By: Anne Ch. Ostby
Sometimes, life shows you a stop on the journey, and forces you to get off the bus. Makes you stay there and see what’s going on. It forces you to get your priorities in order; compels you to take stock of how you spend your time and your life’s energy.
Meeting the Nat women in Forbesganj, Bihar, was my stop. The first time I met Meena, Fatima and the others, I was unaware that this would be the first step of a long trek that would eventually lead to me writing a novel. Intrigued and impressed by the work of Ruchira Gupta and Apne Aap, I had accepted an invitation to visit their centers. Ruchira’s ambitious challenge for my visit became, ”You can write a book about it!” This at first seemed too daunting, but a book was what eventually developed. A chance meeting in Tehran in 2007 led to the researching, writing, and publishing of Town of Love, a fictional account of human trafficking and inter-generational prostitution based on countless narratives shared with me by the women in Prem Nagar, Kolkata, and the Apne Aap staff working with them.
We have all heard the stories of trafficking. We have seen the documentaries, read the news articles. So why did Forbesganj become such a sudden stop on my journey? A stop that changed me as a writer and a human being? Because, in Prem Nagar it was the heart of the mother that spoke to me. Having three daughters of my own, it was the anguish of the fellow mothers that I encountered that brought the tales of the women on to the pages. When I asked any one of them about their dreams for their daughters, the answers were almost always the same: ”I want a different life for her.” I realized in those moments that I could not just listen to their stories and then get up, thank them politely, and walk away. I realized their stories needed to be shared; again and again, in different formats and different forums, until the cruelty and indignity of human trafficking is exposed, talked about and condemned by all.
So I kept coming back. I kept asking questions, kept nagging the incredibly patient, incredibly resourceful Apne Aap staff for help with details on everything from food and crops to the meaning of names. I kept listening to the women. And though the stories of Tamanna, Amina, Rupa, and Fauzia may not exist exactly as you read them, the essence of them is painfully, brutally true.
Their stories have traveled a long way now. From its first publication in Norway in 2012, the book has reached audiences in Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK, Slovakia, and India (English version: Prem Nagar, Supernova Publishers). It has been presented at literary festivals and events in Norway, Australia and Fiji, and the Prem Nagar women’s stories will soon challenge audiences at the Ubud Writers Festival in Indonesia.
I am both sad and proud to be presenting these stories. Sad that they exist and demand to be told, but proud and grateful that the incredible and courageous women who I met trusted me to tell their stories. And I will keep telling them for as long as it takes.
Buy Anne’s book “Town of Love” on Amazon today.