When I was first brought here, I had no idea what work I had to do. How could I have known? Once I discovered what it was I felt like killing myself, or someone else.
Pale shafts of morning sunlight flooded the stone-floored room, casting long shadows against peeling yellow walls as we sat, cross-legged, on the dusty floor. A cacophony of sounds rose upwards from the narrow, crowded gully beneath us; loud horns, the growl of fast moving motorbike engines, the hammering of metal upon metal from the multiple blacksmiths’ open-fronted shops, yet all were somehow muffled by the weighty stillness that bathed Salva’s words.
She placed her attention back on the sewing machine in front of her and began to spin its mechanical wheel. It made a rhythmic clicking sound as the needle moved up and down, up and down, as the deep purple salwar beneath it inched a little closer to completion.
How did you discover? I asked her.
The clicking sound stopped, and she drew the cloth away from the machine.
They put a lot of make up on me. Short clothes, too. I’d never worn these kinds of things and I didn’t want to, but when I protested I was forced. The clients would come in and sit there. Whenever they came closer and tried something with me, I’d hit them a lot. How was I supposed to know what they were there for? But then obviously the poor guys would complain as they’d paid money, and later I’d pay for it. I was beaten very badly. The malik [brothel owner] would say, “You were brought here for this work. I’ve bought you… now you have to do it”.
As Salva spoke, my eyes were drawn to the deep scar that traced its way in a peculiar kind of U-shape all the way around the top of her left arm. I wondered which of the many beatings she had endured had resulted in this particular injury. Did you ever try to run away?
Lots of times. Whenever I got a small tip from a client, I’d hide it in whatever small secret places I could find in the kotha [brothel], but I never managed to get away. They beat us terribly if we tried.
Did anyone ever die from the beatings?
Many girls have died that way on GB Road. But it’s our fate. What can I do if God wants me to live like this?
Salva is a curious mixture of the rough and the smooth. It is rare to find her without black kohl swirled in thick lines around her large dark eyes and her full lips painted red; striking against her high cheekbones and long charcoal hair. Her voice and manner can be coarse, almost manly at times, yet her plump, curvaceous frame, coupled with what can be no more than five feet of height give her an endearing, slightly dumpy look. She took another pause from her sewing, and continued.