& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Codes of Misconduct

I love Toronto because nobody knows me.

In Mumbai the fear of meeting someone I knew (and then having to engage myself in meaningless small talk) made me balk at the idea of participating in events.

When I was forced to attend such events, my behaviour swayed between reticence and braggadocio.

Here in Toronto, I’m unknown. I move around freely and attend all sorts of functions.

I know that nobody I know is likely to be at events I attend.

The advantages of anonymity are enormous. I can sit in the midst of a hundred people, quietly reading Miriam Toews’s A Complicated Kindness (enjoyable) and wait for an event to start.

When I walked in to Toronto Women’s Bookstore Thursday evening, there was nobody there except the woman behind the cash counter.

Women (and three men) slowly started to gather for the launch of Ashwini Tambe’s Codes of Misconduct, Regulating Prostitution in Late Colonial Bombay.

When I got an email from Janice Goveas about the book launch event, I was keen to attend because two reasons. First, the book is about Mumbai and second it is about Kamathipura, Mumbai’s ‘red-light district’.

Mumbai occupies a large, almost physical, space inside me. And it grows larger by the day.

There are times when I sit in the (comparative) comfort of a subway train and get a lump in my throat because I don’t have to rush inside the train to get a seat, as I had to in Mumbai.

With Che I watch DVDs of old Hindi movies – from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi to Baaton Baaton Mein – only so that I can see the images of old Bombay (albeit fleeting).

When I was there – all 46 years of my life – I didn’t love Mumbai as much as I do now.

Mumbai’s history has always fascinated me – in a non-academic way. In the late 1980s, I regularly attended the local history seminars conducted by St. Xavier’s Heras Institute, and over the years have come to know a number of people whose knowledge of Mumbai’s past has left me awestruck.

During my journalism days in Mumbai (in the late cretaceous era), I made several trips to the archives located at Kala Ghoda. Incidentally, I missed the Kala Ghoda festival the other day when we attended the Vegetarian Food Festival at the Harbourfront Centre.

Ashwini Tambe’s book also deals with sex trade – again a subject of deep and abiding interest for me. In the late cretaceous era, I did a series of in depth feature reports on several aspects of the ‘red-light district’ of Mumbai. Later, prior to immigration, I had almost joined a not-for-profit organisation operated by two former colleagues.

Ashwini Tambe is assistant professor of women's studies and history at the University of Toronto. The book is academic, but from the passages that she read, I felt it should also be of interest to the general reader.

I haven’t read the book so I won't comment on the book. If I do so, Patricia Bradbury will disapprove.

When the author finished reading, I left the bookshop and took the subway home. Everyone there knew everyone else.

I didn’t know anyone. I enjoyed myself.

Image: http://www.utoronto.ca/wgsi/ifst/bios.html

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