[Em]powered by the Red-Light District in New Delhi
October 20, 2012
Excerpt from my U.S. Embassy International Narcotics/Law Enforcement journal…
On a bright, sunny afternoon, New Delhi teemed with people caught up in the usual humdrum of daily life and I, a representative of the U.S. Embassy, blindly followed a brothel owner into a seedy part of the city. The woman led the director of NGO Shakti Vahini and me into a dilapidated two-story building on G.B. Road, the hub of New Delhi’s red-light district. She escorted us down an empty corridor, to an ominous door at the far end. Apprehensive about what to expect next, I stood motionless, as my nerves ran rampant and drops of sweat trickled down my quivering body. What had seemed like “reel” life, quickly turned into real life.
The owner of the brothel made a subtle gesture to her assistant, and sure enough, a group of six teenage girls slowly emerged from the back room, donning a ragged appearance with emaciated bodies that did nothing to belie their malnourished state. The young, fatigued eyes intensely stared at me in bewilderment, but timid as they were, the girls started hiding behind one another. In retrospect, I would have never believed such a place existed if I had not seen it myself. As I began communicating with the girls, I was deeply touched by the words of one girl in particular: Maya, a teenage prostitute who had been sold by her family at the tender age of 6. Holding my hand and leaning towards me, Maya confessed uncertainty as to when she might ever taste freedom beyond the four walls of her confinement. She was convinced her dreams were forever destined to remain dreams. “Live your life to the fullest,” Maya counseled me in Hindi. Taken aback by the grisly stories of these young women, I felt compelled to spend hours conversing with them. Unfortunately, I was urged to leave before the paying crowd set in and sure enough, as I walked away I noticed that what had previously looked like any other crowded street slowly began bustling with scores of women, waiting to be commercialized. And as daylight segued into dusk, the panorama of previously-seen contented smiles quickly dissipated into a horde of anguished grimaces. The entire ride home, I was lost in my own thoughts and greatly distraught by what I had just witnessed. Maya’s heartfelt words were indelibly seared into my mind and consciousness. Her sobering maturity, while impressive, saddened me to the core; forced to grow up and sacrifice the innocence of her childhood much too soon, Maya never had a chance to become anything but calloused beyond her years. What had started off as just another interesting part of my job, quickly channeled into a surge of inspiring energy.
Even though I had heard the cliched advice of “Live your life to the fullest” many times before, there was a unique urgency that resonated throughout my body after hearing it from Maya’s mouth, impacting me in an unprecedented way.
Though I’m not in touch with Maya anymore, I pray every day that her heart finds gentler waters and that she is able to give life to those forgotten dreams one day.
Have you ever had an experience that instilled a new sense of vitality into a piece of advice you’ve heard many times before?
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I’m Nyssa. I started The Cultureur in August 2012, almost a decade after contracting the travel bug while on a Model United Nations conference in Russia and Finland.
And from there, when I took the first step in solo international travel and decided to study abroad in college,
there was no looking back, and I ended up living, studying, working, and volunteering in 6 countries (the U.S., the UK, France, Iceland, India, and Germany) and traveling to 50+ others.