“Tara, pass me that stone…?” Amjad screeched, jerking four-year-old Tara from her stupor. She saw a round pebble rolled towards her, smiling at her unmindful of the turmoil in her heart. She kicked it back to the group of kids playing under the scorching heat as they waited for their parents to emerge from the Barauni Thermal power station.
Tara had just moved from her village with her parents and missed her grandparents. Durbhiksha (Famine)… they called. It was Devi Maa’s curse, her grandmother had said.
The kids waited for their daily wager parents all day, and Tara wasn’t allowed to join hopscotch or whatever games they played. “You are a newbie. You don’t know the rules…” they would say.
“Amma, can I attend that school?” A starry-eyed Tara asked her frail mother lying on the charpoy even as the woman was engulfed by a bout of cough that took time to subside. The piece of rag she held against her mouth had turned red, and Tara had been scared when she had seen it for the first time.
“Don’t act like a newbie Tara….” Her father reprimanded her. “…Your baba can’t afford it. Little Anshu has to attend school. He would become a ‘saheb’ and end our troubles. So you have to stay at home and help amma.”
Tara’s hopes ruthlessly shattered, how she hated her little brother, but not more than that wretched word.
“Amir, is this true?” Tara asked her boyfriend wide-eyed. The tall, lanky Amir had just returned from the ‘city of dreams’ Mumbai, where he claimed he studied in the best of colleges.
“Yes, Tara…” Amir smiled, the dimples getting further deeper and Tara wanted nothing more than to plunge into their depths. “…That place is like ‘Jannat’”
“Amir, shall we get married? Then we can go there together…” Tara asked hopefully.
“You are such a newbie Tara…” Amir shook off her hand on his arm. “…you are underaged… why don’t we elope?”.
The present, Kamathipura, Mumbai
Tara stared at the dark dampness chipping away the cheap paint in the corner of the room. The cacophony of the nocturnal friends now retiring to their holes notwithstanding, the dingy space had been her home in the past three years. Amir had left her here… probably sold her off.
She turned around on the cold hard floor, grimacing at every tiny agonizing movement. Last night she had serviced six ravenous souls continuously.
Tara’s teary vision darted towards the picture of a popular actress of yesteryears, the ragged poster resembling her tattered life in this hellhole.
The door creaked open, and the brothel madam walked in.
“Get ready in ten, we have to go to the hotel… a few guests need to be ‘served.’ Good pay…”
“But my body… It can’t take anymore….” Tara tried reasoning.
“What? Are you a newbie? Get dressed already…” the madam shook her head and walked out the door-bang resonating with Tara’s fast pacing heart.
That lecherous word again…
Kamathipura: infamous red light area in Mumbai.
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