Fahmi Ela (Translated by Tinni Rahman):
“My Name is Jui. It’s written Jui Akter in SSC (Secondary School Certificate) certificate, father late Abdul Jalil. But I don’t know who this Abdul Jalil is. Because my father can be either Abdul Jalil or Haripod about which I have no headache. My only identity is my mother Doli Akter, who lives in a small room in the biggest brothel of the country.
Yes, My mother is a prostitute. You can say sex worker in a polite way or use slang like whore. It never makes any difference in her daily life.
I heard that I am born there at Doulotdia brothel. Where red and blue lights are lit in the evening as if the day starts after dark. Of course it’s the start. Male clients overflow the neighborhood. I heard it’s also called the neighborhood of dirty dancers when I became older. So the gentlemen come to the neighborhood of dirty dancers after dark. They come, they pay, and they get physical pleasure and leave. May be today it’s the room of the west, tomorrow the room of the east. The difference is only in the change of bodies.
My mother sent me to my grandmother’s house after I was born. Maybe she wanted me to be educated and earn for myself, she might also have thought that if a false identity of my father can be provided, I might get married one day. Maybe she didn’t want me to take drugs to reduce pain after serving eight to ten customers every day.
Maybe my mother didn’t want my teenage body to grow up by taking hormone pills. Maybe my mother didn’t want a lot of things. I knew about having a mother who is alive when I was about seven years old. I was alone at home, my grandmother went to the Bazar. Our neighbor Selim uncle came to see my grandmother and took me to bed carrying in his lap after locking the door. When I started shouting, he stuffed cloth in my mouth and kept saying, “shut up whore”.
I only remember this much. Later my grandmother took me to the hospital when I was senseless. After waking up I kept telling my grandmother, “Selim uncle hurt me, beat him grandmother. Beat him”. Little did I know that Selim uncles didn’t come to this world to get beaten, they come to beat others. After I got better, my grandmother took me to a place like Bazar. I saw a beautiful woman like a fairy with a veil waiting there. She started crying while hugging me when she saw me. I still didn’t understand that she was my mother. She said goodbye after caressing me a lot and bought me chocolate and chips, we were there only for 15 to 20 minutes. When we reached home my grandmother told me that she was my mother, and my father had died. My mother has an important job so couldn’t keep me with her, and as she could not see me she hid her identity. I was young enough to accept what I was told.
I met her again after a month. I had a bag filled with my clothes with me on that day. I was taken to a place like a school. She told me that day, “from today you will live here and study with all your heart. I will come every month to see you. There are a lot of girls like you here. Live together with them, and listen to the teachers”. Scared, I started seeing the place with a boundary wall about 10 feet away from the window of the office room, while shivering with fear.
The night before I came here my grandmother said, “ your mother will admit you to a boarding school. You will be educated if you go there”. After a few days of going there I learned, it was safe home, and everyone living there was children of prostitutes. I didn’t know what a prostitute is back then. The elder girls started saying a few things, and I remembered Selim uncle. I only had one experience of a physical relationship. I started crying aloud keeping my face buried in my knees. I just thought, my mother, suffers the same pain that I endured that very day. The teachers of the hostel would come and calm me down. But I couldn’t say anyone why I was crying. I felt it’s not something I should share.
I was in that safe home for ten years after that. I studied there and took a vocational training course in sewing. I took the course after SSC. All of us were given this training for our future job. By then I learned what a prostitute is, who is a prostitute, who goes to them, and why. My mother used to visit me sometimes, and I met her. I used to look at her face, and she would hold my hand and say a lot of things. How to behave if I go somewhere, how to hide my identity, to study a lot, and have a good job. I kept quiet and listened.
One day my mother said, “I decided to admit you here when I heard about the incident of that day”. The incident of that day means the incident of Selim uncle. I started shivering again. I hugged my mother and started crying. My mother also started crying with me and kept saying, “I would never let you go through the same pain ever again while I am alive”.
After a six month training, we were given a job at a garment at Narayanganj in Dhaka. After working for about a month I understood that I can’t study if I work here. What an inhumanly laborious job that was! We had to do overtime after duty. All the girls that went with me to work there left in a few days, some fled away.
I call my mother, cry, and say continuously that I don’t want to work, and I want to study. My mother understands and talks to a safe home. In the meantime, the supervisor of the garments got to know that I and the other girls who were with me were children of the brothel. Later I knew that the owner of the garments knew our identity. As the safe home we used to live in gave the job, it was not hard to know after searching a little. One by one everyone in the factory knew about it. So gossips started forming. Indirectly some of them started giving me indecent proposals, which reminded me only of the incident of Selim uncle.
One day after the overtime when I was returning home, a few of the men tried to harass me physically. I got rid of them after shouting a lot. I ran to the hostel and returned to the safe home taking the first bus of the dawn next day bag and baggage. I didn’t also say what was about to happen that day. I just said, “it is a laborious job, I couldn’t do it. I want to complete my studies”.
My mother was informed. My mother also agreed to bear my expenses. I started living in a safe home again. My mother came and looked at my eyes. Then said, “you don’t have to work in those factories. You finish your studies. You will get a good job where there is respect”. I keep quiet. How could my mother know there is no respect in the job of the factory? Did my mother understand only by looking at my eyes? Is the mother used to see herself in the mirror always? So she understood just by seeing my eyes? Do mothers understand everything? I cried a lot hugging my mother. The mother said, “I will get you married to an educated person. He will give you respect and love. You will get a good job, live in the society keeping your head high. See for yourself.”
After my HSC’s, my mother became sick suddenly. She got pain in the waist, even if she could stand straight, she couldn’t walk fast. So her business declined. I understood it was high time I do something. Mother couldn’t bear my expenses for a long, and a safe home won’t keep me after I turn 18. After the result, I saw that my result was very good. The teacher of the safe home herself found me a job as a facilitator in an NGO. The salary was ok.
I only had one dream then how I would bring my mother home from there. I started saving from my earnings. I lived with my grandmother in a rented room. One day when I came back from the office I saw grandmother crying her eyes out. She hugged me and said, “Jui, your mother is no more”. I had the salary of the month that day, I was thinking if I could separate three thousand takas from that, my savings will be close to twenty thousand takas. I could bring my mother home in about a year. I didn’t cry that day. I kept hearing, “I will get you married to an educated person. He will give you respect and love. You will get a good job, live in the society keeping your head high. See for yourself.”
Read it from the beginning of what you read so far. After you finish, read again. You read an 18-year-old girl’s life history in 12-13 hundred words. This girl is studying at the Open University, and also working at the same time. After completing her studies, she dreams of getting a better job. I was just checking if the recorder is on in between the interview.
Other than this I couldn’t stop looking at her eyes for a moment. I heard very few voices in my life that are such strong and cold. In a fake name, Jui did tell her life story for two hours. I should say a few things in the end. But I will finish with Jui’s words. I hope you will find the answers in your heart.
“Listen, I watch TV sometimes. So many talk shows are telecast, so many big people give speeches; so many issues of the country are discussed. I also read the newspaper if I get time in the office. So many things happening around, and so many discussions about the country’s prosperity. You know, I also use Facebook. So many people talk about their happiness and sorrow. But where does anyone talk about us? How are we, Where are we? The educated people of the talk shows, they never talk about us! You are asking me if I am ashamed to talk about my mother’s profession if I am feeling sad? No sister, I am not feeling bad at all. This profession is approved by society. Could this profession ever sustain if there was no need for this profession? Then why my mother is only guilty? And why should I feel bad?
Do you know that we can’t get a government job? Because we don’t have any identity of our fathers. But would these brothels sustain over time if the government didn’t approve? Do you know – a poor girl can be married in this country, marrying a girl who is otherwise able is also respected, even an acid burn victim can get married. But can a daughter of a sex worker of an unidentified father be married?
It’s not possible sister. It’s not possible as their birth is illegal, they are also called bastards. So many educated people, so many wise men, so many people are there to talk about so many different rights. Tell me, sister, is there anyone you know who would say strongly with courage – “I want to marry the daughter of a prostitute. Nobody would a dear sister, nobody would.”
(It is a partial interview)
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