The dogs howled and fought amongst themselves again as the food remains from the ever-functioning brothels were splattered in the bylanes of G.B. Road. For the less acquainted, G.B. Road is the Red-Light area of New Delhi which host hundreds of multi-storey brothels. An estimated of 1000 sex workers live here who essentially find their voices lost in the muffled clothes stuffed in their mouths during the “work” they are forced to do. As the city lights shine brightly in the evening, creating a splatter of busyness in the capital, the Red-lights supposedly dance to the tunes of the rich and the tired, sad expressions of the workers hide behind the glamour of the overdone-makeup. My name is Arham, by the way.
I am a 15-year-old orphan who sells newspapers in the day, polish shoes in the noon, sell tea at the Hazrat Nizammudin Railway Station in the evening and cleans the brothels at night. The closest thing to my family is my best-friend Laila, who is a transgender sex worker in one of the brothels. She is in her mid-20s and I got acquainted with her 2 years ago when she saved me from a drunkard who was burning my hands with cigarette stubs and trying to molest me. Knowing nothing about my background or family history, I could have been born in a religious cult organization, a hippy commune or maybe even the rich families in Central City- but I bet nothing exciting lies in my past. I used to live in St. Margaret’s orphanage till I was 10 and was kicked out when another resident child accused me of thieving. When I go to sell newspapers in the morning, I see parents hugging their children and sending them off lovingly. As I said, I have no recollection of what it was like to have parents. Perhaps, it is a mercy. If I remembered the hugs, cocooned in my parents’ arms, being scooped off my feet the minute my lower hip trembled, I would not have lasted a week on the streets.
As I walk around the city in ragged jeans and an unwashed shirt, I wonder how many of you even notice me. I see sad gloomy faces, wearing those white-threaded earphones, sitting quietly in your AC cars and wonder what sadness do these people face. They have food to eat, parents to cater their demands to, friends to call to and a roof to sleep in. What more do these people need? As I tip-toe on the railway tracks, I see people move past, trapped in their own heads as I am in mine. Children laugh, tantrum, cry or whine. I see their parents react: placating, frustrated, sometimes warm. The blue of the trains and the clattering of the steel tracks become my daily sight and sound as unwarranted beatings continue to take a toll on me. Each day draws out so long and thin that I am surprised when the sun finally sets. When I go to clean brothel rooms at night, I often see women lying still on the crafted shiny beds with the fake rose dew still diffusing in the air. Their eyes are open and their hearts are beating, but their souls seem to flicker. They stare at blank walls for long till their manager comes and barks out at them about the next customer and his “requirements.” I feel sad for them. More so, I feel sad for everyone.
I’ve been the same for as long as I can remember. But now, the things around me, aren’t the same as they were before. I feel out of sync with my surroundings. I didn’t know if I moved on slowly or my surroundings have moved faster. Talking to Laila at night gives some respite off the sullen days. Laila tells me that she had studied till the 12th grade before her parents sold her for meagre money to a dealer. She teaches me alphabets each night. I practice them on dry soil along the train tracks. I can spell my name, you know. A R H A M. Laila talks a lot. She once said to me, “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” She cried a lot after that. I didn’t quite know what to do, so I held her hand and sat with her the entire night. She smiled and gave me a warm hug, the next day. We often used to have this conversation about if we were given a chance to be free and go anywhere, where would the other want to go? Laila used to say that she just wanted to board a train with its destination unknown, which might take her to a warm place with no memory. Where no one knew her and maybe she could start a new life. I used to smile at the thought of it. Fate keeps breaking me at regular intervals. I sometimes wonder whether I’m God’s bubble wrap.
I always wondered why birds stay in the same place when they could fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question.
A R H A M