I lost my innocence the day I realized She is a prostitute
It is said that society where we live in is a teacher of ours. The society, its people and its atmosphere collectively shape our views and influence our thoughts from childhood. This story of mine is a ,Slice of Real Life and about the society where I have been brought up in. It is the society that taught me the word ‘prostitute’.
Two of my maternal uncles live in Burdwan Town, about 100 km away from the city of Kolkata. When I was five years old, I was left to be brought up under care of them. I lived with them as a part of their families from childhood to teenage, and my schooling was done in that town. My mamabari (Maternal uncles’ house) was at Mahajantuli, a red light area, in the heart of the town. The middle of Mahajantuli Lane is occupied by sex workers and the rest of the locality is inhabited by bhadrolok (civilized people). There are two nursing homes and a market in the locality. From a distance, Mahajantuli Lane neither looks a typical red light area nor differs from a civilized society. The mamabari was on one end of the lane and the youngest maternal uncle’s grocery shop was on the other end. They shifted from Mahajantuli to another locality away from the centre of the town, five years ago.
My maternal grandmother was free-minded and kind-hearted. She would not differentiate between the sex workers and other residents of the locality. She was free with some of them. She would talk to them and share with them her hand-made pickles as well as sweets. They fondly called her masima (aunt). Though maternal uncles did not like their visit to her, she did not mind any forbiddance.
Moni, a sex worker’s daughter, was of my maa’s age. She called maa Manjudi. Ill-fated like her mother, she was forced into prostitution. Whenever maa visited mamabari, with me in her lap (then I was a baby), Moni would come to see maa and cradle me in her lap. I got close to her after I started living at mamabari. She told me to call her Moni masi (Moni aunt). The sex workers of Mahajantuli sit or stand near the main entrance of their houses on both sides of the lane during daytime. She too does the same. In childhood I was not curious to know why they stand outdoors in all seasons. Once I had asked one of my maternal aunts, but she ignored it.
Whenever I went to chhoto mama’s grocery shop to fetch some goods for aunt, I passed by the sex workers. Whenever Moni masi saw me, she would call me and give me toffees. Sometimes she took me inside her house and gave me her hand-made delicacies. She kissed my cheeks and felt the motherly joy. She used to give me some pocket money on festive occasions like Rath Yatra, Jhulan Yatra, Durga Puja, Poush Mela etc. I did not hesitate to take it her from. Once she had taken me to the local Rath mela (a religious festival fair). Someone reported it to chotto mama, and he beat me severely. Nani (maternal grandmother) was in Kolkata that time. He forbade me to keep away from Moni masi only because she is a ‘prostitute’ (I learnt this word that day). I neither knew what ‘prostitute’ meant nor did I ask anyone its meaning. I reduced the frequency of going to her and started avoiding her while passing through the lane. However, we met sometimes.
Nani died when I got promoted to class 8. Some sex workers including Moni masi came to pay their last respect to nani. That was their last visit to mamabari. Occasions to go to Moni masi and talk to her gradually decreased. It was partly because I was under pressure of studies and partly because chhoto mama did not like it. I joined two coaching centers: one for arts and another for science. Maa bought me a bicycle so that I could conveniently go to tuitions. I paddled the bicycle as fast as a young colt so that Moni masi could not see me. At the coaching centers, I came across some boys who were of my age but more advanced than me. I got to know the meaning of ‘prostitute’ from one of the boys. Then I turned a bit indifferent to Moni masi, not because she is a sex worker but because I feared what my coaching friends would think of me if any of them ever happened to see me talk to her.
I began to maintain distance from her. After having qualified the school final exam I shifted to the hostel of Bharat Sebashram Sangha. Then I passed the Higher Secondary examination. Whenever Moni masi and I happened to see each other, she enquired me of my wellbeing. I did not feel the need to know how she was, though I noticed a change in her complexion. Her fair complexion was becoming dark. But I ignored it as a sign of her ageing.
After graduation I came to Kolkata to do MA. I visited Burdwan town during Durga puja in 2009. When I was passing through Mahajantuli Lane, she noticed me and called me by my nickname Bittu. I looked back the moment I heard the voice. At the first glance, I could not recognize her because her complexion was totally changed. She looked dark. I, a grown-up and MA qualified young man by that time, understood the reason. I did not go near her, but nodded my head in response to her from a distance.
I went to Burdwan during Durga puja in 2010. When I passed through the lane, I hoped to see her as she used to sit or stand outside. I thought that she would call me from behind. But she was not there. I wondered and asked myself where she could be, what happened to her, if she died. I could not get the reply from my inner self but felt that I had lost my innocence the day I had realized ‘she is a prostitute’.