When Sahina boarded the local train, the commuters stepped aside. It was nine-thirty in the evening. A sudden heavy downpour had delayed all the trains, bottlenecking the suburban railway stations in the city.
More than her appearance, it was her flat claps that people despised. Sahina knew it from their faces; the way some men pretended to be asleep when she was around them. Others seemed to be worried about her presence, or casually looked out the window. Few reached for their pockets for a couple of coins.
She was new to the family, and was still learning the ropes. One of the first things her guru had taught her was to speak and count in their secret language- Gupti. But it was of no help to her today, when, after the day’s begging her friends had left for the kotha and Sahina headed towards the station, alone. On the way, a policeman had gagged her inside a roadside booth and seized the money she had earned today. “You refuse to give me your choot, you get this,” he said, stuffing a ten rupees note into her mouth.
She could have borrowed money from Bimla, her friend, but it was something, her guru had said, people with a sense of self respect always abstained from. “Beg all day, sell your body if you have to, but never borrow money.”
When the train entered the last station people waiting at the door began to elbow each other. A young man in a blue chequered shirt waited beside her. She noticed his brief glances grazing her breasts. Few began to jump from the moving train when someone pushed him. He lost foothold, and was just about to fall onto the platform, when he felt a firm grip on his hand pull him back inside with a jerk.
At the platform he walked up to Sahina and extended a hundred rupees note. “I might have slipped under the train. Take this.” A man with a promise. With something to give to her. It felt like the days when she was Sahid Khan, not Sahina. How life had taken a turn when Mehmood kaka, a burly old man in Sahid’s neighbourhood in Kathiawad had lured him into his room, promising the fourteen-year-old boy a pack of bidis. When Sahid’s father had learnt about the rape, he had sold him to a man in a violet sari who then put him on a train to Mumbai. Two days later, in a dingy cell in one of the narrow gullies of Kamathipura, all it had taken was one quick stroke of a razor. The drug had left Sahid dizzy, but the pain gnawed fiercely between his legs.
The next morning he had woken up to the strokes of a rough palm on his forehead. “I am your guru. Lataguru. Your name is Sahina now.”
Sahina refused to take the money. “You were the one staring at my ‘chalka’, in the train.” She faked a grin. The young man pocketed the note and darted away, avoiding further humiliation.
“Begging won’t help. One night at the kotha pays for the next day’s meals. So, we do it. The surgery gave you the kind of ‘chalka’ men would die for. Why don’t you just leave your past behind and do it?” Bimla and other chelas in the family would often ask her.
Outside the station, she walked up to a food stall and ordered a vada pav. She felt the cool breeze in her hair. The sky roared. The cars and the tiny windows of the tall buildings at a distance slowly blurred before her eyes. Sahina didn’t care if it was the rain or her tears.