Read Part 1 here
Zuleikha, I am here. Zulu, l have come. Zulu, please take me in.
He looks weak. Dead, if I were honest. I had cut off my past, my past had cut me off. Why is he here…
Zuleikha, I looked for you. Zulu, I looked for you in the whorehouses. Zulu, you weren’t anywhere.
What do I do with living in a place where everyone abandoned me? It’s not my home. My home is where I was accepted, with my sororal family.
Zuleikha, I asked every whore. Zulu, I asked them about your whereabouts. Zulu, what sin have I committed.
Zuleikha, they tempted my manhood and I didn’t resist. I thought I could forget you, our sex too, if I spent every night with another. Zulu, I thought your image in my heart would blur with all the whores I spent my nights with. Zulu, but that never happened. Look what it gave me. My body is rotting.
What is he saying?
Zuleikha, I am here, I have the virus. Zulu, I have come, I have the virus. Zulu, Please take me in, I have the virus.
Sleeping around, violating their bodies, without protection – he had contracted HIV. News spreads fast and the sex workers wouldn’t consent to sex with him, not because he had HIV, but because he was pathetic. It would disgust me every second he would call us ‘whores’, that he would think paying us meant we were his ‘possessions’. I am not an empowered woman. I am just someone trying to live.
He was disgusting. Not his body. He had grown crippled and was struggling to stand. His mind was disgusting. He still longed for sex.
I shame myself, but I was still his friend. He was there for me in times when I had nothing to offer. No relative stood by our side but he did. It was time I repaid the debt I owed him and so I took him in. But. I had my conditions. It will be his penance, for abandoning me, for violating women, that he will never get to touch another body. Not mine, not anyone else’s.
I knew from my sisters where I could treat him, and so I took him to the hospital. I educated him on the work we do. I cared for him. I am not sure if it was my love or medicines. I like to believe it was my love. He got better. And when he did, I took him back to his wife, here, in Bhuj.
She was pristine. Sometimes I wonder, “what a carefully crafted personality HE had made.” She perhaps had an inch of jealousy for me, because I was the ‘Other Woman’. And how beautiful and genuine that was. She disliked me solely for who I meant to Tulsi, not because I was a sex worker; and I can respect that. I have to be honest, I had never felt more respected for my profession than as much by her. Eventually, she came around and Mamta is now my bestfriend. It didn’t happen overnight. It took time, effort and care. Something I know best (:
They had a son – Rahul. Growing up without a father. But look! Now he had two mothers and a father. Eventually, all was forgotten, forgiven and accepted. I believe, my mother was happy, waltzing in the heavens that she now has a grandson.
AIDS isn’t funny and his health had progressed beyond repair. I don’t understand science or why they couldn’t fix him, or if it even was AIDS. He died 6 years later of him knocking on my door in Mumbai. With him dead, Rahul was helpless.
I will never understand these cosmic forces. Or the metaphysics of love. Or why we would be ready to throw our lives for someone that isn’t even bonded by blood.
I told widowed Mamta, that I am still here and that Rahul will never miss a day of luxury until I am alive. I poured all my savings for him and he graduated last year! I think he studied Engineering, I am not sure what he’s upto. Mamta takes care of that, she is more educated than me. I just used to look at the finances. They live in Bangalore now. I decided to stay back and work here, for women like me whose homes were wherever they laid their head.
I don’t do sex work anymore. Honestly, why would they pay an old bird? Some odd times a customer comes and I have to say no. I don’t even have the body for it anymore. Looks like my only companion has also started leaving me. Of course, I am only kidding. But I have to respect my body.
My door is always open to women. It doesn’t matter what they are seeking, be it sex work or no sex work. I will be the home I never had.
Author’s note: Would you call it a happy ending? I believe we can let that thought wander, because it isn’t an ending. Their story, their life is real and we can learn from all the struggles they have endured. I hope this 2-part blog was able to scratch the surface of the many lives of sex workers.
Can you guess why Tulsi and Mamta’s son is named Rahul?
The drawings are from one of the workshops with sex workers of which’s theme was something entirely different (for reference it was ‘One for All, All for One’). So that we all can fire our neurons a little faster, I gave them a paper and sketch pen to draw anything that they like. What I didn’t realise was, that for some of them it was the first time holding a pen and actually using it. The joy on their faces is one to remember for my lifetime. Sharing a few here.