The parcel

(a story of mumbai red-light area and human trafficking by anosh irani )

The book writen by anosh irani The Parcel is about a transgender sex worker Madhu who lives in mumbai in india, Madhu, in the red-light district of Bombay who is given an unexpected, harrowing task. Now, at forty, Madhu has moved away from prostitution, her trade since her teens, and taken up begging to support the leader of the hijras, Gurumai. One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most-feared brothel owner in the district: A ‘parcel’ has arrived — a ten-year-old girl from the provinces, betrayed and sold by her aunt — and Madhu needs to prepare it for its fate.

the parcel

Madhu, the novel’s 40-year-old protagonist, is a depressed, demoted hijra, once a highly desirable sex worker, now obliged to beg for money. She still lives with her loving hijra clan, including the sometimes kindly, always demanding Gurumai (raunchy matriarch of the Hijra House). Gurumai now in her 80s, is a respected “midwife” — one who used to performs earlier, ritual operation to remove the male genitals. Madhu, who met her as a troubled girl, considers her the only true parent she ever had. Madhu also has six sisters who all were like The 60-ish Bulbul, oldest and closest to Madhu, spends her spare time talking to each other and dreaming about a long-lost lover, who will come oneday. the other two youngest, still sex workers, tease her all the time. This uncontrollable family is traditional. Gurumai takes most of the hijras’ earnings and pays for their needs. An enterprising materfamilias, she imagines building “McBrothels” throughout India.

Madhu’s used to do all the Tantrums though she also has a devoted lover, Gajja, and she is deeply lonely, and longs to connect with her birth family. Everything around her seems to be fading, including the once indefatigable Gurumai, who begs Madhu to massage her feet; the carefree Gajja, who wants to go back to his village, and Bulbul, who is increasingly living in a fantasy world. Madhu’s “asylum”(a place where she used to stay) is no longer what it was. Gurumai is indebted to a powerful madam, Padma, who protects the small Hijra House. A once thriving, thousand-strong hijra community has dwindled, owing to the work of real estate “vultures” hungry for land. Indeed, all of the Kamathipura neighbourhood is slowly crumbling,old houses have been torn down to make way for factories.

Within this context, the action begins with the arrival of the titular “parcel,” a trafficked 10-year-old girl from rural Nepal, in Padma’s enormous whorehouse, Lucky Compound. Padma has long engaged in selling such “goods” her drugged-out, undernourished little girls entice rich Mumbaikars in search of young flesh. Gurumai is personally asked by Padma to make Madhu take charge of the girl — that is, keep her in a cage and ensure that she is “broken in.” Madhu, smoking a Shivaji cigarette before meeting Padma, invokes the historical Maharashtrian warrior to determine what to do.

Part of the reason this comedy-cum-confessional-cum-social-commentary work manages to kick into Mumbai noir is that we are not sure until the end what Madhu’s intentions are. She engages in cruelty toward the “parcel,” releasing an unidentified creature into the cage, ostensibly to prevent the girl from fighting and receiving a beating or worse from Padma. Madhu also buys her food and gifts from her own savings; but she is a poor woman dependent on Gurumai. Amid the tightening drama surrounding the child’s welfare, there are hints of imminent police raids, mysterious hijraelders that want control over Hijra House and Madhu’s nighttime visits to the bridge near her childhood home.

The reader is occasionally pushed out of this tension during Madhu’s lengthy flashbacks or unnecessary explanations, such as “Madhu had tried to embrace womanhood.” In general, however, the writer’s slow, deliberate revelation of Madhu’s youthful transformation is perfectly linked with her increasing connection with the “parcel,” Kinjal. The reader gradually understands the root of the loneliness of both and it becomes clear by the end that this loneliness is beyond background, age, community or country. Madhu calls herself a “migrant.” While the titled word first seems to refer to the trafficked girl, it becomes clear that there are many, many parcels — a universe of human beings not loved, not cared for, but commodified and discarded.

Part of the way this excellent book heals such a sprawling, horrifying reality is with beauty and religious depth. Gurumai asserts: “A hijra is one because of the soul.” Madhu’s loved ones are like the Pandavas under siege. Devyani is a “sentry from a different era, on a fort tower”; Gajja, perhaps, is Krishna on his chariot-motorcycle. Kinjal could be seen as a contemporary Sita of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. With the hijras, the parcels, the eyes, arms and power of a moody deity, one looks at the strange only to discover unity.

I will not in anyway pretend that The Parcel is an easy read. It’s not. It is draining and awful and disturbing on every page. Yet, it does in its own way enrich for a survivor’s tale is the best we can hope for in our own lives. We carry on.

aayan akash