THE ADIVASI WILL NOT DANCE is an intensely political collection of stories, set in the fecund, mineral-rich hinterland and the ever-expanding, squalid towns of Jharkhand. The book was banned by the Jharkhand government in August 2017, and the author accused of denigrating the Adivasi culture. This is an excerpt from the story ‘Merely a Whore’.
The buzzing red-light district of Lakkhipur, a coal-mining town, is attached to its working-class quarters. In these quarters, more slum than town, comprising nearly a third of Lakkhipur, men eat and feed their families out of what they earn after labouring for hours at a stretch within the belly of the earth. Shirtless, sweaty, black with coal-dust, and with only their headlamps to guide them in the dark abysses, they dig and explore. It is a routine they follow day after day, week after week, year after year.
In another part of this slum, women, too, eat out of their sweat and labour. Only, it is mixed with the semen and the sweat of men. They toil inside their own abysses— eight-feet-by-eight-feet rooms painted in garish blue and green, curtained off with old terry-cotton saris, illuminated by hundred-watt bulbs, the hormone-generated heat doused by ceiling fans and colossal desert coolers. This is a routine they follow day after day, week after week, year after year.
Everything is on sale here: bodies, companionship. All one needs to do is to keep paying. First, the khaini-chewing, potbellied tholas outside the slum who can take anything upwards of fifty rupees to license an entry; then, the pimps and the jelly-bellied madams who take the customers into the right room. Once inside, the houris of Lakkhipur take over.
But not every houri could hope to become Sona, the brightest star of Jharna-di’s house. Sona was a dream; everyone else was merely a whore.
Many years earlier, Jharna-di had been the mistress of a zamindar of some village near Lakkhipur. That zamindar had a wife, whom he had married with fire as their witness. She did what was asked of her: she gave him heirs and kept her mouth shut afterwards.
There was a colony of outcasts near Lakkhipur. Zamindars from the surrounding villages would go there with their cronies, smoke hookah, drink, and watch the girls dance to the beats of the dholak. The dancing girls who most pleased their patrons were showered with wads of currency notes and given gold and silver jewellery from the personal collections of the zamindars. Jharna caught the fancy of one such zamindar and it was not long before she found her way into his bed.
Time passed and the eyes of fortune-hunters fell on Lakkhipur and the villages around it. It didn’t take a diviner’s gaze to know what treasures were buried under the soil. Then the drought happened. Farmers began deserting their fields and moving away. The zamindars sold their properties to mining firms and shifted to apartment blocks and duplexes in cities. The colony of outcasts transformed into a red-light district.
What Jharna, and other dancing girls like her, would have to do with just one man, they were forced to do with many men several times a day once the mines began operations. The musicians who once accompanied them during their performances became their pimps.
Villages fell, a town rose: Lakkhipur, the coal-mine town. Mud houses fell, concrete ones mushroomed. Roads, police outposts, a railway station, a bus depot, shops, market, a slum and the busiest red-light area in the whole of the mining zone.
Jharna became Jharna-di. Once a dainty-waisted dancer, she was now a rough-talking brothel madam who wielded enormous clout. The DSP, the bada-babu at the thana, the managers of the mines, the union leaders, the thikedaar as well as the big fish of the shadowy world of coal-mining were all her patrons.