A Cheap Woman

In one of the bye lanes of Delhi’s Chowk, a young man was seemingly lost. Wearing an embroidered kurta, spotlessly white Pyjamas, reeking of perfume and a note in hand, he was looking for the “Kothi” of a particular prostitute in Delhi’s Red Light area. Both sides of this barely ten feet wide lane were lined up with “Kothis” of prostitutes. In the fading evening light, the curtains were shining bright. To attract customers, the prostitutes had dressed scantily, exposing their beauty, betel leaves in mouth. It all created an impression of the Glory of Lucknow!

With the looks of a film star, and the immaculate dress, this young man soon caught the attention of the pimps, thronging the lane. Looked as if a scion of a very rich family had ventured here to satisfy his lust and it would be easy to squeeze some money from him by taking him to the “right place.” The pimps started walking alongside him. Whistles were already coming his side from some of the Kothis.

In the name of entertaining clients with music, flesh trade was thriving here. Often, a prostitute , reading the mind of the customer, would sing a piece or two, accompanied by Harmonium and Tabla , and then shut the door of her kothi only to open her own!

One of the pimps, walking alongside of this young man, said, winking his eyes:’ Sir, what would you like to listen to? Thumri, Tappa, Dadra or Gazal? Only recently a beauty from Lucknow has arrived……what a voice she has!……Delhi has never heard such a voice till now. The other pimp intervened,:” Sir, if you don’t mind, may I say something? A girl from Agra has come. Not only does she sing, but when she dances along with it, it seems as if a garden is in full bloom! ….she has danced in many films…..and what beauty!…..if you say I can arrange her for the night…..”

But that young man, showing the note in his hand, said,:” That Rehmatbai, who earlier used to sit in Naya Bazar, has recently come here. I want to go to her Kothi, would you know where it is?”

“Oh oh Sir, what are you talking? The days and times of Rehmatbai are over long since. Had you come some thirty or forty years ago, everybody would have talked about her……but to-day she is a spent force. Her sun has already set….”

“But I want to meet her only”.

“Sir, that old woman’s era is over. To-day she does not have anyone who could even accompany her on Harmonium or Tabla, nor does she have any beautiful girls with her. Yes there are two worthless girls with

her…..Sir trust me and come with me…..I will take you to the best in Delhi….”

But this young man did not listen to him. After some effort, he located the place where Rehmatbai lived.

Climbing up the worn staircase he entered directly in the drawing room. The worn out carpet and the curtains and the old black sofa set reminded one of the glory that was!

There was no one in the drawing room. A low powered bulb was providing some dim light. It appeared as if no one was around. He called out. From an inside room, a voice came. “Please take your seat, I will be right there.”

This young man, after some hesitation, took his seat in one corner of the sofa. After some time, a young lady, about 19 or 20years old, entered. Yes her complexion was only a light brown but her face reflected culture and she certainly looked more than just likeable. Upon seeing the young man on the sofa, she thought that a customer had come, she immediately offered a “Mujra” and a salute to him.

The shy man ,springing up from the sofa, said:” Is Rehmatbai not there?”

“She is there but she does not entertain anyone any more.”……then added in a low voice: “But I am here to be of service to you.”

“Oh, said the young man. I presume that you are Rehmatbai’s daughter. If you have inherited music

from your mother, then I would like to hear some old pieces . Especially the one in Raga Lalita

goury. I have heard that Ustad Zandekhan learnt it from Rehmatbai. The woman immediately understood that this young man had come to listen to some really old time music and is quite knowledgeable can appreciate good music, but as per the custom , she said ;’Sir, I too know many songs of Saigal, that Bhairavi….Bajubandha,Khulkhul Ja, sung by Ustad Faiyazkhan, which was originally sung by Lalankhan, is worth giving a ear to. I will sing a few pieces of Wajid Ali Shah too. Sir, I am the Wine and I am the Saki (Server), you will soon be drunk and the effect will remain till the early hours of morning”, saying that she let her scarf slide down her shoulders, revealing her curves.

But the young man without losing his composure, said:” Can I please meet your mother?”

The girl understood that this was no ordinary client, so went inside and called her mother.

Rehmatbai entered. A woman in her mid-forties, slightly plump, white skin but her body still reminding of the beauty she must have been in the past. Just as she entered, the young man got up and touched her feet! Rehmatbai was taken by surprise, gave the young man a piercing look and sat down on the carpet. The young man also sat opposite her.

” I have only recently been transferred here from Jaipur. I am in the music department of All India Radio.

I am trying to restore our long forgotten heritage of our old classical music, if only T could get the support and cooperation of people like you…….Nenawarbai of Jaipur gave me your name so I have come here looking for you.” thus saying, he took out two hundred rupee notes from his pocket, and placing them before her feet, said:” I am but an ordinary government servant and cannot efford more, but kindly accept this token of my appreciation” Rehmatbai just looked at those notes and without even touching them, asked the young man, testing his real intentions:” Young man, are you married?”

“No, Ma’am”

“Engaged?”

“No, Ma’am”

“Anyone in mind?”

“No, Ma’am”

“Look, this girl sitting here is my daughter. Have you seen her beauty? A second one is inside, working in the kitchen. Exactly a carbon copy of this one. Keep coming, they will make you happy. I do not believe in paying pimps to attract clients, do you understand? Spend the night here. It is my invitation to you, saying which she cast a piercing look at him. The young man was absolutely speechless. This was an open invitation to the flesh trade. A challenge to his youth.

He hesitated……but just for a moment.

Then he said in a low voice :”Where is the other girl?”

“In the kitchen. Shall I call her?”

“Yes”

The other girl came. Exactly like her sister.

“Amma, how many daughters do you have?”

“Two. Make your choice.”

“Made.”

“Which one?”

“Both” said the young man and pulled out two five rupee notes from his pocket, and giving them to the girls, said:

“This is from your brother!”

Now it was Amma, who was taken by surprise.

” Young man, are you really interested in music?”

“I am a slave of music.”

“This is a market which sells flesh. Many people come here under the pretext of listening to music, name a few pieces, listen to one or two, nodding their heads as if they understand and appreciate the niceties of what is being presented, then spend the entire night in bed with the young girls. This is my personal experience. I have also seen the world. Now tell me, are you really interested in music or the two girls?”

“In both. If the girls have really trained under you, I will accept them as my GURUS, you of course will always remain one.”

Rehmatbai now came and sat next to the young man. Taking him in a tight embrace and kissing his forehead, she told the two girls,:” A Hindu brother has come .Put a vermillion mark on his forehead and accord him a traditional Hindu welcome.”

That night, Rehmatbai’s drawing room was witness to a unique session of music.

After many years, Rehmatbai dusted her Tanpura, tuned it and then gave her vocal chords a free reign. She sang many old ragas, Dadra, Thumri, Hori, Tappa……an entire range of Indian Classical Music. With the rendition of Raag Bhairavi the session ended in the early hours of morning. The young man was very happy, so also were Rehmatbai and her two daughters. After how many years had Rehmatbai got an opportunity to open up?

After the morning tea, when the young man touched the feet of all of them to take their leave , an overwhelmed Rehmatbai took him in a tight embrace and said:” Keep coming, my son. I will sing for you. At this age, my voice is not responding but I can still teach you some intricacies of our classical music.” Then returning his money, she said:” Here, take these back, they are not required.”

“But…but…you have toiled for six hours…you have earned it”

“Son, there are some rules/principles to earning too. Give it to your mother from me.”

“You are my mother, so I give it to you.”

“Well, think as if I have received them.”

“Then let me give it to my sisters.”

“They too have received them. I have been observing you in the last six hours. You have never cast a dirty look at either of them. Had I even seen a hint of lust in your eyes, I would have kept the money. I can judge people. After all, I am a cheap woman from the trade.”

After that, this young man has never felt any shame in entering this lane.

A STORY BY GIRISH GANATRA

nd without even tou

MY BROTHER

Today, October 12th, happens to be my brother – Markand’s – birthday. He turns 96. It has been quite an eventful life and I would like to reproduce here the few episodes and anecdotes that come to mind.

Clockwise from top Left: Markandbhai, Yagnesh (self), Asha, Veena, Smita

Ba’s Blessings

Being six years younger, I cannot throw much light on his early childhood, but what I do distinctly remember is our mother telling us that as a child, he would ask our grandmother to bless him thus: “Ba (a term we’d refer to our granny as), tell me that I may live a hundred years!” These words have remained etched in my heart.

Big Brother’s Rewards

Years passed quickly and it was when I was preparing for my Class III exams that he told me he’d reward me with Rs.5 if I were to rank among the top 5 in my class. As an otherwise ordinary student, I worked really hard and did stand fifth. True to his word, I became richer by Rs.5 – a princely sum in those days – as promised! What I want to emphasise here is that this money came from his own pocket money. Being a young teen himself then, selflessness was an early trait he exhibited, always ready to encourage us, his younger siblings.

Quit India

Came the Quit India movement (an uprising against the British colonial power), and both he & our eldest sister – Veena – plunged headfirst and whole-heartedly into it, even courting imprisonment. He had just entered college, but still sacrificed a year of education to jail! By the time he was released, he was deeply steeped in the Independence movement and to instill discipline and nationalistic fervor in us youngsters, he started teaching us the basics of how to march like soldiers and to wield a staff. Initially, we must’ve been about 30-40 kids in the group, being trained in a neigbouring compound, but soon it was found necessary to open two more branches near by. Which he did, with his other older friends being put in charge. Sports meets were held annually between these branches to foster healthy competition and enjoy some fun.

Social Work Comes Calling

I don’t now remember when or how these activities stopped, but he had taken up doing community service at the Chandanwadi municipal chawls (residential quarters for the less privileged sections) in Mumbai. It has been decades, but even now, he still remains attached to this service. Meanwhile, I too had joined college and would conduct teaching classes at a night school established for domestic staff.

Playing Cupid

Soon, it was time for me to go abroad for further studies and it was then that I received the greatest support from him. There was a time I was feeling lonely and quite unwanted and it was during this phase of depression that I wrote a letter to Manjri – the girl who was to become my future wife – confessing my love for her. I had developed such feelings since I had visited Bharuch (a town in Gujarat) when I’d visited my aunt, a year or so earlier. Well, my Juliet responded and thus began our regular exchange of letters. Now, unless a villain appears, where’s the spice in any story? So, on cue, her sister – the eldest among four siblings – appeared, and intercepted one such letter. What would you expect in letters penned by two young lovebirds? Hell broke loose back home and my Juliet secretly wrote me a letter asking me to forget her for good. This shameless Romeo then approached his older brother, laying bare everything. True to his self, big brother came to my help…and how! He sent one of our cousins – Ashok – who was also his very dear friend, to Nagpur, where my Juliet stayed, at his own expense to further my cause. I don’t know what transpired there, but he must’ve smoked a peace pipe with my would-be father-in-law and all was well again! I received an “all clear” signal from my brother and the postmen got busy again. I can never thank my brother enough for the role he played in this chapter of my life.

DIFFERENT TIMES, DIFFERENT MINDS

Monghiba (Granny)

After completing my studies, I returned to India and joined the family business with our father’s blessings as an equal partner, at a factory started by my brother. It was here that I was to witness a different side to him. Initially, as a raw recruit, I was quite happy to work under his guidance. My responsibilities were Planning and Production and things were running along smoothly. Then came a big expansion and the work force increased manifold. I was now also entrusted with Sales – a job I simply loved. By then, we had quite a battery of Engineers, Technicians and Supervisors, with whom I would hold daily meetings to plan and resolve any issues. Soon, he started attending these meetings and would question the employees directly. His presence I had no objection to, but I was piqued at his lack of protocol of overlooking me and seeking answers and clarifications from my subordinates. Perhaps he felt I was incompetent or doubted my managerial capabilities, I honestly do not know till date.

AS THE BUSINESS EXPANDED, SO DID THE GAP

The reputation of our organisation had grown so rapidly that the State Government of Madhya Pradesh approached us, seeking collaboration in the setting up of a factory manufacturing winding wires, to be situated in Bhopal, the state capital. A company was duly instituted, with Markand as the Chairman and me as Managing Director, plus three independent directors from our side and four from the Government’s. I now had to spend considerable time in Bhopal to oversee the construction of the plant there. True to their nature, the Government Directors started their meddling. Until then, they had been co-operative and had left the running of the business to professionals. But with the transfer of two of them, their replacements were egoistical bureaucrats, and things changed completely. Orders we’d placed for machinery went awry and only when the suppliers flew down and I, along with our General Manager, was permitted to travel abroad by the Government bureaucrats, did we get a grip. The required machinery arrived, was installed and production duly started. But the absence of skilled workers and competent supervisors grossly hampered output. I called for badly needed assistance from the Mumbai unit, which was flatly turned down by my brother. When things started to unravel, he insisted he’d take charge and he promptly posted three senior colleagues from Mumbai to Bhopal! Things did turn around gradually and breakeven was achieved within a year or so. But it hurt me no end after my request was turned down, and the same solution was employed, I was yet told that this was the way to run things! Worse followed. When it was time to declare and distribute a dividend to the shareholders, he decided to take the Government’s permission against collective advice, since we anyway held the majority in the board. The result was on expected lines and a split ensued. All of us were asked to resign and the company fell into the Government’s lap. A prolonged legal battle got underway, and only when our solicitors advised us against fighting the Government, did we withdraw the case. But his stubborn side and autocracy had cost us.

Meanwhile in Mumbai, the winds of change had started blowing in the parent company. Our relations with our workers, hitherto excellent, began souring with the advent of some newcomers with a militant attitude. Gradually, they replaced the old union with theirs and made more and more unreasonable demands. Those who did not agree were coerced and threatened. Then began their “go slow” tactics, with many of the supervisory cadre also joining in. To prevent the matter from getting out of hand, we, the management, decided to enforce a “lockout” as a hard-nosed response to their intimidation. At the eleventh hour, my sister-in-law said she would like to plead our case and make the union see reason. Having taken a tough stance, I saw this as caving in and was livid. In a subsequent meeting of the company’s senior executives, which incidentally was held at my house, I refused to participate. In fact, I never attended any further meetings. After many months of having incurred huge losses, the lockout was lifted. But we had capitulated, and in the interim, the workers had even indulged in violence. Had I been at the helm, I would have insisted on taking forward our hard approach, but this misplaced sense of Gandhian values had cost us dearly!

Post his, even though I continued working for the company for at least a couple of decades more, I was disillusioned and the divisions in our thinking at work were apparent. What had been started as a trading company by our father and then took on manufacturing under my brother, who admittedly brought it great heights, sadly had no future in my eyes. In my opinion, it is the autocratic side of his persona, was responsible for this; he would never listen to any sane advice, even from senior professionals. 

HAPPY ENDINGS

I am reflecting on these bygones without any rancour or cussedness. Having poured my heart out, let me at the same time also admire his steely resolve, his strength in his conviction and above all, appreciate his selfless behaviour. He has never considered any personal gain, has loved the entire family and always taken care of us younger siblings, going out of the way to help in any manner possible. The bond between us is quite unique; I believe the result of the culture and values imparted to us by our parents. Even today, at the age of 96, when most would have retired, he – with a more frail body but as alert a mind as ever –  remains optimistic about the company’s future and is actively working towards it. Let me assure you, dear brother, that in spite of our differences, my love and respect for you are intact. As they say in cricketing parlance, you are today only a boundary hit away from your century. I pray to God that you may join the illustrious band of centurions from our extended family.

A heartfelt happy birthday, Markand-bhai!

In Public Interest !!!

A timely reminder for forgetful people like me!

You see because of Corona I am gargling daily with salt and turmeric water,

which obviously made me look up. In this age of mobile phones, who otherwise

has the time to look up? What I found was a ceiling covered with cobwebs!

Since Diwali is round the corner, it is time to start the clean up operations.

I have to thank Corona for bringing the dirt in my house to my notice!

ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST!!!

Mehfil

(1) A crowd of selfishness came, and emotions were isolated.

The desire to be a human being eventually, became a dream!

(2) The body removes the eaten food within 24 hours,

drains out the water within 4 hours,

and exhales breath immediately after inhaling it.

It is only the human being, who stores some unpleasant words uttered by someone, for his entire life in

his mind, thus poisoning it.

Mehfil

(1) Form a habit of giving,

you will automatically start receiving,

be it Respect, Happiness or Peace.

(2) You do not stumble, so you may fall,

You stumble, so that you may improve yourself.

(3) Lost in the crowd of the world,

am forgetting my own self.

Earlier, I used to argue over everything;

Now, I keep quiet over everything!

SOURCE UNKNOWN