Nobody Can Love You More
Mayank Austen Soofi
Rs. 240 pp 399
The myth of the completely objective observer is one that has been busted several times over and even the driest of non-fictional subjects can reveal to the reader much about the author. With a subject as socially fraught as prostitution this is even more the case.
Mayank Austen Soofi’s Nobody Can Love You More is an account in words and photographs of life in Delhi’s red light district. Based on an acquaintance spanning a few years with the inhabitants of kotha number 300 on GB Road, Soofi’s book attempts to explore the lives of sex workers as well as their families and other acquaintances.
Since the book is not arranged chronologically it’s not clear how far the book’s tracing of Soofi’s own journey is intentional – or even whether there’s an element of self-consciousness in his portrayal of himself here. The “Soofi” here is sometimes prejudiced and often naïve; he is disgusted by the food he is offered, he ponders why people would pay to have sex with an elderly woman. He’s a little too willing to provide us with accounts of his social life. At times we’re offered trite insights, such as the information that women who come to work here are more likely to arrive for the first time from the railway station than the metro station, or that there’s nothing at the nearest station to indicate that the red light district is nearby.
Despite all this the voices of some of these characters shine through – particularly those of Sushma, a sex worker who lives in number 300, and Omar and Osman, two children conflicted about their parents’ professions and their own religious beliefs.
“Her husband left her. I think he was not a good man. But he did not tell me much. And I didn’t ask her. Maybe he was a good man… who knows?” Thus Sushma discusses the circumstances of a former colleague. Sushma understands that people’s lives don’t always fit into easy narratives. In the book’s final chapter Soofi finally raises questions of narrative, of storytelling, of truth, but when he suggests that perhaps “it is fulfilling enough for a writer to get a sense of GB Road without stripping bare the lives of its people” it feels less like a disclaimer than a throwing up of hands in despair. Nobody Can Love You More may want to gesture toward the complexity and chaos of the human lives it documents, but it feels merely muddled and unsatisfactory.
Aishwarya Subramanian is a writer, critic and literary blogger.