My Experience At “The Red Light Express” : The Children From Unfortunate Backgrounds Bring Out Inspiring Stories On Stage

The Day Every Word Meant A Life…

How do you describe a gift which you never asked for, never wanted but it was the best gift you ever received!!

21/01/18 was the best gift I ever received. After two sleepless nights of poetry writing and performing, all I wanted to do was sleep. As I was about to change into my pyjamas, my phone buzzes. Its a message from Sid, which is something that I never ignore. He sends me an event poster and asks me if I was interested in watching a play. I plainly wanted to say NO but something about the name of the play prompted me to ask “What Is It About?” and after he briefly described it I knew that I was definitely going to attend it. I called Sonia, who was promoting the event, for the passes. In all the excitement I forgot to see her name (which Sid attached) and my whole conversation with her was trying to hide the fact that I don’t know her name. Little did I know that after that night I could never forget her name.

Reaching The Venue Of Red Light Express…

Reaching there with a desperate need for sleep, and almost nil knowledge about Kranti, I thought that I would just sit and doze off but to my surprise, the whole “N-Convention” with a seating capacity of more than 2000 people was filled and we had no seats left to sit. Hence, we decided that we’d grab a bite as we were starving from the morning. Just about, I heard someone’s voice in the microphone, assuming the play had begun, I left to watch it empty stomach. I saw a woman wearing a white T-shirt and jeans talking on the stage. She sported a bob and had the widest smile I’d ever seen. She was on the stage explaining, to the restless crowd, that they hadn’t anticipated the huge turnover. She sounded really calm and patient reacting to the annoyed crowd, and after a while, they asked us to occupy the VIP seats, the gathering went crazy and me too. I ran like they were selling free shoes and sat near the stage holding seats for my friends.

After all the off-stage drama, the curtains raised for the actual one. I could hear a bunch of girls shouting “laal bhatti, laal bhatti, laal bhatti” in a rhythmic synchronised way. The audience got instantly hooked to the play, with a child-like grin plastered on their faces. The girls on the stage, draped in all black, looked practically stunning. Each one of them was beautiful in their own way, and they asked a few volunteers from the audience to participate in the act. The volunteers were selected and they were asked to – walk like a little girl, pose like a photographer, pose like a Muslim, pose like a transgender and they played along with giggles and excitement. But then all the ear to ear grins suddenly disappeared, when they were asked to play the role of a 13-year-old child of a sex worker. The whole auditorium was stunned into silence.

The Effect Of Truth Wrapped In The Soul Of Life

That is how Kranthi (revolution) makes you feel – empathetic and not sympathetic. The girls never speak about their troubles inorder to make us feel sorry for them. They show us the reality, as is. They know that they have fought all the obstacles against the hypocritical society and have emerged stronger than ever, from not having a place to live (no one was ready to give their house to the daughters of sex workers) to not finding work and opportunities to study across the globe. The performing group’s theatrical abilities are par excellence.

The play connects with you on every level and they use minimal props, mostly bed sheets and dupattas, with a catchy song as a backdrop. The revolving bed sheets give you a picture of Kamatipura (Mumbai’s largest redlight area). Each girl got a chance to tell her story, not their sad stories but as they call it, their success stories. These stories would give you goosebumps and make you realise how minimal your troubles are in comparison. They stand to remind the privilege of a normal life. One of my friends broke down into tears absorbed absolutely by the enactment. In our five years of friendship it was the first time I was seeing a vulnerable side of hers, and on looking behind me, I wasn’t surprised to see almost everyone in tears. I, however, didn’t cry. Rather, I was smiling throughout out the play, I didn’t shed a tear because I knew that these little women have today emerged into strong, confident women and their stories made me happy, filling me up with joyful inspiration.

The Back Stage Joy – Meeting The Inspirational Voices…

So after the play, I was left humbled, overwhelmed and euphoric. Of course, I had to meet Sonia, the organiser, and thank her for the invite. Backstage I hugged Sonia and thanked her for inviting me to the play, which had injected the indescribable feelings of pure joy and much more.

Sonia asked me to interview girls and to be honest, I didn’t know where to start. Everyone was unique and amazing. Everyone had something to teach me and for the first time ever I felt humbled to meet these wonderful girls. As I and Ashwini Manne sat to talk, I was blank on what to ask her, I didn’t know where to start and we started out with a hug and I asked her what is the one thing she thinks is similar between her and her mom?

She told me that she didn’t spend much time with her mom as she was told her aunt was her mom and vice versa.

I was left speechless but the way she answered it told me that she had coped with it.

When I asked her “what is the one thing she wants to acquire from her mom?”

She said hard work. I could see that she placed her mom at platform full of pride, just like we all do. I don’t know what it is but there is something about the krantikaries (the revolutionaries) that you want to share your personal and the most intimate moments with them. I showed her the page of my notepad where I started writing about the play and on the same page some of the words from my poem were scribbled, and the poem was about the way I was abused. I told her that I have had episodes of despair and self-harm and also explained to her how helpless I felt when I was a teenager and I asked her how she copes with all of it!!

Her answer summarised all the solutions to my problems in one-word “THERAPY”

She started to explain to me the importance that Kranti gives to the therapy. 

She spoke about the taboo people have around therapy, that only pagal (insane) people opt for it and people don’t realise its significance.

The Importance Of Acceptance And A Well Wishing Attitude

I wish more people approached therapy, I wish more people spoke about mental illness, I wish the girl who committed suicide, whose dad took her to the hospital the other day received therapy, her words made me think, I am a person who overthinks and within all the chaos, I was lost, until Sonia told me that Robin was free and I should probably go and talk to her. I held Sonia’s hand and told her that I wanted to gift my poetry to the girls, Sonia loved the idea and told me that she was planning to gift something too. As we were deciding on what to gift them, I saw Robin breaking away from the reporters and I approached her. We wanted a quiet place to sit and in this huge convention, the place which was calm and still was just the washroom. The first thing I wanted to tell Robin that she looked strikingly similar to the female lead of Bangalore days (Parvathy) but I calmed my curiosity and asked her about Kranti, the movement and the idea.

She told me how she met Bani Das at a rescue foundation NGO and saw that the girls over there had bigger dreams, dreams just like any other girl. To be honest, I was so involved in Robin’s words that I stopped writing and sat there listening to her like a curious kid as she told me that she went back to the US of A, to finish her masters but the girls and their dreams were always at the back of her head.

When I asked her about how she implemented her thoughts into actions; she told me that everything falls into place when you decide to do it. As mentioned earlier, there was always something about Kranti that made you reveal deeper things about you and I told Robin about this dream I had which had never left my thoughts. I told her how it was about a little girl whom I meet on a trip and she calls me mom and how I get attached to her.

Robin said that maybe I had to adopt someone. She was right, I always wanted to do that and I was amazed at how she understood me and how she patiently listened to my dreams and never lost that grin.

My Dissolution Of Inhibitions…

Talking with Robin and Ashwini felt like a therapy session, I wanted to talk so much more, to sit with every girl, to know more about them but it was already too late and I had to go.

I could see it on Sonia’s face too that even she didn’t want to leave that place, those people and that feel, we decided that we were meeting them tomorrow before they left for their train.

I hugged Sonia goodbye and told her how happy I was to meet someone like her.

As I was about to leave, I couldn’t bear the thought that the girls were to leave in a few hours. I wanted to know them better. I wanted to be their friend. I couldn’t just let them just go, so I made a decision, the fastest decision that the indecisive Liberian in me made – “I am going to Mumbai to visit them again”.

I ran to Robin and told her my plan, she said that I could conduct a poetry workshop and I told her that I will be an annoying guest, she said with a grin “we will put you to work.” And she folded her hands in form of Namaste, I told her not to do that and hugged her and she said that she will tell me the story behind it in Mumbai.

I couldn’t sleep that night, the third day adding to the sleepless night’s jar and I didn’t mind it, I googled everything about Kranti and Robin and fell more in love with them.

What Do You Gift Someone Who Has All The Happiness…

Towards Midnight I painted pages to write poetry, the bad artist in me didn’t stop me from painting something special for them. I slept for 3 hours and the next day for the first time I didn’t swear at my alarm. I started writing poetry for two hours and Sonia called me and asked me to meet her at the Park, RajBhavan Road and said that Robin has asked us to join her for breakfast. I couldn’t contain my excitement, so I reached there half an hour before and like a creepy stalker, kept looking at the girls from the glass window of the lobby, they were all meditating. I wanted to speak to them but looking at how focused they were, I didn’t feel like disturbing them.

As I was thinking about how they would feel about my poetry, Sonia arrived in a yellow checkered shirt looking extremely elegant, and she tells me that even she didn’t catch a good night’s sleep. As she was looking out something special for the girls and at that hour, all she could find was a Ratnadeep market and she got some biscuits and a lot of plastic containers for the girls, Sonia was not only beautiful outside but she was alluring inside. The girls asked us to sit with them and told us that they were doing a session on ‘things they were grateful for’ and then at breakfast, they warned us not be scared because they ate a lot, I and Sonia didn’t even notice what they ate because we were delighted to be with them.

Amused at their sisterhood, the way they joked around, pulled each other’s leg and their camaraderie with Robin and Bani, everything made us a tiny bit jealous, that we don’t have people like them in our life, the girls were kind to all the staff, they never missed to say thank you even for the tiniest of help they received.

Finally the moment arrived, which I and Sonia never wanted, the Uber’s arrived, the girls had to leave, when they said that the uber was 5 min away, I wanted it to be stuck in traffic but then they had to go as Robin told me “no one stays forever in your life, they will not leave you but the paths are different

The Partial Goodbye…

I hugged everyone and told them that I would meet them in Mumbai. We quickly clicked a selfie and kissed everyone goodbye and like Sonia’s WhatsApp status with our selfie was perfectly captioned “paused”, I was actually paused there, my thoughts were only home to the girls, I couldn’t bear the agony of their departure, it felt like I knew them from years, the girls made me feel so welcomed and then little Mahek messaged me this

“Thank you for everything dii… we will miss you, hope to see u soon in Mumbai, before march cuz I am leaving for school in march
loads of love from Kranti ….. I read your poems they were really Strong and beautiful!thank you for everything dii… we will miss your slight smile emoticon hope to see u soon in Mumbai, before march cuz I am leaving for school in march 
loads of love from Kranti ….. I read your poems they were really Strong and beautiful!” – Mahek Das

This was enough to make my gloomy sad face smile. I still don’t know all the stories, I still don’t know so much but this little much was enough to fall in love with them and I need to know a lot more, I can’t wait to go to Mumbai to find life, to find my identity and yea to find out why they folded their hands symbolising namastey, till then, Namaste..!!