Rotaract Member: “Hi Asma…we want to conduct a health camp.”
Me: “Ok…good. When is it?”
Rotaract Member : “13th October”
Me: “Ok. I think we can arrange for one. Where will it be?”
Rotaract Member: “Kamathipura.”
And for 2 seconds I was wondering what is this 19 something years old girl asking for. As a brand manager, I keep interacting with her for numerous event arrangements but at this request I was aghast— just staring at her face, and thinking was it wise to say yes before asking the destination…of course I can refuse but then is it right on my behalf to do so after hearing the word Kamathipura – the core red light area of the city?
I remember asking her are you sure and her answer was, “Yes ma’am. Our team will be present plus we have police permissions and all in place.” And she went on to explain the reason to do so is to spread awareness on women’s health and hygiene. The team had also arranged for free sanitary napkin packets to be distributed. All they wanted was a healthcare institute assisting them in general health check of people there and give an informative talk to the women and young kids there.
Although it was a great social activity, no other hospital had expressed interest just after hearing the address for the proposed health camp. It is sad but with the whole load of social stigma attached, it wasn’t a surprise.
I told her I will check and revert. After she left, I asked myself when a 19 year old and her team of youngsters can do it, then why not us?
When I said about another upcoming health camp – a total CSR activity – to my team, as always all were excited but when I informed them about the location there was dead silence for sometime followed by an intense discussion for next hour or so. In the end, team agreed and so did our seniors. We got the green light for the red light zone health camp and we started the coordination. Whenever my colleague had to mention the camp destination while making the necessary arrangements, she lowered her voice—in almost a whisper she said “Kamathipura”. We had to take permission from our senior to distribute soap, tooth brush & tooth paste in the health camp as the camp was on hygiene. We briefed him and before giving the approval he asked us as to why did we select this “geography”—interesting choice of word is what I thought.
Yesterday, I informed my mom, our team will be visiting kamathipura for health camp—she did not say anything but looked at me for some time with concern as I clearly remember every time as kids and till date when we visit my grandparents residing in South Mumbai, my mother instructs the cab driver not to drive from the prohibited lane.
Today a team of eight – a doctor, a nurse, two assistants, a great speaker – our counsellor, and besides me, two others from my team all embarked our tour the so called forbidden area where although human but referred to as “Woh Log” or “the Others” stay. We started early because we were told that we have to wind up before 3 pm as then begins the working hours of people residing there. We were greeted by the young team of Rotaract Club of Mithibai College and the organization that takes care of the destitute.
This organization does an amazing job providing shelter to the kids of prostitutes, providing place for children to sleep at night as brothels aren’t the right place, help the little ones with their schools and education, hold awareness camps and plays a significant role in anti human trafficking—yet has chosen to remain anonymous.
Our health camp started and in a casual conversation with one of the NGO member, I realized that in kamathipura there are patches of residential properties amidst the brothel buildings. here, life in morning is slow, post 5 pm and all night – all the activity begins. The overall picture of the area is sad—below the poverty line state.
We had people from all age groups – 5 to 60 years – visiting our camp site. The majority cases were either cough or abdominal pain—in most of the cases the reason was easy to guess – tuberculosis for cough and gastroenteritis for abdomen pain due to poor food hygiene.
At 2 pm, we had lunch break which was to be followed by Health Talk. The Rotaract team invited us to join for lunch, but for some strange reason each one on my team was reluctant to join. Finally when our dear counsellor arrived, we joined her and the Rotaract team in the day care centre where the lunch was arranged, which was to be followed by health talk. With her, my colleague & myself had lunch after thoroughly sanitizing our hands and spoons using hand sanitizer. We were alright to consume hand sanitizer but were thoughtful of food intake. Although the food was served in disposable foil boxes well packed and branded with the restaurant name flashed on the cardboard cover which tasted excellent, both of us had pre-decided on how many morsels we will have from the shared box. They were happy we joined, but I am not sure what was going on in our minds—were we scared of the hygiene or was it the sad scenario of people who came for health check, or was it the address that had clouded our thinking power or was it all of them?
Once done eating or rather tasting in less than 10 minutes, the health talk began and it was a good knowledge exchange conversation. Some from the audience chose to ask questions aloud, while the others preferred privacy. But all the queries were answered and the attendees were satisfied. For those 40 minutes they were relaxed. I do not know how their day was post 3 pm as they all dispersed by then—their working hours is the normal 9 to 5 with each worker taking at least three customers as informed by one of the NGO members. Sad truth, a fact, which is chosen to be ignored.
My all ready team did wrap up after the short felicitation by Rotaract and a quick group photograph. On our way back, since my team had not had lunch, we stopped at McDonald’s to get our energy levels back.
Now at home while writing this blog piece, I am trying to analyze myself – why did I not have food there? Why was I wearing gloves when all I did was hold a camera to click pictures and monitor the camp? What was I thinking then? I came home – immediately put my clothes in washing and scrubbed myself head to toe as if it was a protection reflex to something defensive hitting me – do I do that every day? Prevention is better than cure but just seeing or talking or sitting or eating or breathing in kamathipura won’t give me gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes or HIV – I know that yet I behaved odd? I am a medical graduate; did I do all right today? Was it my presence in the red light area that influenced my thoughts or is there a red light glaring somewhere in my soul indicating that I still need to evolve and learn to accept that I can do better than just conduct a health awareness camp—evolve still to be a better human if not best?