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Serving The Goddess

August 7, 2008
The dangerous life of a sacred sex worker. By William Dalrymple
“Of course, there are times when there is pleasure,” Rani Bai said. “Who does not like to make love? A handsome young man, one who is gentle . . .”
She paused for a moment, looking out over the lake, smiling to herself. Then her face clouded over. “But mostly it is horrible. The farmers here, they are not like the boys of Bombay.”
“And eight of them every day,” her friend Kaveri said. “Sometimes ten. Unknown people. What kind of life is that?”
“We have a song,” Rani said. “ ‘Everyone sleeps with us, but no one marries us. Many embrace us, but no one protects.’ ”
“Every day, my children ask, ‘Who is my father?’ They do not like having a mother who is in this business.”
“Once, I tried to open a bank account with my son,” Rani said. “We went to fill in the form, and the manager asked, ‘Father’s name?’ After that, my son was angry. He said I should not have brought him into the world like this.”
“We are sorry we have to do this work. But what is the alternative?”
“Who will give us jobs? We are all illiterate.”
“And the future,” Kaveri said. “What have we to look forward to?”
“When we are not beautiful, when our bodies become ugly, then we will be all alone.”
“If we live long enough to be old and to be ugly,” Kaveri said. “So many are dying.”
“One of our community died last week. Two others last month.”
“In my village, four younger girls have died,” Kaveri said. “My own brother has the disease. He used to be a truck driver, and knew all the girls along the roads. Now he just lies at home drinking, saying, ‘What difference does it make? I will die anyway.’ ”
She turned to face me. “He drinks anything he can get,” she said. “If someone told him his own urine had alcohol in it, he would drink that, too.” She laughed, but harshly. “If I were to sit under a tree and tell you the sadness we have to suffer, the leaves of that tree would fall like tears. My brother is totally bedridden now. He has fevers and diarrhea.” She paused. “He used to be such a handsome man, with a fine face and large eyes. Now those eyes are closed, and his face is covered with boils and lesions.”
“Yellamma never wanted it to be like this,” Rani said.
“The goddess is sitting silently,” Kaveri said. “We don’t know what feelings she has about us. Who really knows what she is thinking?”
“No,” Rani said, firmly shaking her head. “The goddess looks after us. When we are in distress, she comes to us. Sometimes in our dreams. Sometimes in the form of one of her children.”
“It is not the goddess’s doing.”
“The world has made it like this.”
“The world, and the disease.”
“The goddess dries our tears,” Rani said. “If you come to her with a pure heart, she will take away your sadness and your sorrows. What more can she do?”

You can read the rest at The New Yorker.

2 Comments
  1. Professor Zero permalink
    August 9, 2008 1:25 am

    ok, YES i will read the rest!!!

  2. Rent Party permalink
    August 9, 2008 5:04 pm

    It is amazing.

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