Book Review

Autobiography of a Sex Worker – A Book Review

‘Autobiography of a Sex Worker’ by Nalini Jameela translated by J. Devika is the autobiographical account of the famous sex worker in Kerala who chose to tell the world her share of hardships and incidents that led to her being a sex worker and various tales of her survival throughout the years in the sex trade. 
Nalini Jameela, who takes her name from both Hindu and Muslim traditions, worked as a child in the clay mines. She has been a wife,mother successful businesswoman and social activist-as well as a sex worker-at different stages in her life. This is Nalini Jameela’s story, told in her inimitably honest and down-to-earth style, of her search for dignity, empowerment and freedom on her own terms.

The book delves deep into the lives of sex workers, their predicaments, the people they meet it their ‘clients’, the various ‘husbands’ they share their lives with for a couple of years and the stigma of being in a profession that’s a taboo.

It takes great courage for a sex worker to come out and speak about these minute details openly and publish it in the form of a book, especially as lot of their secret ‘business’ locations, client structure, etc., has been revealed.

While reading the book, I almost felt that I am reading the life account of a refugee – so many were the places where Nalini had to go in the course of her life as a sex worker. People who offer mental and physical solace to others have no permanent place to stay and live at the mercy of local police officers and cooperators. Shyam Benegal’s ‘Mandi’ comes to mind at this point. Perhaps, the story of sex workers across the world is more or less the same.

Special thanks to translator J. Devika for bringing out the unapologetic voice of Nalini Jameela, so vividly in this version of the book (the original was written in Malayalam and sold 13000 copies). A revelation of a different sort, the book is both daring and rare in its approach – daring as it’s bringing out the real like incidents of a character who by the virtue of her erstwhile profession (she is now a social worker) is supposed to have kept a secret life; rare as the tonality of the entire book is not in any way seeking sympathy for the miserable state of sex workers. It rather looks at the world around in the eye, through its wonderfully matter-of-fact narrative and shows how life can be lived and won despite being in the sex trade.

What I liked:

Portions where she describes about the time when she brought up her daughter and chose ‘husbands’ for her sake, so that she is taken care of financially are emotionally surcharged. It is passages in a book like these that bring us to a point of unison, where all women are alike. A mother, no matter what is her profession, is a mother, end of the day. More taxing it is, when that mother is a sex worker also.

What could have been better:

Perhaps too many details have been shared about the places where she lived at various points of time. At times, it became a bit repetitive, but overall, the book is a good read.

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