THE BLUE NOTEBOOK author James Levine visits Mumbai's infamous Street of Cages
July 30, 2009
The Street of Cages In Mumbai the Sparrows -- children of prostitutes -- are being rescued and given an education, thanks to a remarkable project
While in India, investigating child labour, I walked down the famed Street of Cages in Mumbai. This is one of the central areas for the estimated half-million child prostitutes in the country, described by campaigners as "21st-century slaves". Before leaving the street I saw a 15-year-old girl leaning against a bright blue steel gate. She wore a pink sari with a rainbow trim; she was writing in a blue notebook. Having worked in numerous underserved areas, the mantra "education is the answer" is invariably touted as pivotal to any solutions. That being so, I could not reconcile the image of a child prostitute who wrote.
The image of the girl in the pink sari haunted me so that I was compelled to write The Blue Notebook, a work of fiction based on fieldworkers' reports and observation of the conditions that such children survive. I named the girl Batuk. With The Blue Notebook published, I repeatedly returned to India to examine how positive action could be deployed in Batuk's name. It was not until a week ago that I discovered how.
A barrow, stacked with rolls of carpet, stops. The man pulling it, 5ft 10in and thin, rolls his shoulders and stretches his back. The bus behind him has now stopped, too. The driver honks and an argument follows -- the words can just be heard over the car horns, traffic and general throng of Mumbai. The carpet man and the bus eventually move. As the bus inches forward, I see the entrance to an alleyway.
Fifty yards down the alleyway I walk into an unnumbered building. I step over a sleeping dog, on to a floor carpeted with compacted moist rubbish. I duck under a wooden lintel. The stench stops me in my tracks. My feet are wet. I step forward, turn left and face a long corridor barely lit by a single bulb; there are two dead rats next to a small pile of rubbish. Equally spaced down the corridor are pale-blue steel doors with numbers -- they remind me of storage closets. The door to No 4c is open and I step inside the 10ft x 16ft cell.