Writing about the lives of “fallen women” is a problematic endeavor, especially in South Asia where the morality of the middle classes defines the views of the “educated”. There is too much romance, tragedy or judgment in such writing. So for an English-language writer to humanize women (and increasingly men) who pursue sex work as a source of earning a livelihood is often quite difficult.
Three years ago, when Mayank Austen Soofi told me about his project, I could not tell him how difficult it would be to write a book about the sex workers of Delhi’s GB Road. Of course there have been some interesting books about South Asia’s sex workers in recent years. British author Louise Brown, for instance, wrote a wonderful account of life in Lahore’s Heera Mandi in her celebrated book ‘The Dancing Girls of Lahore’. Pakistani writer and activist Fouzia Saeed wrote another important book on the subject appropriately titled ‘Taboo: The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area.’ Another book, though a work of fiction, is Feryal Ali Gauhar’s novel ‘The Scent of Wet Earth in August’. It tells the moving story of Fatima, a mute girl from the red light area, and her romance with one Maulvi Basharat from the mosque nearby. I liked Gauhar’s book for exposing the hypocrisy of a moralizing society while adding nuance to characters that were both victims and perpetrators of injustice.
Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District
|Mayank Austen Soofi with his book|
It was a chilly evening in Delhi when Soofi made me read the first five chapters of Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District. My trepidation vanished into thin air as soon as I read the prose, which was nothing like what I had read before on the subject. This book was about characters from the universe of a GB Road kotha, the North Indian equivalent of a salon, a place of performative art and sexual pleasure. I lost touch with Mayank for nearly a year, but having re-read those chapters now, I find them even more visual and melancholic than before. Soofi spent endless days, and sometimes nights, at one particular kotha. He immersed himself in the everyday lives of the women, their children, their pimps and clients, and saw it all not as an outsider but with an empathy and humanity that can only be garnered when you leave your preconceived notions before the act of writing. […]