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Damini

Inspired from the 'Children of the Brothel' story by World Vision, Bangladesh. Charcoal portrait in A2 180gsm paper

Bangladesh- the land that was divided before it was formed. Millions of humans faced threat to their lives and livelihoods after the partition of ’47 and the violent riots that followed. Lives, limbs, senses and dreams buried under blood-drenched earth. All that was left behind was something raw; raw flesh, raw emotions, and raw animals of beings, inhabited in destitute and hurt. While some turned to fight back their newly ordained destiny- the aftermath of the partition and the misplaced independence the country newly gained, some succumbed to the leftovers of themselves. Regardless of the fuzzy boundaries thus created, people needed to fill their lives a small scale hope of survival and a chance at happiness. I guess, biological needs are easier to turn to, and hard to escape from. Monetising sex is not as easy as I make it here, but combining this with hunger, poverty and the physical danger that conforms one’s imminent reality, this became the means to live, to survive.

Lives, limbs, senses and dreams, buried under blood-drenched earth. All that was left behind was something raw; raw flesh, raw emotions, and raw animals of beings, inhabited in destitute and hurt.

Through these and other unaccountably large number of factors, this part of the world turned into the largest sum of brothels ever formed! Women, mostly mothers- the martyrs of their fateful societies, were dictated how and why to live, from outside the boundaries of their lives and vision.

This portrait is of Jolly, first appeared in a photograph by World Vision, Bangladesh, in their story ‘Children of the Brothel’ where she speaks of the struggles of raising her school-going son as a sex-worker. When I was scouring the web for an adept reference image to sketch ‘Shrungaram’ or the state of flirtation for my Navarasam series, I didn’t have to look past this photograph. In her I saw the epitome of hope- living and working in the dark trenches of our world, yet hoping for a better future for her son and herself. But until then, her subsistence depends on the constant taunt that she carries in her eyes for she’d never know when a customer might come her way.The subtle tease in her asymmetrically pursed lips and the fleeting wheedle flash a thousand emotions before me, which painfully still reminds me of the rasam ‘Shrungaram’ (ശൃംഗാരം).

Capturing her in my blank canvas, I present her charcoal portrait, ‘Damini‘ (translates to lightning in Sanskrit) mirroring the short-lived coy and spontaneous tinker on one half of her face, while remaining unmarred and frighteningly calm in the other half, ironically yet oddly belonging.

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