No place for love
Reviewed by Deepti

Prem Nagar: Town Of Love
by Anne Ch. Ostby
Supernova Publishers. Pages 274. Rs 295

Prem Nagar: Town Of LoveDOES life exist without love? Can a place thrive without love and compassion? Prem Nagar is one such loveless town where lust and violence lurk in every house, inside each room. The ironical title of the book speaks volumes about a place which is devoid of love in any form, love between mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.

The book tells the story of rebellious Tamanna, a mother who strives to give her daughter a world different, far better, safer, happier than the one she was forcefully made a part of the world of 'dhanda', the flesh trade. It brings forth characters who want to make a difference and their determination to break free of the shackles bound on them by their families. Unlike the prostitutes in Rajendar Menen’s Karma Sutra —Adventures of a Street Bum who get used to their profession as it saved them from days of hunger and poverty, the lives of women in Prem Nagar exemplify the hope of a life outside the red light area. The novel documents individual stories of women being forced into the profession, how they were brought in the 'town of love', the filthy feeling that they try to wash off from their bodies after each sexual encounter with another faceless passenger. Sadly they don't even see the money they earn as the pimp takes care of their earnings.

The narrative moves back and forth in time and through flashbacks, Ostby delves into the background of Tamanna, alias Hasina, who was brought here when she was just eight years old. The pace of the narrative varies like a mountainous road. Going uphill, it slows down when talking about Tamanna's childhood, her memories. It rushes downhill with her footsteps when she is going to the place where her daughter is kept. It's through her trials to lead a life different from the rest of the women in Forbesganj and her determination in earning a respectable meal each day that we realise the hopes, despairs and countless fights the women put up with each day. As Tamanna says: "Even inside a randi there was a place for impossible dreams."

Prem Nagar gives an insightful account of human trafficking across the borders of states and countries. Through personalised stories, the novel makes strong comments upon the nexus between the state authorities, the police and pimps responsible for the flourishing flesh trade in various nooks and corners of our country. It gives a ray of hope in the form of an NGO which provides free schooling and a meal per day to the children of the prostitutes; and aids Tamanna in rescuing her daughter from the clutches of life that she so did not want to be latter's share.

Using simple and descriptive language, Ostby tells the story that though is fictionalised yet tells more truths than any other social document can. It gives a voice to the sordid, gloomy details of the journey - physical, bodily and metaphysical — of the women who are pushed into the 'dhanda' by their own brothers, husbands and fathers. Prem Nagar is a town stripped of love — here only lust and money reign supreme. There is no room for love to flourish, it's only an end to love through everyday selling and reselling of the body, killing of the soul and burying of all the seeds of love. It is not a town of love but there's a glimmer of hope, of a day when a mother will be able to promise a secure life to her daughter.