Life and its polarities have always been topics of debates and discussions. What is good and what is bad dominates almost every aspect of our existence. Man is always attracted or curious about the "bad" while the "good" is just normal and boring.
Prostitution has always been considered one of the evils of society, the ladies or girls are labeled as "bad" along with a wide vocabulary of phrases to describe their "fallen state". I was as curious as the normal average human being about these ladies who wear garish make up and gaudy clothes and stand on some bridges of Kolkata in daylight as well as early dark. I used to see them while going to Alipore and there used to be a queer silence in the car with some odd whispers saying "Look at them" while others turned their heads in the opposite direction in an attempt to shut out the seamier sides of the society from their lives.
I was told that Kolkata has these "pick up points" in the midst of the hustle bustle of markets and popular places which I heard but never came across as such as I was always busy going my way and had no special interest in my surroundings. One day I asked the Taxi to stop next to Triangular Park gate as there the road is easier to cross. I saw this very elegant lady dressed in a sari with every pleat in place and jasmine flowers in her hair. I gave her a passing look of envy and rued my ever clumsy appearance and walked on almost coming in the way of a tram that came trundling down the tired tracks of Rashbehari Avenue.
On many evenings I continued to see this lady patiently standing near the gate - each day perfectly groomed and the flowers fresh and fragrant enough for me to catch a whiff. I assumed she was waiting for someone perhaps. One evening I saw a car slowly halt next to her, the man craned out, the woman bent down to speak to the man at the window, their conversations were inaudible as voices were low. A few minutes later she got into the back seat and the car drove off into the dark night.
Another evening I caught sight of her and pointed her out to my husband and said that I see her almost everyday near the gate of the park. He took one look at her and said she is a prostitute of this locality and I should avoid being around the park gate as that was a "pick up point". I connected the cars that stopped and the negotiations and then realization dawned.
I can’t remember any immediate reactions as this was years back but when I think back, my first thought is one of admiration. She and many in her situation have to deal with the unknown on a daily and hourly basis, they have to act out parts, fulfill fantasies, get abused and beaten perhaps, deal with pimps and law enforcers, fight over commissions and the areas of operation and probably other situations which we don’t really want to know about. In this vortex, she and others like her, have to be presentable enough to be purchased - after all what looks good sells more.
On one of my recent visits to Kolkata, I saw her again, same place, the same pristinely pleated sari, the jasmine flowers in her hair, her head held high waiting for a person who she can offer some solace, comfort, passion or love - for a price...