The 'posh' Bombay brothel, Grant Road, Mumbai.
A 'gharwali' told us how her husband had left the house when she was pregnant with their third child, and never returned. She still wears the sindoor. After quitting a job as a housemaid because she couldn't earn enough to give her kids a good education, she started working as a bar dancer. But her hips gave away. So she turned to prostitution.
5 years in, a client told her to stop 'this business' and bought her a house where she could run her own brothel. "I was lucky to be able to get out of it after 5 years." she said.
"Do your kids know what you do?" we asked.
"I am sure they do. I have barely studied, yet I am earning so much in Bombay. What could I be doing here? But they don't want to hurt me, so they never ask."
"How old are the youngest people who come here?" we inquired.
"We don't take in very young guys. Then it feels like we are sleeping with our own sons. We are mothers after all." was the chilling response.
Another sex worker recounted the tale of how she was brought to Bombay at the age of 14 under the pretext of housework, and 'sold'.
"I fell in love with a client and married him. When I was pregnant with his child, he called me a 'randi' and said that it might be the child of one of my other clients. He would just take my money and go sleep with other prostitutes. Whn I found out, I aborted the 7-month old baby and left him. I don't trust men anymore.", she said.
Those of us who got such personal stories in less than an hour of conversation did so because of local language, which can be such a unifier.
"Where are you from?", I asked.
"Calcutta." she said.
"Bangali?" I smiled.
"Tumi o? (You too?). Will you have tea?" she asked.
You learn when you are not supposed to say no.