The flesh trade carries on in the old lanes making up the red-light district in Hyderabad
12/31/2016 3:18:36 PM
|written By : Reema Abbasi|
They have alluring names – Shahi Mohalla, Bulbul-e-Hazaar Daastan, and Hyderabad’s Bazar-e-Husn, formerly Sundarta Bazar -- old settlements where the business of flesh hangs on despite ravages of circumstance.
Walking past the colonial quarters of Hirabad in Hyderabad, where intricate balconies and stone filigree jostle with new eyesores, we arrive in a tangle of damp lanes.
Bazar-e-Husn is said to be some 250 years old with over 600 multi-storey brothels and a hierarchy: the affluent leave their doors ajar – gaudy rooms in pink or red with ornate women who perform in cities or in faraway lands; some leave for a respectable life as the night ages.
Encounters with dead ends, where no one saw the point in a conversation at prime time, threw up an amusing surprise. By a corner of the ‘offices’, I met the man who has carried the taazia from here for decades. In a Shariah-compliant pyjama and white beard, when questioned, he went into contortions of denial: “I have nothing to do with this area. Talk to me about Islam and martyrs of Karbala. I appear on TV for my expertise,” he roared.
But one could hardly slide away without catching his murmurs – “Firdaus hai aaj? Ya sab maiyyat mei gaee hain?” (Is Firdaus available today or is everyone at the funeral?)
Some two doors from this sanctimony is veteran stage artiste and dancer Jamila, known as Apa Peeno. A friend of the erstwhile movie star and one of the bazar’s bygone catches, Chakori, Peeno belongs to days when the alleys had splendour.
“We learnt from Maharaj Samrat, and danced in beautiful clothes, heavy anklets, in the company of the genteel. It’s filthy no, so I don’t live here,” she says as she takes us for a walk. We stop at a square with a shiny ‘alam’, above it a girl combs her hair on a balcony and strikes poses to grab lucrative attention.
“This alam stands all year; we bring it down 10 days before Moharram to decorate it afresh,” Peeno says after a quick prayer beneath it. “Saturday is not a night for chatter,” she smirks and leaves with her son.
But for some, every night is a night of exorcism of inner demons. Alia, a retired madame, joins us. “The rich ones will shut their doors now. I can take you to poor homes but they do nights. The government has banned us without another option. So we compromise our health and security,” is a wise gem from her.
A long stroll leads to a squalid hovel jammed with people. An irritable, gnarled woman is perched on the ledge outside it – she has brought a fresh recruit from Punjab. “Go and talk but she doesn’t sell,” says Bhootni Buriya – an apt name she goes by.
Her pit of sad darkness has seen glory – exquisite colonial floor tiles, lattice-worked walls, high ceilings – and, like a patio, the upper floor opens into it with a grille balcony.
It reeks of weed and alcohol; some bodies refuse to awaken even in the din, a zombie-like man stares, and two girls sit at the door. Once it was home to former filmstar Neeli. The vacant-eyed man is her uncle. A photograph of the girl who disowned them adorns a wall as an ironic mainstay.
“Neeli now lives in Qasimabad and comes for Moharram,” discloses Alia.