By Subhash Chandra
Since the time he attained consciousness, he found himself in the company of the old beggar, whom he called Baba (father) and a street dog who was the beggar’s pet. The beggar had found the newly-born twins—a boy and a girl—near the Railway Goods Yard in front of GB Road, (Garstin Bastion Road), the Red Light area in Delhi. It was freezing cold and the babies had turned blue. The old man covered them with all the rags he had. But only the boy survived. The three of them lived on the measly food the beggar’s alms could muster.
When the child was four years old, the beggar died and he began to wander around GB Road, with Kallu in tow. All sorts of shops function on the ground floors, while the remaining three floors are kothas, each run by a Bai. The shopkeepers knew him. While begging from the shops and the passersby, the old man used to carry him as a baby in his arms.
In the daytime the shops transact business as in any other market with no clue to the uninitiated what the rundown three floors above the shops house. After sunset these houses come alive in garish colours, sharp scents, and liquor-smell. Entry is from the rear along a narrow potholed road, where the pedestrians have to zigzag their way through the cycle-rickshaws, autos (three wheelers) and hand-carts. The customers go up the perpetually damp and stinking staircases whose walls are stained red with betel-spit. The brimming primal male sex-drive makes life bustle and throb on the kothas.
The child grew up to be eleven years old.
In the day, many of the prostitutes stood in the balconies watching the flow of life on the road with which they had little touch. They were not allowed to go out into the city without an escort (the muscleman) of the Bai. That was the only source of diversion, but it was occasional.
One day a woman called out to him. ‘Chhotu, come up.’ She sent him to buy a bottle of scented oil. When he came back, she gave him a twenty five paisa coin.
He got a name that day.
Over time, the Bai and the other prostitutes of this kotha—one of the largest with twelve women—began to get sundry things from the market through Chhotu and he became an errand boy. The Bai allowed him a corner on the kotha, which was not visible to the customers, as the sight of a piteous child could dampen the intensity of their sex urge. He was scrawny, his face poky and pale, his eyes sunken and teeth discoloured. Kallu was not allowed upstairs. He loitered around on the road, but whenever he spotted Chhotu, he would vigorously wag his tail and follow him bouncily.
Chhotu, thus, became a part of the grimy world where the chipped and decaying buildings were in sync with the chewed up and sapped bodies of the whores. They talked, joked, laughed and teased each other, and crassly flirted with the visitors to lure them. But they were scraped out from inside. Occasionally, one would shed silent tears in solitude for her family, lost forever.
The Bai was well fed, sported gold ornaments and spoke in a commanding voice. The women were in awe of her and obeyed her unquestioningly. Chhotu would be around in the day as a handy-boy till the women got busy in decking themselves up with cheap cosmetics for the business at night. Then he was dispatched to his hidden corner. But Chhotu did not go to sleep for a long time and avidly watched the goings on.
It was natural, therefore, for him to attain puberty rather early. He liked a particular girl whose smile was charming and filled him with joy. But he knew he had to suppress the urge or else the consequences would be disastrous! He might lose the shelter and would have to beg like his Baba.
However, one day he could not control himself. The object of his desire was cooking. He went and sat by her side.
‘Kya re, Chhotu, you have nothing to do?’
‘No’, he said and looked at her in a way she was too familiar with. She decided to have a little fun with him.
‘How do you like it here, Chhotu?’ she asked.
She raised her eyebrows in mirth.
‘I mean, it’s nice in here’, he said smiling awkwardly.
‘What’s so nice in here?’
He looked around cautiously. But the word got stuck in his gullet.
Suddenly, the word flung ou tof his mouth like a stone from a catapult: ‘You’.
She gave out a tinkling laugh.
He felt encouraged and held her soft breast. His body trembled with the electric pleasure that coursed through him.
She smiled, gently removed his hand and pinched his ear. ‘First get big enough, idiot.’
How to convince her that he was big enough? How to tell her he could make love to her as no one else could? But she sent him on an errand to bring something from the market, and that was the end of the session, and his hope.
Chhotu entered seventeenth year.
His sex-drive had bloomed. At times, he soaked in life at the kotha into the wee hours. In the day time, he saw women moving about half-clad, careless with their bodies in front of him and that sent him into convulsions. But even now none of them took him seriously. Though he had his favourite, but now he lusted after all the women. He wanted to go to bed with any one of them.
One day, in the afternoon, one of them had gone to the terrace to pick up the clothes she had put on the line for drying. He stealthily went up and enfolded her from behind.
But the woman pushed him away, irritated. ‘Have you gone mad, Chhotu?’
Not one of them would let him come close. He was confused. What was wrong with him? When he was small, some of them played games with him on the terrace and even fondled him. He had gone out of his way to help several of them by getting medicines in the January chill at midnight, or buying tea leaves, betel-nuts, and sundry items in the blazing June sun. But none obliged him. Why?
The frequency of his convulsions increased and so did the trips to the roofless bathroom on the terrace where he managed relief by himself.
Two more years passed.
Chhotu was promoted. One day, as he was returning from the market, a first-timer made an inquiry and he brought him up. Since then from an errand-boy he became a pimp. The regular pimp had grown old and the Bai had been mulling replacement as he could not muster enough customers. She gave Chhotu a chance and he proved his mettle. The life spent at the kotha made him learn the ropes quickly and his gift of the gab helped him. The number of clients shot up. He continued to be called Chhotu and still slept at the kotha. Everyone was happy—the Bai, the whores and Chhotu himself.
Years kept adding height and muscle to his body. The onset of youth and a regular income had filled out his face and emaciated body and he looked presentable. Chhotu became a man, in all senses.
He had developed a knack of sizing up a potential customer. He would approach him casually and begin to work on him in whispers. His sensual, erotic descriptions of the voluptuous fairies at the kotha made six or seven out of ten clients follow him. He became an expert pimp envied by his ilk on GB Road.
But there were times when he hated himself. He was aware of all the sordidness that lay behind this tinsel, putrid world. He had got to know how these, once innocent, girls were tricked and brought here from far-flung, hunger-stricken villages in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and even Nepal. False promises about jobs with a rosy future in Delhi, and fake marriage charades in which the parents were often complicit for a measly sum—threw the girls into this blazing hell. He had also been privy to the miserable stories of some of the women, who wistfully talked about their families forever lost.
Over the years, he had seen nubile girls with welts and bruises for refusing to get initiated. Brutal beating, solitary confinement in a cubicle, denial of food for days on end and finally sometimes the muscleman—at the behest of the Bai—forcing himself on her, broke a girl’s resistance. He could not forget the expression on the face of a new girl going into a cubicle for the first time. She looked like a goat on way to the slaughter house. Enticing men—sometimes trapping an innocent passerby by titillating his libido—engendered guilt in him.
The Bai liked him, no doubt, but still she often cheated him on the commission by reducing the number of customers he had brought on a particular day.
‘You were lucky you survived. Your sister could not’, the old man had told him one day.
He acutely missed his dead sister and tried to visualize her face. But the faces of the women at the kotha floated before his eyes. He shuddered! It was just as well she was dead. But for days, he continued to think of her and felt dejected.
Once he dreamt of her. She did not look like any of the women he brought up customers for. Thank God!
She came and sat silently on the cot and smiled. He was thrilled that he had a sister! But then a dread gripped him. How had she got his address? Did she know what kind of a place this was? Yes, she did. She held his hand and led him down the stairs. She wanted to take him out of here, to a decent, clean, respectable place. Suddenly, a truck trundled down the road. In a flash, she pushed him aside but lay mangled herself. She had died a second time to save him! He sat up awake and wept bitterly.
‘What’s it, Chhotu? You’re still lolling on the cot. It’s time to get to work and bring customers’, said the Bai.
‘I’m not going today.’
‘Why?’ The Bai was surprised.
‘Don’t feel up to it.’
She smiled amusedly. ‘Very good! This evening the Seth is not in a mood to work.’
He did not respond.
‘Come on and get going. Or else we would be losing out on clients.’
‘No, I won’t. I want to take a break.’
The Bai was shocked. ‘Arre O Sahib, there is no break in the lives of whores and pimps. We work every single day to survive. Don’t you know?’
He remained lying.
Her patience was running out. She felt like calling her muscleman. But she did not want to lose him. Her Kotha was doing better than all the others. He was by far the best pimp around.
‘You’ve gone mad. What’ll you eat?’
‘I have some money.’
‘Chootia, how long will that last?’
Chhotu had become immune to abuses and insults. ‘I don’t know.’
‘You street dog, I’ll get you admitted to Shahdara mental hospital! You need treatment urgently’, she fumed.
After she had gone, he got up and went out. But he did not look for customers. Instead, he went to the Railway Goods Yard and spent the night, lying down on a pile of bundles. But he could not sleep a wink. Mosquitoes punctured his body all over. The next morning, he slunk into the Kotha. The Bai saw him but she was too shrewd to escalate matters.
His constant proximity to women having sex turned his desire into a raging fire. He felt heat shooting out of his ears, nostrils and eyes. If not satiated he would burn into ashes. He felt he would lose control, drag one into a cubicle, bite into her succulent flesh, and knead her body. At other times, during the day, in his idle moments, he would fantasize about the one he fancied. She was the most attractive of the lot. Even now, occasionally she joked with him or chatted about the world outside.
One day he went out and appeared at his Kotha drunk, dressed in new clothes, wearing perfume, and smoking a cigarette—instead of his usual beedi—like a Bollywood hero.
None of the women, including the Bai, recognized him at first glance. But in a few seconds they did. His favourite was busy with a customer. He walked up to the girl who wore jeans and T-shirt at night to heighten her sensuality. Her breasts and thighs showed to her advantage.
‘What’s all this Chhotu?’ she asked.
‘He wants you, heroine!’, quipped a woman. There was a collective titter.
He did not speak. He just put money in her hand—an amount double her rate—and tried to lead her towards a cubicle.
But she stood rooted to the ground. When he looked at her inquiringly, she hurled the money at his face and screamed in a shrill voice, ‘Sssaale, showing me the money? Know who you are? Do you? You are a pimp …a bhadwa … yes, a bhadwa! (pimp). A mangy dog surviving on our leftovers! I will not allow you to touch my body at any cost. You will contaminate it. You are dog shit! Know that?’
He stood stunned and immobile for some time and then slowly turned to leave. Suddenly, a kick landed on his butt, and he lurched towards the staircase.
He dragged himself down the steps with leaden feet and walked distraught and dazed, in the middle of the road, oblivious of the world around him.
Kallu was trailing him softly, silently.