It is said, it is not over till it is over. Shock, disbelief, and then acceptance. It took one whole week for me to accept that Kartik has left me for good.
“Yes Githanjali, you are to be blamed. You are fat. You couldn’t have any children. You don’t have a career. Obviously, he will leave you for a young, smart girl” I muttered to myself.
Heaving my large frame and climbing the hill was not an easy task for me. I wondered if anyone will miss me. Those who cared about me namely my parents had long gone away.
Maybe if I had children, things would have been different. I wanted to adopt, but Kartik was against it. Right from our furniture, to our curtains everything was decided by him. Why object about such trivial matters. Always thinking if he was happy, I am happy.
I knew something was amiss. His business tours, his aloofness everything increased in the last ten years. I was aware of his flings but I never thought he would leave me.
I came to the edge and stood. I didn’t have the guts to go any further. One more step and I would go down the ravine.
My feet were stuck, I mustered courage and took a deep breath was about to jump when I heard someone laughing.
I turned to see a beautiful girl sitting on a rock nearby. “You won’t die from here. At the most, you will break few bones. If you want to die, go to that hill” saying this she pointed to another hill.
“How do you know”? I asked her angrily.
She replied sweetly, “Sweetheart, I am experienced. I know the right spots, and I will help you to finish your life if you want”.
She continued, “Why don’t you tell me your story.”
Her soft voice and angelic face felt very soothing. I couldn’t control my tears. She took me in her arms. It was such a warm hug.
“I am Githanjali.” I blabbered. “I was born in Kalburgi, the poorest part of Karnataka. My parents were daily wage workers in a brick kiln. They spent their lives making bricks, which were used to build beautiful houses, but we barely had a roof over our heads. I used to accompany my parents in the daytime and at night, I studied. When I was 18, I fell in love with the supervisor of the kiln Kartik and we eloped and came to Mumbai”
“His parents did not accept me. We worked very hard. I started doing many odd jobs. I studied, became a teacher for kindergarten. He started his own business. We were very poor, but happy. My income saved us in those days. His business started thriving and slowly we prospered”.
I continued, “We graduated to staying in apartments and then later in a bungalow. From traveling on a bicycle, we went on to have a fleet of cars”.
“So, where is the problem” asked the girl.
“As we prospered, distance in our relationship also increased. I took many treatments for conceiving. The result was hormones gone for a toss, no child, and lots of weight gain.”
Wiping my tears, I told, “Last week, he called me from Delhi and said he wants to marry his girlfriend. She is pregnant. So he wants a divorce”.
The girl replied, “Ok. So you are killing yourself because he wants a divorce?”
“Why don’t you kill him instead?” the girl asked. “Let’s go to your house and we can plan something”
I started liking this girl. There was a comfort feeling about her.
“You can call me Sandy.” She said, pulled my hand and we started going towards my car. I had parked it near the base of the hill.
As we descended, I saw a couple sitting in a corner. The boy’s tongue was way too inside the girl’s mouth.
“Should we give him a torch, I think he is searching for something in her throat” said Sandy.
I couldn’t control my laugh. The couple was startled and stopped kissing.
“Please continue your search,” I told the couple laughing aloud. Sandy was also laughing.
The girl told the boy, “Baby leave it, she looks like a crazy woman”
We were laughing loudly. I haven’t laughed like this in ages. I felt so light and lively all of a sudden.
My car was parked at the base of the hill. Sandy made herself comfortable in the car, smilingly asked
“Do you have any alcohol in your house? I want to get sozzled.”
“Not sure, I don’t drink” I replied.
All kinds of thoughts came to my mind. What if she is a murderer or a thief. Like a fool, I told her everything.
I cleared my throat and asked, “By the way, what were you doing there. Were you also planning to end your life? I don’t know anything about you.”
“I will tell you everything once we reach your house. Stop! Stop here, see there is a wine shop. Can you please bring a few beers and vodka? Please, Please. Once we reach your place, we will chalk out a plan for you. I will help you to take your revenge. But for now, please bring me alcohol”
I sighed and stopped the car. I asked the shopkeeper for beer and vodka. I wasn’t sure which beer to take, so showed Sandy the bottles. She nodded and clapped her hands and started jumping in the car.
“Crazy girl” I muttered.
The shopkeeper and his assistant exchanged a glance and were smiling.
The shopkeeper said, “Please Mam, don’t drink and drive. Lots of checking is taking place.”
I replied, “Oh! I don’t drink, these are for her. Don’t worry.”
They again exchanged a glance and were laughing.
“Crazy Idiots”, I told Sandy as I handed the bottles to her.
“Can you cook something fast, I am famished” Sandy said as she made herself comfortable in the dining chair.
Her demands were increasing. I was getting impatient and scared now. She made herself a drink.
“Cheers, Cheers, to our friendship” She raised her glass.
I made my favorite Lemon Rice. “So tell your story now. Why were you there at the cliff” I asked her as I started eating.
“Wow!! What a combination, Lemon Rice and Vodka. You should try this, Geethu” She ignored my question.
“I don’t drink. Now let’s go to your story.” I said sternly.
“My actual name is Sadhana, Sandy for everyone now. I was born in Jhabua, It’s a drought-hit place in Madhya Pradesh. Like you, we lived in poverty.” Sandy said as she poured herself a third glass.
“I was not as lucky as you though, I was sold by my brother at the age of 16 to Laxmi Akka in Mumbai and Laxmi Akka and her brothel became my home.” Sandy continued
“Laxmi Akka taught me all the trades and I became a high-end escort. Ten years into this profession and my clientele included businessmen, doctors, engineers, architects, politicians, and many more from an educated background.” Sandy smiled
I stared at her aghast. She didn’t have any remorse on her face.
Sandy continued, “I upgraded myself. I had to be updated on the latest topics. To know how to hold a good conversation. I had to attend all high-profile parties, be fluent in English, and even master table etiquettes. Laxmi Akka kept me away from the typical brothel girls. I was in a different class. Of course, half the payment went to her.”
I asked her, “So why did you want to end your life.”
“Laxmi Akka died a few years back and I got bored of this lifestyle also I” Sandy stopped, took a sip, and continued, “I got AIDS”
“What,” I said shockingly. I got up from the chair and started prancing. I looked at the glass, the plate, and the spoon. I did not know what to do.
She calmly continued, “So I committed suicide”
I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying.
“You tried to commit suicide?” I asked her, thinking she has used my cutlery and has AIDS.
“No. I committed, meaning I jumped and died. I had AIDS, not some contagious disease. Also remember I am dead, so nothing will happen to your cutlery.” She replied.
I started laughing, “Enough, you had nearly six glasses of Vodka. We will talk tomorrow and plan out the other things. You can sleep in the other bedroom.”
Sandy shrugged and continued drinking.
I got up with a heavy head. Did I meet Sandy? Was she my imagination?
“Good Morningggg… Geethu. Get up, sleepyhead. I am starving. Can you make something for me”, Sandy said happily. She was dancing around. “I am so happy. I enjoyed my drinks last evening. Thanks Geethu”.
I couldn’t help smiling, “Good Morning. So you are in your senses today. You were speaking rubbish yesterday.”
“I wasn’t speaking rubbish. I told you the truth. Only you can hear and see me. I need your help with something. In return, I will help you with your plan.” Sandy replied.
I was quite angry, “So you are telling me, you are a ghost. A ghost who eats and drinks. You even hugged me.”
“How many ghosts have you seen? Is there a rule that we cannot eat and drink? There are very few people in this world who can see us. You are one of them. It is that simple.”
I recollected last evening’s events, the couple thought I was crazy since they saw me talking to myself. Same with the shopkeeper and the assistant, they were laughing and maybe they thought I was drunk when I showed the beer bottles to Sandy.
“I will wait down for you. Not more than ten minutes please, I am very hungry” She said loudly
Forever hungry, I thought to myself.
After a heavy breakfast of Dosa and chutney, we were on our way to meet Sandy’s friend. I was getting sucked into Sandy’s life. I couldn’t say no to anything. She was happy and excited about everything. A motherly instinct aroused in me.
I asked her while driving, “Who is this friend?”
Sandy was sipping beer from the can, “My advocate”
“Why are you drinking so much? It is not good for your health. Why couldn’t you go and meet him directly? Why do you need me?” I was irritated with her drinking habits.
She smiled and replied, “My health won’t spoil, so I can drink and eat a lot. And I couldn’t meet him directly as he cannot see me. You are the lucky one.”
“You could have just left being an escort when you had enough money,” I told her
She made a face, “We need money for maintenance. For my skin, my body. I was getting paid for all holidays, branded clothes. Which job will give that? We live in a society that judges people according to their profession. A girl becoming a prostitute by choice or force is looked down upon. Doctors, Engineers, Artists sell their brains, their skills. We sell our bodies. What’s the fuss about it? Why should society be judgemental? Why is paying money to have sex unethical?
I couldn’t reply to that. “There is always a way out.”
Sandy smiled, “Your husband must have used some unethical ways to get rich, which is justified obviously.”
She started singing Bon Jovi’s song loudly
It’s my life
I just want to live while I’m alive.
Mr. Atul Verma, the advocate was going through the files, “Good you came, Ms. Githanjali. There is lots of money involved. Sandy has given instructions as to what to do. I never thought she would end her life. She was always so cheerful. If only I knew. “
I just nodded, oblivious to what he was saying.
Sandy was standing next to him. She said, “Isn’t he handsome. He will be perfect for you. Why don’t you date him?”
I looked at her angrily. Trying to concentrate on his words.
“We can’t just donate the money. She wanted to help the sex workers. She wanted to provide medication and health facilities to them. What should we do?” He asked me.
“Maybe we can start a trust on her name.” thinking that he is a lawyer and taking my advice.
Sandy was busy dancing. I ignored her.
“Yes, actually that’s a great idea. You can be one of the trustees. I will contact the NGO that helps in these areas. We will go today to Kamathipura, just to have a look and decide our course of action.”
“I knew he is the right person. He is a divorcee” Sandy said with a sly smile.
“I am not interested in any relationship,” I shouted at her.
Mr. Atul was taken aback, “Even I am not interested. I meant we will all go as a team”
Awkwardly I replied, “I didn’t mean that. I am just scared”
He smiled, “Don’t worry. We will go with proper permissions”.
Sandy was laughing. I thought to myself, what have I got into.
The lanes of Kamathipura gave me the jitters. Atul, Me, Vaidehi, and her team, her NGO helps these women, we all were waiting for the sex workers to join us. They had to be told about hygiene and medical facilities.
Vaidehi said, “They come at their own sweet time. We keep camps for them. Even have a regular checkup. We try to engage them in some other skills. We have Diwali Mela and many other festivals. They don’t show any interest. According to Government Statistics, there are more than two million sex workers and only a fraction of them by choice.”
Rosy, Sweety, Payal, Kajal, Jannat, and many other women came. Some had children. Few children were playing around. I mingled around them leaving my inhibitions. Listening to their stories. I had tears in my eyes. Some men are understanding, some abuse and some do crazy stuff. Some don’t use protection and these women can’t say no to the client, they said.
Few were sold by their fathers, some by lovers. Some drop their wives here and pick them up in the morning. The police and politicians protect but ask for favors in return.
The women were getting anxious, “Dhande ka time ho raha hai.” They complained.
We soon left the place. I couldn’t forget the children. Few were toddlers, some were teenagers.
Vaidehi said, “9 out of 10 children have substance abuse. Girls are forced into the same profession. Proper healthcare, sanitization, and basic rights i.e right to education is required. These kids are discriminated and isolated. In educational institutes, teachers also criticize these children.”
Atul said, “It’s a vicious circle. Difficult to break. With Sandy’s funds, we will give proper medication and health facilities. Besides HIV they suffer from depression and commit suicide. We can’t change anything, but we can help them.”
At home, both of us were very quiet. Their stories haunted me. I couldn’t stop thinking of the children. Sandy was having her Vodka.
“Even I will drink today,” I told Sandy.
“Wow! And the reason?” She asked.
“Just that I am grateful, I could be one of them,” I replied.
Sandy made Tequila shots and shouted happily, “Cheers! Thank you very much Geethu for everything.”
“What did I do? It’s your money.” I sniffed, controlling my tears.
“Because of you, the money will be put to proper use.” Sandy continued, “Now it is my turn to help you. Shall we plot his murder?
I was quiet. I hadn’t thought of Kartik and suicide. I didn’t have any hatred towards him. It seemed trivial now.
“No need. He has given me this house and money for my comfort. He did love me at one time. I wish him happiness.” I smiled.
Sandy came and gave me a hug, “I just have one wish, I want to be born as your daughter in my next birth.You are so beautiful Geethu. You look like Rekha. Tall, sharp features, long hair. You look gracious in a saree. Atul was smitten by you.”
I laughed, “I haven’t been called beautiful in ages.”
Sandy gave the phone to me, “Don’t underestimate yourself. Call him”
I called him, “Atul, I needed to discuss something. I would like to start a school and a hostel for these sex worker’s children. Educated children may help their mothers to get rid of this occupation. They can also learn some skills. Funds? I will manage. But I need your help with the formalities. Can we meet tomorrow? I would like to name it Sadhana High School. Ok. Bye. See you tomorrow.”
Sandy said quietly, “Wow! How will you manage.”
“I will sell this bungalow. I don’t need it. Where there is a will there is a way.” I replied.
Sandy said somberly, “I am so much at peace. I will always be in your heart, remember that.”
“Yes, I know that”, I said as I got up to heat our food.
I called out, “Sandy, your favorite Lemon Rice is ready.” There was no answer.
I searched for her everywhere. Like a whiff of fresh air, she came and vanished. She gave a new meaning to my life. A mixed feeling overcame me. Happy that she was at peace and sad that I lost her.
Two years today since Sadhana High School started. Many people helped me in this venture. Atul, Vaidehi, and many donors.
Whenever I miss Sandy, I sit at our very usual place having Lemon Rice and Tequila Shots.
It’s my Life,
It’s now or never
I just want to live while I am alive…
As for Atul and me, we are taking baby steps in that direction.
Picture Credit: Miguel Oros from Unsplash.com
Team Name: Southern Shots
Authors: Sonali Bijur & Sonali Bangera
. Many brothels are illegally operating in Indian cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkatta, Chennai. There were 657829 prostitutes in the country as of 2016 .. Wikipedia.
” In the age of women empowerment, children of sex workers face ill-treatment. To give protection and care to these kids, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) assumed some guidelines Judiciary empowered that separate schools and hostels should provide for them where they will not get isolated and face discrimination”- Google