I am Shabnam. But trust me, this name is cursed. Call me Durga, if you want to avoid that, since this was my actual name before I came to this hell!
As far as my memory concerns, I was raised in an orphanage, where I spent almost eight years of my life. There, no one liked me, and neither did I like anyone. So when I ran away from that place one night, no one even bothered to find me!
Then, I came to this place. The landlady of the place, Munmun Bua welcomed me warmly in, and I, too naive to understand her ulterior motive, came in with her. When I asked what place this was, she replied, "This is the place of the moon and stars. The sun rises here at night instead of the day."
There were about twenty girls here under the patronage of Munmun Bua. All of them adored me, and so did I. Men only came here at night. Before they came in, the girls took full responsibility to put me to sleep, because according to them, the night was likely to become clamorous. When I asked for the reason, they all said the same thing time and again, that the sun rose here at night.
I was naturally inquisitive, but I shut myself with the explanation I was given. However, I was not entirely aloof of what actually happened here when I was asleep. I knew, that men came here to watch my dear sisters dance, and showered them with money. And then, they would just disappear! Most of them however would show again in the next morning for dance practices, perfectly fine and normal.
One night, I heard a Didi speaking to Munmun Bua about me. She said, "Durga is now eight. She will be a lady in a couple of years. Will you not teach her dancing?"
Soon, Munmun Bua approached me and informed that I will be henceforth taught to dance.
Also, she changed my name to 'Shabnam'.
When I asked what all this was for, she simply replied that it was for my own good. Pondering over all of that now, how can all this be good for me?!
For the next three years, I practiced dancing diligently, maybe to find out what it really meant to be a 'lady'. I naturally developed a talent for it and soon grew to be Munmun Bua's favourite dancer. I often heard her say, "How perfect! Our lil' diamond is absolutely ready! Now we should only wait for her to be a lady, and also for the jeweler who would prove her worth."
As I turned eleven, I soon knew what it meant to be a lady after experiencing an excruciating pain in my lower abdomen. After that, I too joined the other girls in staying up and dancing the whole night. I too was showered with money. Slowly, all the filthy truths of the world, that was so long hidden from me, naturally found it's way. I understood everything, literally everything.
Many men came to the brothel at night to impose upon as their damned manhood, which they didn't have the chance to impose on the well bred young ladies of the society. We didn't really have the chance to cry out at night, since if we did so, our very heavy makeup would have been all smudged, and then no men would touch us, and then Munmun Bua wouldn't have the money to remain in that house.
And the day? Dear readers, we don't have sunny days in our life. Our life is dark, and we are the light in that darkness. I did find however a way, and that was to cry as quietly as possible in the day after assuring the door was perfectly locked and no one was around. Chandni, who was about five years senior to me, understood my pain and tried to console me. Her real name was Kavita, and I am sure her fate was similar to mine. I thought, perhaps she too cried after realizing her crossed fate. Perhaps, this was the case for all other young girls here....
But, there was nothing to be done to our predestined futures. We were born to serve in this city of lust, and to die here as well. Our existence itself was scandalous and impure. Even if we were to run away, the society would never accept us, nor give us any sort of respect. Realizing that future was dark enough already, I resumed my work of pleasing men and scarring myself in return. Sometimes, we were even called to perform in the courts of famous Kings and Emperors. I was Munmun Bua's favorite dancer, so in most cases it was me who had that 'priviledge'. I followed her orders most obediently since I really thought of her as a 'Bua'.
Much glum at the thought, I asked her, "Munmun Bua, from the very day you took me here, I have thought of you as my own mother. Yet, why did you do this to me? Tell me, why did you? When did I ever displease you?"
"Child," she replied, "I have never wronged you. You are like my child, my flower, how can I ever wrong you? Listen carefully dear, a flower doesn't go to the bees, bees come to the flowers, attracted by their beauty. On the bright side, you have so many bees at once! Dear...forego your dreams and face the reality. Even before you were born, your destiny was fixed, and one must face her reality. I know this work feels like a burden to you, but you have no option but to continue with it..."
Munmun Bua's explanation didn't satisfy me, but I was obliged to accept my defeat.
Three years have passed. Now we have twenty-five girls in the brothel. Two of my sisters took their own lives, and other two died after being tortured by the guests. Sister Chandni gave birth to a daughter after sleeping with a man. Three other Didis too have their own kids now.
Like us, these innocent kids to have been deemed as impure by the society. But are they really to blame? Is it their fault to be born in the darkness? Sometimes I really space out thinking just how pathetic this wretched society can be. I mean, all these men, come overflowing with their so called manliness and leave their marks on us. And if we face them with their own child in hand, they call us shameless!? I don't understand why people think we come to work in the brothel in our own sweet will. Why don't they understand, that we don't want to be disrespected? Everyone likes to be respected, but some have there own obligations.
As of today, I am eighteen years in age, and I too have a little girl of my own. But I have vowed to myself, that I would never allow the society to blame my daughter for being born here. I was an orphan, but my daughter has me! I'll help her to dream, to be desperate, so that she herself can write her own future. I want her to earn respect in the society that I have failed to do. I want that she has her own identity, rather than the one she has now– 'A lowly courtesan's daughter'.
For her, I, Shabnam, am ready to be Durga once again, I am ready to face all demons there are in the path of her success, and I am ready to sacrifice myself for her. I would never let her feel my pain, misery or sadness.
*Edited and Translated by Tanusha Paine.*