The Prince tried the slipper on all the maidens in the land. The Stepsisters tried in vain. Though the Stepsisters taunted her, Cinderella asked if she might try. Naturally, the slipper fit perfectly, and Cinderella put on the other slipper for good measure. The Stepsisters begged for forgiveness, and Cinderella forgave them for their cruelties.
Tina sighed as she turned the last page of her favourite book over.
“What a waste! I would have had my step sisters killed!” of course, she never had any sisters or stepsisters who she could hate; come to think of it, she never had any relatives at all!
Just when she was wondering how she could have tortured her evil stepsisters if she had them, Madame called.
“Your customers here, Tina! Come fast he’s waiting!” Madame was ok, Tina was two when Madame found her abandoned in the common female toilets outside of the slum. Back then Madame wasn’t ‘Madame’. She was Krantidevi, wife of an abusive and an alcoholic who she later killed. It wasn’t proven of course since her husband’s killer was never found. People said that Inspector Gaikwad had him killed since he and Krantidevi had an affair. She, couldn’t have cared less. However Inspector Gaikwad wasn’t going to support the now family of two and hence Krantidevi turned to prostitution. Life in Colaba was tough then and she didn’t have much of a choice. Illiterate and jobless, it was the best option. Much later she had a prostitution ring of her own, where she, Tina; was to return the favour. Madame had brought Tina up, decently enough. She couldn’t really decide if she knew what ‘decent’ was since she never really had stepped out of the slums, but as Madame put it, ‘you got food to gulp!’
Adjusting her pink sparklingly loud saree she stepped out, brazenly; in the foyer.
The foyer was where the girls were brought, to be ‘decided’ by the customers. This was a typical start to any night; stand in a line, put on a pout, a flashy pose, a subtle show of skin. You couldn’t touch, just stare, you had to pay to touch now, didn’t u?
Tina struck her best, her famous pose, hips thrown out, lipstick smacked lips curled in a sly smile, one hand listlessly twirling the pallu.
She used to wonder why she even needed to do all this. It was just so regular it had become a habit now.
After all the fuss of showcasing your body, her ‘regular’ Salim would come and take her.
Salim was a local butcher. He was orphaned at the age of seventeen and had since been working under the supervision of his uncle, the then butcher.
After his uncle died, Salim took over the shop, supporting his aunt and cousin. He was a very quiet and a peace loving man, hardly the qualities for a butcher, but he was content. Salim first met Tina when his uncle got him to Madame’s for his own gratification. He claimed it was Salim’s actual entry into ‘manhood’. Salim didn’t know about manhood but that was the first time he felt that ‘fluttery’ sensation for a girl that his friends used to describe. His uncle had noticed that and had warned him that such a feeling was to be banished and that such women were not good women. When Salim asked why his uncle, then, visited them, he’d received a slap. but Tina had mesmerized Salim. Since then Salim was a ‘regular’.
She always used to ask Salim why he preferred her to the others.
It always used to be the same reply,” I don’t know. But is it wrong that I choose you over the others? Maybe I love you.”
At this she would blush and hit his hand lightly and say, “Marry me then na?”, to which he would just shrug and a light, almost repentant and guilty reply “I can’t”.
She never blamed him, how could she? She was a prostitute and she knew it. There was no denying the obvious truth. She had long accepted the fact that her status, her rights and desires were to be subjugated and the only thing she could ever do or was capable of doing was to pleasure men.
That night was the same. Salim treated her like a delicate fairy, and their lovemaking was always so amateurish like a couple of teenager, hurried, awkward and over just too soon. She didn’t complain, she’d be getting much more sex afterwards, but what she enjoyed most was the ‘after love’ chats that they used to have.
Salim would talk of his plans to expand business, how he had thought of a great way of making profit by taking a loan and buying another place in the next gulli for his cousin Hussain. He was proud of his cousin for he was a graduate and wanted him to start a business, selling handicrafts. Tina always used to nod in agreement, in her heart she hoped that whatever may happen, Salim may never leave her. For her, he was the prince in ‘Cinderella’ and she was his princess. Together they would build their fantasy castles and live happily ever after.
She would imagine Salim coming to her with a crystal slipper and asking her to try it on while Madame and all the other girls looked in awe. Then she would imagine him getting his silver chariot and taking her away from all the sleaze and the dirt that she had lived in, her entire life; to a pure, translucent life, a life where she was the master of her own life, where she could take her own decisions. She imagined. But she was grounded in reality. She knew her place in the big bad world and she knew that there was nothing that she could do about it now. She had lived a cursed life and she would continue doing so. Salim would get married and have kids with eyes like almonds with his wife and they would live in a comfortable shanty somewhere, who knows, maybe Salim might even have a room then, with an attached toilet. But she, Tina would still be there, in her hellhole, gratifying perverts, creeps, sadists and lechers. She had given up. Although she wanted to leave everything behind and start anew, she had accepted her fate and had come to terms with it. She just stopped caring about it anymore.
Salim had two hours to himself. Soon there was the dreaded knock on he door. Tina loathed this knock. It was like her pleasant bubbles, her momentary relief from her life, the mirage, was very unpleasantly and abruptly broken. It was time for her to go and ready herself for her next customer.
Her life was pretty much a repeat. Every single day was like the one before.
Not today however, it wasn’t any special day, neither a bank a holiday.
India was playing Pakistan at the local stadium today. Madame resented cricket, it was bad for business, and especially when it used to be India vs Pakistan. Business was expected to be bleak. The girls had a holiday.
Tina and the others decided to go to view the Gateway. She had vague memories of coming here as a child though she couldn’t be sure, but the Gateway was her place of solace and solitude, a place where all the muck around her just fell off and she was just another young lady thinking expectantly and fondly.
She and her friends had a good time there, eating pani puris and different types of chaats. It was a day much different from her other. A day well spent and gaily spent. It was midnight; time to wind up and go back to the ‘house’ the customers would be filling in now, drunk, intoxicated with India’s victory.
But the Gateway was just too beautiful. It’s hold over Tina was jut too strong. Salim wouldn’t be coming till late after midnight. She decided to wait back a bit longer.
As she lay there absorbed in her own thoughts, amid the melancholy of life, the rigidity of routine, she escaped.
She escaped into her world of dreams. Her world, where she was the queen, the princess, Cinderella. Where Salim, like the prince would come and rescue her from all the dirt and filth, where she too would be presented with a crystal slipper, where all the other girls would look at her in joy as she would slip her beautiful feet in those dainty slippers; when she would be free.
A loud horn broke her chain of thoughts. A boisterous drunk group of youngsters sped by. She recognized one of them, he was Suhani’s regular. In the cold night the jeers sounded louder and scarier than she ever knew. It was time to head back. As she made her way through the lanes and gullis of Colaba, those rants and voices came back. The boys were following her. Cheap taunts and lewd gestures greeted her with a grin. She hastened.
At a particular lane, the voices died down. The engine was cut abruptly. She didn’t expect what would happen after that.
A hand grabbed her from the back, a hand around her waist. She was carried to a desolate and uninhabited area of the slums. Where no one could hear her. Where no one could hear her screams of pain and torture. Where no one could listen to seven men unzipping their pants and getting to work on her. Where shouts of ‘free fuck free fuck free fuck’ went unheard. Where her sobs and cries slowly died down, exhausted and spent.
The local fishermen found her the next day. Barely covered by her torn garments, the only remnant of the earlier nights saga, Tina lay drenched in blood.
Tina woke up the next day in her kholi. The local doctor was attending to her. Nauseous and sickly, as she sat up in bed, she realized the whole extent of her injuries. Her hand was fractured, there was a bandage across her stomach, her face was etched with scratches and bites. She felt sick. Twice. Five times through the night.
She woke up two days later. All through her troubled sleep she had visions of Cinderella being pulled down and violently raped by villagers, even by the prince. The prince. Oh, how she loved him. But here he was raping Cinderella. The same look of viciousness and hormone driven madness on his face, just as she had seen it on the faces of her rapists. Oh, how she loved that prince…
She awoke with a start. Salim was by her side. He was applying cold compresses on her forehead; he said she had a raging fever. She knew he just wanted to touch her. She shrunk away, scared. ‘Free fuck, free fuck’, those words kept taunting her.
“stay away stay away!” she screamed, yelled, scratched and bit Salim as he took her head and held it against his chest, lulling her to sleep.
Tina woke up much better the next day, although she was still haunted by those dreams. Madame asked her to rest and resume work after she felt better, however she flatly refused when Tina asked her to accompany her to the police station. “ You are a randi, a whore. What do you want to register a complaint against? That they didn’t pay?” Tina cried, Madame was adamant. Cinderella wept. The prince was evil, the villagers were evil there was no crystal slipper.
Salim tried his best to try to get Tina well. But since that incident, Tina refused the audience of men. She became nauseous at the sight of one and started feeling sick. Everyday he tended to her. Took care of her. Slowly but steadily she improved. She resumed eating. She still cringed at the sight of a man but had started responding well to Salim.
As soon as she felt better the first thing that she asked Salim was to accompany her to the police station. Salim, skeptical; yet agreed.
At the police station, the officers were more than helpful. They refused to register a complaint. Tina argued, womens rights, equality, justice, she tried them all. The police just laughed. Cinderella cried. “Saali randi, fuck off! Complaining about a free fuck are we?” hahaha…
The sounds kept resounding in her head. Cinderella cried. The crystal slipper was gone. Salim held her hand. Together they stared at the unseen abysmal darkness that engulfed them.
It was her first night of work after the incident. Salim asked her to quit. She refused. What else could she do? Life had to resume. She couldn’t sit back. She couldn’t afford it.
Dressed in her attractive finery she struck her best pose. Hips thrown out, lipstick smacked lips curled in a sly smile, one hand listlessly twirling the pallu. She felt sick at all the men looking at her. The feeling was rising, her stomach gurgled, past her breast, the feeling rose through her throat, and then out. She vomited all over her dress, all over the carpet.
Madame came with her hand raised. Down came the hand like a sharp blade on soft dough, cutting her cheek open. Blood spurted out. “Daayan! Chudail! Chamaar saali!” Madame continued with the expletives. Cinderella continued crying. Someone cleaned the vomit. The customers chose their girls and retired to their rooms. Cinderella still cried.
The next day, Tina didn’t get a morsel of food. That was to be her punishment. She didn’t complain. That night she was given a newcomer. A middle-aged man, he stank of alcohol just like her rapists did. As he unzipped his pants the memories of that horrible night flooded back in. she screamed, took the nearest object to her which happened to be a stout stick and struck it on the man’s head. Blood oozed out freely, the man cried in agony. Madame entered with her entourage of girls and men. She held Tina by her hair and dragged her out on the road. Kicked and slapped her in the groin and face. Pandemonium prevailed. Sleepy eyed residents of the area came out to witness the tamashaa. Dogs howled. a hundered eyes stared back at Tina, yet not one hand came to her aid. Madame continued with her brutal beating. Cinderella cried.
And then came Salim.
With a deft move he toppled Madame over. Taking his kurta off he handed it over to Tina to cover herself. From his dhoti he brandished a chopper, the kind used to cut mutton. His lips never moved but his eyes spoke it all. Madame stared horrified. A hundred eyes stared horrified. Tina cowered. A hand came to help, Salim’s hand. He helped Tina up. Shakily, Tina stood and faced Madame. Looked into those hundred eyes with fear, malice and lust in their hearts.
Salim held her hand and gently tugged at her.
The hundred eyes stared at them as they walked away. Madame with her eyes red and angry shaking hands bid them farewell with another string of insults and gaalis.
Tina and Salim never once looked back. With their hands clasped together Tina thought of Cinderella. She had found her prince.
“Maybe I do love you”, the prince said. Cinderella just smiled.