| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI Jan 17 Sushma looks as if she's in
her late forties but she's not sure about her real age. Her name
isn't real either, just the one she goes by in New Delhi's red
She is among the many women, men and children living and
working in brothel number 300 on Garstin Bastion Road, known as
"G.B. Road," in the city's old quarters who are documented by
Mayank Austen Soofi in his new book, "Nobody Can Love You More".
Soofi offers readers a glimpse into how sex workers interact
with customers, often aggressively and crassly, and the more
regular aspects of their lives, including cooking and praying.
Soofi spoke to Reuters about his book and the sex workers
who he now calls his friends after spending three years with
those he describes as ordinary people living in an extraordinary
Q: How did you first meet the people working and living in
Delhi's red light district?
A: "When I first started going to G.B. Road, I had no
intention to write a book on the place. A friend told me there's
one particular brothel and the owner is looking for somebody to
teach English to the children. So, that's how I got into G.B.
Road. Otherwise it's very difficult to get access to it, unless
you're a customer of course.
"I think the red light district itself is a dying idea. Now
you can get sex on the Internet and hook up with people. I think
maybe after 20, 30 years, G.B. Road will become extinct. I
thought before this world disappears, I should do something
about it, I wanted to understand it and that's why I wanted to
Q: Did you have any misconceptions about people involved in
the sex industry that were shattered once you got to know them?
A: "I realised that our ideas of the prostitutes and the
customers are so much influenced by popular culture, be it
novels or films. And then you realise that these people are like
our neighbours and even our own families, but you realise that
the people might be ordinary in some sense, but the world they
are living in is extraordinary because it's centred around sex."
Q: As well as documenting the relationships the sex workers
have with their customers, you write about more mundane aspects
of their lives. Why did you think that was important to cover?
A: "A prostitute is not just a prostitute. Sometimes writers
turn people into circus performers to create interest for the
reader. I didn't want to do that. That's why in the first
chapter, Sushma, she's cooking food for me and herself, she's
smoking a beedi (an Indian cigarette wrapped in a leaf), she's
going out to buy vegetables, and she tells me about her mother.
This to me means we can get a better sense of her character. She
is not just a commodity. She's a full-fledged human being and so
many things make up a person."
Q: In your book, the sex workers come across as strong,
independent women. Is that a fair description?
A: "Many of the sex workers I met are doing this work out of
their own choice. They are very independent in their lives. They
don't depend on men and I feel some of them feel like they are
more free than many housewives in other parts of the city."
Q: Towards the end of your book, you question whether the
people you've met have been truthful with you. Do you think
you've managed to produce an accurate portrait of life inside
brothel number 300?
A: "I don't think you'll be able to get a hundred percent
accurate portrait in anything but I interacted with so many
people and saw so many things and heard so many things. I'm not
sure if each and every story which these women shared with me
were true or factually correct, but what's important to me is
that I only wanted to write what they think is their story and
what they are comfortable sharing with the world."
Q: You met dozens of people while working on this book. Who
did you like interacting with the most?
A: "One person I really cherished my time with was (a sex
worker called) Roopa. I was so amazed by her story. It was such
an uncliched story. Her story begins with a cliche that her
husband beats her and then she ran away to Delhi and became a
prostitute. Usually that's the end of the old life and a new one
begins for most of these sex workers. But she chose to revive
her marriage and stayed in touch with her husband. And just when
I was thinking that her relationship with her husband was
revived and she's back with him, she becomes cosy with a man
"To still be able to live and feel like a proper person, to
still continue to live with past relationships and still find
new ones, not to lose hope in life, that's such a beautiful
thing and that's what I learnt from Roopa."
Q: Do you still visit the brothel?
A: "Yeah, I do. I was last there two, three days ago. This
book is not a conclusion of a part of my life. These people on
G.B. Road and in number 300 are friends and are friends
irrespective of my book. My friendship and relationship with
them continues in a normal, natural way."
(Reporting by Atish Patel, editing by Tony Tharakan and Elaine