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Preeti's mother Rakhi
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An Oscar winner then, a sex worker now

That Slumdog Millionaire would steal the show at the Oscars was a foregone conclusion," said Preeti Mukherjee aka Puja while busily sending out an SMS from her trendy cell phone.

"The film had a lot of spunk in it," she added, turning her attention to the television set at her 100 square-foot rented flat in Prem Kamal, one of the most expensive buildings in North Kolkata's Sonagachi, known to be Asia's largest red light district.

"I have many of these high-end sets," she bragged pointing at her cell, as she surfed television channels, not spending more than 30 seconds on one.

A bubbly teenager in a strange world

In her teens, the fidgety Preeti comes across as a bubbly and slightly arrogant college-goer but for her surroundings. Her flat has a huge cot, a king-size mirror and a portable television set much above the eye-level.

The space below the gigantic cot doubles up as a mini-store. These cots are typical of Sonagachi, a source told me before I met Preeti. The space is also used as a makeshift bed for sex workers with children.

When clients come visiting, they just make the kids drink some alcohol and put them to sleep below the same cot. "The world here is strange," the source said, adding, "It seems no one ever sleeps here but for the children."

In the picture: Preeti's mother Rakhi looks at a newspaper cutting of her daughter with the Oscar statuette.

Text: Indrani Roy Mitra | Photographs: Chhotan Chakraborty

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