The small, cramped lane in the midst of a bustling market has for decades now been a hub for commercial sex workers in the city. The bustling lane is now wearing a festive look on the occasion of Diwali.
A faded cream curtain hung limply at the entrance of the house with the blue door, and streaks of shimmering, coloured lights were visible from the road.
The walls are covered with posters of babies in different attitudes, and an obscure music system plays the latest songs from films like Joker and Son of Sardar.
The girls — many older ones claiming to be younger and many under-aged girls claiming to be older — sat brushing each other’s hair and exchanging songs on their cellphones. As Seema, 36, one of the older women in their “house”, came in, they automatically quieted down. She pulled a rickety chair from a corner and lit a cigarette — her 12th for the day, she confessed with a grin. Her crinkled face lit up as she saw the young ones chattering away. Pointing at the festive lights in the house, she asked, “We just got these lights fixed, don’t you think they look pretty?”
She introduced the girls to us — Ruby, Tina, Mona...all dressed in ill-fitting jeans and t-shirts. “Most of us in this house are from Nepal,” she says.
For Seema and her girls, Diwali is a festive time like for any other home in the city. They have cleaned the rooms, dusted their carpets and have cleared the cobwebs. Ruby, who claims to be 25 though looks much younger, is bubbling with excitement. “We will make jalebi and roti on the Diwali day,” she announces. “We will also make other sweets, some of us cook very well,” adds Seema.
Apart from the festivities related to food, she says, they also perform “Laxmi puja” every year on the day — to ensure that they have prosperity all year round. They go around other’s “house” distributing sweets, to maintain cordial relationship throughout the year. “This is probably the one time in the whole year that we can visit the neighbouring houses without a prior appointment or any work as such,” says Seema.
The girls, however, refuse to be photographed. “My children are now growing up, I don’t want them to see my picture in the newspaper,” says Seema, biding us a goodbye.