A visit to Sonagachi.

At first I had this idea of doing a live video about my journey but now on when my day has come to an end (nearly) I don’t feel like talking! I am going to write instead. 

That article on Sonagachi in scroll.in took me back to the years when I had read an article on Kerry Hilton and his wife Annie Hilton in the papers. I put two and two together and I wrote to Freeset. They got back to me within two days and asked me what everyone generally asks – why are you interested in visiting and meeting and talking to the prostitutes in Sonagachi? 
That evening after thinking hard I realised that neither am I a social worker, neither do I work for an NGO, neither am I a writer and neither do I have any contacts with anyone who do social work of the kind that I am interested in. So who am I and what interest do I have?!! 

The only solution that I had that evening / night was to write my heart out to someone who I believed would understand what I am trying to say when I say that these prostitutes, these women living and breathing in Sonagachi are the real heroes of the society that I belong to! The struggle they go through day in and out, what keeps them going? What are they made of?! What do they dream of, if at all?!! And I wanted to know them. I wanted to know that woman on the street dressed in completely low cut blouse walking with confidence, with a bright red lipstick and bright eyeliners and fearless! I wanted to meet that woman. 

I wrote to Kerry’s secretary, Jo and she got back to me saying they were touched by my honesty and Kerry wanted to meet me in person but had a crazy travel schedule so we worked out a day which was today and I flew in from Delhi just to meet them and to be with them. 

I went to the Gateway today, which is right at the entrance of Sonagachi and spend time talking to Annie, Kerry’s wife and the women. Now let me see if I can recall all their names; Kuntala, Kakoli, Chhaya ( and my brain gave up! Haha ) .. I met Kerry and I heard something for the first time .. Kerry said to me and I quote “We rarely get emails like yours” I was taken aback cos in my mind I sort of believed that a lot of people work with these women but apparently not! πŸ™‚ 

Coming to my heroes; they are completely dignified, they take dignity to a whole new level. They take honesty to a whole new level. They remember their roots with utmost precision and they remember the day they were sold in Sonagachi. Each of them remembers the day they became “kharap” (a Bengali word meaning bad) .. And I nearly screamed my heart out and said you are not kharap! You aren’t bad. You can never be! They spoke to me about their favourite TV serial, their favourite actor and actress.. I can’t get Kakoli’s reaction to my favourite actor being Shahrukh Khan out of my head πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ She wanted to tell me what a disgusting taste I have in actors! But she quickly smiled and said – o Bhalo (meaning he’s good). 

One of them asked me where I live? I said London. The next question was – where is it?! πŸ™‚ and my head and heart aligned that very minute. I belong to a class of humans where London is known to everyone. I never had to struggle for a piece of bread in my growing up days. I never had to trade my body to pay my rent. I talk about living on the edge and I often give people the example of days when I was broke. I am ashamed of myself today. I don’t know what living on the edge is all about. So the reality that I live and breathe in, is not really real. It is a bubbled up reality that I live and breathe in and after today, I don’t think I can ever say that I have suffered in life – that’ll be a complete lie. 

I can go on and on talking about my heroes and how they hold it all together and take it all in .. Scarred bodies, ill health, not knowing what their basic rights are as humans and so on.. The list is endless. But I will add something else to this list today and my (T) version is this : 
As a woman when I share my bed with a man, without a doubt it converts into love for me. It has to be! A mental connect is far more important than a physical relation. And when I have spent hours with women who have shared beds with men where only a handful converted into love and a home, I cannot but applaud the intensity and degree of detachment that these women have in them towards their own bodies! And here on the outside, we talk of taking of meditation and taking our minds off materials and considering this body as an instrument to do what your soul wants to do! We learn these on the outside. These women do it and this is their living reality. So I ask, with a lot of conviction today, who do you call spiritual?! Them – who trade their bodies like real estates and commodities or us – who sit in silence and try to focus on the breath and think beyond bodies?! πŸ™‚ 
I say, if you need to learn the art of detaching yourself and resigning to just ‘living’ then walk through the streets of Sonagachi..Maybe you can hold your head to your own heart and make sense of how ‘human judgements’ have over the years paralysed our society and the universe that we are a part of! 

Kakoli gave me a strong piece of advice .. She said that I should drink more water πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ and they all said to me “please come and visit us again. Be in touch.” 

If these aren’t real humans walking through planet earth, then surely I am not qualified to say that I am one. 

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