I can’t believe this!
I get up from my chair and bring the international magazine from my bed. I flip through the pages to find the article I’d been reading last night, ‘Slavery in the 21st Century.’ It’s a profoundly moving and exhaustive article about teenagers being forced into prostitution in Cambodia. These little girls are incarcerated and made to serve their captors, until her body pays off the money the pimps stipulate for them, or until she contracts HIV. I recheck the name of the writer and photographer of the article with the one who has just messaged me in Facebook. It’s hard to believe that the name matches. And so does the profession. She’s a women’s rights activist, and the same lady who writes powerful articles about violence against women, women’s issues and reclamation of women’s rights, in this monthly international magazine. And such a great personality has chosen to connect with the puny me! Exuberant, I chat with her for a little while, and book the next flight to Mumbai.
As I wait at the guests’ lounge of a multi-storeyed office building in Navi Mumbai, the lady at the reception walks up to me.
“Excuse me, sir.”
I look up at her.
“Ma’am is calling you to her office. Fourth floor.”
I get out of the lift and open a ground glass door to a large office area. The teakwood walls and the ceiling have an exotic, yet antique look. Even before I can say anything , I’m greeted by a stunningly beautiful lady wearing a jet-black suit and a striped white shirt underneath. “Namastey,” she folds her hands. I fold my hands, greet her back, and sit down across her worktable.
“Thank you for coming here from so far,” she says. In my best guess, she’s in her late twenties. I’ve met and interacted with many people across the world. But to be perfectly honest with you, I’ve never seen such a humble person of this rank, at the first sight.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” I say.
She smiles. “I follow your ‘United Against Violence—Inspiring Women, Standing Up for Them’ page in Facebook regularly. I must say you’re doing a great job out there. I believe, awareness is the key to the first step to stop violence against women.”
“Thank you very much. Such inspiring words from someone like you would serve as a beacon in all my future endeavours. Thanks again, Miss Singh.”
“You’re most welcome.” She looks into my eyes. Her mesmeric eyes shimmer in their own light. “I really appreciate your work. But you know, one question. strikes me all the time. What made you join this fight? It’s a woman’s job to fight and reclaim our rights. Why’d you join the fight, being a man?”
“Since my childhood, I’ve always dreamed to be a soldier. As I grew up and stepped into the twenty-first century, I came to realize that India needs more soldiers not to go to war, but to support the pivotal battle of the nation—to fight for women who have been debased and devolved by patriarchy and misogyny, since time immemorial, in order to reclaim the rights that have always been rightfully theirs.
“I wish there were more people in the world, who share this wonderful dream as you do.”
Her words warm my heart. She says, “Are you working somewhere?”
“Not really… I left my job last year in December to hit the streets and join the global fight against violence on women.”
She smiles heartily this time, and nods with her eyes closed. After a pause, she says,” That day, you mentioned that you were trying to write a book about the life of a prostitute in India, when I asked you to come here. Ain’t I right?”
“But why would you choose a prostitute to be the protagonist of your story?
Why no other woman? There are lots of successful and strong women to write books about.”
I look straight into her eyes with a convincing gaze, and say, “Because I believe prostitutes belong to a special category of strong women who dedicate their lives to heal the world, in return for some green stuff that can never buy them back what they’ve sold. You know, Miss Singh, every prostitute carries the burden of an unsaid story within her heart. I wanted to remove a part of their burdens and set them free by being a messenger of the most desired, yet the most despised, dare I say, citizens of the country.
“Interesting…” Miss Singh shifts in her chair. “How did you manage to get so much insight on prostitutes?”
I respond with a subtle smile.
“Well, have you started your research?” She asks.
“Yeah, I did long before. I even went to a couple of brothels to gather reports.”
Curiosity glitters in her eyes. “Tell me more,” she says. “Have you been successful?”
”Not really,” I say, “the sex-workers kicked me out. Well, literally…”
Miss Singh bursts into laughter, looking upwards at the frosted, white lamps under the ceiling. “I understand. You know why?”
I frown with a questioning look. She says, “It’s because the world has turned their hearts into stones. And you can’t squeeze blood from a stone. The last thing they’d do is trusting a man.”
I get more frustrated. Why did I ever dream to be an author for women, when the reality is so indifferent? All I’ve seen is failure for the whole year, even before starting to write my book. But Miss Singh reads the unsaid words from my discouraged face and says, ”Don’t worry… It’s your lucky day. I’ve got a little surprise for you! Today, I’ll tell you the story of a girl I know, a girl who’s very close to my heart…”