Pace: Moderate (gripping yet not for the impatient)
Why we chose it for you – It is a unique ethnographic study, replete with black and white pictures, sublime in its approach and vast in it’s scope.
‘Nobody Can Love You more’ by Mayank Austen Soofi is an attempt at bringing out the ordinariness in the extraordinary lives of the women of GB Road, the notorious red light area of Delhi. The author is gently probing, deeply observant and extremely patient in following the lives of sex workers of kotha (brothel) number teen sau (300) for three years.’
I’d have whispered ‘Nobody Can Love you More’ in Mayank’s ears, if I was not privy to the trove of love that flows his way every single day. If you’ve been following the delhiwalla, you’d be nodding vehemently at this point. If not, you’ve missed your spot on the time capsule that Soofi has built with unbelievable precision and patience (Just Kidding, his readers are fairly accommodating, you can hop on any of our laps) . Everyday he sets out, chronicling the city caught in a whirlpool of pollution, politics and precariousness of the people who renounce Delhi as soon as they exit Hauz Khas Village. The raw unprocessed pictures that he uploads daily are like a mother’s hand-drawn chart to measure her child’s height, against an obscure wall of the house. The growth or stagnancy of the city cannot be helped, but it can be recorded in carefully curated pictures and words, and Mayank does just that.
My tryst with his thoughts began with his blog and followed the inevitable path to his book. ‘A gripping and intimate sketch of life in Delhi’s red light district’, the cover suggested in a playful yellow font. I anticipated sex, misery, poverty and helplessness neatly summarized to serve as a quick-reference-guide for the age-old debate on prostitution. But I found none of that.
Soofi does not write with authority or expertise, he converses. He points at nothing, yet you find yourself absorbing details as your pupils adjust to the darkness. As you sift through the pages, you get a worm’s eye view into life at the GB road. He literally begins his journey from the bottom of the staircase littered with lecherous men and latrines, spiraling through handrails of innate desires, into rooms that see no sunlight but witness many a climaxes, to finally lead you to a terrace of normalcy, where these women cook, clean, pray and play with their children till the sun sets and work begins.
You find yourself next to Mayank, peering into the world below bustling with incongruence. Yet the longer you stand and look, the more in-sync and interdependent it appears.
Soofi paints these personal narratives on a historic canvas as he traces the roots of the present crude form of prostitution back to Chawri Bazar where tawaaifs were trained in classical music and dance and young men from wealthy families were sent to them to learn etiquettes and the art of dialogue.
You gather no intelligent points from the book, you gather lives, lives that have been valued so low, but have so much more texture than our own cushioned existences. Despite following a documentary style, the book is not heavy with details to become impervious. This book is a great example of literary journalism, it observes in fine prose but never judges.
The book follows a Socratic approach and the chapters are interspersed with black and white pictures that capture light as it shamelessly and gleefully dances through the seemingly dark world of desire.