The following personal response is to the movie Mustang, a Turkish film that followed five unfortunate girls through the misadventures put on by those closest.
There are those of us for whom life is cruel and unjust. Being born from the legs of a woman I would never call mother, a path of hard work and submissiveness were all that were ever bestowed upon me.
“Oh my, how dark she is”
“Saviya, how will she bring work?”
“The devil has kissed her on her cheek.”
It wasn’t until I was two weeks old that Saviya had finally held me. Had finally decided to give me the food I needed to survive, had finally decided to name me. Asura. She was incapable to feel any love towards me and my imperfections, only holding me so that creature in her arms could either be put out her misery or be put away. Sometimes I would be left alone for days at a time, she only come back because her job was at stake.
“Men don’t want to hear your shaatan screaming. You either find a way to make it stop crying or you make it disappear.”
Saviya would never fail to make me guilty with the story of how I burdened her life with my presence. I loved her very much, so much in fact that I too had started to wish that she had suffocated me in her arms. Then at least I could to make her proud of me.
Life was never meant to be easy in this world. Being born from the legs of a women many men have had the pleasure to call a temporary home, I was last in line to get any sort of happiness from Saviya. And maybe it were easier if I wasn’t as dark, had not been born with a mark that splashed across my face or hadn’t been born at all. It was a mark that the priests would snarl at, women would howl at, and men would bark at. It was a mark that separated me from everyone else.
“Saviya, is that your daughter?!”
“Saviya, hide her before she scares away the customers. They will think that it’s a disease!”
I would spend my days painting the brothel with my smiles and memories. The hallways and courtyard would be where I learned how to cook, like the other girls around my age. It’s where I learned how to clean with the other girls. But unlike the others, I had to learn how to make myself invisible. If the walls that surrounded my being could talk, they would tell you about the millions of movies I would act out; where Aamir Khan would be my saviour. They would tell you that they were grateful that I had been made invisible for they loved the dance recitals I would put on. They would tell you about the millions of things that I did right. That Saviya hadn’t crushed my windpipes just so the walls never got too lonely.
Eventually the other girls had been allowed to leave the gates to play amongst other children. The gates that could possibly hold a million other adventures, a million reasons to smile, and maybe one reason to feel loved. I was forbidden to even see what the other side of the gate looked like.
But that hadn’t ever stopped me from the having a wonderful mind. I had never felt as if I didn’t know anything, for Saviya and her friends would constantly gossip about the world.
The children played and played. Meeting with the others outside the gates – Gates I had yet to be allowed to cross.
It wouldn’t be till my 12th birthday that I had been seen differently. Hungrily. Men wouldn’t snicker but point at me when asked of whom they chose to be theirs for the night. Of course, when demanding a price, they had thought that I would be significantly cheaper. Or at least that is what Saviya said.
I don’t know what had changed when I was 12. The walls that I had shared secrets with suddenly seems disinterested in me. The hallways and people had become a routine; I had even gotten used to Saviya’s insults. Nothing seemed to uplift my mood except the curiosity of what the other side of the gate looked like.
Each day had started and ended with one simple request and wish. To leave, and I had found myself slowly becoming more acceptable to any interpretation of that request. Whether it be my body or my soul, one would be set free.
It wasn’t until one night, a few hours away from my 17th birthday that I felt myself lift up from my bed. I hadn’t seen my reflection but I knew that I looked hollow. I felt hollow. Almost robotically, I twisted out of my sweat damped sheets and opened the latch that separated my quiet room from the busy air of Mumbai. I knew I should have asked my mother if I could open the latch but a part of me couldn’t. I couldn’t find the words to the antsy feeling festering inside my stomach. It must have been the talk Saviya had with me earlier on, hinting that it was time to earn my keep at the brothel. It wasn’t that she had said it out loud, but her eyes slapped me with the future she was too embarrassed to say. Too embarrassed to say that I would soon be like her. That the reason behind her not suffocating me the moment she held me was so she could punish me. Money had become a scarcity, and just as a lion would eat her kittens as a last resort; she would have me die every night in order to pocket some more rupees.
The air felt charged with electricity. Men impaired with alcohol were lured in by the songs of love the sirens sung. I wasn’t allowed to roam around the brothel at night, for my face may break the illusion of perfection that these sirens were counting on; thats what my mother had told me. But I walked. I walked past the men trying to grab my waist and arm in order to see if they could yank me into a room. I walked past these hypnotic sirens that scowled, taunted, and broke my hopes of one day being loved. I kept walking until I was right in front of the gate.
In fear of all this being a dream, I gingerly reached out to touch it. The cold metal reassured me of its reality and without thinking I begun to push it. Slowly, I pushed and pushed. Adding gradual pressure as to not make it creak. Behind me was everything I had ever known: the walls, the people, and the men. I kept pushing until I had enough space to wiggle out.
Finally. I closed the gate behind me leaning against the other side. There wasn’t any joy from escaping a world that I had ravaged through to get here, there was only hunger. Hunger for feelings I had not dared to say. Seventeen years of holding back, had brought me to this exact moment.
And the only thing I could utter was, “I will never go back.”