It’s easy to become complacent when you live in Canada. I live in a nice house; I have a car; I have a job; my children are healthy and go to school wearing the clothes they want, with full bellies. They sleep in warm beds. They are safe and loved. So when I read a novel like James Levine’s The Blue Notebook it sticks with me. Not because it’s beautifully written literature – which I have to say, it’s not – but because it tells a story so compelling and upsetting and alien to my everyday life, I can’t quite wrap my head around it.
Batuk is just nine when her beloved father sells her to Master Gahil. I got the sense that he was strapped for cash and Batuk was his only asset. Thus begins her life of sexual slavery, a life she learns first at the hands of a variety of men in “the orphanage” and then under the watchful eye of Mamaki Briila. She is one of six children housed in “nests” on Common Street in Mumbai. Here she makes “sweet-cake” all day long.
It’s a ghastly life but Batuk is somehow able to separate herself from the act of sex by retreating into a world of stories. She is literate because she spent several weeks in a TB hospital as a child and a kind nurse taught her to read and write. She commits her story to the pages of a blue notebook and this is how the reader comes to know her story.
And so I look within myself and assemble myself in words. I take the words that are my thoughts and dreams and hide them behind the dark shadow of my kidney. I compress my need for love into words and hide that as a drop of blackness next to my liver (it will be safe there until I need it.)
James Levine, the author of The Blue Notebook, is actually a professor of medicine and a respected scientist and researcher. He was compelled to write Batuk’s story after seeing a young girl on the Street of Cages in Mumbai. He says, “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 field-workers’ reports and observation of the conditions that such children survive.” There is an interesting article about Dr. Levine and the book here.
Batuk’s story is a dark one. There is really no reprieve for her or the reader but to be fair – why should we come out of this experience unscathed? The truth is horrific. According to Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU) there are an estimated 10 million prostitutes in India. A February 2012 UN report indicated that India was the most dangerous place in the world to be born a girl. Not only are girls less desirable to their families, extreme poverty often leads them to a life of prostitution.(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9054429/India-most-dangerous-place-in-world-to-be-born-a-girl.html)
If you are interested in helping the children of India there are several charitable organizations, including HOPE.