|I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. --Helen Keller|
Gitanjali Babbar: Transforming Delhi's Brothels--by Awakin Call Transcript, syndicated from awakin.org, Dec 23, 2015
Audrey Lin (Host): Good morning. Good afternoon. And good evening, everybody. My name is Audrey and I will be the host for this week's Awaking call. Welcome everybody. Thanks for joining us. The focus of this call is to share stories, and to tell stories. These are the stories that help us see a more compassionate society, fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, who inspire us to be the action, to live a more service-oriented life. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this space. Today, on the fourth of July, our guest speaker is none other than Gitanjali Babbar, who really embodies today's theme of "A Force More Powerful: Transforming Delhi's Brothels." Each week during these calls, we all start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves in this space. So just a minute of silence (silence).
Today we have our remarkable moderator Tracy Cochran. We could start by asking her to kick off our circle, but first give you a little bit of context. Tracy has some profound experiences herself with the theme of today day. She was actually a speaker on our weekly awaking call a couple of years ago. She shared a beautiful moment of being a young woman, late at night walking home in Manhattan, being in a situation where she was mugged. But within that moment of very serious violence, she was able to see herself and her attacker, and was able to tap into a much deeper sense of interconnection. I'd like to read a little piece about that moment, if it's OK to embarrass you, Tracy? (Tracy: Go ahead, Audrey) A couple of years ago, she shared, ‘I was in a situation where I was seeing beyond a doubt that the computer of the brain, the ordinary thinking mind, cannot help us in every circumstance. I was being strangled, and there were two people in front of me, blocking me, and I probably weighted a hundred and ten pounds at the time. My ability to extract myself in the situation was hopeless. So I gave up in a way. I surrendered. And I remember looking up at the side of my attacker's face, and he had a big scar. And I remember feeling this up-blowing of compassion for him. I became aware that this light that had been in me was also part of the world around me that beyond the ordinary appearances. And I was looking at the New York city buildings, behind the world of appearances, no matter what they are, there is light. There is this luminosity.’ That's just so little snapshot of that moment, which goes much deeper. I just want to share that because it's very relevant to today's call, which talks about some pretty intense situations where women and children and people generally face a lot of violence.
Tracy has been a beautiful writer since 1976 and the executive editor for Parabola magazine. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in various places from The New York Times, to The Opera Magazine, to Psychology Today. What she is also really passionate about is mindfulness meditation. She’s inspired to make mindfulness part of our culture and daily life. For thirty years, she's been teaching mindfulness meditation and often mindful writing retreats. I had this good fortune spending some time with her in India. When you are with her, she carries this presence of very sharp and inquisitive, but also very open, following the sense of deeper inquisitiveness that opens up any situation around her. Tracy, we are so glad you are here to moderate our call and conversation. Do you have any thoughts about today's conversation?
Tracy Cochran (Moderator): First of all, thank you so much for embarrassing me. I am thrilled to be here, sharing space with you and Gitanjali. I first met both of you in India at Gandhi 3.0, a conference that has slowly been changing my life since I attended it about a year and a half ago. I met Gitanjali briefly there and then I got to spend a day in New York with her last November, which was a very special experience for me.
For the few people listening who may not know that Gitanjali works at a place called GB road, which is home to over four thousand women, sex workers. There are 1,500 children living in 77 brothels. Most of those women came there by force. They were either kidnapped, or sold, or trafficked into a slavery, really. When Gitanjali appeared, they found a friend that they could never have imagined. Three and half years ago, she founded a non-profit organization called Kat-Katha. For those who are westerners, she can speak more to us, the word refers to a puppet show. She found this term because these women were really puppets. She intended to cut their strings, and make new connections for these women. She first appeared on the scene working, I believe, for an AIDS organization, where she interviewed and gave advice to these women strictly about safe sex. But one day, that seemed strange to her. One day, instead of just seeing these women, she began to see that they were people. Going from the state of separation, she opened her heart and her mind to be with these women, who she saw had beautiful and worthy spirit, and that active attention was the very first act of love. From that first turning, that opening, that gift of intention, there grew up a volunteer organization now has at least 120 members. It has classes, training programs through crafts. It has slowly been transforming the lives of 3,000 or more women and their children.
One thing I find particularly significant is when I got to meet her in New York on our day, the first thing she wanted to do was to walk to the Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan. The Freedom Tower is 1,776 feet high. It was built to honor the declaration of independence. Today is Independence Day in America, and I am very aware that independence in India came about in a very different way. It came about through acts of love, through a recognition of our interconnection, that without justice for all there could be no justice. I think that this woman, more than anyone that I have yet been able to meet, has shown me that our freedom consists not in our separation, but in recognizing our inner-connection. I remember when we were walking in New York, she was so enjoying being in a walking city, everyone walking everywhere. On our walk to the Freedom Tower, she asked me if it's true that most people in Manhattan came from some place else. I remember reflecting, yes, it's true. And I did, and all of us seeking freedom or seeking a connection to a larger world.
I remember being young and having my own apartment, thinking this was a great achievement. Now I have met a woman who's shown me that being among others is a greater achievement, and opening ourselves to our inner-connection, is a way to be free, and to be part of a greater world. So I am very happy, after all these words that just got shout out of me, to open the conversation to this remarkable young woman. I want to welcome you into our space today myself, to ask you how this inspiration came to you the day you saw these women, and realized that you wanted to know them, instead of just teaching them or giving them instructions.
Gitanjali Babbar: Thanks so much, Tracy. I think you've shared everything, even what I never knew about myself. That one day walking in New York City with you was just amazing, what you showed me, my visiting America for the first time. It brought me back to that day in November. Thank you so much for interviewing me. Your question how this inspiration came to me. I don't know. GB road was a place not allowed to visit… Even in school, if you talked about GB road, people would look at you, "What are you talking about?" But as you've shared, I got a chance to visit GB road myself. The first time when I visited, I saw these women wearing the shortest of the shortest clothes, which is not, to Indians, (regarded) that well. They were just waiting for the clients to come. One man came, and he picked one girl, and entered inside the room. After about ten minutes, the girl had something in her hand. And she washed her hands. When I saw whole thing, I had no words.
On one hand, in our family, you talk about girls as prizes, how important for the girl to be inside the house, not to talk to strangers. Be cautious. And on the other hand, these 4,000 women, every day, they just wanted strangers to come and touch them whatever way they want. This whole dilemma, the conversation I had in my mind, almost got me... I remember I couldn't even speak for 3 to 4 nights, just thinking where I stood in this world. Then I got a chance to visit these women more and more, and the women accepted me as somebody there to share these stories. I realized there was some connection between those women and me. One evening, this woman asked some important questions about myself, to which I couldn't answer. But that was the time when I realized that if you see the other person as your friend, and you ask any question to her, then she can also ask any question. That was the moment when I realized that "am I a friend or just a survey worker, asking question and getting information from them." They reacted toward me whatever I was doing. It was just a job. That was the day when I reflected that I was just doing my job, and I was playing with the word friend. That's when I said, now we are going to be friends, no matter if I remain this job or not. Then I quit this job. I visited the brothels more often. It's my home. I don't know. You don't need inspiration to work there. It's my home. Those 4,000 women were not living the lives they want to. Just being there, I do whatever I can. Just be there with them.
TC: What I find fascinating is recently someone talking about one of the flaws in western economics that we tend to define everybody in terms of their jobs, in terms of what they happen to be doing with their lives. We assess everything in terms of goods, production. One of the great gifts that Gandhi whom I know is an inspiration to you. You saw also two things. First, every life has value, seeing beyond the job. But second of all, the work is also a way to open up our lives to bring dignity, to transform character. One of the things that you did, once you saw these women, you became friends with them, is that you began to teach them things they asked you to. Could you talk about that a little bit, and how that evolved?
GB: Yeah. So it happened to one didi. She was with us during the last Kat Yatra. There were 34 people. I was just there asking questions because of my job, then I came downstairs. She came to me, ’Gitanjali, because of the past reasons that I forgot being an angel (22:50), but I really want to learn. I want to write my own name. I want to read. Can you teach me?’ I don't have patience to teach anybody. I don’t see myself as a good teacher. I was like, OK, we can figure out something. You can teach me something and I can teach you something. But she said, ‘I don't know your language, can you teach me your language? And I knew a little bit of English, so I teach you English.’ That's how things started. Then slowly, the didi went back home and did some homework. And others were inspired and started to come in. Then someone offered us a space. Every Saturday we used to have some music, to go out. There was no plan. It was just me (and) those women, without any plan. We were just there to talk about anything in the world. Even without money, we went shopping. Everything, whatever we could do. Then I started post it on my Facebook… I always wanted to be there. I joined the other job and had to shift to other city. So I needed a full-time teacher. One girls said ‘I would like to volunteer to teach the women.’ That's how the volunteering projects started in Kat-Katha. Slowly, people knew about it, and started coming, few of them used to come to see how a brothel looked like, and you just be there with that. A few of them just came to see if it was something real, something that just can’t go on. They have their own questions. Slowly, they go out, and blog stories. The women on GB road got to know about it from each other. Then the kids started coming up and now we have a beautiful family of 20 kids. There are 24 kids, but the other four kids rarely come to Kat-Kathra. They only come when they need something, or they need love. You work with 2,000 women at the moment. It's growing. Every day, some other people keep joining us, joining hands, and the family is growing, without a plan. But now we have a plan, but we are not following it… We are figuring out. I am hoping in the next six months to get over the fact that if we need the plan or just to flow.
TC: Well, it's an extraordinary proof. It seems that the deeper question that we can explore together today about the power of non-violence and compassion, the power of love as a force. I once heard a definition of compassion as responsiveness, to be responsive to what you see right in the moment, not down the road. One other thing that recently touched me is, actually, two things. I heard stories, when we spent our day together, of young women coming from Google, this big company, to visit the brothel. It seems the last place that young women like that would go, voluntarily. As you said, they found something there. Recently, I read that you went there one day, you were understandably upset and concerned because your father was having a health challenge. He had a heart attack, and happily, he is now healing. The women there were praying with you. It's a two-way street, as we would say in America. It's giving while receiving, being responsive to a need of everybody's at once. There is something very interactive about this power. I was hoping you would speak more about that, about what you receive at the same time you are giving.
GB: Yeah, I am receiving a lot (more) than I am giving. Even now, every day, I am getting one of the voice calls from my children, "Mom, we are praying. Don't worry. Papa will be fine." It feels good because when I went to visit GB road, all the women were coming. They actually came downstairs to ask how my father is. They were telling me sorry… You don't really have to worry about anything. The hospital where you taking your dad is the best hospital. It felt so amazing because all these women are living such a difficult life. Every day, life is a dread; they really don't know if they can get what they need or not. All those women are praying for my father. It's just a flow. In that area, the space has a lot of love. That space knows the art of receiving love and giving love. It's just that. If you can surrender yourself to that space, you really don't have to do anything else. I feel that God has given me that opportunity to surrender myself to GB road. I am happier just receiving so much love from them. I feel I am the most lucky child of God. Once (a name) (30:26) said that if you can receive properly, if you can receive openly that we can give enough the right way. So I just feel that I need to give, that's why I need to receive so much. How it all happened? I am sorry I really don't have an answer to that. But it is happening on its own.
TC: I think what you were saying is so touching, certainly for me, probably for others, to be open to receive is a way to give. It' an extraordinary way to live because many people, myself included, at some point, felt like I had to have enough before I could give. I remember when I moved to New York, I had to learn more, or achieve more, or somehow be different than I was before I could give, and I could make a difference. But what you were saying, the story you sharing with us shows me that it's a matter of daring to sit down and to open to where you are and whom you are with. The other thing that touches me is that these women, no doubt about it, have had very difficult lives, scarred by violence, by abduction, kidnapping, lack of freedom. Yet, it seems they and their children still have the capacity to give, to give love, to give attention. That is just extraordinary to me. I am wondering if there are moments when you lose heart when you think the problems are just too great.
GB: Yeah, there have been many moments back to me. One of my children. Last year we got to know that her father wanted to sell her. She was just eleven and half years old. That time I just came back and I told my co-founder 'What are we doing? Are we making any change? This is going bad. We think we are spreading love, but are we really making any change? Just talking about it. What are we going to do about it? How can we help? What should be done?' It's not in our hands. God is going to take care of her, and basically, God has been taken care of her. In Kat-Katha, we have been talking to her day in and day out. I got this courage to know that this area is going to take care of that girl. GB road is not letting her go into this work. And that's what was happening. Every time, we just lose our hope. Every time, we just see what's not working. Last 15th of August, Kat-Katha wanted to celebrate a big (holiday) on the road, and for that you need to get permission from the police. And we went to the police commissioner. He was anti-Kat-Katha. He said 'I can't give you permission.' You really want to have this event on GB road. We really wanted GB to feel free, to be free for one day, even for a few hours. They should also feel it's freedom. It's freedom for them. It's independence day for them. I don’t know (how). A senior commissioner got to know about it, and he ordered the other commissioners, ‘Whatever Kat-Katha is asking for, you have to provide them.’ It was so beautiful because we didn't do anything. The universe just ordered this commissioner to be with that. You won't believe that (on) that holiday there were so many policemen, supporting us as if they were part of our event. They even enjoyed more than us. They were actually doing the job because they were so much into dancing, and so much into singing and enjoying. So even when we lose our hope, the road knows how to bring hope back to our heart. That's been with me in the past three and half years.
TC: That's a beautiful story. The road itself has power. I once heard that suffering itself can have an inner door that there is a resilience even in the midst of it. Like Audrey read that little passage about something that happened in my life. You can always see a bit of light in another person even though the problem isn't solved, even though they might still be trapped in a role, somehow, as you said, a puppet, still. Even though that one police official didn't hear you, there was another heart that was touched. They can still somehow be seen, right in the middle of what seems like the absence of freedom. Do you have any events like that planned or any special things coming up?
GB: Yeah, this year we are all charged up. Soon you will see news about Kat-Katha on our Facebook page. This time, all the women are going to perform. The last year it was performed for them, and this year they are also going to perform on the stage. The kids are so charged up. Every single day, one child would ask 'When can I start dancing practice? When the teacher is gonna come?' Everybody is excited. Not (just) on GB road. I think in the whole (area), families are excited about it this time. So when I visit them, they say they are gonna come. One of them said I am rescheduling my meeting and I am gonna come to GB road. One thing we are hoping to do this time is we are going to have a prayer chain on that road. We are hoping to have a thousand people holding hands and pray. I am sure the universe is going to listen to our prayers. It's gonna happen soon. We are really looking forward to that day.
TC: Yeah. Suddenly, I can't wait to visit myself. What have you learned from your work on GB road that you could share with the rest of the world? We are facing problems. In California where Audrey is right now, they can't have fireworks because of the drought, because of the consequences of climate change. In so many other places in the world, (there are) conflicts, strife. People can lose heart. It seems love is not going to be enough. I am wondering what you can share from your experiences that might apply to these other problems in the world.
GB: If you ask about my students, I personally think love is the only answer. When I first came to this road, I still have those messages on Facebook saying changes are going to be impossible. You really need to have a lot contacts, with the politicians, with the police. To just be there, you need all those contacts. Trust me, I had no contacts. My family is a very simple family, a middle class family. Nobody can even dare me, dare to put me out from that door. (What) all these women give me, all these women have for each other, now I can see that. Whatever projects we are coming up with, whatever dreams, whatever plans we have, the only thing is that we have faith. We have faith in the universe. It's gonna happen. That's what I've learned. I learned to surrender. I learned to just be there. Just be the witness to whatever is happening. I have this trust that everything is gonna be perfect.
I myself was a very stubborn younger child. Whatever I wanted I just wanted it. I just had to have it in my hand. But now I've learned to really let it go. Sometimes I also become rigid in something, "No, I really need it right now." But in my heart, I know it's not in my hand. It's gonna be OK. You just have to have faith. You just have to dream and everything is gonna be perfect. That's what I have learned, what I've witnessed in the past three and half years. I hope this going to be (my guidance) for the rest of my life.
TC: What touches me is when you speak about faith what comes shining through is the message about being open to receive. It's not necessarily what you want or what you think you want, but God has something else planned, something sometimes even better. When I was reading, I was doing homework about you, even now I have the pleasure getting to know you. One of the stories really touched me that I read recently is when you were asked one act of kindness happened that you will never forget. You described watching a woman, who in this country are described as a homeless person. Most of homeless people suffer from mental illness, so very often they do. So you saw a woman who was talking to herself and you befriended her. You had a very warm and friendly relationship. But you watched her being with someone who was suffering. Could you tell that story because it so conveys what it's like to come out of a sense of separation, a sense that you are apart from somebody else. Can you tell that story?
GB: This lady is really foolish. Whenever I looked at her, (I thought) can I be like her, can I be on the road without thinking what people are thinking about me. I would love it if people call me mad. In India, the language calls it poverty (?)(43:41). I just wanted to that poverty(?) woman, who was just on the road. Just talking to her, going to her and hugging her. We were really good friends. Every time, she looked at me, she stopped. She would give me a smile. Every time I am a stranger for her. She would never remember that we met before. She always forgot my name. She asked my name every time we met. This time I was coming back home. It was in the evening. She always carries money, but she never pays money for anything. Nobody even asked her for money. I saw she was coming from the main road to this little tea shop and I wondered why she was doing that. Then I noticed this man lying there. He was begging. He couldn't stand. She kept running to him and asked something… and then she ran past and got two cups of tea, and offered him one. Then he looked at her as if why are you doing this to me, do you have money? He looked at her like that. She went back again and said something to the shopkeeper. She paid the shopkeeper first. I was thinking, to her, this moment of pride that I have money and you have to give it to me. She took out the money. The shopkeeper was also amazed because she never pays. Then she took out the money and handed to the man. She didn't even ask for change. She ran back with biscuits and offered two of the biscuits to this man. And she sat there. Without even thinking what I am doing. Because a person like me would definitely think before sitting with a beggar on the road. She was completely carefree. She was laughing. She was talking to him… It was so beautiful just to notice her, just to witness this beautiful woman. Is she really mad? Or I am mad? Is she mad because she is not thinking about anything? Or I am mad because I have to think about everything before doing anything. I really don't know. This is the life I want to live. I only want to roam around in the city without thinking about food... without thinking about what people are thinking of me.
TC: You are describing being a child of God, like all the great saints, in a way. It's so beautiful to hear you tell the story because I can hear the happiness in your voice. Just make heaven where you are. We can just be saints for a moment, for a single moment. When we give up worrying about what other people are thinking about us, or our own separate cares and worries, like this woman, making a tea party, this very magical moment, for this other person who was suffering. What I learned slowly, including from you, is that we always think that we have to be strong for other people, but sometimes what we have to share is our own vulnerability, which is another word for love, our own softness, our own imperfection, like this woman. She didn't wait until she was perfect, strong, well-dressed to give. She just gave. I learned from you that I don't even have to wait to roam around the city, I can start where I am. So I am wondering what do you do for fun. Is there anything apart from your work here that gives you a special kind of joy, or sense of freedom?
GB: For me, this work is giving me everything I require in my life. We are getting into getting some projects done. The women are coming up with a lot of ideas… So now we are asking for funds. Recently, we had a beautiful fund raising events. It's just beautiful because a lot of people came and they heard stories and they brought kids. Now we go to different conferences as well to give us funds. Our next target is to have a hostel for our children. They don’t want to go back to the brothels in the evening, to be a victim to the violence that happens there. So now we are moving to asking for funds. But fund is one thing. Last time I met this donor, and he told me that what if you don't get funds, how much your project is sustainable. How are you going to sustain yourself? I told him even if you don't give me fund, it hardly matters. Just keep sending us prayers that is enough for us. For three and half a year, you never ask for funds, and you've been working. Be proud of ourselves. Our objective is in the next ten years, make GB road the most beautiful place on the earth, and we are going to do that. If we don't get money, that's OK.
TC: I know you are going to do it, you know how. That was just a very happy accident. Because I was asking what makes you happy like fun, and when you described the very organic nature of GB road, never mind the details of funds, meaning money, it shows me that the fun and funds are just part of the organic process. You just go on doing what you love. And it survives and thrives. My last question is what makes you happy. What do you do to recharge? What's on your bucket list? On GB road or off, what keeps you going and makes you smile?
GB: I think this is part of GB road, this is part of all the women, part of all the children. Tracy, you should actually visit GB road, then you'd say, oh you have so many reasons to charge yourself. You are such a lucky person. I don't know. I just become happy. Recently, my mentor decided to keep me away from the field because he wanted me to focus more on presentations. Two days back, I had a long meeting with him, and he said ‘it was my mistake because I could see you stopped smiling. It was my mistake to ask you to come out of GB road. I want you to be there all the time, even if you want to be there 24/7, I am going to give you all the facility, Internet and everything. Just be there.’ Because just be on that road, I think there is some connection on that road. Those women, we did smile, we did complain, we did fight. The kids. I have 4,000 reasons to be happy, because every woman gives me a different reason to smile every day. It’s beautiful. Universe has already given me a reason to smile.
TC: It's very beautiful because it shows me and teaches me that the question of love is a force for social justice and social transformation. It's not something that we have to reach for outside of us. It starts with what we love inside and it's actually fun for you to be on GB road because you love it. It's home to you. When I first met you, as an American, I didn't know what didi meant. Can you tell us what didi means?
GB: It's actually elder sister. So every time you talk about women on GB road, you call them sex workers, but for us, they are like elder sisters, in every situation, just holding our hands, telling us to be the love, and everything is going to be fine. They are like elder sisters, so that's why we call them didi.
TC: I just want to thank you, really, for showing me about the power of love, and making others families. So now I am ready to turn this over to my younger sister Audrey.
AL: Thank you Tracy. What a beautiful conversation! I think the last hour just flew by. Again, if you like to ask a question, please feel free to jump in the queue.
Mish: Hi everyone, this is Mish in New York City. Thanks for sharing your love where you are, Gitanjali. I want to ask you would you say these women are evolved souls who attain their evolvement through their suffering. They have access of these deep levels of truth and love because that's the feeling I get from listening to you.
GB: I think every human being has the faith to love. They have that thing in them, they are just numb. they don't have the chance to show that love. Most of us do have a family that we can show, to our parents, to our kids. But these women really don't get a chance. At a very young age, they were being kidnapped, trafficked, and sold to this place. They cannot show love, the only thing they have to show is their body. The moment they get somebody to whom they could show their love, they just don't miss that opportunity. So I don't know if the thing comes from suffering.
Asha: Hello Gitanjali, this is Asha from San Diego. How are you? I met you once when you had an exhibition and you brought your kids there. I am not sure if you remember this was in 2000 October. I think you come a long way since then you just started at that time. Are you an NGO now? Or are you working under (some fund)? How do you get this fund? Maybe several on this call who want to contribute. Can you expand a little bit on that? … How do you collect funds? How do we help you out? Definitely, I am planning to come in January again. And I would love to be with your family, all these beautiful kids... Somehow it was hard to connect with you. I guess you are busy, or the phone doesn't work in GB road. But I did try to call you. Maybe you can elaborate a little bit on that how we connect with you the most easiest way and how the funds can be given to you.
GB: (60:00) …As you mentioned, helping us on how to get this done... It’s a beautiful space, but we don't have a building over there. We will need funds for the building. But the space is there, we are lucky enough to get that space. Also about the funding which you mentioned, I know about (the fund name) and we will email that lady… (We) are going to renew our contract (for that space). We’re scared. What if (they) say ‘I am sorry we won’t be able to provide you with that space any more.’ Every landlord tells you that. (61:15)…If someone from America wants to fund that…With that fund, we can go ahead with our program.
(Omitted: further exchanges between Asha and GB on the specific funding source and the process, etc.)
Asha: Give me your information so I can connect with you. I wasn't able to connect with you the last couple of years.
AL: I will share information like that after and in a follow up email also. So you will have more information about Kat-Katha and different ways to engage. There are outpouring questions and comments inspired by Gitanjali. Just want to share one that came in the web form.
This person Vada from Cappuccino California wrote: Dear Gitanjali, I am deeply moved and awestruck by your work. More so because I hear you today I see a bubbly innocent pure child and she is dealing with prostitution, human trafficking. More power and blessings to you. I want to ask you, as you work to help these women and children, do you face some people who run these places? Much love and let us know how we can support your work. Vada.
GB: Thanks so much for all the blessings... (The) police are just in your face, if somebody comes from an organization. They don't want any NGO to work there. But I always say everyone is human being, even the owners. They are the victims of the street. It's difficult, but we are able to make our space in almost 33 brothels, and the 33 brothel owners now take us like their own family members. They are not checking us anymore because we are family now… The universe is protecting us. Everything will be (OK). The universe is you, because your blessings stay with us. Thank you!
AL: Beautiful, Gitanjali. I also want to follow up on that. You mentioned that you've been able to make space in 33 brothels, and in a way you are engaging with both those women and the brothel owners as if they are family. How do you step beyond the role of what the brothel owners are doing, when you notice such difficult things are happening under the roof, how do you connect with them, how do you feel like a family?
GB: Audrey, even now, there are a few brothels that we are scared to go to. We only go to those brothels in some occasions... But somehow, some of the owners, when you meet them for the first time, and then we met again, then again. The most popular brothel in GB road is owned by one of the ladies. Nimo Patel visited with me to that brothel that time. The woman is very strong. 'Who are you? Why are you here?' She always asks these questions… 'You are a very clever girl, don't...' (But) she always offers me money. In India, if somebody, the old people, blessing you, they'll give money to you as a gift. And she always gives money to me. I told her about Nimo Patel that he was a very good singer and Nimo Patel thanked her. She was so happy. And in the next half an hour, she was just chewing on her... how beautifully she has been feeding birds every morning at 4 and she’s been feeding ants. So there is beauty in all these women. I am able to look beyond what she is showing. She is violent, and always in anger, because she has to be. In that brothel, she cannot show her love. But if you have the patience and if you are lucky enough, you can just be there with her, she will definitely show all that love. She is shy. That’s what Nimo Patel and I got for that day. Nimo was amazed because that was the most famous brothel in GB road. She cannot afford to be so soft, but she is inside. Once she wanted somebody to come in to look at her video… You just be there, waiting for her to melt down. That's what we've being doing so far in the past three and half years. We just wait for the didis to melt down and then give us a hug, and just be friends.
AL: That's amazing how you melted so many homes with love.
Hung: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Hung. I just need to share one thing that I found pretty interesting with Gitanjali, and Tracy really amplified and helped us process a lot of the information as well. I really thank both of you. In societies such as India has, I would say, two components, one is that it is old with long history, the other is there is also a lot of suffering in the country. It does allow the opportunity for people to search for a deeper self. It has a lot to do with Asian thinking. How do we shape the inside? I could qualify that as the division that we have inside when we are unable to just live in the moment, to be able to express the passion and love. An Iranian woman I saw on Facebook, who was talking about her particular travel. She mentioned the importance of broken heart even in the process of mending. There is so much to be learned. In societies like the U.S., we are so profoundly alienated from everything, being multi-ethnic, these kind of walls that are put between people. But I think people don't really have the tools. They are not facilitated with the opportunities to see... The eastern world has really gone deep inside themselves, as supposed to the God is outside of us. The developing of the inside, of your heart, of the experiences, really comes from the inside. Like Gitanjali said, we all have love, can we allow it to flow with all the vulnerabilities that come with it? Thank you!
AL: Thank you, Hung. Gitanjali, do you have any thoughts on how we can let that love flow, given your extensive experiences in it?
GB: I just want to share the beautiful thing that happened to me when I visited U.S... I was in Washington, and was given the course how we have to be in America... In that orientation meeting, those people told us very clearly that Americans don't like... if you want something from them, you have to be very particular about it, don't enter their room without knocking the door, don't hug them, they might not like it... I would ask myself, really? How can you say that? No matter (if) somebody is American, or Indian, everybody needs that love and everybody has that love. I visited my host family. For the first two days, I was inside my room. I locked myself in my room because I don't have to hug them because that's what they told me... She (the hostess) was going out. I said 'Can I give you a hug?' She was like, 'Actually I wanted to give you a hug, but I thought that in India, there is no culture of hugging each other.' In the next 30 days, I don't remember any single moment you are not hugging each other, holding hands and staying together... Everybody needs love, we just need to come out of individual space. It's a myth. We are all family members. The love I really want for Audrey is the love I have to give to Audrey. We really need to come out of that myth and live like that woman who inspired me on the road. Just be yourself.
Caller: Thank you so much. What an experience! My name is xxx. I am calling from California. My question is what inspired you to go down there the first time.
GB: Actually, I was working with an organization. A few organizations work on GB road. I had to go there... That's how I first visited that area. But those organizations don't want me to visit brothels. Because they don't want to ask all those questions and then find out whether they’d work there or not. But universe wanted me to visit there. That's how I did.
Caller: Thank you. I love your idea about the Universe... the way you frame it... Not only the universe, the angels are also good to you. That's why you are so happy... Thank you.
AL: (questions from online) From xxx: Looks like you've found a way to adjust one of the urban societies. How about scaling this effort in other cities which give large areas like GB road a fertile ground for exploitation and human suffering? Do you have thoughts on scaling your efforts or how you think about scaling in general?
GB: For a few months, we were not even thinking about visiting the cities, now I have the time to visit U.S., even in India, in other cities. I believe that in the next ten years, we really want to be in touch with the organizations that are working in those areas. We might not be able to go there and work, but in partnership. We are looking for partnerships. We can begin to learn from each other's experiences, supporting each other, sharing ideas with each other. It's very important. The biggest challenge is to make sure our objective is team. We can all come together and work together. We don't know if we want to go to every city looking, but everything at Kat-Katha will be able to go there, and we surely want to have lots of Kat-Katha everywhere, lots of our partners everywhere. I wish to end sex work from the world, maybe in my lifetime, maybe in my kids' lifetime, but it's gonna happen. In our plan, there is no plan to go to other cities right now, in the next two years. But we are looking forward to partner(ing).
AL: Another question that came in is 'Gitanjali, could you please share with us the spiritual practice that grounds, nourishes, and strengthens you?'
GB: Audrey, you know me. I tried a lot of things. I tried different meditations... But if you ask about spiritual practice, I think praying with all the children, even for one minute, which is something always there. Praying for food, praying for every single thing, whichever is around me, whichever is around Kat-Katha, we just pray. There is no one prayer. Even a beautiful inspirational song becomes our prayer. We just sit in a circle, play one song. We just close our eyes, connecting to the universe. I don’t have one single practice, but praying has been helping me a lot in the past three and half years. I see the magic happen around me.
AL: I remember one of the first times I heard you share stories about your experiences on GB road. You said exactly that you don't feel you are doing it, you feel the prayers, the didis, these women, the sisters that are making everything happen. I found that very powerful. I wonder if you could describe what life is like for the women on GB road and how you process that. I know that you got phone calls from some of the women at 1am and had problems with the police, and you had to go to the hospital. You just showed up as a volunteer to support somebody who is struggling. How do the women end up on GB road and what their daily life looks like for them?
GB: Basically, it's because the women were kidnapped from the rural area of India. People forced them to get into this work, and then they sold them on GB road. Other young age like 13 years or 14 years, or 15 years (old). If you ask me about the brothel, I don't think such a place exists in America. I don't know if it exists or not. There is one small room where you find almost 30 to 40 women sitting...where you can't even stand, there is no air in that room... She might run away. You can't even see them for the first three to four years. They are being kept inside of closed rooms, which you don't even know exist. One of the walls you just open, and you find there is a room inside. So those women don't even get a chance to look at the sunlight for three or four years. Then they are allowed to come out to see how the sunshine looks…all those things. I can't even explain. In one of my articles I wrote that I always wondered about hell, that hell is like that. My mother used to tell me stories about hell. The life on GB road is like hell... We just try to...love on GB road. Even if the rooms are small, but loving each other, doing what they want to do, they wake up every morning with a smile. Now they can make beautiful cards, making bookmarks, making envelopes. This beautiful festival is coming in India called Rocky (?)... so they are making these beautiful rocky(?), a sister's love for other sisters. Every morning, they look up to something like this, forgetting about the life they are living. They look up 2 to 3 hours; they make something beautiful, something creative. So this is what we are trying to create on that road. We painted one of the brothels; we painted one of the GB roads, but not all of the GB roads... Slowly, you are just trying to create that road and to speak up loud. It's happening.
AL: (comments from online): From Michelle in New Delhi, 'Dear Gitanjali, I left Norway and came to India three months ago with a sole purpose of doing charity work. After volunteering for two amazing organizations until now, my fire of compassion is flaming, all that matters to me these days is to give love and attention to all the special and beautiful residents of your country. I arrive in New Delhi two days ago with a mission to enter a new project, not knowing consciously what want me here out of all the places in India. The instant I read about you and your amazing work, I knew why I was here and I stopped the search. If there is any way you need another volunteer with a loving heart, playfulness, please let me know how I can get in touch.' And I know we will send out more details in the follow up email, but also is there anything, we as a community, as a greater ecosystem, can do to support you and your beautiful work?
GB: Thank you, Michelle. We will wait for you. We will need a lot of volunteers for our Kat-Katha events. Everyone around the world, we are trying to make it big this time. We want these 4,000 women to attend this event. The last time, we asked people to give us funds and tell us the ways how we can do Kat-Katha events. This time we are going to put it on our website, we need your ideas, your support, making it big and making it happen... you being able to come this far all because of this place, all of you… what you give to Kat-Katha is more than enough. We are already doing it. I had no idea that everybody around the world knows about my dad. They have been sending so many prayers. This is magic. I am very grateful for whatever you people are doing for Kat-Katha. If anybody comes to India, make sure you are visiting Kat-Katha, that's one place that you have to visit.
AL: We are so grateful for you, Gitanjali, just being who you are, with such a loving courage to do what you are doing. One last person who wrote online. Miki from Delaware in the US said, 'Today, I can only listen and this is meant to be. I was meant to hear, just be there in your imperfection. There is no reason to wait. With all my heart, thank you!'
On behalf of everybody on this call, with all our hearts, Gitanjali, thank you so much for your prayers, your courage, your time, just your ability to see the humanity in each person no matter what shape, size, form, audible, how loud or quiet they are. You are just able to connect with them in such way, see them as your sisters and your brothers, even in a brothel. It's powerful. Thank you for being that light.
In the last minute, I know we are a few minutes over, just want to take a minute of gratitude in silence, to give thanks for you, and for this conversation, and send our prayers to the women on GB road. So just a minute of silence. (silence) :)
This article is a transcript of an Awakin Call conversation. It is community of listeners, who start with the idea that by changing ourselves, we change the world.
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