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(Author is Editor-In-Chief of upcoming apolitical and illustrated family magazine FOLKS and Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London (UK))
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It took me a lot of time to decide whether or not to write about this incident in my life. As a guy who has been born and brought up in a relatively conservative and God-fearing family, my values are mostly that of a "middle-class" man. Sex is still taboo for this class. However, the fact that I have written openly about it is a verity, and I have no regrets because I don"t feel any guilt for writing what I think is right.
It happened a few weeks ago when I was in Goa. Goa is today, among the world"s foremost tourist destinations. People of all colours and creeds are found here. Their purpose for coming here-to "enjoy"! Prostitution too, is very much a part of this. I wasn"t aware of this fact until I was at Margao beach.
I was alone, walking parallel to the waves. Walking steadily, I was recalling all the momentous incidents in my life. The first woman I fell in love with, the person who gave me so much without any expectations; my parents, away from whom I was to start a new life; and also, my friends and admirers who have been a source of not just perpetual happiness but also inspiration.
After walking a few paces, I decided to sit on one of the benches. Suddenly, I noticed a young lady, somewhere in her mid-20s, sitting at a distance from me. She was beautiful and charming; but there was something unrealistic about her. I could not for the life of me, figure out why a lady would be on the beach in the evening, all made up-a lot of make-up on.
As I always do, I gave her a smile which she reciprocated. I felt like talking to her. Being a person who has made so many friends, I truly don"t believe in the concept of "strangers". A person is stranger to you as long as you don"t know him or her. And once you know that person he or she is no longer a stranger. That"s my philosophy.
Surprisingly, she herself came over and offered a handshake saying, "Hi! I"m Natasha." And I replied, "Hi, nice to see you, Natasha. I"m Mahesh." "Can I sit next to you"? she asked, a bit artificially. "Sure, please do!" I assented.
For a while we didn"t talk. I am not very comfortable with women. Yes, I have interacted with them, but not so well. I am not a "ladies man". I am good-looking, but still I haven"t been lucky with women.
"So what"s your plan tonight"? she asked. "Well. I"m not sure. my lady", I said. "Would you like to take me with you"? she asked. I was dumbfounded! "Is she a prostitute"? I asked myself. I didn"t have to wait long for the answer. "I will take just 500 bucks", she said. "Oh, damn"! I thought, "this isn"t happening. Or is it"?
I felt like running but I stayed put-for no reason. Most of the things I do in life haven"t had any "reasons". I asked her why she was in this profession. She wasn"t honest when she answered, "I love it"!
She spoke good English, but her accent was artificial. "Well my friend, I am not interested in sleeping with you," I said adding "I haven"t been with a prostitute in my life. You are the first one. So I would like to know something about you."
She was a bit hesitant. And she told me stories I didn"t want to believe. Mostly because they were the kind you find in movies. I told her very frankly, "Look lady, I am not able to believe you because your eyes aren"t honest. I am a man who appreciates people in all hues and colours. I have a knack with people and can tell in a few minutes whether or not, they are lying to me. You are lying."
She smiled a while, scratched her head with her index finger, and looked away for a while. Perhaps she was not prepared to share her story with me. "What are you anyways" she asked. I laughed, before I countered, "What do you think I am"? She was completely unprepared for this kind of a situation. "I don"t know. You are an enigma to me", she said, adding "but yes, you do look like a good-hearted person".
"Thank you so much. But how can you say that"? I enquired, rather enthusiastically. "That"s because if you were someone who was too orthodox, you would have run away from me and if you were a sex maniac, you would not have wasted any time in getting me into bed. You are a strange person, but you look good. I hope you aren"t a psycho", she said.
I couldn"t resist it and erupted in laughter. "Sorry, but I haven"t met any psychiatrist who could confirm or deny it" I conveyed.
I went on to have a great conversation with her. She was a very experienced woman; perhaps older than I had initially thought her to be. But all that matters is that she was a great companion. Finally, after listening to several anecdotes from me, she felt more comfortable. Her artificiality began to fade. She was a different, but more honest-looking person to me now.
"What is your background, Natasha"? I asked, again. "Well, Natasha is my business name. I was called Mujassim and come from Bengal. Our home is close to Bangladesh. It"s replete with poverty. People don"t have enough money to buy a loaf of bread a day. So I came here to earn a living."
"Who is in your family"? I enquired.
"Just my husband, his parents, and two younger siblings", was her reply.
"Did you say "husband""? I queried.
"Yes, that"s right".
"What does he do? Does he know you do this?"
"Well, actually he was a farmer. A few years ago, he had a major accident which left him partially handicapped. He was the only bread earner of the family; his parents are ill all the time and younger siblings are still studying. and yes, he does know what I do here." She looked down as she said this.
"Can"t you do something else"?
"Like what"? she asked.
"You speak good English, perhaps you could get placement in a call centre in Bangalore or some place", I suggested.
"Well, someone did tell me about that, but that is not sufficient. My husband"s siblings are studying and we want them to get a good education. Also, I learnt English very recently. There is a person who runs such classes and charges a nominal fee," she said.
Suddenly, I was in introspection mode.
"What are you thinking of"?
"Well Mujassim, I was just wondering why a person like you would get into this? It"s such a filthy affair. And that too hailing from a community where women are ever veiled, I find your story so saddening," I told her.
"But what would you say of those women who even after marrying and having kids go after other men? What about those who, despite hailing from distinguished families continue to sleep with men whom they are never going to marry? Why only us?" she retorted, this time strongly.
"If you go back in history, even the Islamic civilization had sex trade. Because it was the only mechanism by which "virtuous women" could be protected from rape and other sexual abuse. We still do that job," she said.
"We might take some money. so what? It"s our business. We are doing it for the sake of a livelihood. If someone could offer me a few lakhs of rupees, enough to sustain my family, I would happily go back. I don"t like doing this-to be VERY HONEST! But I am helpless. I may lose my conscience, sir, but my family survives. And what faith am I to follow on an empty stomach?"
Her words were truly thought-provoking. We continued our conversation for a while, before parting ways. I offered her 500 bucks, but she declined to accept. "It"s for your time. So, have it", I told her when she refused the money. "No, sir, that"s fine. You are a nice man. For years I didn"t find a person who could talk to an attractive lady like a good friend. I feel much better after talking to you. Please don"t mock my sentiments by giving me money," she said, further adding, "You have a fatherly image".
She brought a few tears to my eyes. I saw no flaw in her, she was absolutely fine. She was in the wrong job, but her intentions weren"t wrong. I just prayed to God to give her a righteous job. I hope her sacrifice will not be forgotten by those who are benefiting from it her in-laws.
Prostitutes are looked at with shame and indignity by our society. True, they sell their body in exchange for money but what about those women, and, of course, men, who get into sexual relationships with every other person? Aren"t they worse than those prostitutes? I"m sure they are!
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