moved back in after amma’s death, every single day I saw and loathed him. He was the reason amma had died, she used to cry all night long and prayed all day for his return. One night as I returned to home after working all day I saw that bhaiya was sitting outside the home, only by seeing him I could tell that he was high on drugs. As I neared him he stood up, his eyes were blood red, may be he had cried, he saw me and said “I am sorry chutki” and walked straight past me. I got confused but was so tired that had no idea what he meant. I walked in and to my surprise saw two strange looking men, at least in their late thirties sitting inside my home.
It has been fifteen years since and each and every single night is the same for me. Nothing has changed, except the faces of those strangers. Still I and others in here get treated as if we are animals, still like back then people some how think it is my fault that all this happened and still like back then every single man that sees me sees nothing but a piece of flesh they can abuse. Such was the coldness in her words that it made him feel suffocated. He had no relation with her but he felt as if his heart would explode, the pain of just listening to all this, and she had gone through it.
They talked for at least one more hour, she told how good the aaya (brothel owner) was. She said that all the girls in here treated each other with care and love and that even though the pimps sold them each day and each night when time comes they help them through their sickness and troubled days. She told him that after all this, she and most of the girls used to pray five times a day. They had a separate room for namaz and owned a dress which was used specially for prayer only. She told him that by praying they could at least have some sense of relaxation and know that there were times in the day when they too were nothing but pure. Finally as he was about to leave she said to him, “sahab! yahan sabki kuch aisi he kahani hai!”
He was traveling back to home with a heavy heart, millions of thoughts racing through his mind. He was unable to draw conclusions, or may be there was none. He thought of himself and the people in general, had someone asked him about prostitutes a day before he would have either made a cheap joke about them or would have spoken in disgust. That was the general reaction, people would call them corrupt and characterless, polluting the society, immoral and bringing disgrace to Islam. How dare they say so? And why only were these women highlighted?
By the minute, our society is progressing towards becoming more and more morally corrupt than the women working at brothels. Be it in the name of love affairs, friendship, fashion, fun, social partnership or whatever may you like to call it. The fact is that we are addicted to it (well most of us) and the only difference is that while some people find escape in the forms mentioned above, in which case the girl involved is as guilty as the guy, others need to visit places like Napier road Karachi.