Penna, Stella and Koelli talking with Dr Lalita
I visited ‘Budwar Pet’ Red Light district in Pune with Dr Lalita. We walked to the Satvana crèche run for children of sex workers every week day from 5:30 – 9:30 for the last couple of years. They weren’t there but it gave us space to talk (in hindi/urdu). Being able to communicate makes all the difference. It gets beyond the superficial, the outward appearance of things. Dr Lalita calls the Hijra ‘her special people.’
I met Panna who runs the crèche, Koelli from Keralla who has been in Pune for the last 25 years and Stella from Tamil Nadu for the past 20. All three have come out of the trade. As we talked they gave a demonstration dance and Penen sang a song: ‘Koi bhi chore mujhe, Yesu kebhi nehin chorega’ (even if others leave me, Jesus will never leave me)
Dr Laita stared working at Jadhav Natva Sansar and befriending the hijra or 'kinnar' (eunuchs). It was a real lesson in acceptance. Dr Laita has befriended and served them, demonstrating unconditional love. They are now in turn helping others. They all seem to call her ‘uma’ (mum) or ‘aunty’
We went on a walkabout the streets. Narrow dirty lanes, full of shops, DVD stalls, narrow lanes and gullies. People milling around. Penna and the others greeted men and women and fellow ‘kinnar’ and the mamas sitting outside the doors. Everyone eyes everyone else up.
At night it is the twilight world of TGs (transgenders) FSWs (female sex workers) and MSMs (men having sex with men). In the heat of the day, the home spills out onto the street, difficult to discern private and public, domestic and professional. I was concerned about girls not much older than my daughter. So much exploitation.
In her small one room flat over a cuppa ‘germ chai’, Penna showed me pictures of her heyday, her dancing days. With all her make up, she looked like a Greta Garbo figure from Hollywood. Then she earned 10,000 Rs a night dancing. But she wouldn’t swap those days for now anytime. Now she has a sense of peace and purpose.
Penna quoted by heart Isaiah 56: 4-5 in Hindi - verses that mean so much to her:
'For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.’