We arrived early, as the sun was slowly rising in the cold Delhi, smoggy sky. We stood outside the brothels with big cans of paint and brushes. The older children had been up all night priming walls and columns in the light of their mobile phones, while clients bustled all night in this ‘market’.
The ‘didi’s’ watched us warily, sipping morning tea in their dingy corridors. Their children were bursting with excitement, even having been up all night. They ran to their mothers; “Aap hamaare saath painting karo!” (Come, paint with us)
They hesitated; “Mujhe nahin aata” (I do not know how to), “Main bigaad dungi” (I will spoil it), “Isme majaa nahin” (I do not enjoy this); watching their children curiously as they have never seen them do before, confidently pick up brushes and paint; “ka…kha…kat- katha likhenge, didi” (We will write ‘Kat-Katha’ on the wall)
By late morning, we almost had to pry brushes from the didi’s hands. There was joy in their smiles as their literal and metaphorical dark passages suddenly lit up with colour.
We were celebrating “Art Week” at Kat Katha, an inspiring Delhi-based non-profit which has been committedly working for sex-workers (whom they affectionately call ‘Didi’s’ (sisters) and their children, on the controversial G.B.Road. in Old Delhi.
Over four days, we transformed their little space of love and values, into a painted garden. As you walk up the steps, you watch a seed budding into a big vibrant rose. The garden grew as has this unique family of love. Over 50 people painted. Children, didi’s and volunteers alike held brushes for the first time in their lives.
I wondered if art would be considered a luxury for them?
What does her inner world look like for one whose home is a brothel? For one who has surrendered to a life of prostitution?
Small dark lofts lacking hygiene or privacy; several women entertaining ‘clients’ simultaneously; their children starkly aware of these realities which cultural, social structures will go to any length to conceal; women whose own sexuality is not held in respect and traded as a commodity.
I suddenly felt small, what was I doing there and what did I have to offer?
Gratefully, a small voice within reminded me. I was a drop in this ocean and all I needed to attempt to do was share whatever love I had within me, in my biggest capacity.
As I watched children transform their own space with colour, taking pride in every new stroke of their brush, my doubts quietened. I could see self-esteem growing in their eyes.
Together, we created the Dream Wall of Hope.
Each one of us is different; different personalities, backgrounds, circumstances, make us different colours, even so we come together in a blend of harmonies. Life experience layers our pure selves with pain, depicted by the black web covering our pure colours.
Despite that, our hopes and dreams shine forth. As Rumi implied,“The wound is where the light enters you”. Each little circle held our pain and hope. “I want to strengthen my relationship with my mother”, “However much pain I am in, I have learnt to keep a smile on my face”, “I now allow myself to cry and share my worries. Earlier, I used to suppress my emotions”, “in life, I want to fly, but I am afraid of opening my wings”…
On the eve of the fourth day, we celebrated our co-created art. We invited friends, volunteers and well-wishers. We sang and danced and the children proudly shared the meaning and story of each mural. They confidently spoke of themselves as little artists, all ready to now bring colour and liveliness into their little brothel-homes.
My deepest intention and vision of co-create art manifested this week; unfolded before my eyes:
The need each one of has for safe, trusted spaces, for experiencing unconditional love; the healing and gentle pride we experience in the creation of beauty.
This beauty may not be perfect, it may not be art of skill, but it is certainly a labour of love, Our labour of love.
This experience has opened my mind and heart in ways I could never imagine. I feel immense gratitude for all the factors that aligned to make it possible.. I hope my understanding of Art and Healing continues deepening as this path is illuminated with possibilities…
PS- I have been unable to put up pics of the didi’s and kids, to respect their privacy..