The struggle for freedom was over and the independent India was born on that night after more than a century of British rule. All over the country, people rejoiced the occasion. With selfless and dedicated leaders like Gandhi and Nehru, people looked forward for hopeful horizons built on optimism and aspiration for a better independent country of their own.
That night was not only an eventful night to the Indian nation; it was more eventful and significant in my personal life. On that very night, I ran out for freedom from a brothel's den in Bombay's red light area to which I was sold.
I was born in a small village near Kanyakumari, formerly known as Cape Comerin, the southern tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal, Arabian sea and the Indian ocean converge. My parents were agricultural laborers. Our small village was always strong with moral codes and hierarchical relationships and the village community was closely woven with them. Besides its agricultural lands, our village was rich in clay soil, the main ingredient for production of earthenware and pot-making which became the mainstay for our survival. Basic discipline, honesty and ethics were the binding forces of our life fabric.
Infused by my bright eyes since birth, my parents named me as "Jyothi", (the flame or brightness). At the appropriate age, mother nature was prompt in her shaping me into a beautiful girl with parallel physiological internal and external changes. I was myself amazed at the adversity's kindness to allow nature to extend to me the youthful teen-age exuberance. I was full of beauty as a blooming rose. And then on, my preferences in life became different. I often reviewed myself on these transformations, in particular to the infatuations which often dominated me.
Seeing the visible changes in me and watching my responsive reactions to adolescent preferences, my parents became serious in arranging to get me married. I could hardly believe that it happened so sudden. During a visit to a contiguous village, my father was impressed with a handsome young man, Raju, who was, at that time, visiting his parents on a holiday. He was working in Bombay as a security guard. The wedding was over within a week and on that very night we took the train to Bombay as he was not able to extend his stay.
My maiden travel in a train was quite an experience. I was fascinated with the various types of people, speaking in different lingos and the sight of different villages, towns and cities through which the train passed, was exhilarating. Raju's narration of his job, life, neighborhood and places of interest in Bombay fascinated me to look forward for a happy metropolitan living.
After three days of tiresome travel, we finally reached Bombay. After we came out of the V.T station, Raju wanted me to wait in a corner and he would, in the meantime, get a taxi to go to his place in Chembur. The surging crowd in and out of the station was an indicator as to how fast life could be in a big city unlike my village. As I was waiting for some time, two men came from the side of the entrance.
"Are you Jyothi?" One of them in dark and strong physique, asked me and the other was surveying my whole figure.
"Your husband, Mr. Raju is waiting in our taxi outside. He wanted us to bring you there with your baggage".
Initial hesitation stopped me from going with them. Their conversation in my native language, instilled trust in me and their mentioning Raju's name reinforced my confidence to go with them. At that time, I hardly knew I had a tryst with destiny for a different life. When I reached the taxi, they just pushed me into it. I could not find Raju either inside or anywhere nearby. By the time I shouted for help, the doors were slammed with its raised glass windows, and one of them forced my face to sniff at something and I was fainted.
After few hours when I opened my eyes, I realized I was in a small dilapidated dark room dark with a single window draped in dirty curtains and no fresh air to breathe. It looked more like a prison cell except for its painting in pink which was disgusting to me. What a contrast to my hut where the sunlight had freedom to enter, fresh air all the time dominated all over. The small forest adjacent to the hut was always peaceful, but for its small streams with their rhythmic flowing noise and the birds' chirping. The cool and fresh mornings in the backdrop of crimson sunrise and the gorgeous colored horizons during the sunset, were the serene splendor of nature.
Around me there were three girls of elderly age than me, two from south and one from east - Rani, Ramba and Sunita, trying to look at me with curiosity, more to know of my background. Through their sarcastic smiles, they expressed their welcome message to me. They started explaining to me of my assignments from that very night.
The chief of the den, Roopa, a lady in the mid fiftees entered the room to enquire how I have been reacting to the new environment and profession. Her wrinkled face in a uncouth flabby figure was nauseating to me. I could say they were the residual reminiscence of her past weird whore life.
"Rani! Did you explain to her of what she had to do here?" Roopa's interrogation was mixed with toughness.
"Yes Madam. We did" was the short response by the trio.
"Okay. Prepare her for this evening's initiation". Roopa's orders were curt and she left the scene.
I started crying on my fate for getting trapped into that place. I explained to them as to how I was pushed into the taxi as soon as I arrived with my husband. All the three girls just laughed and said " Raju only sold you to this den. We know him well as he had been our regular customer. In your deal, he was also paid well than on his earlier sales".
Those words were exasperating to my ears as I could not even imagine such a thing to happen. I felt like ending my life when I heard this, for, back in our village, there was never any such 'human selling' involved even though we were working like slaves. It took sometime for me to decide on the future course of action. I realized, my brooding and crying over the situation would not take me anywhere in the direction of escape. I gathered all my strength within me and determined to fight my tryst with destiny.
As the night curtain fell over the horizon, the routine scene in the den was set for the performers, to exhibit themselves at the doors in full costume make-up, obviously to hide their original complexion, with support from uniquely designed outfits to appear attractive. As the law of the land prohibited soliciting customers in the 'flesh trade', the performers had to just present themselves as showpieces to welcome the clients into their fold.
I refused to be initiated on the first day, as I was feeling nausea with the food and filthy environment. I hated everything I saw there. In short, I was praying all Gods for some miracle to happen through which I could just escape from that hell. Roopa came back to the room.
"I paid big money to buy you, not for keeping you idle here. You know what you have to do for us. You should be ready in few minutes as the other three, and stand at the door. Today is an auspicious day to start with, and more fortune to follow through you. Understand?" Roopa yelled at me.
When I refused to be initiated to the 'performance', she slapped on my face so strong, I started throwing out whatever I ate and I fainted instantly. With my sick face and the stinking throw outs around me, she became ferocious; but she could not do much at that stage except feeling defeated and left me alone. Due to hindu-muslim conflicts throughout the city, there was a sudden imposition of curfew on that night and the usual business could not be carried on because of the restriction in the movement of people.
While the first day went off in my favor, the other three girls found me more dependable and confident. They were eager to exchange notes with me on their lives.
While Rani and Ramba were brought in three years before from a south Indian city, the third one joined the den willingly as she was thrown out of home by her parents on similar activities.
"Jyothi! We do not have any choice but to stay and continue here for the rest of our lives. Out of our meager savings, we have been able to support our kith and kin back home" said Ramba and Rani I could see their eyes filled with tears. I was surprised at their compromise for a indecent whore life to fulfil a noble cause.
The second day was little different than the first one, as I was gaining some inner strength and more hope to get away from that place. May be a hunch or some sort of a feeling in me. I started hating men since I knew that Raju sold me for money; and to 'perform' assignments was totally unacceptable in my mind. I preferred to face any extent of threats or torture from Roopa and her men, and even to die in that encounter, than becoming a whore to satisfy the lust of men. In fact 'Raju's sale' ignited an inextinguishable fire in me to destroy those men who flavor for such flesh act with a whore.
It was the last few days of the British rule to end; news came that the colonial India had to be divided into two nations - India and Pakistan for a peaceful accord. Still there had been skirmishes between the hindu fanatics and the muslim minority. The gruesome killings on both sides continued in various parts of Bombay including the red light area. The communal carnage was quite rampant and the butchered human remains were decaying all over. But, thanks to the religious rioting, there were no 'takers' for the 'performance' on two nights which spared me from encounters with Roopa.
Just few hours before the night of the independence declaration, I saw a group of hindu fanatics armed with all sorts of weapons, marching towards our place. Their target was a muslim house next to the den. When the muslim inmates refused to come out, the crowd set ablaze their home, and in minutes spiralling flames turned the whole sky in red. A teenager from the muslim family was able to escape from that fire and took refuge in the den. Seeing this, the enraged fanatic group broken open our front doors and just hacked him to death. I could see his severed head rolling down the steps of the entrance with blood gushing out of his head and neck. What an irony? He escaped from the fire just to die in a frightful way! In minutes the whole group vanished from the scene.
As we became dumb on witnessing the remains of the massacre, we could see the next door's fire spreading to our building. Soon all the adjacent buildings were in flames including the den. Everybody was running for safety and I was lucky to come out first without any major injury. From the road I could see Roopa along with the other three girls struggling to escape. But it was too late; a burning wooden beam of the building fell on them and they were crushed underneath. While I welcomed the death of Roopa, the wicked soul who deserved such an end, I could not accept the sudden end of Ramba and Rani who were the sponsors of an ongoing noble cause and died as martyrs.
I was running out to freedom, for, I was scared whether any of her muscle men would chase to get at me. I saw at a distance, a thatched home to my rescue. With all my breath and speed I ran to that place and knocked at the door. An old man in sixties opened the door and offered me shelter and food. His name was Savarkar. In the hut, I saw portraits of all leaders of the freedom struggle and Savarkar was proud to be associated with them. When I narrated my story to him, he was feeling sorry and comforted me. He said it was God's will to save me from that den through that fire, as no girl with life had so far escaped from there. At the stroke of that midnight, I heard from the radio, the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru's speech to the nation announcing the birth of independent India. Hence the first independence night in 1947 was a very significant eventful night - freedom to me and freedom to my motherland.
While I was happy to be saved unblemished from the den, with the existence of societal taboos it was very hard on me to convince the society of my unblemished exit from the den. Presumptions often prevail over perceptions. I was reluctant to return to my village as I was not in favor of meeting my parents with this episode; I was also scared that they may not even believe me. Even if they do, the village at large would look us down as outcasts. I preferred to stay alone for the rest of my life. When I explained this to Savarkar, he understood my predicament and helped me in getting to Pune, near Bombay, where a family was requiring housemaid's assistance.
Mr. Patel, the head of the family was polite and courteous to me when I contacted them and accepted my offer to work as a housemaid. Every member of that family treated me with utmost respect and regard. In short, they considered me as one of their family members instead a housemaid. The kindness they showered on me and the mental peace I was enjoying there were more responsible for isolating myself from others. No one would believe that I spent fifty years without even thinking about it. The golden jubilee of India's independence kindled a desire in me to see my birth place after a very long spell. When I expressed my desire to Mr. Patel, he was very happy and provided me with money to make the trip.
When I returned to my old village, I found there was not even an iota of the past existing. The murky narrow lanes were replaced with broad roads and strong buildings had come up in the areas where we lived. The transformation of the village to a small town was visible in all the areas of activity. New faces all over the place and there was no sign of any earlier generation's existence. I was eager to attend the golden jubilee celebration to be held on that evening in the school grounds, which I happen to know when I was having my breakfast in a restaurant. I thought I could possibly meet some of the village people of my earlier time.
When I reached the school grounds, the crowd was already there. I was able to get a seat in the front row. There were barricades with casurina sticks between us and the stage. On the side of the podium, near the place I was seated, there was the flag pole with the Indian national flag ready to be hoisted. The podium was decorated with color lights and speakers were relaying patriotic songs. As we were waiting, a convoy of cars arrived with the government officials and politicians for the function.
After welcome address, it was announced that the mayor of the cit corporation would hoist the national flag. As the mayor got down from the podium to the flag stand, I could not believe my eyes as he was none but my husband Raju. He must be around seventy five. Age had really withered him. The bald head, wrinkled face and partially hunched body were clear witnesses for it. Even at that old age, I could see his craving for power and money. I was right and he was only Raju. I checked with the woman seated next to me, about the his name. She confirmed his name as Raju.
My blood was boiling in me. I could not accept or reconcile, that after fifty years of independence, people like Raju, who sold his own wife for money to a brothel house, had become a leader to guide the destiny of the people. Hoisting the sacred national flag by people like Raju was more a sinful act and a clear version of disrespect to it. What a contrast in the leadership of the erstwhile selfless leaders and stalwarts of the freedom movement against scoundrels like Raju!
My conscience decreed that such men had no place in society. My mind dictated the verdict. As he was nearing the flag post, I was able to direct all my strength to my arms, and with one of the casurina sticks from the barricade I struck a heavy blow on his head. He was profusely bleeding and turned his face towards me only to see that the murderer was none but his 'sold' wife. I heaved a sigh of relief as my conscience whispered "well done". ??