Today it was the inauguration of the conference. We reached there around 9 o’clock. The conference inauguration was held in a very big hall. I think there were almost a thousand people present there and most of them were sex workers from different parts of India and abroad. I had never seen that big number of sex workers at one place. There were lots of Hijras as well. There were people from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Australia, Hong Kong, US and UK. But most of them were from India and Bangladesh. Mayer of Kolkata city, some religious leader and a lot of other VIPs were also there as chief guest.
I met Dr. Jana who is member of the advisory board to Government of India for HIV and AIDS programs in India. He was founder of the Sonaganchi project which has been really a huge success and now has become a model for the whole world. They have separated the programs in two session each day, 3 hours each session. The second session was the panel discussion about sex workers are entertainment workers. Different people put their thoughts but to be honest I did not understand most part of it because the whole conversation was in Bengali. But I understood about half of it, it was Okay.
It was very interesting to see how sex workers were putting their views and sharing their experience. Most of them were talking about the problems they face created by Police and discrimination in the society. A lot of them were saying that their children can not get admission in the schools only because they are children of the sex workers. They can not open a bank account or even buy a insurance because they don’t have any residential proof. It means they might not be able to use Internet either because now it is necessary for everyone to show their identity card at the cyber cafe.
During the conference few people from media came who wanted to interview Seranna about the documentary we are making. She was interviewed first and then they interviewed me also. They wanted to talk me about Sanjeevani Booti. After my interview they talked to other foreigners, Hijras and sex workers. I also want to inteview few sex workers cause it seems something different than what I have already known about them. There are a lot of things that I need to know and this is a good opportunity for me. I will try to interview them tomorrow.
I arrived in Kolkata an hour ago and now at Durbar’s office. I have spent only an hour in Kolkatta and my cream color T-shirt is almost black now. Its fucking polluted city. There is smoke everywhere. It seems like Bengali people like dark colors a lot. Taxis are dark yellow, buses are dark green, buildings look very old, and yea they have trams also. It is not something I was expecting. It seems like I will have so fun here. Forgot to bring the data cable for my camera so will upload pics when I get back home.
Durbar guys are very nice. They all seem like they are welcoming us. They said that conference will start tomorrow so its day off for me. Maybe I will do some touristic activity today.
I met Seranna today at her hotel and talked her about two hours. We talked about how the shooting went last day. She said that they were supposed to shoot the sex workers at G.B. Road but could not because the sex workers and brothel owner did not allow her. She just talked them, actually she did not understand much about what they were talking about because the shooting crew was not good with the translation work. They talked to the sex workers but most of the time they did not transalte. She said it was okay and she was happy with what she was getting.
Seranna said that the brothel owner charged her Rs. 20,000 ($450) just to get them in and organize aten minutes dance show by sex workers. They did not let her shoot this dance part or anything inside the brothels. She was still happy with whatever happened. I am sure she is very cool and happy girl:). I see this as a mistake of crew members. When I had worked for CBC and MTV Italy, we did a research first so this way everything was very well organized. But with this documentary nothing is organized. I did not like it at all.
Seranna said that after spending few minutes at brothel, the Police came asking for bribe to Seranna. I don’t know what reason they wanted bribe for, or maybe because Seranna did not have a legal permission to make a documentary which is going to be commercialized. I am sure crew members did not tell her about it either. The cameraman is very famous guy but I don’t know how these people can make this big mistakes. Seranna said that everything went well with her and she was so happy with the progress.
I had asked Seranna to bring some sex toys and she has brought a lot of didlo and fake pussy. Few of them will be give to me to use for my NGO. I had never seen it in front so I was exited to see them. She showed me by wearing this fake pussy. It was so funny. She said that she uses those toys to educate people about safe sex practices. I believe that these kind of things get attention and then you can make people hear what you want them to. I liked the toys a lot.
Seranna said that the crew members do not want me to come to the shooting for whatever reasons but Seranna wanted me to go the shooting today but I said no. Seranna is going to interview two high class sex workers, a politician and going to a conference organized by Delhi university about sex work in India. We will fly to Kolkata tomorrow to attend the conference. I am excited for it.
Finally I arrived Delhi this morning and went straight to Chandan’s place and then to see Chottala. Seranna had asked me to meet her at 4 o’clock so I could not spend much time with Chottala. I was not happy leaving him. I was supposed to meet Seranna at G.B. Road, brothel no. 71. Chandan drove me there. We reached there and I said Chandan to leave started looking for the brothel no. 71. G.B.Road is near the Ajmeri gate side of New Delhi railway station and is the biggest market of generator parts of Asia. Brothels and this biggest market of Asia was on the same road.
All the shops were at ground floor and brothels were at first floor. I sent a message to Seranna informing her about I had reached there but she did not reply me. I thought that maybe she was busy with shooting. I thought it would be good experience just to walk around so I did not stay near the no. 71 brothel. All the steps going up side to the brothels had few girls wearing all the makeups, calling to the people. I was also called up by several sex workers. They were all very well dressed but I could easily see that they were not healthy.
A lot of sex workers were at the windows and they were also doing the same thing: calling people upstairs. I went to a tea shop and sat there for an hour. All these sex workers were calling people like:- hey black pants; come upstairs, hey blue shirt, Rs.100 only, hey you look tired come to me… Each and every person walking on that road would look at least one to the windows. Now I had spent more than an hour so I thought to start walking. I noted something very strange that there was no education posters and writing about HIV or other STDs in the whole area. I wandered almost all over the sex working area but saw only two posters teaching about condoms and HIV. This was very sad.
As I stood-up, I saw one guy running. I asked few people they said that he was inside a brothel and he was looted by the sex workers. I had heard of the sex workers at brothels looting their clients but I never believed it. I had asked several people about it who go to brothels and all of them said that they never carry any extra cash or any valuable stuffs with them when they go to brothels because sex workers loot their clients sometimes, specially if they are new. I think it is only because sex workers for the brothel owner and give a big cut of their income to the owner so they never make much money.
After spending few more time now I was stopped by a pimp who wanted to sell me a girl. He just came to me and started walking next to me. He asked me would I like to have a girl and I said no and then he was like I will charge only Rs. 200 and give you a very nice girl, young and beautiful. I told him several times that I did not need a girl but he was kept walking next to me and asking the same question again and again. Finally he left me and a new and the most dangerous pimp appeared: the police. They probably did not want to sell me a girl but maybe, who knows.
They came and asked several questions about my identity. It was okay but I was wondering why did they stop me? I was never stopped before at any place in Delhi. There must be some reason behind it. Maybe they wanted me to ask them for a girl. I saw many many young guys, only 13-14 years old, going to the brothels. They all looked kind of afraid going in but they went. Now after spending more than two and a half hours finally Seranna called me and said that she had left her mobile in her car so she was not the texts I was sending her. She asked me to meet her tomorrow. I am so excited for this meeting.
I am hosting a couple from the US. They had contacted me through my website. They want to stay in Varanasi for fifteen days. They had already been to Varanasi before fifteen days but they came again just to relax. They were looking for a Hindi teacher and music classes. Christina wanted to learn flute and David wanted to learn vocal. I introduced them to Mr. Deobrat Mishra who is owner of Indian classical music school. It is convenient for Christina and David also because this school is at the next door. They are happy with their music teachers.
I was in touch with a Hindi teacher named Mr. Binit Mishra for past few months. He does assistant of Prof. Virendra Singh. I thought it would be good time for me to test Mr. Mishra’s skills of teaching Hindi and I introduced him to Christina and David. I had already read positive references about Mr. Mishra online but I did not know if it was true or not so I was a little bit concerned. But now after Mr. Mishra has given four classes I feel that I met a really nice teacher.
Its a big relief for me because now my guests can have a teacher right in their room. Now they will not have to go here and there to find a good teacher. I asked Christina and David both about Mr. Mishra and both of them said that he is a great teacher. They said that I can recommend Mr. Mishra as a Hindi teacher to anyone. He comes everyday to teach Christina and David for two hours.
Presentation for class 9th
We organized a workshop at Gopi Radha Girls School in Varanasi where Sanjeevani Booti’s social workers and volunteers did a presentation about HIV and AIDS. We had been thinking of it for a long time and it finally became true. We did presentations for the 9th and 11th class girls. We wanted to do it for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th class but school did not permit us to do a presentation for 10th and 12th class girls because their exams are going to start soon. We did the presentation for 11th class on the 11th and for 9th class on the 12th of Feb.
Sanjeevani Booti's social workers with schools kids
We had planned to send one girl and one boy to each class but again the school did not permit us to send males so I had to send only girls to the school. I have very good girls now who are interested in this issue, but they don’t want to volunteer, they want a paid job. But it’s okay, I know that it is hard to find people who are interested in working for free. But this makes my project tough because I don’t have regular donors and I do not want to be dependent on a few individuals. I need new people who could support my projects financially.
A social worker giving presentation
We had two foreigners also who helped us to make this event successful. One of them is Claire Abraham from Montreal, Canada, and the other one is Christina Hunter from San Fransisco, USA. Claire had been helping me for the past one month. She provided me lots of information and trained Sanjeevani Booti’s social workers. She was a big help but unfortunately she could only attend the workshop on the 11th. She had to go to Nepal to get her visa extended. Christina joined us only on the second day.
Sanjeevani booti's social workers with school staffs
A few girls told us to show condoms to them, to talk about sex, and to talk about sexually transmitted diseases but we could not show them condoms because I was concerned about the school administration’s reaction. The girls want us to organize a big workshop for them where they can get deep knowledge over the subject. But I don’t know when I will be able to organize it because this is an expensive process. I am in touch with a few doctors and social workers from other organizations to make the coming event successful.
I thought it would be great for the kids to hear about HIV from the people living with HIV. There is a network of HIV positive people in Varanasi and I think I can bring some of them to the event. Everything was great but Iam concerned about the future. I think I need grant proposals but I don’t know how to write them. Claire had promised to teach this to me and I am looking forward to it. She is supposed to be back within next few days.
I went to the NACO (National AIDS control Organization) center at BHU with Claire today to get some data about HIV patients in Varanasi for our upcoming workshop at schools. First of all the counselor did not agree to give us any data, and told us to contact the head of the department first and then get permission. I had told her that I was from an NGO but still she did not want to give us any data. We went to the head of department’s room but could not meet him as he was busy with someone else.
We waited for two hours at the counselor’s room. We saw many people coming to get tested. I met a girl who was HIV positive and now volunteers for the NACO center. After spending a few minutes the counselor became friends with Claire and told us everything we were looking for. I am sure she did it only because a white skinned person was there. She said that NACO has a testing center in a lot of different districts of Uttar Pradesh but the BHU one is the only one in all of Poorvanchal where they have ELISA testing facility.
Poorvanchal is a county of Uttar Pradesh which contains seventeen districts. I was shocked to hear that all the people who want to get tested for HIV enentually come to Varanasi center. They can get tested in their districts as well but those reports are not considered as the final report. The ELISA test is the most reliable test and is available in Poorvanchal only at BHU center. She said that the number of HIV patients has increased rapidly within the past few years. When she joined the job nine years ago they had only five-six hundred people every month who wanted to get tested but now this number is between one hundred and fifty and two hundred.
She said that they had hardly fifty to hundred positive results every month a few years ago but now they have at least twenty five positive results everyday. This number was huge and I could not believe it. The interesting thing was that they have only people who are sent by some doctor, think about the people who do not know if they have HIV. She also admitted that the number of positive cases will increase rapidly within the next few years because government’s approach towards this issue is insufficient.
She was not happy with her job. She said that her salary was too low. She said that the WHO gives huge amount of money to the Indian government then Indian government gives money to the Uttar Pradesh government and then Uttar Pradesh government gives money to NACO therefore most of the money is eaten by the politicians and other people involved with this project.
There was one thing that I liked most about this work is that now they give free ARVs to every positive patient. They do not give ARVs to every patient, they are given to only those people whose CD4 is below some dangerous level. I asked her about the number but she did not tell me about it.
I have got a project from an American institution that makes videos to make people aware of HIV and AIDS. Their name is AIDSvideos.org. They want me to make videos for them in every possible Indian language. They have twenty seven different kinds of scripts in five different Indian languages so it seems like a long term project. They want me to do two kinds of work for them- translate their scripts in different Indian languages and then make videos of them. There are twenty-two official languages in India so if I make their whole videos then it will take at least few years to complete it.
Our camera setup
I had made a Hindi video few days ago using their script for Sanjeevani Booti but it did not go well. There was a American student named Allen Roda from New York university staying at my place those days who had a very nice camera. We used his camera to make the video. Since I did not have a teleprompter and the script was so long, I got the script printed and put it at both sides of the camera so that speaker could read it. It all went well and it looked fine on the small camera screen but when I played it on my TV then I could easily see the problems. The speaker’s eyes were moving from right to left every time he would go from one page to the other one. It did not look professional so I have decided to make other one.
Ravikant in front of camera
But still I have some problems. Lane and I looked for some software that work as a teleprompter and we found some that worked perfect with English script but the problem is that they do not work with Hindi or other languages. I don’t know how to solve this problem. But one thing is very sure that if I do not have a teleprompter then it will be very hard to make long videos. The script is eighteen minutes long and it is very hard for anyone to remember this whole script and start speaking in front of the camera.
I was so excited for this project but the teleprompter problem has become a huge issue for the speakers. They say that they will not be able to remember the whole script. By the way I did some translation work by translating the script in Bhojpuri. It was also a hard job because Bhojpuri is spoken in lots of different districts with different accents and different words therefore I tried my best to write in a very simple Bhojpuri that could be understandable to everyone. I am sure that this will work fine but again the problem is that I have not been able to start making the videos. Hopefully Lane could find a way to fix this problem. I am also talking to people and searching online to fix this problem. I want to start this project soon. I am so excited for it.