The Brothels Of Calcutta: Where Dreams Are Too Far To Be Reached

 

Photographer Stefano Zardini is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography.  From his project ‘The Prostitution‘.  To see Stefano’s body of work click on any image.

 

 

 

In a taxi with me is a man who owns a brothel, he is fat and sweats a lot. We are going to the Randi Khana zone in Calcutta, the “district of delight” for singles and the sex-crazed, most of whom are Indians. Known as “pleasure dens”, Randi Khana is full of brothels. Like prisons walls confining branded destinies. Places where hopes for a ray of light are always fragile and slender. Like the thread of a spider’s web.

The taxi slows down as the fat man asks me. “We have to settle our deal. Money in exchange for 10 minutes with each prostitute to photograph her in her setting.” “No sex” I say. He doesn’t want to believe me and asks for double price: “sex plus pictures”. We settle for just the photos while he shakes his head in disbelief. Money for old rope, he reckons.

 

 

 

Dreaming in “Randi Khana”

Closing my eyes tight, to shut out this dirt.

Dreaming of he who wants to take me away forever.

Desiring that he loves me truly.

Imagining giving him love – genuine love.

Split seconds, instants, at the end of the day

to get away from these walls, impregnated with others

and fly above an expanse of light that is quiet,

infinite.

 

 

 

A deep breath and in we go. The house is cramped with a ground floor and an upstairs. A narrowing corridor leads along to a staircase at the end. The women wait for customers on a stone bench at the entrance while others upstairs lean over the balcony with curiosity.

 

 

 

 

“With the ages ranging from 15 to 60, I opt for girls of increasing ages starting from one of 20.”

 

The atmosphere is slightly tense as the ladies sense something unusual is going on. The deal is that I have to choose five. With the ages ranging from 15 to 60, I opt for girls of increasing ages starting from one of 20.

Once in the rooms, there’s barely enough space to stand at the foot of the bed. I notice a shelf with suitcase, the one they arrive with from their home villages with the promise of marriage or a job.

 

“... wasn’t able to close her eyes and had to use her fingers to push down her eyelids, trying to cancel out what little there is around her, and to let her thoughts come out.”

 

In each room I explain my work to the women: a few photos of each while they try to imagine and dream of being in a different world. I ask them to really try and imagine it. The first one, a 35 year old woman, wasn’t able to close her eyes and had to use her fingers to push down her eyelids, trying to cancel out what little there is around her, and to let her thoughts come out.

 

 

“Another longs for a wealthy man to help her feed her two young daughters - before they learn the same trade, as always happens.”

 

Each has a different dream. One yearns for a man to take her away, another for a passionate lover who wants her with all his soul. Another longs for a wealthy man to help her feed her two young daughters – before they learn the same trade, as always happens.

Dreams! Just dreams! Dreams which cost effort, and which are difficult to bring out. The daily grind kills them off. A grind that numbs, and makes you forget how to dream.

 

 

 

The photos are in color. In color, like the dreamed-of life. That life concealed in the casket of desires, in that most concealed corner of our thoughts, beside those sins we never confess to anyone; and near those regrets and missed opportunities.

 

For a few, both life and dreams are in color

For many, only life is in black and white

For many, everything is only in grey-anthracite and black

 

 

See also:

The Monsoon – Kolkata

By Stefano Zardini

 


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