The Narrator






    We were accosted around eleven thirty, just after we'd had our paan, outside Hotel President.  I was puzzled because the Police Station was right across the road.  These were really low-class whores, all sitting in a line in the dark quite close to the hotel.  There were cycle-rickshaws waiting to take away the women and their customers once the deal had been struck. When we saw the women, Badri and I looked at each other with some surprise.  The city administration was getting pretty lax, I thought.  This was, after all, the centre of the city.

    The women were somewhat old and faded. Only one or two seemed to be young.  All of them were squatting on the pavement, looking very much at home.  They had spread out old rugs and sheets, just as petty vendors would, and were sitting quite comfortably. There were quite a lot of women on the pavement, about fifteen at least.  Some were in burquas; the younger ones in thin nylon saris.  There were also some pimps and hangers-on about.

      As we walked up the street towards our car, they solicited us.  One sang a song.  Her voice was bad, but the gestures and words were very clear.  Another simply placed her hand on her genitals and parted her legs slightly. There was a young woman in the shadows, with the flap of her burqua raised up.  Her nose stud made of some cheap stone glinted in the dark.

    These are really down-market prostitutes," Badri remarked. I must admit I was fascinated.  What were these women like? Sone must have been abandoned, abducted, stolen, and sold into the trade.  But, then, these were perhaps the only women in our culture who weren't repressed. I was interested in getting to see

them at closer quarters.  I told myself I didn't want the sex, but only the experience of meeting a prostitute, of talking to her, getting to know her. Was such a wish impossible?

    "Badri..." I began.

    "You don't need to say anything, Sir, I know."

    Intrigued, I walked back to the car with him.  Badri suggested that we go back to the hotel and call up some really nice looking girls.  We could even get some college girls or local models if we wanted.  We'd have to pay much more for them of course.  The idea of making it with a college girl was revolting.  "For heaven's sake, Badri, I teach them myself."

    "You never know," he continued, "you may even meet one of your students!"

    "Please Badri, stop it."

    I wasn't into that kind of sex; there was nothing dangerous or exciting about it, I thought.  The woman came in, you paid her, she stripped, you had your little party, she dressed again--and left.  If you paid for the night, she would sleep with you for longer hours, and you could play out all your fantasies on her until more than your body ached.  Then, of course, she left just as before.

    "No," I told Badri, "I, I want to visit a proper brothel."

    "There's nothing remotely proper about a brothel, you know," he said quietly.

    So we turned the car around again, near Saifabad.  We drove back towards the old city.  Then a funny thing happened.  Badri stopped the car near the Public Gardens and went inside.  A few minutes later, while I was wondering what he was up to, he returned with another man.  Badri didn't bother to introduce me

to him.  He sat quietly in the front, with the driver.

    We drove to a house of ill-repute, one of the last in the so called "Mehboob-ki-Mehandi" area in the old city.  The price of real estate was going up so the women were gradually being hustled out by thugs, pimps, and the police.  Soon the area would be sanitized, the old kothas sold, and the whole street turned over to some Marwari or Reddy real estate developer.

    Our car crawled its way through dark alleys, sometimes disturbing an odd cur.  A mottled cat crossed our path at an intersection; the driver swore under his breath.  Most of the lanes were dark, it being well past midnight now.  Badri was explaining how such houses made money.

    "They get you completely drunk and then take all or most of your money from you.  That's why people never go to these places alone, but always in groups.  Then the thing is to pick a bakra or scapegoat for the day, and have fun at his expense.  Or, in a group of four or five, one or two can have a real ball and pass

out, while the others take them home.  Most men who visit such kothas are married," here he paused and then continued, "like you, and some are too squeamish to have sex. They only watch the mujrah, allow themselves to be seduced, then pass out.

    "The whole idea in a kotha was to get you to part with your money.  The woman shows a little leg, then a little bosom, allows you to fondle her, keeps teasing you till you gave her all your money, bit by bit.  That is the only way she will let herself get close to you. Once your money is over, they lose interest in you completely.  Then you're unceremoniously shown the door."

    The brothel we went to was on the first floor of a dirty building.  The stairs up were lined with pan-spittle.  The lane smelled of urine and semen.  We heard music, dancing, and laughter as we alighted.

    I got a better look at Badri's companion in the light.  He was a good looking boy, dark and muscular, with a two-day stubble.  He couldn't have been older than twenty.  Now I understood why the Public Gardens was also known as the Gandu Bagicha, gay park.  Badri explained that he wanted the boy but the boy wanted a girl; so they would have a threesome in one of the rooms upstairs.

    When we reached the head of the stairs, we were accosted by the "keepers" of the house.  There was an old madam, all made up, just like in the movies, a couple of thugs by her side, and a young man, very fair and with light eyes, who called her "Mummy." Badri went in first with his boyfriend and told the lady what he

wanted.  The woman looked offended.  She pulled a long face and said, "This is a clean house.  We don't go in for the strange stuff."

    Badri replied without batting an eyelid, "How much?"

    The woman thought she had fazed him when she said, "Two hundred for two hours."

    Badri took out two hundred-rupee bills and handed them to the woman.

    Then he also said, "We have no weapons.  You can check.  But if you try anything funny, I'll have this place closed up.  I know some people in the Police Commissioner's office."

    The woman covered her ears and said, "Toba, toba.  We don't trouble gentlemen like you.  Only drunks and other badmashes.  I personally assure you that we'll treat you very well."  She turned to her assistants and said, "Hein na?"  They nodded, smiled, and said, "Ma kasam."  Mother promise.  Everyone laughed

though I found the joke gruesome; who knew who the mothers of these men were?

    When it was my turn to specify my likings, I merely said, "I want somebody young, soft, and innocent..."

    The Madam smiled knowingly and said, "Of course, you look young, soft, and innocent yourself."  The toughs guffawed.  "But it'll cost you."  Badri took out another two hundred rupees and said, "The best for my friend."  Then he added, "Don't ask for more because I haven't got more money."  Again everyone

laughed.  It was my turn to say something, "I only want to talk to her, I promise..." This really threw everyone into splits, though I didn't know what was so funny.

    I entered the room and shut the door behind me.  It was an old, old room, with a high ceiling and big windows.  There were old style wooden shutters on the windows; on top of the long window was a semicircular extension with sections of coloured glass. The floor was an old style mosaic which you don't find any

longer. The bed was a large four-poster.  But though the furniture and room must have been handsome once, they were quite dilapidated now. The curtains were torn.  There was litter in the corners.  The floors were stained in many places, and the mosaic badly chipped here and there.  The bed creaked when the girl

seated on it moved.  The sheets were stained and smelly.

    The so-called attached bathroom was even filthier.  The commode was broken and stained.  The toilet seat was missing. The flush didn't work.  The tap leaked.  The wash basin was an old Shanks make, at least twenty years old.  The room itself was airless, probably not a bathroom at all in the original design.

     The girl on the bed was barely out of her teens, light-skinned and large-eyed.  She had a persistent cough and looked frail.  She was chewing pan.  She looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and hatred.

    I wanted to talk to her but found her uncommunicative.

Instead, she undressed most unceremoniously.  She then lay on the bed and said, "Come, get on with it."  Her small breasts receded into her thin chest as she lay, staring at the ceiling.  Then she stretched her hand over her head and turned her head to give me a look of impatience and annoyance. There was a dark stubble where her armpits had been shaved.  My eyes trailed down her body, from her sunken stomach, to her exposed sex.  Her pubes were clean shaven; her sore, dry, and bare sex made me think of famine and starvation.  Her complete lack of self-consciousness or modesty were totally unsettling.  Her eyes seened to mock me and my shock.  "I am a whore, a prostitute.  I sell my body for money. What kind of decorum can you expect from me?" she seemed to ask.

    I turned away from her.  I tried to steel myself.  My heart was bleeding but I stanched it ruthlessly.  Bracing myself, I walked over to the bed, as to the edge of a precipice.  Like taking the disastrous plunge, I lowered myself on her bed. Suddenly, I thought of Neha, but there was a film of tears in my eyes.  I couldn't see her.  Instead, here, beside me lay another young woman, her body like ivory, cold and smooth.  When I touched her, I felt as though a shock of pain had run through me.

My body and mind rebelled as I lay down by her side, still clothed.  I was about to pass out.

    The woman half turned to me.  Her face softened when she saw the tears in my eyes.  "This is your first time, isn't it?" she said softly.  Then the little sympathy that was in her tone left her.  She unzipped me expertly, pulled down my pants.  She also yanked off my underwear.  Now I felt helpless and exposed, just as degraded as she was.  She put one bare leg on my thigh.  I stared at her breasts and genitals with a strange fascination as if I had never before seen naked female flesh.  Very timidly, I moved my hand to touch her.  She stiffened at once, but didn't resist.  I fumbled in my shirt pocket for the packet of condoms which Badri had given me.

    She saw my efforts and said with a smile, "Topi pehen ni hai?"  Want to wear a hat?

    For the first time in the brothel, I laughed.


  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape