work with OHM, The Netherlands

OHM is a TV channel from The Netherlands. They actually make radio and TV shows about Hinduism targeting the Hindus living in Netherlands. They wanted to make a documentary TV show about a young Dutch Hindu boy who was born and raised in The Netherlands in a Hindu family experiencing Hinduism in India. The character they had chosen was named Bramha and they wanted Bramha to live with a traditional Hindu family in India for a few days, experience their daily life, religion, culture and then make a presentation about it. Bramha was a 26 years old young energetic boy who did not have much interest in any religion.

To put a contrast in the story they wanted Bramha to stay with a Hindu family which is follower of Aghor. They had contacted several people across India to organize their work but none of them were able to do it. And I understand it very well because India and Indians have changed a lot after terrorist attack in Mumbai and now they do not want to take any risk by hosting any stranger. Finally they contacted me through my blog. At first I thought it would be easy but later I also felt the same issue. People did not want to host any stranger.

They wanted to film inside the Kina Ram Ashram which I knew wont be possible as I had already tried it several times but every time I got same response that they do not allow media inside the Ashram premises. They have done it because a few years ago some TV channel from India did some filming inside the Ashram and later played with the footage and story and presented Aghor and Aghoris as the people who eat human body flesh, use alcohol in the rituals and do other strange things. Anyways, I still went there but they did not allow me.

But they suggested me about a family who was devotee of Aghor. I knew the family personally but I did not know that they were devotee of Aghor. Another condition put by the TV channel was that the family needed to be a joint family and luckily this family had seven brothers living in the same house and sharing the same kitchen. It was perfect for the show but they were also not comfortable with hosting a stranger in the home. In any case this was the best option I could find. I was talking about an option of TV people meeting the family in person and asking about the option of hosting Bramha for a few days and luckily it also worked when Bramha arrived.

They permitted Bramha to stay with them. So Bramha stayed with the family for four nights and the other crew members stayed at hotel and did the filming. Other than filming with the family they also filmed some regular footage of Varanasi like the evening ceremony, sun rise, rituals, temples, river… They liked Lali Baba a lot and filmed with him also. I have no idea what was the impression of Bramha and what he will talk about the family or Hindus in India but I have a feeling that they were happy with my work and went back with a positive impression about the family they worked with.

Nirvana Travels lead character

Nirvana Travels is travel show done by NDTV Good Times TV channel in India.The show looks at the spiritual face of different cities in India. The idea behind the show is to meet people in different cities and see the city through their eyes. They contacted me regarding their upcoming show about Varanasi. Actually in this show they have one lead character and a few other regular but interesting people as well. They wanted to choose me as the lead character for this show because of my tour guiding work, research and social activism. I was kind of surprised when I heard about it first, actually I had no idea why they wanted to choose me only if there are so many other tourist guides, researchers and social activists.

Anyways, I asked them about why me only and they said that there are definitely other tourist guides in the city but no one is as popular as me online because of good references. There are other researchers but they usually study only one topic and never share it whereas I have been studying many different subjects and I write about it online. And finally they said that they did not want to work with any social worker who was a very big name, they wanted to work with new people in the industry. And overall I was doing all these things alone. I had never heard anyone talking all these things about me:)

Anyways, they came to Varanasi with the host of the show named Kaisha Hastu. She had already done other episodes of this show and some other show for NDTV Good Times. We agreed on filming and places and other details. Basically they wanted to film me in my environment, where I usually meet with my friends, the shop where I usually have my tea and such things. The first day they asked me to take them to my favorite chai shop. I was feeling kind of nervous being surrounded by cameras in my own neighborhood but it was fun.

They introduced me as a very popular tourist guide and researcher from Varanasi. At first they asked me general questions about Varanasi, its culture, people, tourism… They already knew that I was very much interested in cultural and religious diversity of Varanasi so they asked me a few questions about it also. Other than this there were questions about my personal life, research, activism… To be honest I don’t really remember how many questions they asked but they asked me questions about almost everything. Other than me they need some help with interviewing other people as well.

They were very much interested in the idea of Nirvana hence wanted to interview someone who had some real knowledge about the subject. I suggested them to meet with the manager of Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan. Mr. Shukla, the manager, is a very knowledgeable person about the subject of Moskha or Nirvana. I had already interviewed him several times. After interviewing him they showed interest in interviewing some young artist from Varanasi, preferably a tabla player because Varanasi is very famous for its Tabla players as well. I organized this with a very famous and young tabla player from Varanasi named Prashant Mishra. Finally the show was completed with a big interview with me and four-five smaller interviews with other people. I look forward for the show on air.

work with e3 Foundation, Texas

I got to work with a non profit organization called e3 Foundation from Texas. Their project was very interesting. They were making a documentary about religion and what it means to people. It was a series of documentaries which was based in three different countries. They wanted to make one episode about Hindu religion and this episode was based only in Varanasi. I was was responsible to do research, find different people who were interested in talking about what religion and God mean to them, schedule appointment for interview and do interpretation. But they did not want just anyone, they wanted each person to be different from other so that there is diversity in the show.

It didn’t really take me much time to organize it as I already knew many interesting people. I think my interest in people helped me a lot here. There is a public call booth at Assi crossing which is owned by my friend’s uncle. I always found him different from others because whenever we were sitting next to his shop, he would usually come and stay close to us so he could hear what we were talking. Sometimes he also became part of our discussion. Only a few days before e3 contacted me, the show owner, friend’s uncle, had shown me his diary. His diary was full of poetries written by him.

These poetries were basically about his life, his religious practices, the way regular people practice religion, the world and questions about religion and God. It was really impressive. He had told me once that people who are not curious and do not question things are just like animals. Because the God has given us mind and we need to use it. His another writing which impressed was – Are we really worth getting blessings of God? I was really impressed with his writings. And when I was thinking about right people for the show, he immediately clicked in my mind.

And when I asked him if he would like to be interviewed, he was so happy and agreed on getting interviewed. I took e3 to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan also where we interviewed the manager about the idea of death in Hinduism. We also filmed a family who had brought their mother to die a Varanasi. We filmed evening and morning rituals as well at Mukti Bhawan. It was again very intense experience translating the manager, because he loves talking and talks too much and the atmosphere at Mukti Bhawan. Anyways, it went very well.

I introduced the director to a boat rower also who is known for his singing skills. He writes his own songs and most of them are religious. He loves singing his songs when he is rowing the boat and his voice is really beautiful. This interview was also very good and interesting. Other than this we interviewed a lady professor of Hindu religion and definitely her interview was very nice. Overall we did 10 interviews with different kind of people and did some regular touristic things like evening ceremony, morning boat, temples, rituals etc. It was nice working on this project because it was mostly about interviewing people and I got to listen a lot which is always a nice experience for me.

Another project with VPRO

VPRO hired me again for their documentary project called From Bihar to Bangalore. This documentary project was bigger than the last one I worked with them in 2011. The host of the show Mr. Jelle Brandt Corstius wanted to show how India changes from one city to other. I was responsible for organizing their work in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle spent 4 months studying Hindi and exploring India to prepare for the documentary. I met him about 3 months before the crew arrived in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle told me that the whole world knows Varanasi but they only one classical picture of Varanasi but he wanted to show something different.

We went to a few places which is shown in all of the documentaries about Varanasi. Apart from those regular places we went to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan where they allow only 15 days of stay for the people to die, we met with Mr. G. D. Agarwal and the king of Doam society. They wanted to interview one of the members of National River Ganga Basin Authority also. I suggested them to interview Mr. Rajendra Singh because I was very well aware of his honest activism for environment, especially Ganga but we could not schedule an appointment with him as he was going to be busy somewhere else during the filming time.

We decided to work with Mr. B. D. Tripathi, professor at BHU, instead of Mr. Rajendra Singh. Mr. Jelle was very much interested in the king of Doam society, the people who work at the cremation ghat. Arranging an appointment with him was kind of a pain because this person was seriously commercial. The only thing he cared about was money. VPRO wanted to film Shivratri festival in Varanasi and I arranged the filming at a temple called Tilbhandeshwar with consent of the temple management committee and Shivratri organizing committee.

Everything seemed very well organized. I knew what we were going to do and when. Everything went smoothly except filming at the Tilbhandeshwar temple and interview the king of Doam society. When we arrived at the temple to start filming, it was too crowded. We got in the temple and by the time we were going to go on the rooftop to film the preparation, a policeman stopped us. He said that filming inside the temple was not allowed. I told him that I had permission but this guy just did not want to hear anything.  One of the persons from the management committee also said that it was not problem for them but he still did not allow us.

VPRO understood that it was not my fault but it was crazy to see how this policeman behaved us. The king of the Doam society was also a crazy guy. He did not want to speak anything, his answers were too short and finally we decided not to work with him. We filmed a Sadhu also at the biggest Ashram in Varanasi which was very nice. The Sadhu was very cooperative and he invited us to join him at his personal Ganga ritual. VPRO just loved this footage. Everything went very well and finally we completed the filming in Varanasi and VPRO told me that it was one of the best episodes they had ever produced.

work with Richard Dawkins

Mr. Richard Dawkins in Varanasi

It was something that I had never expected but I got to work personally with Richard Dawkins. Actually BBC world and Channel 4 were making a documentary together and Mr. Dawkins was the host of this show. The name of this documentary was The meaning of Life. I got a call from the director of the show 10 days before the shooting was going to be done in Varanasi and they wanted me to organize their work. They contacted me only 10 days in advance because they had already hired some production house company in Delhi which had promised them to organize their work in Varanasi also but they finally they seemed unable to do it. So they found my blog and contacted me to manage their work in Varanasi.

Mr. Dawkins and I

They were looking for the people who have been discriminated against in the society for the reasons they are not responsible for. They had chosen two kinds of people to work with i.e. a Dalit and Hijras. They wanted a Dalit boy who was discriminated against because of his caste, had to suffer a lot but he struggled and finally he had a stable life. They wanted Hijras because Hijras society has always faced discrimination because of their sexuality and they wanted to hear their stories. They wanted me to do the research to find the right people and schedule interviews.

Mr. Dawkins and Babu

I had already done such kind of research several times and knew exactly where to go so it didn’t really take me a lot of work. I just had to make a few phone calls and everything was organized on my end. One of the guys from that Delhi production house company came to Varanasi two days before the crew was supposed to arrive to check if everything was all right and in any case they needed to show that they were working really hard. Anyways, this guy wanted to meet with the people whom I had chosen for the documentary.

Mahendra

He was a nice person just trying to prove how experienced and knowledgeable he was but I was not really impressed with him because first of all he had taken the responsibility that he could not fulfill and secondly he was just trying to impose his ideas on me and the people whom I had chosen whereas I knew very well what I was supposed to do because I was talking personally with the director of the show and I knew what I needed to do. Anyways, finally the crew arrived and I was more than super excited to see Mr. Dawkins. It was really funny that I had not even heard about Mr. Dawkins before but when I asked my western friends they were all like he was one of the most famous scientists present in the world, a celebrity, a star…

Mahendra with Mr. Dawkins

I read a wiki article about him and I also realized that I was going to meet with someone really important. I was super excited to see him but at the same time I was super nervous also. It happened for the first time in my life that I was nervous about working with a westerner. I don’t really have good experience of working under an Indian because I worked with Indians for a really little time so I am a little bit nervous whenever I have to work under an Indian boss. I do kind of good work as a boss for Indians but I am not really comfortable working under some local guy.

Mahendra with Alison, the director of the show

I have always worked with Westerners and I also very comfortable with them but it was first time in my whole professional career when I was seriously nervous. When I saw Mr. Dawkins first time I could not dare even to shake hands with him. He was very reserved and a serious person even with the crew members. The director and other crew members would plan the shot and then just ask him to act like that. Mr. Dawkins would either come on camera to interview people or sit alone and watch the surroundings. He was like a super star for sure.

The crew

Finally I made myself strong enough to go and say hello to him. Maybe it was second or third time in my lifetime when I called someone Sir. I had already planned what I was going to tell to him but was so nervous that I forgot everything and ended up saying that- Sir, I read a Wikipedia article about you a few days ago and I really impressed with your work and think that you have done really good work. I was thinking like, “Hell, how could a person like me evaluate work of such a scientist like Mr. Dawkins. hahahaha.” Mr. Dawkins response was very polite and he said, “Yes, I also think so.”

I did not know what to tell him so I just started talking about how my western friends are big fan of him and what did they tell me when I first told them I was going to work with him. Anyways, I had chosen a Dalit boy named Mahendra from a village called Mehdiganj which is situated around 20 Kms from the Varanasi city. Mahendra works with an NGO called Lok Samiti as a teacher and is expert on RTI. Everything was set to start the filming and they needed a translator. They asked the Delhi guy to translate the interview and he immediately surrendered, I am 100% sure that he did it only because he was also too nervous.

He grew up in Delhi, went to an English medium school where they speak English as their first language and his Indian English was way better than mine but still he did not want to translate. He wanted me to translate for Mr. Dawkins. Again it was first time in my life when I said that I did not want to translate because I was also so nervous. The crew was stuck in between me and the guy from Delhi. He was smoking like a chimney and my heart was making sound like an Indian train. The crew requested me to translate and finally I had to agree.

I did not know what was going to happen but I started. I was listening to every word very carefully and tried my best to translate and finally everything was good. The interview was really nice and I was appreciated for my research of finding a right person for the interview and translation work. I was really happy and kind of proud. This happiness and proud feeling gave me enough strength to ask Mr. Dawkins to have a picture together with him but fortunately Mr. Dawkins came to me asked to have a picture of Varanasi crew with him. I was so happy to have a picture with Mr. Dawkins.

The second interview was with a group of Hijras. We arrived there the next day. Everything was all set and we completed the interview. We had organized a dance performance of Hijras because this is what they do when they go for work- perform certain kind of traditional dance, sing traditional songs and bless the baby. Hijras have this really strange reputation that they go naughty with their clients, tickle them, sometimes jump over their clients and maybe even go nude in front of just anyone. During this performance Mr. Dawkins was sitting on a chair, watching the performance and everything was being filmed.

Hijras asked me if they wanted me to play with Mr. Dawkins (playing means tickle him, kiss him or maybe ask him to dance with themselves) and I asked the director about it and she said that it doesn’t sound bad. I indicated the Hijras to go for it and two of them went to Mr. Dawkins and started doing all the naughty things. I could easily see the angry face of Mr. Dawkins, he was face was just red. As soon as the first performance was over, he asked the crew to send him to the taxi. I was a little bit concerned about him being angry but the crew said that it was fine. In the second performance the whole crew danced with the Hijras and had fun.

Finally the work was over in Varanasi where I spent hours watching and listening to a person like Mr. Dawkins who is very controversial for ideas of being atheist, anti-religion and having no existence of Gods and Goddesses. I have grown up in a country which is birth place of three major religions of the world. I have grown up as a Hindu and Hindus believe that there are 33 million Gods and Goddesses. I grew up in a city which is known as cultural and religious hub of Hinduism so I grew up hearing about religion, Gods and Goddesses and have seen religion being a serious part of one’s life.

I always believe that religion is like a government, a serious belief, a Windows operating system for the computer and if it is corrupt then we need to change it or replace it with the virus-free version. I believe in Vedas which gives the real idea about Hinduism and I like to be a Hindu. The best thing I like about Hinduism is the openness, flexibility and respect for everyone and this is how I like to be (note- these ideas exist in real Hinduism, not the present one that we practice nowadays) but Mr. Dawkins was really extremist about his ideas. I really respect his ideas of Gene-centered view of evolution, concept of the meme,  advocacy of atheism and science but I really wondered blaming a religion only by looking at wrong parts of it is good?

His questions with the Dalit boy was like- Do you think that you were discriminated in the society? Do you think that you were discriminated because of your caste? Do you think that this idea of castism comes from Hindu religion and finally do you admit that religion is bad? Only by asking these four questions within five minutes how come someone can declare a religion bad? I wondered why he did not ask about how the idea of castism changed over time? I wonder even if Mr. Dawkins was aware of it. Maybe he was just told that there is huge discrimination against people based on their caste and and made a few questions for them.

I believe that the world is about change, things have changed, things are changing and they will keep changing in the future as well. I won’t go against Mr. Dawkins if he start a new religion which has his own ideas but saying really extremely that faith of over 95% people of the world is bad is not something I really respect. I respect Mr. Dawkins, his ideas and he is still like a super hero for me but I would have respected him more if he was more like looking for the reason of change in the Hindu society and then say that look these are reasons behind discrimination against this Dalit boy and if this is what happens then why not become an athiest.

There is no way for me to question Mr. Dawkins and his style of working but I personally believe that he should become a little bit open for other ideas also which has been making the society for endless times. Anyways, it was just an awesome experience to work with a super star Mr. Dawkins who has brought change in the world in positive way and I really wish if I could work with him again.

work with VPRO

I worked with VPRO which is a broadcasting corporation from the Netherlands. They were making a travel show for children between eight to fourteen years of age group and my responsibility was to arrange everything for them including hotel, transportation, local assistants and choosing the right characters for the show. They just gave me an idea about the characters they were looking for and my responsibility was to do research, find the right characters and schedule appointments for interviews.  An employee of VPRO named Barbara Smith visited me a month before they wanted to start the filming. Since this show was a children show, they were looking for special children from Varanasi.

I asked them why they wanted to work in Varanasi only and they said they were really impressed by the cultural diversity of Varanasi and they could easily film the whole India only in Varanasi itself which was true. I also love the cultural diversity of Varanasi. Finding the characters they were looking for was a kind of challenge. At first I thought it would be easy but when I went talking with the kids and their families they all seemed suspicious about the work and because of this it was not easy at all to find the characters.

The characters of the show were really interesting. They were looking for a kid who practices Malkhamb, a bollywood kind of girl who comes from a rich family and has a dream to become either an actress or a model, a smart girl who comes from a poor family and was going to an NGO by some NGO’s support and a young couple. These four were the most demanded characters for the show and apart from it I was also responsible to find some other interesting characters. Once we were walking on the ghats and I saw a young snake charmer. I asked them if they would like to film him and they immediately agreed to work with him so a young snake charmer also became part of the show.

They already knew about an NGO called Saraswati Education Center which was basically a yoga school and an NGO running education program for poor kids. Barabara asked me to take her there so that she could arrange an appointment for filming when the crew arrives. I had not heard of this place before but when I reached I was surprised to see their work and meet with the owner named Sumit. He seemed like a nice guy and the NGO also seemed okay. We talked with Sumit and agreed to work with his school. But Barbara was not sure about them hence she did a random visit of the NGO and everything appeared to be fake. Sumit was saying that so many kids come to the school and they provide good education to the kids but in reality when Barbara arrived there she saw hardly 4-5 kids who were playing with a few hippies in the classroom.

Barabara said that nothing looked honest to her hence we decided to cancel the work with Saraswati Education Center. I had already introduced Dora and Attila to Barabara and she knew that they were also running an education program in Varanasi. She asked me if I could find a child from Chance India’s program which was not hard at all as I was also working with the same program and I knew all of the kids. We chose a girl and Barabara immediately decided to work with her. The biggest challenge was to find a Bollywood dancer girl because no family wanted their girl to appear dancing on a foreign TV show but fortunately I found a really nice girl in Varanasi whose parents were very nice and they allowed me to work with their daughter.

The film crew arrived after a month of Barabara did the research and we started filming the show. At the last moment they decided that they did not want to work with Malkhamb boy as it was not a very traditional practice. They asked me to find a kid who goes to Akhada, There was an Akhada nearby Assi so it was no problem to arrange filming there. I gave them a few walking tours of Varanasi and introduced them to a few cool characters of Varanasi. They filmed Varanasi city, cows, cow-dung on the street, Sadhus… We worked together for five days and completed the project successfully. The crew seemed happy and said that they came to Varanasi to produce one show but they had got enough material to produce two TV shows which was a compliment for me and I was so happy with it.

After completing the show we had a party at the Radission hotel in Varanasi. It was the evening before the crew was going to leave India and they got a call that the producer of a commercial, which they had filmed in Rajasthan on their own, did not like the work hence they needed to film it again. They asked me to arrange filming to a girl from rural area urgently. Fortunately I was able to arrange it for them on the way to the airport next morning. Everything was done happily and show would be on TV in February 2012 and I am so excited to watch it.

Crew members and I at the party after finishing the project

Sex workers bank and sanitary pad factory

Bank for sex workers

Bank for sex workers

Indian sex workers can’t open a bank account because they do not have any residential proof and there is no one who can be a guarantor for their bank account. It is a strange rule that I do not understand that Indian banks askall of their customersfor a guarantor and this guarantor could be anyone who already has a bank account with the same bank. In case if someone doesn’t know anyone who has already a account with the same bank, they can’t open a new bank account. Indian sex workers lack both things- a guarantor and residential proof.

Sanitary napkin factory

Sanitary napkin factory

So it used to be really hard for them to open a bank account. They were never ever able to save the money. Their savings were often looted, sometimes by the brothel owner and sometimes by their clients. Durbar wanted them to start saving and to do this they asked the Indian government and a few banks to let the sex workers open their bank accounts without bringing any guarantor or any proper residential proof but neither the government nor the banks agreed with it. Finally Durbar asked government to give them a license to start a co-operative society especially for sex workers and finally after a long struggle they got the consent.

A sex worker working with the napkin

A sex worker working with the napkin

Now Durbar has started a co-operative society only for sex workers and there are twelve-thousand sex workers saving their money with this society. This society works exactly as a bank- it provides loans and everything. A lot of sex workers are not allowed by brothel owners to go outside the brothels but they also wanted to have a saving account so for them Durbar’s workers go from one brothel to the next one to collect the money. I went to their bank also and saw a lot of sex workers coming to the bank in person and doing banking. Now the sex workers can save their money with this bank which is obviously a big help for them. And it’s only about saving, they can even take loans also whenever they need.

Bunch of napkins ready to be packed

Bunch of napkins ready to be packed

In the same bank building they have a small shop for sex workers where they sell all daily use stuffs for cheaper than the market rate. This shop is only for the sex workers. They have a section for out of the community people (not sex workers) also where they sell small stuffs like toys and clothes made by either sex workers, their children or someone from their family. We also did shopped there. I really loved this idea of a bank and shop for sex workers. Durbar has done awesome work. In the same way they have started a factory where they make sanitary pads and they have only and only sex workers as employees. This was also an amazing work.

The final product

The final product

They were very well organized. Durbar had hired an MBA professional to help them launch their product in the market. I went there with Seranna andthe camera crew and did some shooting also. This factory was just at the entrance of Sonagachi, the red light area. There were about ten women working there. They said that after a certain age they can’t make much money so they definitely needed a stable source of income and getting a job like this will help them a lot. Most of the workers there, maybe all of them, seemed like over 55 in age and I am sure they these aged people have hard time getting work in the sex industry. I really liked this project a lot.

Interview with sex workers

We interviewed a few sex workers in Kolkata for the documentary and fortunately my job was to do interpretation between sex workers and Seranna so I talked to them personally. I noticed one thing was that most of the sex workers we talked to came in this profession after some kind of bad thing happened with them at some point of their lives. I talked to this one sex worker who was basically from Faizabad but now lives in Kolkata, who said that she had done a love marriage with a Muslim guy, who was not accepted by her family, so she had to leave her home and come to Kolkata.

After spending a few months in Kolkata she discovered that her husband was a drug user. She told him several times to quit drugs and get a job but he never wanted to do it. Finally she had a child but she did not have any money because her husband did not have a job and she could not ask her family to help her because she had already gone against her family by marrying a Muslim guy. Then she decided to leave the home and went to a brothel and became a sex worker.

She is happy now because she has a better life than her husband gave her. She says that now she is not dependent on anyone and is free to do whatever she wants and now she has developed good relations with her family as well. There was some problem in the beginning when her family came to know she had became a sex worker but now everything is Okay. Actually this sex worker was a program co-ordinator of Durbar (the sex worker’s organization) so she would often be on the news and when her neighbors back at her hometown saw her on TV talking about sex work, they started asking her parents about it.

Her parents also asked her to leave this profession but she had decided that she would never ever leave her job. She is very happy to be a sex worker and she dreams to be a sex worker again in her next life. When we asked about what would she like her child to do then she said that she want her child to go to school and get some job. But there is a big problem for sex workers getting their children admitted in the schools. Actually they do not have any residential proof because most of the sex workers in India are brought from either Nepal or Bangladesh.

Since they come from some other country, or even if they are from India, they do not have any residential proof because they usually change their residence quiet often or they work under some brothel owner who acts as a dictator. Usually they are not allowed to go out of the brothel area. Sometimes they go out to work at hotels but not everyone can go. Brothel owners send only those sex workers to hotels or somewhere else of the brothel who have spent few years at the brothels. Because if they have spent some time in this profession then they do not want to run away, or sometimes brothel owners send someone else with the sex workers to hotels.

One other big problem of the sex workers is the money that they make from their profession. Sex work in India is very cheap and sex workers do not have any social idnentity or security. Usually they charge Rs. 50-100 per client because sex work in India is very quick. Clients come, have sex for 5-10 minutes and then they leave. Sometimes they do not even see the face of the person they are having sex with. Sex workers want to hide their identity and clients also want to do the same thing. So this work is very hidden.

Sometimes sex workers work for an hour with one client and this is only time when they make something like Rs. 500 or so. But this doesnt happen often. Usually they have some regular client who is very friendly to them and want to spend more time, sometimes they do overnight booking as well but only with some speical clients. After work they are supposed to give half of their income to the brothel owner so they make something like Rs. 50 per clients. Since this money is nothing, they are seeing more than ten clients per day which is horrible. It makes them sick.

Because of this residential proof problem they can not open a bank account or go to the places where they ask for the identity proof. In India residential proof documents are often checked after the Mumbai bomb blast so these sex workers have really hard time nowadays. And if they are caught then the police send them to jail. Each and every sex worker talked about the Police. They said that the police raid the brothels sometimes and beat them, put them in jail, abuse them but the same police come the next day to have sex with them.

They said that the brothel owner gives some money to the local police station every month so that they do not raid the brothels but police still do it whenever there is some political pressure on them or when they want to make some money. A few sex workers said that once the police took them to the jail and had sex with them inside the jail. It was shocking to hear that how these law protectors break the laws. They said that sometimes the police call the children of the sex workers and have sex with them. It was disaster. I could not believe that anyone could do this.

We asked sex workers if they give blow job or doing message or some other services to their clients and most of them said straight away that they do not give blow job or do message. There was only woman who said that she gives blow job sometimes but only to some special clients. Blow job is something that nobody wants to talk abuot in India. I have also heard that Indian sex workers do not give blow job which sounds strange. I think they can make more money by doing this. I dont know for whatever reason people do not even talk about it. They say that it is English style of sex but I think it is very very old Indian style. Maybe we taught to British and they spread it all over the world.

One of the sex workers told me this story about when Durbar had just started working and wanted to give them basic writing and reading knowledge. Durbar wanted to have a space to start their classes so they asked people living around the brothels to rent them a room. They waited for two months, talked to almost everyone in that neighborhood to rent them a room but nobody did it. A lot of them came to Durbar asking why they wanted to educate sex workers. They said that if the sex workers are educated then they will not respect other people and they will start making their own decisions. Finally Durbar had to start these classes at their own office which was like one kilometers away from the brothels.

One other very interesting thing was that most of the sex workers have a regular customer who is something special for them. This customer is not only a customer for them, they are like their life partners. They support the kids of the sex workers. It is very hard for sex workers to get their children admitted in the school because they are supposed to write the name of the father of the child and bring them to school but it is impossible for them. So in this case sometimes this special customer helps and give his name as the father of the child.

We asked them questions regarding sexually transmitted diseases as well and to be honest nobody knew about anything except HIV. They did know what lube was. They said that even though they use condoms but sometimes they break off. When we asked them reason behind it all of them said that it was only because of low quality condoms but I think lube also helps a lot. I had also never ever seen lube before Lane showed me. I don’t know why it is not available in our market. They really need training and education but unfortunately government is not doing anything for them.

All of the sex workers said that sex work should be decriminalized which I also believe in. I think that sex work is the second oldest profession of the world, or maybe the first. I think either agriculture or sex work is the oldest profession and it should be legalized and decriminalized. They are also part of our society and they should also be respected in the society like other people. I think it will take a really long time for sex work to be legal in India because our politics is at its worse level now. If one part would do something for them then other parties would start pulling leg of the first party. But this organization is doing nice work and I hope to see change.

Comparing Countries Compassion

Laxmi and Seranna

Laxmi (a transgender) and Seranna

Seranna started her documentary calledComparingCountries CompassioninKolkata which is about sex work and sex workers in India. It is Seranna’s project which she will be doing in different countries but she wanted to start it from India. She has chosen me to help her organizing interviews and she wants to interview me also regarding my work with Sanjeevani Booti. She has hired camera crew from Delhi who don’t seem professional, especially the cameraman. He is crazy. He always fights with other crew members. Actually they all fight with each other in front of interviewee. Sometimes they start asking questions to the interviewee. Seranna was also upset sometimes but we did nothave any hope. This production company is big and is run by a award winning person for his direction but unfortunately he was not with us.

This documentary is about comparing laws in different countries regarding sex workers. I really liked this project and she has given me a very challenging job of giving ideas of direction and doing translation. I translated few interviews of sex workers. We interviewed a few sex workers, social activists, professors of university of Kolkata, transgender people, children of sex workers… it was awesome. We did a condom usage demonstration also and trained sex workers about how to keep themselves safe and how to make more money from their clients. This documentary will be a huge success for sure. I feel fortunate to be part of it.

Learning about Aghoris for the MTV documentary

First of all I want to tell how I know about this society. I worked with MTV Italy as local assistant. My job to find the characters and schedule appointment for interviews. They were interested in strange Sadhus and Aghoris. They didn’t want normal looking Sadhus and Aghoris, but they were more interested someone with dread locks, beard, without clothes etc. I had only three days to arrange 5 days of shooting. I went to lots of monasteries, met a lot of babas, sadhus, and Aghoris. I went to all the big Aghor monasteries of Varanasi including Kina Ram Aghor Peeth, Bbhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram, Baba Harihar Ram Ashram, Baba Anil Ram Ashram and many others. I went to both cremation places of Varanasi, Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat, in search of a few Aghoris and it worked. I met few very interesting Aghoris. So, that is how I came to know about them and their society.

Aghor society people are Hindus but their philosophy is different from the typical person’s. They pray to the same Gods whom Hindus pray but sometimes their rituals could be different. Like on the night of Diwali all the Hindus pray to Laxmi (goddess of money) but all the Aghoris go to funeral place and meditate and try to make their mantras more powerful, try to achieve some super natural powers or just try to make connections with ghosts to make them work for Aghoris in the future. Hindus light up the candle, clean their home and practice few rituals on Diwali but Aghoris like to go in dark and peaceful place like cremation ground. So these are the kind of differences between Aghoris and general Hindus.

Aghoris connect their religion to the cremation ground at every level. If you go to any Aghor monastery, you always find a place where some wood is burning all the time and that wood comes from the funeral place. Real Aghoris put that ash on their forehead and naval to make them feel secure and they use it get rid of diseases. I met a lot of Aghoris and asked them about significance of that Ash and everybody said that it is all matter of belief. If someone has belief in that ash then it could be better than a medicine and if they don’t have any faith in it then it could make them sick because then the person would worry continually about ash that has come from a cremation. All the people whom I met at Aghor monasteries had great faith in that ash. They said that they apply it everyday and if they are going somewhere out of the city then they keep some ash with them all the time. Some body said that once he had some strange disease and no doctor was able to treat him then he went to that monastery and applied some ash on his forehead and naval it made him get rid of that strange disease. All the fake Aghoris use that ash to attract people and sometimes to make them threatened.