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The road once not taken by many

Smbamurthy road which was infamous for prostitution in Vijayawada. Photo: V.V.Raju  

Until the early-eighties, the stretch between Alankar Theatre and National Litho Printers press on Sambamurti Road carried a health warning and was considered ‘injurious to health’ for it was a haven of the world’s oldest profession - prostitution.

The neighbourhood was the dark underbelly of Bezawada, and prostitution thrived for several decades. The poorly-lit thoroughfare was the one-stop destination for pleasure-seekers from women who lived in squalor and disease.

It was Sonagachi of Kolkata, Kamatipura of Mumbai, Garstin Bastion Road of New Delhi, Mehboob Ki Mehndi of Hyderabad – all rolled into one.

More than hundred families used to operate from the red light area, and for most of them, it was a tradition. They used to operate from thatched huts (which were referred to as Dommari gudisalu) and also houses from nearby by-lanes. Those who operated from the houses were available for a premium.

Each brothel was named after its madam, and the names of ‘companies’ run by Chinnamma,  Gundamma, Subbamma and  Durgamma are still fresh in the memory of old-timers.

“Many feel awkward talking about the ‘activities’ on the road, but it is a fact no one can deny. I remember parents chiding children for ‘taking the road’ to reach home. I remember the advice by seniors not to speak to anyone and not to make eye contact with anyone. Rama Talkies became infamous, for the locals referred its name while referring to the immoral activities on the road,” says Narasimha Rao, a senior citizen.

The area used to come alive in the evenings with bawdily dressed and poorly made-up women hitting the road to solicit customers. With the liberal dose of jasmine on their plait and fake smiles, they carried out their business until late night.

 “The road was a dangerous place for mugging, snatching of wallets and other belongings occurred quite often. Women [read prostitutes] used to grab lonely men and relieved them of their belongings. Law and order was not active those days,” says Govinda Rao, an octogenarian politician.

Rickshaws were the primary mode of transport to fetch customers, and the pullers used to get commission from keepers for each customer. The rickshaw pullers operating for the brothels had an identical dress - a shirt and pant, with one leg of the pant folded half, indicating his link with the ‘companies’. All that the customer has to do was to identify the puller and get in to his vehicle. 

For the youth of the era, a brisk walk on the road gave them the much-needed titillation, and the inquisitiveness made them venture out, especially after watching films at night.

The era, which was yet to witness the spread of HIV/AIDS, saw the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) like gonorrhoea and syphilis and the red-light area became the root cause for the spread.

Gandhinagar in the 60s and 70s was a quiet place with only three theatres – Durga Kalamandiram, Rama Talkies and Eswar Mahal.

The gradual urbanisation of Vijayawada in the late seventies witnessed Gandhinagar transforming into a bustling commercial hub and with corporation status to city in 1981 hastened development. Theatres, hotels and commercial complexes came up in the bylanes. The construction of the movie halls like Alankar, Sailaja, Kalyan Chakravarthy, Urvasi complex (now Inox), Raj-Yuvraj, Santhi-Prasanthi (Miraj) and Jayaram increased the floating population.

“The light gradually became bright thus exposing the darker side of the red light area. The area stuck out like a sore thumb and was scorned at by the locals. The clamour for shifting the red light area to the suburbs gathered momentum and officers and politicians made a concerted effort to put a stop to the immoral business,” says Srinivasa Sarma, a social worker.

Civic Commissioners Rajiv Sharma, Urmila Subba Rao, Mayor Jandyala Sankar, T. Venkateswara Rao and top cops like K.S. Vyas played a vital role in the removal of slums and the red light area.

As part of the rehabilitation, the civic administration and the city police provided skill training like tailoring, candle making, leaf plates making, washing powder with the help of Shramik Vidya Peeth and Vasavya Mahila Mandali. 

Now, the road gives an altogether different picture. The road, which used to spread pleasure, pain and sleaze, is an epitome of serious business as dozens of committed traders are working overnight moulding metals and repairing vehicles to meet the requirements of the customers.

(Names were changed to protect their identities)


* The street is named after Bulusu Sambamurti, a freedom fighter and president of Madras Legislative Council from 1937 to 42

* Gandhinagar was dotted with amusements parks in 60s

* Men and horse-drawn carts were common in the area

* A good number doctors and quacks treating STDs were present in Gandhinagar those days

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 1:24:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/sex-trade-areas-in-vijayawada/article7932576.ece

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