bangkok and swaadeeeka

i have been to the ‘red-light’ area in pune, india. the first time i went with my mother!! she needed to get a tabla repaired and the person who worked best with tablas had his shop in the middle of the red light area. i sat and waited on the scooter. i must have been 14. i watched women dressed in saris, with pallus hanging low over their bosom, huge amounts of cleavage, sari hanging low over their hips, with loud lipstick, darkly lined eyes. saw them ‘make-eyes’ at men who passed by. these were men from another world. some looked dirty, like the auto driver who had been in the sweaty sun all morning. others looked like basics salesmen, with basic light shirts, and ill-fitting formal pants…in my eyes they looked creepy, like men i had never come across till then in my cocooned existence.

years later i went to amsterdam. as an adult. knowing what sex was. the power it wields in relationships. i saw the red light area “De Wallen”. walked in between glass doors with women parading, almost if not, stark naked. i had arrived… in the world of commoditised sex. now, knowing what that meant, i felt bad for the women. it felt awkward to be walking down those streets as these women were not only parading their wares for men / women, but also for tourists, who gaped with a weird sense of erotic delight at naked people trapped behind glass windows.

and then i went to bangkok. and in spite of all of this learning, i wasn’t prepared for bangkok. the red light areas seem all over the place and there are women (and even men) everywhere selling themselves! swaadeeka they said, maaassaage? normally as a woman, when you walk down a street late at night, people look. men look. but this time, as i walked down the streets, i wasn’t under scrutiny. they were all looking at my husband, speaking to him and wooing him!

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