When I set up my private maternity hospital in the upcoming suburb of Juhu, I felt confidant that my earlier 7 year experience in clinical practice at some of our leading public hospitals had equipped me adequately to face upto all kinds of expected and unexpected challenges in the days to come.
The Juhu Vile-Parle Development Scheme was fast developing into a posh locality. The newly arrived residents comprised of successful businessmen, Bollywood and television personalities, retired bureaucrats and professionals of all shades and calling who had made a mark in their areas of expertise and of course that fringe of humanity bordering on lunacy who belong to the art world. In short, this neighborhood boasted of a mélange of intelligentsia and weirdoes.
In the earlier years of our stay, we had kuccha roads lined on both sides by stylish bungalows, the owners possessed big cars which were parked in their garages. All these Kothis were enclosed by tall compound walls. Interaction between neighbors was strictly restricted to donning a broad smile whenever we crossed paths and uttering mere salutations as was appropriate for the hour of that day. The main V.L. Mehta marg was about 150 meters away from our nursing home. Road traffic in those days was rather thin and essentially restricted to people proceeding to the Juhu beach. After 9.00 pm deafening silence prevailed - you could hear your own breath sounds. I considered the peaceful atmosphere as a blessing contributing to the patient's recovery.
In the rainy season, the empty plots of land all around us turned into lakes, The storm water drains on either side of the inner lanes were like flowing streams, the children of the locality enjoyed crafting paper boats and floating them along these conduits of running water. Every year, the approaching monsoon was heralded by an incessant croaking of frogs that emerged from the grassy empty plots, and seemed to be hopping aimlessly around the locality. Each morning, many of them would be crushed under the wheels of moving vehicles, the crows would then descend to feast on their carcasses.
On one Monday morning, a snake which had feasted on some frogs, lay curled-up at the entrance of our nursing home. The menacing appearance of the snake had held up people from proceeding in or out of the main gate. I was summoned at 8.00 am to help resolve the issue. The servants were all excited and stood readily armed with long bamboo sticks to kill the snake. It somehow hurt my conscience to adopt such an inhuman approach. Never having contemplated such a situation even in my wildest dreams, I sought advice from our next door neighbor. He suggested that pushing it with a stick would coax it to slither away into the surrounding bushes. A feeble attempt was made, however it only resulted in the snake moving closer to us.
A call to the police station for assistance brought forth a humorous response. The voice at the other end of the line retorted in an amusing voice – "we are here to protect people and snakes is not our business". Thereafter, my wife suggested that we put in a call to the SPCA. The voice at the other end wanted to know if the snake was wild or whether it was somebody's pet that had escaped. I replied that I do not see any collar around it – and hence my best bet is that the snake is wild. The next question was whether the snake appeared sick or hurt – This question seemed easy to answer – I informed the learned person that although I was a qualified doctor, my expertise was restricted only to humans, I frankly admitted that I lacked the skills of assessing the health status of reptiles. Some good sense finally dawned on them. And they assured me that an ambulance would arrive in the next half hour to remove the reptile from my doorstep. Had the snake entered the house – then of course the law would have prevented them from helping out as the matter would fall beyond their jurisdiction. Two hours later, the snake was finally removed, and our day to day activities were finally restored.
In the year 1982, an injured cat took refuge in our premises. The nurses took pity on the animal. They covered it with a blanket and fed it for some days. By the time I came to know about the cat, she had given birth to a litter of four cute kittens in our stairwell. The next day, the kittens were moved under the refrigerator, on the third day, the kittens were transferred to the garage outside. On the fourth day the kittens were shifted to our neighbor's outhouse. Our neighbor leaned over the fence to tell me that it was indeed cunning of me to have pushed the cat and her kittens into her compound. Remembering the adage that any volatile situation can be salvaged with humor – I replied that in our maternity hospital, normal delivery cases are kept only for 4 days. Thereafter they are discharged from our care. Once they step out of our gates, we do not keep a track of their activities. Thank you for the information. We both laughed heartily thereafter and left the matter at that. Somehow, the day was saved without a hint of any rancor.
Mrs. Kavita Arora, wife of a leading film director came to me for her prenatal care and delivery under my supervision. She had been progressing satisfactorily. On the July 4, 1985, She arrived at 9.00 pm complaining of pains. She was most distressed that her husband was away in Poona for a film shoot. He was of course informed about the event and ordered to return forthwith. I consoled her, and assured her that I would be by her side all the time until she delivered. At 2.26 am on July 5 she gave birth to a bonny baby boy. After ensuring that she was comfortable, I retired at the unearthly hour of 3.00 am. The husband arrived at 4.00 am to visit his wife. I had left instructions to permit the husband to visit his recently delivered wife whenever he arrived. Mr. Satish Arora arrived at the hospital in the wee hours of the morning along with his coterie of friends. Inspite of the protestations of my hospital staff, they uncorked bottles of champagne to celebrate the event and created quite a ruckkus. Bollywood leads life on its own terms. Many of them are unreasonable and wont to make strange demands. As physicians, it is not possible to keep pace with their unusual demands. These artists are also very temperamental and short tempered. As a community, Bollywood and television celebrities have a chip on their shoulders. I tell my physician friends that you should consider yourself lucky if you do not have to deal with the film and TV world. At the time of leaving, Mr. Satish Arora left behind his pet dog, as the spoilt pup would only eat if it was fed by Kavita.
Early in the morning on July 5 I was reading the news paper and preparing to sip my morning cup of tea, when I was rudely disturbed by a commotion downstairs in the nursing home. I sent for the nurse on duty to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. She promptly reported that the ayahbai on duty refused to serve breakfast to Mrs. Arora. I summoned the ayahbai and on questioning her behaviour, she admitted that she was scared of going into that room. (It is a trait of all hospital staff members to part with incomplete information). I therefore had to descend downstairs to resolve the issue. It was only after I entered the room that I realized that each time the ayah attempted to enter the room, the puppy dog would come down barking at her, naturally, the ayah was reluctant to serve breakfast to Mr. Arora. I then had to remonstrate with Mrs. Arora. She was told in no uncertain terms that keeping animals in the room was against the rules. Also, requesting for unusual permission for visitors to come late at night disturbed the hospital routines. Since Kavita was otherwise fit and fine, I was only too glad to grant her an early discharge from the nursing home.
The last animal visitor at our nursing home was a pregnant monkey. She must have escaped from her keeper, and during her wild forays, she entered the nursing home and scampered up the staircase. The wardboys tried to shoo her away with sticks, but the scared monkey scratched them in self defense. Thereafter the monkey triumphantly entered a patient's room. Mrs.D'Souza – the occupant of the room had undergone a cesarean delivery the previous day. As she lay immobilized in her bed, with a glucose infusion attached to her right forearm, the entry of the monkey shook her out of her wits. The monkey climbed onto her bed, sat astride her chest, and started tapping her on her forehead. Mrs.D'souza let out a scream and sat upright onto her cot. The monkey ran out of the room and charged down the staircase and escaped into the compound. She climbed up onto the roof of the garage and sat smugly over there. Once again, on the basis of our past experience, we called up the SPCA. We went through the same rigmarole. We informed them that the monkey was not our pet. However, we made the mistake of mentioning that it appeared that the monkey might have escaped from the clutches of a performer of bunder ka khel. That statement sealed our hopes, because, we were promptly informed that the jurisdiction of the SPCA did not extend to pets.
Finally one of our more enterprising staff members located a monkey-man. He was bribed to take the monkey away. We paid him Rs.500 for his services, and as a bonus he got the monkey free in the bargain. Mrs. D'Souza, until this day, never fails to remind me of the monkey episode whenever we meet.
One July morning in the year 1982, I had a visitor waiting for me in my consulting rooms.
It was one of those days in the year when the crazy downpour had brought the city to a grinding halt. All the local trains had stopped services, a few buses were courageously proceeding along flooded streets, most sane people had decided against venturing out, even the street dogs were nowhere in sight. I had expected that very few patients would brave the weather and step out on such a wet wet wet wet day. I was myself in two minds about attending to my consulting rooms. I was looking forward to a quiet day at home, watching a movie and downing cups of hot tea and pakoras.
The telephone rang, the nurse on duty informed me that a village woman Malatibai and her daughter had been patiently waiting to see me. The nurse on duty had been trying to persuade Maltibai to come another day, but the woman stood her ground firmly and declared that she was willing to spend the whole day there, and would not leave without consulting me.
Upon my arrival, I noticed that the waiting room was empty, except for this determined woman and her daughter. They had traveled all night by bus from their remote village to reach Mumbai. From the public hospital they obtained the whereabouts about my consulting rooms, and came to my threshold with their hearts full of faith and hope.
I received them in my consulting rooms, and complimented them for travelling such a long distance in such inclement weather. Malatibai greeted me with a well bowed namaskar and began her narrative by reminding me of the day in December 1960, when as a young house officer I had attended to her in childbirth. She had been my patient at a public hospital 22 years earlier. I had attended to the birth of the daughter presently accompanying her. During that childbirth, she had had uncontrolled bleeding, hopes of survival were fast receding. In the prime of youth, I had offered to donate blood for her. An event she had not forgotten. Prompt and timely attention had saved her life. Such instances are'nt uncommon in the lives of young doctors in training, and these events lie dormant in our minds, however she had not forgotten the care she had received. For many years she had carried these memories with faith and immense gratitude.
Today she had come back to me full of faith and devotion. Her daughter Radha aged 22 had been married for 4 years, but she had been unable to bear a child. This had created a family problem, her mother-in-law and given her the ultimatum – " If you do not conceive in the next 6 months, you will be given marching orders and my son will get married to another woman who will preserve our family line". Distress was written large on their faces as they felt their entire world disintegrating in front of their very eyes. These two souls had come with such high expectations, I secretly prayed that I should not disappoint them.
I examined Radha and suggested a minor procedure. This was accomplished the next day. I assured them that I had done my very best for them and that we should leave the rest to providence. Reassured and filled with renewed faith, the dear souls traced their footsteps back to their hamlets. The mother was certain that since I had treated the daughter, there would be good news soon, however, I had that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach which most medical practitioners experience from time to time – the feeling that "I hope my treatment works and that these poor dear souls who have come to me with such faith and hope do not wilt with disappointment.
In the month of December that year, the husband of the young woman came to me holding a flower-pot with a flourishing tulsi plant, he said that after going home, Malatibai and her daughter Radha had planted the tulsi plant in my name and prayed for blessings. The happy news of pregnancy brought back joy and happiness in Radha's life, Malatibai left for her heavenly abode soon after hearing the happy tidings of her daughter's pregnancy, but unfortunately she did not live long enough to see her grandchild. She had however instructed her daughter and son-in-law to carry the potted tulsi plant to Mumbai and present it as a mark of her devotion and faith in her doctor.
I humbly admit that the unalloyed joy and gratitude of these simple folks far outweighs the thanks that I receive from my wealthy clients who treat childbirth and the care given to the mothers purely through the crystal of a business transaction.
In the lives of medical practitioners, such events bring satisfaction and joy. The joy of participating in meaningful ways in close family events.
The Patwardhan couple had waited for a child for 5 years. They had finally reconciled to their fate. Prashant, a computer engineer had a promising career ahead, he plunged himself headlong into his work, this helped him forget about their barren marriage. Varsha worked as a jewellery designer. Her designs were much acclaimed. She too kept herself busy. Prashant and Varsha devoted themselves strictly to pursuing their careers. They showered their love on children in the home for the destitiute. They distributed clothes, toys and sweets to these deprived children on their anniversary and on every New Year's day.
On one Sunday evening, when Prashant was watching the movie Dhool ka Phool, Varsha brought up the topic of her desire to adopt a child. Prashant tried to brush it aside. He said that his friends who had children complained of the hassles of raising children. In the present times – children were a high maintenance liability, taking on such a responsibility would entail the need for Varsha to restrict her work and devote more time to the child. It would hinder their carefree lifestyle, interfere with their vacations and enhance their domestic expenses.
Varsha felt her maternal instincts nagging her at parties and social gathering, where other women would discuss activities of their children, school admissions, uniforms and books, dance classes, music lessons, school sports, planning birthday parties, designing dresses for fancy dress competitions, organizing camps, family picnics, and the all joys and pleasures of motherhood. On such occasions Varsha invariably felt a sense of deep void in her otherwise active and fulfilling life.
Divali was fast approaching. Prashant's sister wrote to say that she and her family were planning to spend their Divali vacation in Mumbai, and wondered if it would be convenient to Varsha and Prashant. Varsha was quite excited, a suitable letter of invitation was promptly dispatched. A fortnight later Divya and Girish Rane along with their 5 year daughter Nilima arrived. Nilima was the focus of attention of everyone at home. She was sweet natured child, she sang and danced happily, and drew pictures with her crayons. One day she drew a picture of her kind aunt Varsha and presented it to her. This gesture moved Varsha to tears of joy. A week later, Divya and her family departed, presents were exchanged, and an invitation to visit the Rane's at Nagpur during Christmas was duly extended.
After the visit, Varsha began to experience a gnawing feeling constantly tugging at her heart strings. She too yearned for a child like Neelima. Varsha now started her quest in earnest. She prevailed on Prashant and obtained his concurrence to initiate the process for adoption. She visited a social worker and counselor of an adoption agency. The adoption agency arranged an appointment visit for Prashant and Varsha to visit St. Catherine's Home. Varsha met various children that were put up for adoption, they were all young and under the age of three years. As Varsha approached a little girl named Sonal, she smiled at Varsha and raised her arms in a gesture of wanting to be picked-up. That was the crucial moment when all Varsha's pent-up emotions gave way. Tears brimming from her eyes, Varsha lifted the child in her arms and hugged it tight. Sonal responded warmly, showering Varsha with hugs and smiles. The decision was made there and then to adopt Sonal. The formal process of adoption process was forthwith set in motion.
Three months later, Sonal came to live with the Patwardhan family. Sonal won the hearts of all around her with her smiles and laughter. She was a loving, warm and carefree child. Sonal welcomed daddy whenever he returned from work with a sweeyt coy smile. Prashant who was a geek, gradually changed with passing days. He now started to look forward to play sessions with his daughter. Prashant and Varsha agreed that they had never known so much joy until Sonal came into their lives.
About 6 months later, Sonal developed a fever, soon she stopped scampering around and became peevish. The family doctor treated her for a few days, however Sonal's restriction of activities began to raise concern. Sonal was therefore taken to a pediatrician, who diagnosed her to be suffering from poliomyelitis. This came as a big shock. However, Varsha now gave up work to be with her daughter. Varsha regularly took Sonal for her physiotherapy sessions. This indeed helped her recovery considerably, however she was left with a residual limp. She was advised to use special shoe which helped her in locomotion, but she could not run around freely nor could she participate in outdoor games.
At the age of 5 years, Sonal joined school. She was unable to participate in games, but was content in cheering her class mates. She later opted out for drawing and vocal music as alternatives to sports. She excelled in both subjects.
On her eighth birthday, she requested her parents to give her a pet. Varsha and Prashant considered this to be a reasonable request, looking after her pet would provide her some diversion and fill up her lonely moments. They took her to a pet shop and requested the shop owner to show them puppies which were put up for sale. The shop-owner announced that his female dog had just given birth to three pups about 10 days ago, these were up for sale. He whistled and called for his pet dog Margaret. She came ambling along and was soon followed by two fluffy ball like pups, a few minutes later, a third smaller pup limped along. Sonal picked up the last pup and looked him over. The shop owner said that he could not sell that pup because it had a defective foot and would not be able to run about freely. On hearing this, Sonal pointed to her own defective leg. She said that the little lame pup would suit her fine as they would both understand one another well. The deal was sealed, and the little brown pup came home to live with the Patwardhans.
The pup had a white spot on its forehead, therefore Sonal named her pet dog "SPOT". Varsha was happy to see Sonal and Spot bonding well. Sonal had never been so happy as she now was ever since Spot arrived. Sonal looked after her pup, fed him, bathed him and took him out for a stroll in the park. The pup reciprocated by licking her, and sitting by her side whenever she was busy studying. Spot was always at the door to welcome Sonal with bark whenever she returned from school. At home the two were inseparable.
As she grew-up, Sonal took part in elocution contests and inter-class debates. Her skills at debating were much appreciated. She represented her school in inter-school debates and won several prestigious awards. After passing her high school board examinations with honours, Sonal decided to study English Literature. She joined the St. Xavier's College and pursued the course to graduate with B.A.(Hons) with English as her special subject. Spot grew-up to be a fine dog. He was obedient and well behaved. He loved being stroked and being taken outdoors for a stroll. His limp would not permit him to run around, but a slow and lazy walk with Sonal would make them both happy.
After Sonal graduated, she took up a job with an advertising firm. She would bring back gifts for her parents and one for dear Spot. Three years later, she noticed that Spot was loosing weight, he was becoming increasingly listless and had reduced his diet. But even when he was not well, he never refrained from welcoming Sonal home when she returned from work.
Sonal took him to a vet, who said that Spot was suffering from inoperable cancer, and that Sonal should be prepared to see him going steadily downhill. Sonal was downcast on hearing this, however Spot jumped into her lap and started to lick her lovingly. Sonal decided to make Spot's last days a happy. She now assiduously attended to her dog. She would bathe him, feed him, put him to sleep in his basket, administer his medications regularly and showered her affections on Spot. He could not walk too far, so she started carrying him to the park. At the next visit, the vet told her that Spot had not much longer to live, that he was suffering much from pain, and that it would be kind to put him to sleep. He gave her three days to decide. Sonal discussed it with her parents, they too were sorry to hear the news about Spot. Finally they left the decision to Sonal.
Sonal kept her doggy by her side all night, comforting him from time to time. Seeing his discomfort, she decided that the time had come for her to let go of her pet. She got out of bed early, bathed Spot, brushed him and fed him. At the breakfast table she announced her decision to her family. She called up the vet and made an appointment, and then decided to drive her pet to the Vet's office. Varsha offered to go with her, but Sonal wanted her last moments with her dog to be private.
At the vet's office she sat in the waiting room with Spot nestled in her lap. Her eyes were brimming with tears. Spot could sense her grief, he would raise his head to her face and give her a loving lick, but was too feeble to do any more. When her name was called out – she stepped into the procedure room, prayed to god for sending her angel in the form of Spot to help her through her days of trial and tribulation, put the dog on the examining table, with his head resting on her lap. The doctor pricked the dog, he found a vein, at that moment Spot lift his head and looked at Sonal in her eyes, gave her his last loving grip and slipped into coma and deep sleep. His breathing became progressively shallow, ten minutes later he was no more.
Sonal came home shaken up. She knew that she had done the best that could be done. In giving him up she had overcome her selfishness and freed the dog from his miseries. She told her parents not to grieve. Addressing them she said that the good lord had sent three angels to look after her during life. The first two angels were her adopted parents who had given her unstinted support and love. The third angel was Spot, who came into her life to relieve her from wallowing in her crippled state. Spot brought home sunshine and unconditional love. Now that his work on earth was over, God called him back to rest in eternal peace.
Legend tells us that the descent of the mighty river Ganga from the heavens would have split the earth. However, lord Shiva averted such a calamity by taming the river by tying her torrents into his matted ash-smeared locks of hair, thus dissipating her force as she landed on earth. The braided river flows eastwards through a wide expanse of thirsty plains until it reaches its final stages in Bengal. Here, the braids gradually get undone, the loosened but as yet tangled strands break up into streams and rivulets that spread across the land like a wide network that breaks up the land mass into an archipelago of islands. This tide countryside called the Sunderban is interposed between the plains of Bengal and the waters of the Bay of Bengal that lie yonder. Some of these islands are large and inhabited, however many exist as mangrove forest lands inhabited by snakes, crocodiles and tigers. Some islands exist as sheer sand bars that have a transient existence as their boundaries keep fluctuating and mutating with the currents and the tides.
A short train ride from Kolkata leads to Canning, the gateway to the tide country. Further travel is by motor boats and sail boats that leave Canning for other inhabited islands according to the tides. Canning holds an important place in the lives of these islanders. It is the last bureaucratic outpost, people come to Canning for shopping, medical attention, selling their produce or for government work. It is the starting point for reaching out to the civilization existing beyond their confines.
Jonaki, now aged 14 years lived on the island of Nalbari. It could be approached only by small boats from Lusibari. The large island of Lusibari was well connected and was a regular stop on the navigation route of the motor boat or launches plying between Canning and Morichjhapi. Nalbari was a small island about fourteen square kilometers in area. There was a cluster of about 60 homes and beyond the centre of the island lay several clusters of shanty huts, the population of about 1000 people on this island. Jonaki’s mother died from a snakebite when she was still very young. Jonaki could not remember her mother. She was brought up by her grand parents. Her father would stay away from home for many days whenever he went to sea on a fishing spree.
The monsoons were heavy that year, the edges of their island would often get inundated. The villagers would move cartloads of mud to create embankments to withstand the encroachments by the tides. Her father would return home from time to time. He would bring home purchases of utensils, clothes, flour, kerosene and other family needs from the nearby island of Lusibari.
During one such monsoon, when she was aged 12, Jonaki’s grand mother fell ill. Her grandfather had to hire a boat to carry her grandmother to a government dispensary located at Lusibari. Before departing, Jonaki’s grand father warned her against the possible onslaught of floods, he instructed her to climb onto the peepal tree, in case the house got flooded. Just as he had predicted, under the onslaught of fierce winds and incessant rains, water started flooding the island. When Jonaki peeped out, she saw her neighbours moving to higher parts on the island. Water soon entered her hut. She picked up a few rations, tied them in a bundle in her grandma’s saree, she then climbed onto the peepal tree and patiently waited for the flood waters to recede. For two days she stayed perched on the tree, frightened, exhausted and hungry. On the third day, the rains subsided, the sun came out, but the flood waters were still swirling around her. She noticed a young man rowing towards her in a boat, he helped her to come down. She was saved in time. She moved in with villagers living in the upper dry reaches of Nalbari. A few days later she could return to her devastated hut.
After a week, her grandfather returned home alone and crestfallen. Unfortunately, grandma could not recover from her illness. She died in the government hospital in Lusibari. He had to cremate her over there. After his return, for a few days he kept essentially to himself. He wept from time to time, but soon brought himself to facing the task of building their hut anew. Life returned to its original tone. Jonaki however found herself rudely thrown into the realities of life, and at her tender age, she was forced to assume adult responsibilities. She suddenly grew up many years. Her childhood was swept away in those floods.
Her father, Sondesh returned home after a week. He heard the news of the death of his mother with equanimity. In the tide country, the inhabitants are used to tragedies which seem to be lurking around the corner at all times. They have learnt to take life in their stride, thankful to the Lord for favours granted, and accepting all mishaps as their destiny. The inhabitants of the island prayed to the guardian spirit Bon Bibi to protect them from danger. After the monsoon, when the waters were calm, Sondesh once again set out on his boating expedition, this time on his return visit, he halted on the island of Rangbellito visit his cousin Bhobesh. During his stay there Sondesh was introduced to a young eligible bachelor named Dhrub, Sondesh decided that on his return home he would consult his father and Jonaki before sending a marriage proposal to Dhrub’s parents. Unfortunately, he could never return home because he fell prey to a tiger on an unhabited island where he had halted on his return journey.
Jonaki lived with her grandfather for the next two years, tending to her small vegetable patch, raising poultry and working as a part-time maid in the house of the well-to do families of Mr. Subhash Mazumdar who ran a grocery store and Mr. Tanmoy Ghosh who taught at the village school. One night, her grandfather complained of chest pain, she rushed to her neighbour for help but by the time they arrived – Grandpa had breathed his last. She was now left all alone to fend for herself. Mrs. Ghosh was very kind to her, but often worried about her future.
One day a group of visiting dignitaries from Kolkatta arrived at Nalbari. They identified themselves as social workers from Nari Seva – an NGO that worked for the welfare of widows, destitute and abandoned women, helping to rehabilitate them by training them in crafts to become self-supporting and independent. The social workers addressed the elders of Nalbari in the school premises and promised to help needy women from Nalbari by inducting them into trades like tailoring, embroidery, cooking, nursing, primary school teachers or anganbari workers. Mrs Ghosh, listened to these kindly souls with rapt attention. She perceived in their visit an opportunity to settle Jonaki. Accordingly, she persuaded Jonaki to improve her future prospects in life by getting trained in a profession. Jonaki, who had few options, accepted Mrs. Ghosh’s advice. The next day she, along with two other girls - Bhadra and Nilima from two poor families of coolies working at the jetty – decided to leave Nalbari along with their patrons. Her eyes dimmed as she watched her village disappearing into the horizon. She had now closed a chapter in her life, she looked forward to her future with mixed feelings of trepidation and anticipation.
On reaching Canning, these helpless women were given new clothes and then sold to leering pimps, who herded them to Kolkatta and sold them to agents running a flourishing flesh trade.
Jonaki was sold to Miriambi, who ran a music hall in downtown Kolkatta. There was no escape from this hell-hole. At first she resisted, but frequent beatings, starvation and scolding finally broke her rebellious spirit. She accepted her fate and decided to make the most of her life in the confines of the red-light district. Ten long years went by. Memories of Nalbari gradually became dim. She never thought that she would see her childhood home ever again.
One day, Horen aged 26 years now, the son of Mr.Ghosh of Nalbari came to Kolkatta to visit his relatives. His cousin Bhasker aged 24 years, a medical student, took him out sight-seeing. After visiting the Victoria Memorial, they went for a stroll to Chowranghee, they watched a movie at the Metro. Bhasker treated him to the delights at Flurry’s, and finally persuaded Horen to savour the delights of the redlight district. Here, after paying Madam for services at her den, they were led to different cubicles by a pimp. On entering the cubicle, Horen was shocked to come face to face with Jonaki. She was all painted with gaudy make-up and was scantily dressed. He averted her glance and tried to leave, when Jonaki held him back with her hand. She made him sit down on the couch and narrated her long sad story of deception and abandonment. She made polite enquiries about the people back home in Nalbari.
Horen asked her if she would like to come back to Nalbari – She hung her head in shame, staring at the floor she said – “I have been defiled, I am no longer fit to live amongst the bhadralok (genteel folks) at Nalbari. Here I am well looked after. I have some permanent clients who are considerate. But let me emphasize this universal truth – however unacceptable it may sound. We, the so called fallen women are looked down upon by society. The genteel women scorn us – but do they realize that they are safe in their homes – away from the roving eyes of sex hungry fiends and young unmarried men, college students and married men living away from their wives in this large uncaring metropolis. The unquenched fires in their loins drives them to us. We satisfy their manly needs so that other women may live in peace. You too came here to satisfy your lust. Who am I to judge you? All that I wish to say is that not many of us are here out of choice – Necessity often drives us into this trade.” She then went on to say “Swear to me not to breathe a word about our meeting when you go back home. Behave as though we had never met. May god be with you” – She then led him out of her cubicle – Life has to go on.