Her book, Autobiography of a Sex Worker, originally written in Malayalam, smashed sales records in Kerala. The first edition that printed 2, copies was sold out in a week. Over 14 more editions, more than 30, copies were sold. The book, also translated into English later, is a candid account of her journey from labourer to sex worker to an activist amplifying the voice of the oppressed. It opens with her memories of childhood, when she started learning the lessons of survival, and offers a startlingly true picture of street sex workers; their exploitation as well as their pleasures and excitements in life.
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Her book, Autobiography of a Sex Worker, originally written in Malayalam, smashed sales records in Kerala. The first edition that printed 2, copies was sold out in a week.
Over 14 more editions, more than 30, copies were sold. The book, also translated into English later, is a candid account of her journey from labourer to sex worker to an activist amplifying the voice of the oppressed. It opens with her memories of childhood, when she started learning the lessons of survival, and offers a startlingly true picture of street sex workers; their exploitation as well as their pleasures and excitements in life. Nalini has now completed a second book that will soon be published by Penguin.
In the book, she presents insights into the behaviour of men and facets of their personality—tenderness, romance, arrogance and power.
He was a police officer but very soft natured, romantic and handsome. He was just like a hero in my fantasies. She was then immediately picked up again by another team of policemen and beaten up severely in custody. The cops told her their boss, the same man who had slept with her a few hours earlier, had tipped them off. I was born at Kalloor near Amballoor. I am forty-nine years old. She says he left her not in fear of being exposed, but because he found her age out.
She had lied to him about being only He would beat her every day. He was into womanising and heavy drinking. He did go to the sand mines, but the main work was distilling hooch. The children were looked after by her mother-in-law. If the work was arduous, the pay would go up to four and a half rupees. My mother-in-law asked for five rupees a day. The boy died at the age of Nalini married twice after her first marriage.
She had a daughter in her short-lived second marriage. She then became Nalini Jameela after marrying a Muslim. She lived with her third husband for over a decade, abstaining entirely from sex work. Gradually, this relationship too began to fall apart, and she returned to the trade.
Till the late s, Nalini was as invisible as any other sex worker. The turning point was a small incident. Nalini used to shower in public washrooms in her native town Thrissur. One day, she saw two sex workers fighting over the public toilet. She decided to locate it. Called Jwalamukhi, this collective of sex workers that sprung up in Thrissur was the first of its kind in Kerala then.
Nalini had found a cause, and involved herself deeply with the project. Along with a few others, she took it far beyond its original aim of HIV prevention, giving it a rights-based perspective by advocating a radical form of sexual politics.
Armed with her voice, she travelled through Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, interacting with community-based organisations of sex workers.
Nalini became a prominent speaker at public gatherings of sex workers and their supporters. The Thrissur movement thus began spreading to other towns. She also got active on other rights issues.
In , Nalini participated in a workshop on camera training for sex workers in Thailand, and then started making documentaries on the lives of her people. The first of these, Jwalamukhikal was produced in , and a second in Her statements as an activist were intended to provoke. Her colleagues at Jwalamukhi noticed this and started persuading her to write.
It was in that Nalini finally began. Initially, she tried writing daily short notes in her diary, but found it hard because she could not write as fast as she thought. I Gopinath, an activist and a journalist in Thrissur, helped by taking down her narrations.
When I make a public speech, when I write a book, people used to say a sex worker did it. I dismiss this attempt to define me only as a sex worker.
Hence I tried to throw their phrases back at them. She attended the Jaipur Literary Festival in , her appearance facilitated by the poet K Sachitanandan.
The men Nalini writes about in her book are diverse in their needs. There were men who paid her just to listen to them. They would talk about their marriage. While she often found it ridiculous, she was a careful listener because she was paid for it. There were men who used to come to clear doubts about sex and for advice. Giving somebody a box and then worrying about it!
Once an auto-rickshaw driver took her to a deserted coconut grove and left. She remembered that a few months earlier, a sex worker had been brutally gangraped and killed in the same place. Sensing danger, Nalini dug up some sand, lay down, and covered herself with it.
Lying still almost to her breath, she counted 17 men jumping the wall and coming in search of her. She spent the whole night there. Reshma, a PhD scholar at the University of Bergen in Norway, along with Dileep Raj, a publisher, and Baiju Nataraj, a poet and translator, have assisted Nalini in penning her life stories down. But due to the struggles I have gone through, I was not able to compose the disjointed memories well.
They sat together a month, the three of them jogging her memory by asking questions. Nalini thinks it was how well she had attuned herself to them, by way of perspective, that let the stories emerge in cohesive sequence for In the Company of Men. Of telling stories. Of both the subtle dangers involved in a woman being alone at night with a stranger and the institutionalised mechanisms that she has to grapple with.
Also, this is about the creative energy that ordinary women bring into each moment of their daily life. On becoming a sex worker many acquire this skill. A good sex worker is also a good storyteller; not necessarily a pretty person. The story should be logical. When the police arrests a sex worker with a man, they will separate us. As soon as we are caught we will say that we are husband and wife so as to escape the beating. They will start questioning. So storytelling is part of the planning starting right from the moment you decide to take a room.
To me this comes very neatly.
Since it was an autobiography, I chose to tell some stories and not all. Her first book was one of the biggest hits in recent years in Kerala. In her new book, she mocks at the many pretensions of the society. He kept saying he had done wrong. Such double standards," Jameela says. From her first client to countless others, her clients have always baffled her.
പല ആണുങ്ങളെ കിടപ്പറയിൽ കണ്ട ഒരു പെണ്ണെഴുതുന്നു, ആണുങ്ങളെ കുറിച്ച്...
The Sex Worker as Storyteller
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