Each year 12,000 Nepali girls are sold into brothels in India. This is the stark fact even today and this is what propelled Patricia McCormick to write “Sold”, the story of 13-year-old Lakshmi, who was sold by her gambler-stepfather into prostitution in India.
In her notes, McCormick writes, “As part of my research, I traced the path that many Nepali girls have taken—from remote villages to the red light districts of Calcutta. I also interviewed aid workers who rescue girls from brothels…But most touching and inspiring was interviewing survivors themselves. These young women have experienced what many people would describe as unspeakable horrors. But they are speaking out—with great dignity… It is in their honor that this book was written.”
The author has also stated in an interview, “It was a challenge to keep the book from being too grim, and to keep Lakshmi’s humanity alive in a believable way” and “in even the grimmest of situations, there is kindness as well as cruelty, terror as well as boredom, and even, surprising as it may seem, humor.” Well, true to her words, McCormick has written a book that is interestingly told from the point of view of the main character (in a series of short, vignette-style chapters) and, true to her credentials as an investigative journalist, the book contains factual events that, even if they are so difficult to imagine for a normal person, are true to life—the life of those unfortunate girls sold into slavery from where only the lucky few get liberated.
Lakshmi lives an ordinary life in a village in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. She goes to school like any other girl and even though life is hard, it has its simple pleasures. But, her life takes a nasty turn when her stepfather sells her into prostitution in India. In the brothel (ironically named ‘Happiness House’) she is beaten and starved until she gives in to the wishes of her brothel madam Mumtaz to sleep with her customers. Her miserable life becomes a bit more bearable when a boy who runs errands for the girls teaches her to read. She also forms friendships with her roommates. Such moments and such relationships bring a sense of balance to the harshness of brothel life and enable her to survive in this terrifying world. She is finally rescued by an American who comes to the brothel to rescue girls.
“Sold” has been now translated into Nepali (“Bechiyeki— Will they ever be free?”) the translators being Bishwanath Paudel and Tikaram Sharma Paudel. They have done a fine job. This book has 300 pages and the main story is divided into 288 very short chapters which certainly makes for easier reading and serves the purpose of making this horrifying tale less grim as the author intended. The last few pages are on instructions for discussions on the book and some readers’ reviews. The Nepali version has been published by the joint efforts of Joyce Tapper, “The Didi Project” and “Captive Daughters”.