Her name was Nallamma (meaning Good Mother) and she lived with her aged mother in a slum outside the busy central market of the city. Actually her Mother as she called her was not her Mother but a widowed lady who had picked her up from a garbage bin filled with rotten fruits & vegetables, thrown by the traders of the wholesale vegetable Mandi that had existed there for centuries.
The widow made a meagre living by selling South Indian rice cakes which were locally known as iddlies that she made outside her miniscule hut. The widow’s late husband had been the headman of the slum and the slum dwellers still treated her and Nallamma with deference. The widow drew comfort in Nallamma’s presence and doted on her as if she were here own child. Nallamma in turn was very grateful to the widow for having picked her up from a garbage bin and for having provided a home and a family of sorts. Things went smoothly and the two women were able to sustain themselves with the little money that the widow made selling idllies, until Nallamma attained puberty.
The transformation from juvenile to adult hood was very marked in the case of Nallamma. From being a normal gawky kind of girl, Nallamma soon acquired an elegance sustained by radiance and inner beauty that heralded her arrival into the state of womanhood. Nallamma was dark and dusky as was the case with most children born in her region, but she was slim with long legs and delicate hips that combined with her short slim torso and small, firm pert breasts to make her look attractive and draw repeated glances from all the men who happened to pass by. In short Nallamma resembled a sprightly young doe combined with the grace of a peacock and the elegance of a flamingo.
Nallamma’s entry into womanhood made the old woman rather worried for she knew that the men in her slum were rather dangerous and did not harbour good intentions. As for Nallamma, she couldn’t care less and was happy to assist her mother in her idlly shop.
However as fate would have it, the widow had a massive stroke while working in front of the fire wood burning stove. Fortunately, Nallamma was close by and raised a hue and cry so that the other slum dwellers came hurriedly and helped her lift her mother and rushed her to the nearby government hospital. The doctors there were non - committal about the old lady’s survival and said that they would have to wait and watch for 48 hours before they could say anything definite. At the end of the prescribed 48 hours the doctors informed Nallamma that her mother had survived. However, they said that the effects of the stroke had left the old widow completely paralyzed on her left side. Including her left eye, left side of the mouth, left hand and leg which were completely non- functional and that she would only be able to live like a vegetable. Nallamma was completely traumatised as her peaceful life suddenly came crashing down.
Once her mother returned home from the hospital, Nallamma who was hardly seventeen years of age had to juggle her time between managing the idlly shop and her ailing mother. The doctors had prescribed a lot of medicines and Nallamma spent all the meagre savings that the old woman had accumulated on buying these medicines for her mother. The medicines that the doctor prescribed were very costly and Nallamma had to shell out almost Rs 75 per day to buy these medicines, while she hardly earned Rs 50 per day as profit after covering costs from the iddli shop. Nallamma came to such a state that the future, in fact, the very next day was awaited with great trepidation. Even the golden Mangal Sutra or Thali as it was called in Tamil, which the old lady had kept in memory of her late husband was soon sold by Nallamma in her bid to keep her mother alive.
It was at this moment of penury that Nallamma met her old friend Kavitha who had been her friend during her early years in the slum. Kavitha had been married off at the age of twelve to a guy who was twice her age and had been sent off to her husband’s house in another slum. Nallamma had then lost touch with Kavitha. Kavitha had now come back after almost four years to visit her parents. Kavitha looked wealthy with a lot of gold ornaments adorning her. After they started talking Nallamma started sharing the problems in her life with Kavitha.
Kavitha in turn told her that after her early marriage she had found that her husband was an alcoholic and that her parents had been cheated into marrying her off to this drunk with no income. Kavitha told Nallamma about how she had suffered without any money until one of her husband’s friends who had brought her husband home dead drunk one day had offered her a hundred rupees to sleep with him. Kavitha had initially been angered at his offer but her husband’s drunken friend had forced himself upon her and had literally raped her while her husband slept blissfully drunk and unaware of what was happening to her. The friend had been true to his word and had left 100 rupees on the floor near the sobbing heap of Kavitha’s body. After this the same friend kept returning every night and performed the same ritual.
Initially Kavitha had been disgusted and repulsed by this and had even tried to commit suicide but gradually she began to reconcile herself to her fate and even started to look forward to the hundred rupees she obtained almost every day. After a while the friend began bringing his other friends along with him and they too would perform the same abuse upon her after which they took leave leaving a hundred rupee note.
As the network of friends began to widen Kavitha soon found that she was earning on an average, five hundred rupees per day. Soon her husband became suspicious of how she could get so much money to give him that he could get drunk. When he came to know how, he couldn’t care less and only began to demand more money from her. Kavitha also told Nallamma that though she was not really happy with all this, she still continued to do this as it would at least be able to make her future secure by saving a little bit of money and wisely investing it in a house and gold ornaments for the sake of her family that she hoped to one day raise up with her husband.
Having heard Nallamma’s sorry state of affairs Kavitha gave Nallamma five hundred rupees to take care of her immediate needs. She also suggested that in case, Nallamma did not mind living like her she could put Nallamma on to some of her clients since she had more clients than she could handle in the limited time at her disposal. Nallamma was surprised and even angered that her friend could even think of suggesting such a thing. Kavitha apologized for angering Nallamma and said that she had only suggested such a thing as Nallamma was in financial trouble. Kavitha then left Nallamma after giving her address and telling her to feel free to approach her if she ever needed any help.
The next few days went by smoothly thanks to the five hundred rupees that Kavitha had given her and Nallamma could concentrate on the iddli business. However business was not as good it was when the old widow had been handling the cooking for Nallamma was not too adept at cooking. The quality of the idllies had come down as Nallamma had tried to save money by buying inferior quality rice. The chutney and sambar that was served along with the idlly also was not as tasty as it had been when her mother had prepared it. Nallamma did not know the right proportions of ingredients and as a result the sambar would be too salty one day while it would be too spicy on another. Standardization was something that Nallamma could never get the hang off. As the money began to dwindle Nallamma began to worry again. She thought of going to Kavitha’s house and asking her for some money but then hesitated as she was scared that she may yield to the idea that Kavitha had mooted for right now Nallamma needed money and she had even reached such a situation of desperation that she was ready to do anything.
After holding out for a couple of days more with support from a few neighbors, Nallamma was really exhausted. Not physically or mentally exhausted but spiritually exhausted as she had been fighting a running battle with her conscience for the past two days. Finally, when her body was on the verge of exhaustion, due to lack of food and lack of medicines for her mother, Nallamma was forced to muster up courage and finally with her heart beating wildly and almost about to faint she stood at the door of Kavitha’s house.
Kavitha’s house was much bigger than all the other houses that Nallamma had seen in her slum. As soon as Kavitha saw Nallamma standing at her doorstep she rushed out to welcome her. After the initial show of hospitality, Kavitha asked her what had brought Nallamma all the way to her house. Nallamma stuttered and stammered hesitatingly. Kavitha seemed to understand her predicament. She told her that she was sorry for suggesting such a cheap and demeaning way to make money but poor women like them had not much of a choice since they were victims of their own circumstances. Nallamma kept conveying her apprehensions to her but Kavitha assured her that there was nothing to worry about and promised to protect her from all harm.
It was more than a week since Nallamma had approached Kavitha and Nallamma was very scared for Kavitha had arranged for her to meet her first client today. Kavitha had told her that this client was a very rich man and would pick her up in his car near the Broadway bus terminus next to the Chennai High Court which was near the slum where Nallamma lived; after she had put her mother to sleep. Nallamma’s hands trembled as she completed the cooking that evening, earlier than her normal time. Her mother was puzzled by Nallamma’s nervousness.
Once Nallamma’s mother had gone to sleep after sunset at seven in the evening, Nallamma went to the bus terminus were she was supposed to meet the client. Within a few minutes of her waiting at the prescribed place, a fat old man came waddling upto her and introduced himself as Kavitha’s contact. With fear and apprehension Nallamma followed the fat old man to his car in which she was taken to a desolate farm house somewhere on the outskirts of the city. Nallamma prayed to her favorite deity, the Mother Goddess to protect her.
Once they reached the old farm house Nallamma told the old man, that she had to be back home before five in the morning, since her mother would wake up and search for her. The old man seemed to be a past master at these kinds of situations for he could sense Nallamma’s nervousness and gave her some fruit juice. He asked her to relax and made her sit down on the bed. A few minutes after drinking the juice Nallamma could feel a kind of languor coming over her. Her nervousness had vanished and she started speaking to the old man in a strange tone of voice but the old man did not seem interested in idle chatter. He was very purposeful and achieved what he wanted while Nallamma remained in a semi conscious state blissfully floating in a surreal world, unaware of what was being perpetrated on her body. When Nallamma recovered she realised that the old man had made her drink some form of alcohol. She noticed that the time was four in the morning and she shook awake the old man requesting him to take her home. Her whole body seemed as if it had been squeezed dry in a wringer.
Thus was Nallamma's career launched and time flew by as Nallamma continued to learn the various aspects of the oldest profession in the whole world. At times, Nallamma’s mother would wake up in the middle of the night and find Nallamma missing. When she would later demand where Nallamma had been in the middle of the night, Nallamma would reply that she had to go to the loo and since the slum did not possess a single loo Nallamma would say that she had to walk far away to a desolate open area where all other women of the slum used to relieve themselves under cover of darkness in the middle of the night. Nallama soon realised that her lying to her mother may get discovered one day. She therefore told her mother, that she had got a job working the night shifts in a garment factory and that she would hereafter be unavailable during the nights.
As promised, Kavitha kept watch over Nallamma to ensure that no harm befell her. She taught Nallamma the nuances of the trade and the precautions that Nallamma would have to adopt to ensure her safety. Nallamma would listen carefully to Kavitha and follow her advice. The only advice of Kavitha that she didn’t bother to follow was not to partake of any drug or alchohol with a client; Nallamma found that these vices helped her numb her conscience and bear the physical abuse that was heaped on her night in and night out.
Years flew by and Nallamma was now twenty one years of age. Though she felt dirty inside, her external beauty remained pristine. Kavitha had also warned Nallamma about not permitting any client to kiss her or get her physically aroused and the dangers of getting emotionally attached to regular customers. This piece of advice was faithfully followed by Nallamma who did not allow acts of affection to be displayed by her clients for she did not believe in mixing business with pleasure. However there was no personal pleasure in her life for she could not relate to any male in her slum or outside.
She began to believe that all men wanted was to take her to bed and therefore avoided any romantic relationship, though many young men in her slum had proposed to her. The only comfort and pleasure that Nallamma permitted herself was to occasionally smoke a stick of weed. This was a habit that she had picked up from one of her regulars who needed this to perform the function for which he had sought her.
It was a hot summer’s night and Nallamma’s eyes kept roving for potential clients while she methodically walked around the bus terminus that she had permanently made her base of operations. Finding no one who seemed interested inside the terminus she came out on to the main road and looked around. It was getting to be 9 pm and people were beginning to vanish from the road as they all went back to their nests as it where. Nallamma spotted a gleaming red car parked by the side and kept observing the car from a distance. She did not know its make or model but she knew that it must have been pretty expensive.
Nallamma walked nonchalantly towards the car and came next to the driver’s window. She peered inside and found a fair young man with stubble on his chin and a bottle of beer in his hand listening to some soft music that was playing. Pankaj Mehta for that was his name kept drumming his fingers on the steering wheel of his car as he wondered about whether he should go back to the lonely empty house that he called home. “Looking for some company?” demanded Nallamma for she was getting a bit worried that she may not get any client that night. Pankaj looked at her for the first time as he had been preoccupied in his own world and had not noticed the girl who had come up to his window from behind. He shook his head to show that he was not interested and took a deep slug of beer from the bottle in his hand.
Though Pankaj was a North Indian by birth, he was at ease with Tamil which was the language of the locals and could speak the local brand of urban Tamil fluently but with a slight north Indian accent which gave a different twang to the language. “Beer should not be drunk alone you know”, Nallamma continued in right earnest as she was getting rather desperate by now to find a client. “Want one?” he demanded. Nallamma looked at him rather strangely for this guy had refused her services but had offered her a beer. “Where do you expect me to drink it?” she demanded stridently of him. Pankaj looked at her once more. Something about this girl made him feel very familiar. “You can sit in the car and have it if you want” he replied.
Nallamma walked around the bonnet to the front door at the other side of the driver’s seat, letting the headlights play across her sleek and slender body. Pankaj silently opened the door, handed over a bottle of beer that he opened from a thermo pack loaded with bottles on the back seat. Pankaj quietly sipped his beer ant stared straight ahead in comfortable silence while Nallamma just glugged her bottle and drained it in one go. “So”, she demanded, “Want me to stay on or what?” Pankaj did not know what to say. “What a strange man you are”, Nallamma continued. “Better make up your mind fast or let me find my business elsewhere” she said. Pankaj did not reply to her. He kept staring straight ahead and thinking of ways to avoid going back to his lonely residence for he knew that even if he went back there he would be unable to sleep and would only end up feeling all the more depressed than he was feeling now. He was in no mood for sex nor had he ever attempted to have sexual relationships with anyone other than his wife. Earlier he used to be too preoccupied to even think of it and now he was too depressed to even want it.
Without even realizing that he was speaking to her, he opened his mouth like a suffocating fish and blurted “How much?” as his face turned red. He couldn’t believe that it was he who was doing this. Nallamma looked at him for a second wondering if she could ask him more than she normally charged but the lack of interest in his face made her change her mind. “Five hundred for the entire night or three hundred for three hours” she told him. Pankaj meekly took out a five hundred rupee note from his wallet and handed it over to her.
Having taken the money and neatly tucking it into the top of her blouse, Nallamma looked at him and said, “Well don’t just sit there like an idiot. Start the car and let’s go somewhere else more private”. Pankaj didn’t know what to say and quietly drove the car rather aimlessly. He then remembered a desolate stretch of beach that he had been haunting frequently during the past month since it had an access road near the shore and drove the car there.
Once they reached the beach she looked at him oddly. “Do you want to do it in the car or on the sand?” she queried. “On the sand would cost you three hundred rupees more” she concluded. Pankaj just remained silent and they both sat in the car sipping beers. Nallamma tried to put her hand on his shirt to unbutton it but Pankaj stopped her with his hands and nodded his head negatively. Nallamma began to get worried for she had been warned by Kavitha to be wary of psychos and nuts that abounded on the streets. Pankaj then looked at her “I’m not interested in your body. I was just feeling lonely and wanted someone to talk to” he quietly told her. Nallamma looked at him in disbelief. Could a person part with five hundred rupees just to talk to someone, she wondered! Pankaj then asked her about where she was from and about her profession.
Initially Nallamma hesitated to talk to him but she soon realised that the guy was harmless and began to open up. Anyway, it was a change from the usual physical abuse that she experienced every night. Later, Pankaj drove her to a nearby roadside eat out and they sat in the car and ate egg dosas and chutney. Nallamma felt very relaxed with this guy and offered him one of her cigarettes which he refused since he never smoked. It was gradually beginning to become bright as the first streaks of dawn reached the Chennai shoreline. Pankaj then drove Nallamma back to the place from where he had picked her up and dropped her there. He then went back home to freshen up and change after which he went to his office for the first time in several weeks. Pankaj felt very cheerful and did not understand what was wrong. As evening came and passed by Pankaj was filled with a longing to go back to the bus stand and see if he could find Nallamma.
Pankaj must have waited for an hour after which he spotted Nalllamma walking down the road. Nallamma on seeing his car from a distance waved out to him and came over. The routine that night was the same as the previous night except that he was feeling very tired and sleepy since he had not slept for many days prior to meeting Nallamma. Without realizing it he nodded off and gently rested his head on Nallamma’s shoulder. It was a rather a strange experience for Nalllamma since no man had ever rested his head on her shoulder. They usually came did what they wanted and left hurriedly and this was a first of sorts for Nallamma. She smiled to herself as she thought of the manner in which he pronounced her name with his north Indian accent. It sounded like Neelima and she liked to hear him pronounce it that way.
Their meeting every night became a routine affair that Pankaj looked forward to and he would rush to meet Neelima as soon as he completed his duties at work. After a week of their first meeting Neelima refused to accept money from Pankaj for she considered it a sin to be paid without working but Pankaj insisted and would thrust the money upon her.
It was fifteen days since they started seeing each other and Pankaj sat in his car waiting for Nallamma or Neelima as he called her to appear. Pankaj must have waited for more than three hours but there was no sign of Neelima. Pankaj continued to wait until the night was over and then went back home rather dejectedly. He came back to the same spot every night for five nights and would sit there drinking beer and waiting for her but still there was no sign of Neelima.
Sometimes other women who practiced the same profession as Neelima would try to interest him in their wares but Pankaj did not even bother to look at them for he was only interested in Neelima but Neelima was nowhere to be found.
Pankaj was the only son of a successful business man and his doting wife who had migrated from Punjab where they had originally belonged. Pankaj’s father had come to Chennai since he had fallen in love and married a low caste woman and had therefore been ostracized by his village. His father had therefore moved to Chennai with very little money in his pocket and had setup house in the city with his newly married wife. By dint of sheer hard work he had risen up to become a successful business man and had set up businesses in various sectors such as hospitality, real-estate, health and pharma as well as education. When Pankaj was born his father was so busy that he had hardly any time to spend with his only son.
Pankaj was completely taken care off by his loving mother and grew up to be a serious intelligent boy with little interest in anything else other than his studies. Being an only son he was always a loner and preferred to spend his time with his huge collection of books that his father had allowed him to indulge in. After his education Pankaj entered his father’s business where his father put him under a trusted lieutenant, to learn the ropes. Pankaj soon proved to be a master at business as well and whatever responsibilities that where entrusted by his father would be innovatively implemented much before the dead line given by the father. This pleased his father so much that he gradually began to with draw from his business and handed over the reins to his Son.
When Pankaj turned twenty eight his parents decided to get him married as they could then rest in the satisfaction of having completed their duties as parents to their only Son. Pankaj being an obedient child accepted his parent’s wishes, and since his parents wanted to find a bride for him from their own home state he allowed them to go to Punjab and pick out a girl for him. Some of his father’s friends who lived in Punjab helped his parents in identifying a suitable bride for him. Pankaj did not even bother to look at the girl and told his parents to go ahead with the arrangements. The marriage was held on a chosen date in the town of Bathinda as per tradition with dhol and bhangra accompanying the festivities. After the marriage Pankaj returned to Chennai with his parents and his newly wed wife.
Initially, every thing seemed hunky dory and Pankaj’s parents were overjoyed to see Pankaj so happy. However the girl found it too difficult to adjust herself to a strange family in an alien state with differing culture and began to grow restless. Moreover, she was more of an extrovert than Pankaj who was a complete introvert. She wanted Pankaj to take her to parties, shopping or just sight seeing. She also had a passion for gold and diamond jewellery and would insist that Pankaj buy her some trinket every now and then. When Pankaj would refuse to go out with her stating that he had work to do at the office, she would refuse to accept it saying that as boss he need not go to office and his employees could handle the business. Pankaj knew that if he did so he would be bankrupt in no time and therefore refused to accept her argument. This occasional bickering gradually turned into constant quarreling and open shouting brawls while his distressed parents witnessed these unhappy scenes quietly.
Things reached such a point that they both couldn’t exist together even for a single minute and any interaction would only end in a verbal dual. One evening while Pankaj was busy at his office he received a call from his mother who sounded very upset and asked him to come back home immediately. Pankaj rushed home to find that his wife had left home without informing anyone and had taken with her all the jewellery that she had brought with her, along with the jewels that Pankaj had frequently purchased for her. The worst part was that even his mother’s jewels which had been kept in a locker in his mother’s bedroom were found missing.
Pankaj searched for her in all her favorite haunts and clubs only to find her missing. His, distressed father called up the girls’ parents in Bathinda the next day only to be told curtly that his daughter in law had safely reached her parent’s home and there was no need to worry about her. Two days later Pankaj’s family was visited by a team of policemen who informed them that they were merely following up on a complaint of dowry harassment registered by the girls’ family at the Bathinda police station. Pankaj and his parents were too stunned and shocked to even react. The police insisted that they take Pankaj into custody since dowry harassment was a non-bailable offence. Pankaj’s father had to immediately use all his influence to stall Pankaj‘s arrest and file a counter complaint of stealing their family jewels against Pankaj’s wife.
The marriage had not even lasted for a year and after a prolonged legal battle it was proved in court that Pankaj was innocent. The whole incident affected Pankaj’s parents so much that they began to whither and fade before his own eyes. Within six months of Pankaj obtaining his divorce, his mother fell ill and passed away shortly. Pankaj’s father had a major heart attack within a month of his wife passing away and died while being rushed to a hospital.
Pankaj suddenly found himself lost and orphaned in this world. All his parent’s relatives were based in Punjab. He had not even met any of them except for the time when they had come for his marriage at Bathinda. Pankaj lost all interest in business and would walk around like a zombie unaware of what was happening in his office. He never felt like staying alone in the palatial home that his father had built for them since it had too many memories that tortured him. He therefore used to take his car and drive aimlessly around the streets of Chennai. He also resorted to drinking and did not even bother about his personal hygiene or appearance. It was at this time that Pankaj chanced upon Nallamma. Her raw earthy beauty and her attitude to life, inspite of all her suffering attracted him towards her. All his sophistication and finesse seemed phony and pseudo when he was with her.
It was only on the sixth day that Pankaj finally came across Nallamma. He had been sitting in his car outside the bus stop as he had been doing ever since Nallamma went missing, when he saw Nallamma walking into the bus stand in a daze. Pankaj rushed out of his car and ran after Nallamma. On reaching her he caught hold of her shoulders and turned her around but Nallamma looked at him with unseeing eyes. Pankaj was shocked by the look in her eyes. Her body seemed feverish to his touch. He literally dragged her to his car with passersby wondering what he was up to.
Once he had got her into his car he shook her by her shoulders. She continued to behave like a zombie. Not knowing what to do Pankaj slapped her on her face to make her come out of her trance like state. Her eyes then became focused and seemed to recogonise Pankaj. She then sobbed uncontrollably and rested her head on Pankaj’s shoulders. Pankaj remained silent and held her gently, allowing her to shed all her tears. Once her tears had subsided, she informed Pankaj between her tears that her mother had passed away and that she had become an orphan and that there was no one to whom she could turn to. Pankaj assured her that she would not be an orphan as long as he was alive. Her sobs gradually subsided and Pankaj kept holding her. It was a strange but pleasant feeling to hold someone with love and Pankaj gently stroked her hair and her back to calm her down. She then told Pankaj that she was not in the mood to even continue with her business for after all she had only got into this profession to support her aged mother. Pankaj was very happy to hear this and suggested that she stay with him for the rest of her life.
It was then that Pankaj opened his heart to her and told her that he loved her dearly and would even like to marry her as he too was an orphan with no one to turn to. Nallamma was too stunned to hear this. She looked deeply into Pankaj’s eyes and all she could find was love in it. However she could not accept his love as she felt very cheap and dirty inside her. She did not have the purity that she would have wanted to give to her mate or spouse. Moreover she was just a coarse, uneducated slum woman while Pankaj was a muti-crorepati with a very high status in society. As she was thinking of all these Pankaj could just by looking at her eyes realise what was running through her mind. “Society and status be damned,” he thundered “all that matters is that you are happy with me and I am happy with you and I love you dearly”. “Even if you don’t feel any desire to marry me you can atleast stay with me and share my house with me for what I feel for you is not a physical desire but a desire of my spirit to be with yours. What I feel for you is not a feeling arising from the heart but a feeling of longing from the very core of my soul. Only I know how much I have suffered these past six days without seeing or talking to you”. Pankaj desperately clutched her hands and continued “please don’t say no; at least give it some thought and until you decide what you want you can stay with me and be with me. I know it is rather selfish of me to ask this but if you think that it would not suit you to come stay with me at my place I would only be too happy to stay with you where ever you may stay”.
Nallamma was totally moved to tears by Pankaj’s reiteration of his love for her. Her rationality told her that it would not be a wise move to accept his love and his offer of marriage for she knew that they both were from totally different backgrounds and it was like expecting oil and water to mix together. However she could sense Pankaj’s loneliness and his longing for her.
During the fifteen days that they had known each other he had been the perfect gentleman and been totally disinterested in her body. This had raised her respect for him by several notches. While all other men had been focused on only one organ of her's which she considered most dirty and unclean, here was a gentleman who was only interested in tasting the purity of her spirit. Therefore she agreed to go with Pankaj and stay with him though she considered any talk of marriage a bit too premature at this stage.
She asked Pankaj to wait for half an hour while she went and collected a few clothes from her house. Pankaj would not have any talk of it, he was afraid to let her go for even a single minute. The past six days had taught him how precious she was. He felt that it would be better for her and him to break away from the past and start afresh with fresh clothes and all her other needs. He therefore immediately took her to a sari and textile showroom that was just about to close for the day and purchased whatever he felt would be appropriate for her to wear, while Nallamma kept protesting that they were too expensive and he was wasting money unnecessarily. They then proceeded to Pankaj’s residence laden with plastic carry bags full of clothes and other accessories for her. When Pankaj reached the entrance to his bungalow he honked on the horn and the watchman came running to open the gate. The watchman’s jaw dropped when he saw a slum woman sitting next to his employer. Nallamma's mouth also opened wide when she saw the size of Pankaj's abode.
Days passed by happily and the more Nallamma or Neelima as Pankaj would call her, got to know Pankaj the more she fell in love with him. Pankaj for his part was overjoyed and literally on cloud nine. The next thirty days or so were the happiest days of his life. He wanted to take Neelima out and give her the best of everything but Neelima seemed reluctant to face people of his social standing in public. Wherever they went heads would turn and people would whisper to each other and snigger at Nallamma. Nallamma would be very upset to notice this kind of behavior but Pankaj seemed totally oblivious to all this. It was demeaning for Nallamma and she was all the more hurt that her beloved darling Pankaj should be scorned by the world for his association with her. She didn’t know how to broach this subject with Pankaj.
Pankaj would return everyday from the office with gifts for her and she would fondly rebuke him saying that he was wasting his money and that she never needed all that nor was she desirous of all these worldly possessions. She told him that all that she needed was his love and at the most a string of jasmine flowers that she loved very much. Pankaj used to muse about the contrast between his ex-wife and Nallamma. While his ex-wife had been avariciously greedy and would never be satisfied, Nallamma did not want any thing at all and was content with a mere five rupees worth of flowers. It was now a month since Nallamma had come to Pankaj’s house.
One day when Pankaj had gone to his office, Nallamma went strolling into the garden to spend some time admiring the beauty of the flowers. At a distance she could see the gardener talking to the watchman. Curious to know what they were talking about, she silently walked towards them and stood behind a bush from where she could hear what they were saying.
The gardener told the watchman that he was worried about the master and his antics with a whore. The watchman too for his part said that the female that the master had brought looked like a criminal and that she must have come only to loot all the money that their master had. Nallamma was completely heart broken on hearing this. She realised that she and Pankaj could not change the world and that the social stigma that was attached to her earlier profession could never be erased.
It was then that Nallamma decided to leave the place. She knew that if Pankaj were to be told of this he would never agree to let her go. Therefore she decided to quietly slip away. While the watchman and gardener stood there talking Nallamma quietly walked away and left the house. As she walked on the hot Macadamised road she did not know where to go or what to do, but she decided that she would never go back to her earlier profession. She decided to catch a train or bus and go to a far away place where she could live a simple life and eke out a living by working as a house maid somewhere.
She did not cry any more. She knew a new life awaited her somewhere. As for Pankaj she thought that he would grieve for a few days and then forget her. She thought that it was better to forfeit his love so that he may live with self respect but she did not realise that she was his very life. It did not even occur to her that Pankaj would not want to live without her.
As Nallamma proceeded towards the bus stop, she suddenly realised that Kavitha would wonder about what had happened to her. She had while staying with Pankaj informed Kavitha over her mobile phone that she was now living in the house of a rich man whom she loved dearly. She had then provided Kavitha with her contact details and Pankaj’s mobile number to be used in case of emergency.. On hearing this Kavitha had been very happy for her and had promised to visit her one day. However this had not happened and Nallamma felt it was her duty to go meet Kavitha and explain to her the reasons why she planned to leave.
As Nallamma stood at the doorstep of Kavitha’s house she remembered her first visit to Kavitha’s house and how nervous she had been at that time. As she stood at Kavitha’s doorstep she felt very calm and relaxed and happy with the decision she had taken to leave the town. On hearing Nallamma’s decision Kavitha seemed very upset. She told Nallamma that it was wrong on her part to leave Pankaj who loved her so dearly. Moreover God had blessed her abundantly with the love of a wealthy man and all her suffering had come to an end. It was therefore foolish on Nallamma’s part to go back to a life of poverty once more. However Nallamma would not listen to Kavitha, and bid her farewell. She refused Kavitha’s offer of accompanying her to the bus stand since she did not want Kavitha or anybody to know her destination.
As she reached the bus stand she went down memory lane and thought of the first time she had come to the bus stand to meet her client. She stood vacantly wondering where to go and then got into a bus which was fairly empty. She purchased a ticket to the final destination of the bus and closed her eyes and wept as the bus rolled out of the terminus. She opened her eyes to see if anybody was watching her. She found that almost half the bus was empty and there was no one sitting next to her on the seat beside her. She closed her eyes once again and gave into her emotions.
Tears rolled down from her cheeks increasingly. As she wept from the bottom of her heart a gentle hand stretched out and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Her reverie was broken with a start and she opened her eyes to see Pankaj sitting beside her with a smile on his face. He gently held her hand and kissed away her tears as he whispered, “we shall both go away together and start our life together in some unknown place where nobody shall recogonise us forever”. As he said this Pankaj realised how his father must have felt when he had been ostracised by his village for marrying a lower caste woman and how he must have felt when he had left his native village to come to Chennai.
The challenge of going to a new place and starting a new life made Pankaj extremely excited for with Nallamma by his side he could conquer all.
(The entire Nallamma story was based on a true incident as recited to me by a commercial sex worker whom I had observed as part of some action research during my NGO days. However, the true incident did not end as happily as portrayed in this story.)