“I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t” Vidyut counted the money again and stuffed it in his wallet.
I tossed the car’s keys to him. “This is the craziest thing we’ve done–”
“– so far.” He winked at me. “If I don’t outperform all her previous boyfriends, she’s going to dump me.”
“She’s ditched you three times already.” I slapped his back and laughed. “ Slutty girlfriend, virgin boyfriend.”
“HOT slutty girlfriend.” He turned the key in the ignition.
We drove across the crowded bridge over the train tracks at the New Delhi railway station. The traffic light turned red and children appeared from nowhere with rags in their hands. They wiped our windscreen begging for a few rupees for a job poorly done. A song from the latest Bollywood movies blasted from the loudspeakers and the children danced to its tune.
Vidyut bit his lip and faced me. The reflection of the red light illuminated half of his face. “Inder, will there be actual red lights? How will we know if we are there?”
“M mm m,” (I don’t know) I hummed.
The light turned avocado green and his lead foot met the accelerator.
“There.” I pointed to the green sign that read in white bold letters. ‘Mahatma Gandhi Marg’. Vidyut made a sharp right turn. Gosh, did they have to name this road after the ‘Father of the nation’?
I opened my window and stuck my head out the window. Decrepit wooden multistoried houses lined the street with paint peeling off the walls. Street vendors sold various unhygienic snacks to hungry hard-working day labor.
The narrow street was webbed with illegal power lines crisscrossing the passageway. In the next few houses several women clad in bright gaudy clothes stuck their heads out the windows.
Vidyut dropped the car into second gear.
“Oye chikne, idhar dekh,” (Hey handsome, look at me) one yelled.
I plopped back into my seat, “Vidyut, where have we–”
“Arre O Rajja, Majja lena hai to idhar aaja,” (Come to me), another voice boomed.
I snapped my fingers. “Let’s get out of here–”
“–Hello, Sir. Wan’t girl? Best girl.” A boy all of fifteen years old tapped the drivers window.
Vidyut rolled down his window. “How much?”
“Come up and look, Sir. All girls. No charge for just looking sir. You select. I give you good rate.” He gave us the Indian head nod.
The wooden stairs creaked under our weight. We walked into a room no bigger than a volleyball court. The dank smell of sweat and cheap jasmine incense fought with each other to overpower the hall. A man sat on a small platform with a harmonium and sang a poor song to a badly played tune. People sat on the tile floor and rubbed shoulders and elbows with each other.
“You want girl too?” The fifteen year old asked me.
“No buddy, I don’t have a slutty girlfriend. I’m the ‘hero ka dost’ (Hero’s friend), the sidekick Danny. I make sure he doesn’t get in trouble.
“Danny Zuko…as in Grease” I puffed my hair.
“Like Vaseline, Sir. You want?” he stroked his finger.
“Nooooo… Grease… Never mind. Rahul…DDLJ,” I splayed my arms.
He sang. “Tujhe dekha to yeh jana sanam…chahihe mujhe bhi nahana sanam.” He guffawed. “You sit. Enjaay music.” He pointed to the lone open spot on the tile floor.
The second god-awful song started. I yawned. Come on Vidyut, hurry up man.
Thock thock thock. The fifteen-year-old body appeared in the doorway. He put his hands on his knees and coughed out, “Police-Run-Police.”
I gulped and tried getting up but my knees were locked in their position. In the next few moments everyone in that room scrambled around me. They disappeared into cubby-holes and attics and behind doors.
Five khaki uniform clad men entered the room. The lapels on their shoulder announced, ‘Delhi Police’. One of them barked. “What are you doing here?”
“Listening to music…,” I pointed to the platform in the now empty room. “Uhh… There were fifty people here… five seconds ago. I swear. Trust me–”
Tanne ko to gaane sunayenge ib hawalaat mein. (you’ll surely face the music in the lock-up).
I blinked a few times. Handcuffs? I’m actually wearing handcuffs. And all because Vidyut… I gulp. Gosh, I hope Vidyut is–
“I swear it officer. This is my first time here–” Vidyut walked behind another office into the room. His eyes widened when he saw me. He thrust his shackled hands at me, “Inder, do something.”
“Dude, where are your pants?” I pointed to his smiley faced Jockey’s.
“–I’d just taken them off.” He crossed his legs.
“You’ve been gone for seven minutes. What the fuck?”
“Dude, I was talking to her. Making her comfy–”
“You blooming ass. We’re being arrested for you talking to a–”
The policeman shoved me, “–shut up and walk.”
We stepped into the police van and sat on the hard, metal seats.
“How many did you get?” The sub-inspector asked his constables.
Just these two, janab.
I turned to Vidyut, “Just two. Goddamnit. There were two hundred men and fifty women in that building and they got two. You and me. Rahul and Deepak. Danny and Kenickie. And you’re still a Virgin. How can this day get any worse?”
Vidyut smiled. “It just did. They have my pants and my pants have my wallet. No bribes will be offered today.”
I slid my fingers on my cheek. “Well at least I shaved today for my first appearance on the news.”
It’s been twenty years since that incident. It was the only time either of us made the news. Two lowlife John’s in the vast sea of hormonal, oppressive men seeking any means to justify their whims.
We grew up in a society where it is okay for men to look down upon women as if they were objects. Where it is justifiable to take advantage of oppressed girls those couldn’t survive any other way. This is the same city of Delhi where last year a woman was raped in a bus by six men while they drove around town. I am amongst the millions of people who criticized the cruelty and the brutality of that rape.
I’ve travelled the world and lived in several countries. It’s not just Indian society- men of all countries are afflicted by the disease or treating women poorly. In the US women are protected by laws- but the attitude of men going to strip clubs uncovers their unabashed primal instincts. The flourishing business of strip clubs and whore-houses world-wide is a slap in humanities face.
I put the newspaper down and remove my spectacles, “How far was I from committing a crime of sex.” Even before the thought permeates my brain I have excuses ready; We were going to pay for it. We didn’t even do anything. We were teenagers. I never did it again. It wasn’t even for me. I was just being a friend. Prostitution is legal–
–I gag even before I complete the last thought. What kind of a sick bastard am I? Admit your mistake, damnit. I pick up the phone and call Vidyut.
This is what I’ve learnt about myself.
— I’ve shamed my education and my family for doing what I did.
— My demand drives the supply. I’ve a hand in the flesh trade industry in India; however small it may be. I have a hand in it. I had the education and ability to stop exploitation of women and I didn’t do a darn thing about it.
— My biggest issue as an animal activist is the attitude of people those turn a blind eye to the plight of animals. I turned a blind eye to those women.
— That never again will a single Dollar or Rupee I earn go towards supporting exploiting women in any way, shape or form. Strip-clubs, porn, flesh-trade industry; all exploit women.
— That never again will I turn a blind eye to the plight of anyone- be it human or be it an animal. Nor will I judge anyone till I have successfully cleaned up my own act.
That is what I understand by ‘Being Human’.
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