The red and the unread

Dec 02 2012, 00:19 IST
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SummaryI still found myself coming to the kotha, fascinated by the ordinary aspects of the lives of people who, I think, have been shepherded by circumstances into living extraordinary lives.

I still found myself coming to the kotha, fascinated by the ordinary aspects of the lives of people who, I think, have been shepherded by circumstances into living extraordinary lives. It was in an attempt to seek signs of normalcy in an ‘abnormal’ world that I started to work on this book.” Mayank Austen Soofi is well known in the Delhi circuit for his guidebooks to the city and his blog. But the opening lines of this piece, borrowed from his latest offering, Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District, provide a pretext to his three years of following closely the lives of women who call GB Road home, well almost. The white-collared gentry is not unaware of this red light area, which to many represents a glaring eyesore in the heart of the capital. Usually, out in the so-called civilised part of Delhi, either people feign ignorance of GB Road’s existence, or talk in hushed tones about it. It’s not fashionable, and it’s filthy. That makes it easily forgettable. Notwithstanding, it still exists.

But Soofi knows there are people there. And where there are people, there are stories. In GB Road, like anywhere else, some stories are to be told, some are to be hidden and, of course, some are to be faked, to be imagined. Through his observational, simple, sensitive and humanistic style of narrative, Soofi attempts to get into the skin of Delhi’s sin street, telling stories of the sinners and the saints, as descriptions blur until they don’t matter. Grounded in the geography of the area, Soofi’s book follows particularly the lives of sex workers of Kotha number 300. There are characters, vivid yet human, genuine yet fake. There is Sushma, there is Nighat, Sumaira, Phalak, Roopa, Sabir Bhai, his children, pimps, etc, and the biggest character of all, the street itself. Not to forget, Soofi, too, is a character here, the outsider who’s trying to make sense of an ecosystem that doesn’t suit moralistic societal sensibilities and yet is an attribute and a product of it. That explains his sporadic bursts of disgust, which are far and few and contradict the general tone of his writing, which is reflective of the close bond he forges over these three years with people he’s written about. “Suddenly, I feel revolted. By Sumaira, by the sickly sweet milky chai, by all the people in

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