I was accused of being an evil-doer, of being guilty whenever something went wrong. Someone else broke the pots in the class, but I was blamed. I was beaten up by teachers, I was beaten up by students. I was called names, I heard people say indecent things about my mother. One day, I had had enough, so I left the school.
There's obviously a 'legit' explanation to all this. He was born to a sex worker. And sex workers are everything that's wrong with the society, right? And being born to one has to be the worst thing one could do.
Arjun was ashamed of where he was born and who he was born to. 21-year-old Arjun left his school and never looked back. He was fed up of the assaults- verbal and physical. He worked at a mechanic's shop in Daryaganj for a while afterwards, but kept his background, particularly, his address a secret from everyone. He told me,
I live in GB Road. The name is enough for people to assume I am a bad person. I used to walk back to my house discreetly. I didn't want my co-workers to know where I lived. But they eventually found out. They would ask my mother's rate and call me 'randi ka bachcha'. That was the end of it.
After he quit, Arjun started doing what he calls 'awaaragardi' - a word most of us would be familiar with, thanks to our parents. Its direct English translation is wandering and they say all those who wander, are not lost. But Arjun knows he was lost and it took him a while to find the right track back. He admitted,
After everything that happened, I was hanging out with people who drank and smoked all kind of stuff, all day long. I knew it was not good for me, but I didn't know if there was any point in stopping. All this went as it is, until the day I came to Kat-Katha to pick up my sister. When I reached, the sarvadharma prayer session was going on and I was asked to sit in the circle with the others. In that moment, everything seemed calm... everything seemed right. I started coming to pick up my sister more often. Slowly, I knew my bad days are behind me. I was ready for a new beginning. That one prayer session helped me find me.
He was always energetic, but his energies were being misplaced - in hate, in anger, in fear, in disgust. Arjun's days at Kat-Katha have led to his inspirational transformation. The boy who used to be ashamed of his address earlier, wears it as a badge of honour now and it shows in the way he talks - about the past and the present. He enjoys talking to people. He wants to get to know them. He is fond of meeting new people and making new friends.
17-year-old Nimish, however, is still very shy. Even while talking to me, he hardly made any eye-contact. He didn't tell me much about his background and I believe it would have been injudicious if I pushed him to. He told me what he thought was necessary - his name, where he stays and how old he is. In his own words,
My name is Nimish, I was born here and have been brought up by my mother. And I am 17 years old.
But there was one thing he spoke at length about - photography. He told me both Arjun and he, had immense interest in photography. Gitanjali Babbar, co-founder of Kat-Katha, asked Hardik Gaurav, a volunteer, if he could mentor the boys. Hardik taught them all the aspects of a camera - shutter speed, aperture, light, shadows, composition and the most important aspect of a photograph, a 'story'. Nimish told me,
Hardik sir taught us that there are stories everywhere, waiting to be told. We just need to keep an eye out for a frame which consists of all the necessary elements and characters of the story that we want to tell. Arjun and I would keep clicking photographs individually. But 6-7 months ago we realised how we could use our skills to the tell the story of our mothers and others who live on GB Road from the inside - the raw, the real GB Road.
And with this thought, Arjun and Nimish started the Magical Lens. They believe that whenever anyone from the media comes, they cover GB Road very negatively, even if their intentions are right. Nimish said,
When we started clicking photographs inside the brothels, we were scolded, we were told off and we were also slapped by our mothers and the other women. Once, an article in a newspaper carried a photograph of someone from the brothel and they all were sure that Arjun had given them the photo.
It took us a while to build the trust with the women, but now they let us click their photographs. We capture the bond of these women who love each other like sisters. We capture how much they love their morning tea, how they love to do make-up, how they take care of their kids - things that any other woman does. By clicking these photos, we want to show the world that our mothers are not different from those who don't live on GB Road and are not sex workers.
Arjun and Nimish are not brothers by blood, but they share a brotherly relationship. Their personalities are poles apart, and Hardik believes it works for them as a team. Hardik told me,
Nimish has come a long way from being an introvert but is still a bit shy. He has an eye for unusual frames and moments around him and that's what makes his photography stand out. Unlike Nimish, Arjun is quite an extrovert and straight forward and that is often reflected in his photographs. He doesn't hold back when he sees an opportunity to capture a beautiful portrait. Without any hesitation, he would go up to a person and ask for their permission and photograph them. Because of these differences, they learn a lot from each other.
Nimish recently won a spot in the prestigious Ashoka's Youth Venture for their idea of capturing the unknown and misunderstood stories of women of GB Road. The venture aims to help an entire generation of young people to take initiative to improve their communities now and throughout their lives. Gitanjali told me,
We had submitted their proposal of the Magical Lens under Arjun's name to the Ashoka Youth Venture earlier and declared that Nimish would accompany him to the workshops if they got selected. But because they accept children till the ages of 20, it so happened that Nimish got selected for the same. Now, Arjun will go with Nimish because the idea is to learn.
Arjun and Nimish agree that there's a lot for them to learn and there's still a long way to go. Hardik, however, thinks the boys are imparting him knowledge as much as he did to them. He said,
I have learnt more than I have taught. Initially, maybe, I taught them the basics of camera functions, framing and composition and finding moments worth capturing even in the most mundane situations. But after that, they have grown all by themselves with only a little assistance of mine whenever they have needed it. Magical Lens is a new beginning for them, to not only present GB Road in a different light, but also to earn a living through their passions. And I am pretty sure this venture is going to have a ripple effect among all the didis (the sex workers are fondly called as didis), according to whom the future of their kids was always bleak. Now, they are able to see a flicker of hope for their children.
Arjun and Nimish made this beautiful documentary called Maya with their mentors at Kat-Katha. Have a look at it here:
There were more children in the room while I was chatting with Arjun and Nimish. I was told that they dance really well. And I insisted to watch them dance before I left (sign of me getting old?). The didi in the NGO convinced them and they danced to a slow song, well-choreographed, hands and legs moving in sync at all times.
The set up felt like a home... you know, how as kids we were sometimes asked to show off our skills to guests? We might have disappointed and embarrassed our parents with our 'talents', but trust you me, these guys aced it.
All images, unless mentioned, have been sourced from Nimish and Arjun. These images were clicked inside the brothels by the budding photographers and are their intellectual property. You can check out their work on their Facebook or Instagram page.