No work is ever small, said someone, but what I do know is that they would definitely have a different opinion when it came to sex work. Admit it, however broad-minded we become, sex work is one of those untouched subject which will never enter our horizon of modern views
The Autobiography of a Sex Worker by Nalini Jameela is an unwavering honest, intensely personal yet universal book, trying to change the way we look at these women, and hoping to bring some freedom and dignity in their lives. This is Nalini Jameela’s story, told in her inimitably honest and down-to-earth style, of her search for dignity, empowerment and freedom on her own terms. So, when I chanced upon this book, I couldn’t stop myself from downloading it on my precious little kindle, I started turning the pages, and finished whole book in a round trip from Chennai to Madurai.
Nalini, a girl born in Kerala, to a working mother and a communist father tells her story. Starting from the early memories she has of her home, her brother, her parents, she opens up about how she was made to drop out of school at the age of 9, despite having a keen interest, how her mother lost her job and was forced to take rationed food allowances from her sister-in-law under whose influence her father was, how she went to work at construction sites and clay mines at that tender age so that she could support her mother and siblings, how she ran away and entered into a marriage alliance of convenience with the first man who helped her and had two children with him before he died a couple of years later, leaving her at the mercy of his mother and sister who demanded she pay for the children’s upbringing and how she had no option but to enter the sex work.
Nalini goes on to describe her life as a sex worker, her initiation, her clientele, the love-hate relationship with the police, the brokers, the company houses, her third child Zeenat and her acceptance of her mother’s career, the 12 year sabbatical from this life when she married for the second time (again an alliance of convenience), the part conversion to Islam, her inclusion in his business, the abandonment by him, the subsequent struggle with finding work and safe life for her pre-teen girl, poverty, misery and the ultimate falling back into the trade.
What follows next is a series of memories, Nalini’s journey from a destitute to recognition when she started with social work under the organization called Jwalamukhi, all the while doing what she did, sex work. Her reputation as a speaker for the rights of sex workers took her to various cities across India, and multiple times to Thailand. She began her growth as a person from her and undertook photography and shooting classes before her first documentary brought her accolades. She then decided to write her biography. Today, she is an activist-cum-sex worker speaking up for the marginalized section that she belongs to, working for them to prevent STDs, abuse and exploitation and fighting for their rights to a decent life.
Narrated in the first person, the language uses simple past and present tense, there was not even a point in which a reader might have cringed because of the harsh language which was usually used in the books written in this genre. All throughout the book, I felt I was reading Nalini’s answers to some interview questions, only the questions were missing. It was like reading someone’s personal notes, disconnected, not a story but compilation of events over the period of their lives. At times, the characters were in so much abundance that I lost track of who was who.
Although the book didn’t turn out to be as I had expected, I really liked the way Nalini’s personality comes across as a fiery one, before she even began with her career as a sex worker. Her ability to embrace and accept who she was and what she did with grace and without any guilt struck me the most. Her struggle to attain the rights of her people is something I feel about too, decriminalization of sex work. Like her, I too believe that both the parties involved play equal roles, in fact, the client is more important because, without them, the workers wouldn’t even exist! And due to this, it becomes necessary to let the sex workers enjoy their freedom and live a life of dignity, after all, no work is small, and when it is the only means of livelihood left as an option, they are not to be blamed.
No doubt why this book was unacceptable and controversial upon it’s publish. The society just can’t accept the fact that a sex worker wrote her autobiography which is Fiery, outspoken and often wickedly funny,and it turned out to be a bestseller. Truth is always bitter to taste and most of the people pretend it is dark by blindfolding themselves. Respect is all I could frame for this book, letting the reader know about their pain, suffering, their sexual preferences etc.
My rating 3/5