Sunday, December 30, 2007

The prostitute

He looked out of the window, lying in the bed. His naked body could feel the morning puff of air. The window curtains waved in whichever direction the air chose, as if dancing for the sun’s arrival. He felt a smile on his face. After staring for some time at the view outside the window, he found that the view could be explored more if he could take the trouble of getting out of the bed and walk a little towards the window. He did so.

By this time sun was out in sky. Open. Full. Orange. He did not remember - when was the last time he got up that early in the morning? And even harder to remember was - when was the last time, he cared to look at the sun?

He said aloud, addressing no one in particular, “I don’t understand why poets and writers have always written about moon’s beauty, even after it has so many dark patches. Why does nobody find this flawless, red object, worthy enough to be their subject? After all sun is not that bad. In fact, I find it beautiful.” He turned to her. She was smiling.

She was watching him all the while. She felt happy to see him so relaxed. She thought of last night.

They had met, for the first time. He - a bachelor in his late twenties, a project manager in a software company. She - a flowering beauty in her early twenties, a prostitute by profession. He had asked her, “how many men… before me?”

“This is my profession, sir. I am into it for last two years and have to earn my bread everyday, or rather every night. Actually today is my business’ second anniversary.”

“Two years means seven hundred and thirty days, so approximately the same number of men. Out of them, did you like someone particularly; someone whom you wished would have come back to you?”

“The seller does not choose the buyer, sir. It’s the buyers who choose the seller. Yes, we do have repeat customers. But it’s not our choice that matters. It’s theirs. ”

“Did someone ever try to rape you?” he was shocked with his own question and wished if he could take it back.

“No, I do it by choice.”

The simplicity with which she had said this, made the situation worse for him. He could feel what she actually meant. She meant, “What else do you think happen everyday?”

“Well, I am called Saurabh. Saurabh Saxena.”

“But the agent told me your name is…” She had laughed aloud and then said, “You feared that someone will get to know that you spent this night with a prostitute!! By the way, I am called Shilpa. And that’s my full name.”

He had felt disgusted by the exposure of his reason of name change. He had found himself saying things which didn’t mean much. He had said, “Do you wish to get fresh? Wanna have a bath or something?”

“Yes.” And after a pause, she had asked, “Do you want me to come out naked or should I be wearing something?”

He did not know what to say. He could barely murmur, “Well, whatever you wish like… it would be better if you come out in some dress.” And he had handed her a towel and a men’s evening gown.


It was two hours past midnight. The hotel room was lighted by the city lights outside the large windows and a small lamp, kept in a corner of the room. He was lying on the bed, staring at the fan. She was sitting at an easily reachable distance, at the other corner of the bed. They held some short conversations in middle of their silence, conversations where the topics in the previous had no relation to the one that followed. They talked about almost everything – his girlfriend, who never allowed him to kiss even and then left him quoting his impotency as the reason; her first customer, who had hairs in the most impossible parts of his body; his friends, who would never get to know that he spent his night with a prostitute; her friends, who knew every detail of the man she slept with; his food habits, her not having any habits, his job, her job and so on. But still at the end of the conversation they felt they talked about nothing.

He said, “You can sleep if you are tired.”

“Don’t you want to have sex with me?”

“I… I don’t know….”

“What you don’t know?”

“I have never done this before. I really don’t know.”

“It’s okay. Do the way you think you should. There’s no competition here. You won’t get a prize if you do it the best way. And trust me, there’s no best way.”

He wondered – How can someone talk about sex, so glibly, so effortlessly?

She took his hands in her, and kissed them. Only if he would have been kissed before, he could tell this was the most preposterous and false kiss he ever had. But he had none such experience so he was okay with whatever he got.

She got up and moved towards the window. Her naked body projected an ultimate silhouette against the moonlight. Looking at the moon, she said, “It’s beautiful,” then turned to him. He was still looking at the fan, lost in his own world. She sensed a deep loneliness in his behavior. She thought, “He is not here for what we assume we are here for.” and asked, “What do you think, am I beautiful?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Like Aishwarya Rai?”

“More than her.”

She laughed aloud.

He got up and took her back to the bed. They kissed each other.

This was the night he lost his virginity and she had serviced her seven hundred and thirty first customer.

When she got up in the morning, she found him standing by the window.

“So what do you think? Which is more beautiful – the sun or the moon?”

“Whichever can survive without being a parasite.”

He gazed at her for some time. But said nothing.

He left first. She did after him. While switching off the lights, she found some money kept at the near-by table with the intention of being noticed. She thought, “Why the thought of money did not appear to me for whole of the time he was here?” She found no answer.


It must have been around four, in after hours of the noon. Shilpa heard the announcement for the next local from Andheri to Churchgate, while standing in the ticket queue. She cursed herself for forgetting the monthly pass at home. When she arrived at the platform, the train was about to leave. She could, no way, reach women’s compartment hence she got into the general compartment. Being the non office hours, and the train in the reverse direction, the compartment wasn’t very crowded. She made her way inside. She wasn’t looking beautiful, not at least the way she had looked two years ago. But still she found that every men around was gazing at her. When the train stopped at Dadar, a man behind her asked her for way. She moved a side, looking downwards. Suddenly she realized the voice to be familiar. She looked up while the man was crossing her. They saw each other in that moment. It was a look of acknowledging the recognition. She had always wished to meet him somehow, somewhere. But this way, and at this place? None of them could move out of that frame of moment. The train stopped and started again towards its next destination.

By the time it reached Marine lines, the train was almost empty. They were sitting facing each other. Saurabh asked, “Shall we get down here?”

She said nothing. Just got up and moved towards the door. He followed. They walked up to the Marine drive, silently. It happens when you meet someone after a long time and you think you have too many things to talk about, but you know there’s too little a time. You really can’t figure out where to start from, what all to talk about and what all you can avoid, who shall start first, and such things. And the desperation of every passing moment, that you assume is getting wasted without your word, makes you more restless. Something similar was happening to them.

By the time they reached the sea, the sun was about to fade in. She asked, “Do you remember your beautiful sun?”

“I do.”

“Does it still appear beautiful to you?”

“It does.”

This was followed by a short moment of silence which, in the shortness of the total time they assumed they had together, appeared quite long.

He asked, “How life has been in all these days… or rather years?”

“Good.” And then she added, “how about you?”


Both of them looked away from each other, towards the setting sun. It was Orange, full but somehow did not appear open.

“How many men… after me?”

She smiled. He went on, “well, you can ask me the same question. And I don’t mind. I slept with another ten, or say fifteen women, after you. Don’t remember the exact count.”

They sat quietly. Sun was almost down and it was getting dark. Street lights were trying hard to match up to the sun but what a frustration it would be that they could not even stand up to a setting sun!!

“I think I should leave. Getting late.”

“Ok.” Saurabh looked at her with a question on his face; a question which was already asked and which was yet to be answered.

“Bye,” She said and walked on. Then she stopped, turned back and walked up to him. She took out a bundle of currency notes and kept at his side. It was the same bundle she picked up from the table when he was gone that day. She said, “If I agree to sleep with you tonight, you will be the first person… after you.” She said it very simply. Without contempt. Without anger. Without remorse. Just in a mood of an easy answer.

He said, “I am sorry.”


She stood still, looking straight into his eyes. “Sun is always more beautiful, Saurabh. They can’t give you what you are looking for. I never did to any man I slept with. I hope you understand that you didn’t come to me that night for sex. Tell me, do you respect any of the women you sleep with? If not, then how do you expect that such women can give your self respect back? What you are looking for can only be obtained by the purpose of your own life, the reason of your own being. It’s not the survival that matters but the reason for the survival. I learnt it the night I met you… By the way, I am Ms. Shilpa, Customer Care Executive at Maya Outsourcing Services.”

He looked at her with a question mark on his face but said nothing. She responded to his look. She questioned, “Inquisitive to know why I left that profession?” After a small pause, she replied herself, “That day, I realized that I wasn’t surviving on my strengths but on the weaknesses of the people like you. The weaker the client was, higher I got paid. I was selling you hunger to satisfy my own. Just that we were hungry for different things. I was selling you lust to fill in my moneybag. I was selling you desire to make you a repeat customer. The point is - everything I sold was yours anyway! A trade involves exchange of values. I offered no value for the money you paid. I was not doing business; it was just a cheat plan. And the body? Oh! It was just a tool to disguise the cheat. Sex has to be a derivative of love, Saurabh; else it’s just another wasted activity.”

She smiled and turned away. It was a happy smile. No irony, no wickedness. No pity, no sympathy. Just a plain, happy smile. She called for a taxi and went off. Saurabh turned to the sea. He closed his eyes tightly. He could hear her voice against the sound of the water. He asked to himself, “Who is a prostitute?”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Brunch with Birds

I have never been an avid bird lover (May be, the thought of not having chicken to eat drifts me away from such love stories!!). But I nominated myself for the program called ‘Brunch with Birds’; more for the brunch than the birds, and the thought of getting into the Film city.

On Saturday night Sujal called and we decided to meet at Dadar at 6:15 AM as we had to reach the film city gate, Goregaon by 7:30 AM (Hello!!!! It was Sunday morning of a software engineer!!!). The BNHS bus was arranged to pick the participants from there to the venue. Anyways. We started late and we reached late. Rama also joined us on the way. As it was very clear that we would have missed the bus if we hoped to get it, we took an auto rickshaw. Unaware of the venue, we somehow reached it after halting and asking at every gate (however few they were) in side the film city. On arrival at the center, we were informed that Neemita had already collected our passes and we happily got seated in the auditorium where the introduction was about to start.

The program started with an introductory session by Dr Subhalakshmi. She briefed us about Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and all the Why’s, what’s, who’s, Where’s and When’s about it. It was followed by a short movie on birds. It appeared to me like any other national geographic program viewed on a bigger screen, and I was wondering – Birds are beautiful creatures, except pigeons, I suppose (Trust me, its very irritating when they reside in your house without your permission and behave as if they are the landlords). After the movie, our bird watching session was scheduled. All the participants were first divided into two major groups, Adults and children. I was in the adults group, so were my other TCS colleaguesJ. We were further divided into various groups. Each group was escorted by two volunteers from BNHS. From auditorium, we moved to the bird watching venue.

It was a kind of forest. On the way, our leaders tried hard to make us see some birds and my group members did see some. I could only see crows, a big, giant scorpion and an equally big butterfly. They told about n-number of birds, their names and its origin, their calls, their habitat and what not but I have a bad memory. But I loved the jungle. What peace, man!! I was in middle of this noisy city and still I felt like meditating. The best was when we reached a small hill top. Beautiful it was. I asked the instructor if we could come and roam around in the jungle whenever we wish. He informed me that we need to take permission from forest department which sits in BoriwaliJ. From there, we returned to the BNHS building where we were served with the brunch. This was followed by a session by a scientist from BNHS about the endangered bird species.

After my ILP@TCS in January, it was the first lecture I attended this year. And it was boring to me till a bird genius ignited my interest in the class. He must have been a student of class VIII or IX, I guess. But what knowledge he had about birds!!! Simply superb. For all the questions the man on the dais popped up, he had the answers and something more to offer in response. By middle of the lecture, we could see our lecturer was getting bugged a bit, but he managed to keep his calm. Towards the end of the lecture, everybody murmured to everybody else around that the boy was a genius when it comes to the knowledge of birds and he could better take the class. And the class was happily concluded. Happy I was - to discover that we do have such children in India and, of course, for the reason that the class was over.

From here we were taken to a series of stalls, where they talked on different topics on birds ranging from their habitat, migration practices, bird calls, and environmental issues and how they affect the birds. All this was followed by a quiz on the days learning and luckily, we TCSers were in the group which was destined to win as we had a leader with a solid interest in birds ( she was very sad by the rapid growth in mobile industry as she learnt that the mobile signals are harmful for birds. Also, she was curious to know the ways by which she could attract a particular kind of bird to her terrace!!). So we won.

The event was summed up by a conclusive talk by Dr Subhalakshmi and a show by the volunteers of ‘Save Ranibaug’ cause.

Now, the question is did I waste my half Sunday not being a hardcore bird lover? I must say, it’s not about the birds that I learnt that day, but about human beings. There was this eighty plus lady, a retired physician, talking passionately about bird migration; a woman in her seventies, a practicing doctor, wished sincerely to save Ranibaug from getting converted into a modern city center by demolishing the natural beauty of the place; a full time bird scientist who has dedicated his life to birds and working on balancing the environment so that we all can coexist and recently trying to protect the Sewri area in Mumbai for Flamingoes; a professional who volunteered to spend her weekends for such bird awareness programs and many more such examples. The common thread? The passion towards a mission they have taken up in life. And that’s what I learnt, or rather re-learnt, that day.

And, indeed, I did get to see some television stars being shot on the way back to the city :)