"Bhawanipur jabe ?" ( Going to bhawanipur ? )
"200 Taka lagbe !" ( 200 BUCKS FOR THE TRIP! )
"150 Nin ? " ( Take 150 )
"Ferar shomoi passenger pabona dada, rat 3te baje! " ( It's 3am in the night, won't be getting a return fare! )
" 170 debo, Cholun!" ( Take 170 , lets go.)
It was one of those gloomy despaired nights when everything seems to be going in the wrong direction, when melancholy creeps in , the effervescence fizzles down and uneven thoughts about the transience of mortality fails to embolden you! In case you're wondering that I am one of those defeatists out there, you are wrong, I was returning from the hospital after visiting a very close friend who was in a very delicate condition, so I guess my despondency doesn't come as a bit of a shock!
"Cigarette?" I offered my cabbie one after I set my lungs blazing with the sweet tang of tobacco.
" Yes, Thank you!"
Kolkata, the city of dreams, the city which has seen generations come and go, while she stood blazing like the pillar of Indian culture, grandeur and economy! Kolkata, the old beautiful Kolkata striding magnificently in the cradle and might of one of India's most beloved daughters! Kolkata , I watched the city enamoured in the dark wintry shades of early December!
"Aj Bhaloi thanda poreche bolun?" ( It's quite cold today isn't it ? ) Startled by the frail old man driving me to a place I now call home.
"Ha besh thanda !" ( Yeah it's cold indeed. ) Not much of a conversationalist I guess, since it was the time of the night when cabbies get friendly in contrast to their general "I don't care who you are" attitude, the man didn't respond anymore.
It was just then that we were passing the famous, err.. infamous "SHONAGACHI". Shovabajar was deserted except for a few enthusiastic sex workers and some of their customers loitering around the streets of B.K.PAL avenue and a police van placed on the opposite side of the road.
"Eder eto Rateo chole?" ( Do they work even this late? ) I couldn't suppress bringing this up.
"Eto ratei chole eder " ( Its now when they actually work ) I was stunned, with already a police van lurking in the area and yet the illegal goes on.
"Even with the police just around the corner?"
" It doesn't matter much really, nobody will bat an eyelid even if a customer misbehaves with a prostitute. They don't care, they've been well fed enough ( GREEN DIET ) to not bother about what's going around !"
"So, you mean if a sex worker gets abused, nobody will even bat an eyelid?"
" How many rape cases are filed per day son? Do you think they consider all of those? For them, you have to qualify as a human first, the sex workers don't !"
That was too much to digest at one go. I sat bewildered pondering about Kolkata's ugly grimace I just visualised.
With a strange laugh which still haunts me in my dreams, the man started speaking again, " Stopping this to happen? How far stretched are your expectations son, the authorities don't even bat an eyelid even if a girl is forcefully put into such a sex racket, how else do you think these institutions work so smoothly, you might find this funny, but it's like any other commercial advertisement, they want new faces, the perverts, the customers, young girls are wrenched out of their parents' warmth, pushed into this dirt, forced into bearing this pain and sorted down to the lowest rung of the society. The authorities, well, they are privy to this plot, but as long as their pockets are full, they stay contended. Occasionally a media hype arises , a racket is exposed, a commercial actor fights with goons over the freedom of such tormented girls in reel life, the society thinks that they have done enough, everyone is contended, nobody looks into what happens in reality! This goes on, everybody is contriving, the police are - by turning a blind eye, the society is - by not doing anything about it, the press are - by not laying much emphasis on this societal decadence, the politicians are - by not promising these people liberty, so where do we actually stand? Is this what humanity has come to? Living for oneself? Not doing enough for the tormented, I don't know, I don't know..."
"Some of them don't want to leave it you know? And lets be cogent enough, how many civilians will actually accept them into the society? Dirt or not, this is their life, the dice is cast, it's no turning back for some of them, I don't support extortions, no, but without these rackets some of them won't be even able to fend for themselves!" I had to retort.
" Will a parrot bound in it's cages forget how to fly? "
The loud screech of the tires brought me back into senses after i had flown off to the surreal estates of mankind's societal decadence. A deserted, dark and vast Esplanade greeted me as a policeman stopped us to check out our whereabouts.
"So how do you think we should tackle this problem?" I asked him as soon as we embarked on our journey.
"Do you remember the naxalite movement? Or rather have you read about it?"
" So you want to wage another bloody affair, killing thousands and imparting heavy unrest?" Okay, so now he drops the bomb, another political strife eh? Another unabashed political supporter, this time in the form of communism. Despite our kinsmanship in bearing our political colours, his involvement of politics in this issue just killed off my interest in the whole agenda.
"No ! "
Somehow this man's mysterious appearance had reached its zenith, I mean how often are these Coffee-House-Conversations carried out in a taxi? And I was desperate for a proper answer.
"Then what do you want?"
" A novelist like Shrilal Shukla, pamphleteers, satirists, who can mock our current predicament, show us where we stand, what we lack and how we need to amend. Maybe the reincarnation of the rebel poet himself, someone who can get our spirits high and impart the rebel in every citizen.We stand face to face in a situation where we have a dire need of people who can bring the bloods to boil. The satirists, the poets, the thinkers, the filmmakers who consider themselves the pioneer of intellect, need to come together and expose the misery. Unless you get the middle class involved, the oppressed shall remain oppressed while the vultures will strive on them to meet the best of their interests. Until then, all we can do is raise the awareness, it's not only up to the NGO's to ensure that they receive the basics for sustaining life, " he uttered earning every bit of my veneration.
I couldn't find anything to retort with and we were nearing our destination. True! we sit back, have fun, while the "Dirt" is reduced to nothing more than materialistic objects of lust and pleasure. We go about fighting for mundane requests while we ignore the grave despicable conditions of these sex workers. Caged and bound in the chains of the society, how "FREE" are they really are in today's world ?
I turned to leave after I had paid the cabbie two hundred rupee notes.
"Hey, you forgot the return ? " the taxi driver called out.
"That's for the conversation!"
And I left a strangely deluded man.
About the author :-
A movie aficionado and a football fanatic ,Anubhav Chakraborty is pursuing his graduation in English from Maharaja Manindrachandra college.The Founder and Editor of ExPRESS magazine, Anubhav is also an avid traveller and a Social activist. Some of his other articles are as follows :-
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