“ It was in the summers, about 30 years from today. I was pretty like those girls in TV serials. We didn’t have much, but Abba and Ammi spared enough for all my brothers and sisters, every month. I remember going with Abba to the vegetable market. Fond memories, sometimes, they still bring tears. Rest in peace!
Close to Morasa was this shantytown of Junagadh where Abba would take me to meet his friends. It was in the summers. I don’t remember this moment very well. I was ripe of age at a bustling 17. It was here in one of the old town dhabas where I met Tulsi. I don’t remember much but he was a handsome face. Tulsi was staggering tall, had dark eyes and a decadent sense of humour. We began to meet often.
It was a maddening sensation, the teenage rush, the sense of glitter pouring through your eye. We hadn’t yet said our ‘I love you’s but I am definite, we both felt it.
It was in the winters, Ammi walked me in through a door to Abba’s lifeless body. There. Lifeless. I don’t remember this moment well, but what a horrid face. A bus had run over his walking self, not even sparing his face. When I think of him, that horrid… horrid-horrid… the horrid face is all I can recall.
Times were tough but Ammi was braving through it all. We still had enough money and I never asked how she was managing, why her ‘workplace’ had such oddities in timing. She said she’s nursing and that emergencies happen at any hour. Sometimes, four times a day. It got tougher and Ammi walked me in through a door to a galore of bodies, not dead, but indulgent in sex. This was Ammi’s workplace.
Times were getting to the toughest; she timidly asked me if I wanted to share her load of work. I acquiesced. I was young flesh. A delight to the male gaze. Corrupt. But I was getting paid more. And soon, Ammi wouldn’t have to work anymore.
All this while, Tulsi was there for me. The amorous cinders burned through even the darkest nights. He saved me. But… he didn’t know me… that I sell sex. He didn’t have to know me. It hurt, sometimes violently, that I had to hide but I had a family to keep alive.
It had to happen, and so it did. He found out. I was the crown flower of a tree that grew endlessly. He plucked me from up there and buried me beneath the root. The separation was a nail being forcefully torn apart from the finger. He said that the sex we had, behind closed curtains, has corrupted his insides, that he can feel the many men in him that have entered me on sporadic nights, that his stomach bawls and turns knowing that he too has entered my violated body, that I wasn’t his possession but possessed, albeit briefly, by many men.
He left. I cried. But I still had food in my mouth, blood in my veins, a soul in my body that wouldn’t escape until I delete the vessel. Every time I would bring the knife to my throat, my body would resist and I failed each time, for I still had people to live for. Ammi passed away 3 years later, and I married off my siblings. They all had the knowledge of my profession. They left too. I don’t blame them either. They had their lives ahead.
What could I, an uneducated, selling morsels of my body for morsels of food, corrupted, impure woman offer? Just their lives. Broken, torn, characterless, helpless, and deserted, I was all. The body I tried to delete, it still didn't leave me. And I learnt, I am my only companion, my only saviour, my only salvation.
And so, I left on an adventure leaving my town to a bigger city. You might know it as the city of dreams, but it was where my nightmares stopped – Mumbai. I found sisterhood and learnt how to smile. My body saved my soul and I earned good money through it. I sold sex.
Years passed. It was in the winters, when one day my mundane life was thrown at the devil. A sister walked me in through a door to meet a ‘stranger’. She said that he told he was my old friend. Friend? What friend? I knew only sisters. It was Tulsi. Yes, I longed for him. Yes, I yearned for him. Yes, he was right there, in front of me in true flesh and bone. Yet, I didn’t want him to be there. That life was over. I am here now, happy in my own caress. Why is he here? He answered –
Zuleikha, I am here. Zulu, l have come. Zulu, please take me in.”
Author’s Note: As I work with sex workers here in Bhuj, Gujarat, I hope we can respect people and their choices even if they may not necessarily match our own compass. While it comes to your eyes as a story – to them, it was their reality. Let us not be judgmental of their past or present. The sex worker is an excellent raconteur and their storytelling was, in fact, more dramatic but for the purposes of clarity and context, it has been edited and translated from Hindi and Gujarati. They chose to be not named.
Their pseudonym Zuleikha was chosen because their story anti-paralleled Zuleikha’s in the Surah Yusuf (Chapter 12 of the Holy Qur’an) for a long bit. I saw this blog-post as a means to redeem the original character of Zuleikha.
Tulsi, as one may know, is sure a sacred and divine herb but there’s a catch. Tulsi employs allelopathy (i.e. when a plant releases biochemicals that adversely affect the growth of other plants around it). What is the Tulsi here up to? See you next time!