The real story of Gangubai Kathiawadi – the woman who once reprimanded the Prime Minister of India

It is uncommon to find a woman in a crisp white saree with a Rupee-sized bindi on her forehead – walking in the streets of a red-light area. But the woman was no ordinary bordello madam either, as she steps out of a Bentely with gold rimmed glasses. She was the Queen of Kamatipura.

The story of Gangubai will now come alive on screen helmed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and played by Alia Bhatt in the upcoming biopic ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’. However, many who knew her would also say that she is not the white knight, as she is a whorehouse madam and did all it takes to keep it running. It is to be seen if these shades would be well-represented in the movie or would be whitewashed to turn her into a Bollywood-style hero.

The rakhi sister of Karim Lala

A young Ganga from Kathiwad, in the state of Gujarat, hailed from a family of lawyers but was captivated by Mumbai’s movie industry. She ran away with one of her father’s clerks, landed in the city of dreams but eventually, the clerk sold her for ₹500 to the red-light area, Kamatipura.

After weeks of crying, the young girl who was aware that she now had nowhere else to go, decided to stay back. Soon, she became one of the most-prized prostitutes known for her gab and her knack of making many Seths open their purse strings.

Journalist Hussain Zaidi’s book on Mafia Queens of Mumbai portrayed Gangubai as a woman of spirit and not a victim of circumstance. When a Pathan raped her brutally leaving her invalid for days, she decided to accost his boss after his Friday prayers. The boss was none other than mafia don Karim Lala.

Not only did Lala mercilessly beat up her tormentor but also warned everyone against ill-treating his ‘rakhi sister’. After that, her rise to the top was meteoric as she developed contacts with police and other key people with power.

During her reign, the red-light area was one of the most prosperous lanes as it had rich and powerful clients not to mention a steady stream of earnings from the underworld. So much so that Gangu would often wear sarees with golden borders and blouses with golden buttons.

‘Will you make me Mrs Nehru?’

Gangubai evoked so much awe that she became a rare woman to have her statue bust erected in the area. She also advocated the cause of her kind in the society.

The plucky woman once took the stage at a woman empowerment summit amidst social workers and NGOs to advocate the need for prostitution belts in cities. Her speech was so widely reported that it won an audience with the Prime Minister.

Jawaharlal Nehru was so impressed by her proposal to protect the red-light area that he asked why she ended up in this business when she could have found a nice husband.

To this, she quickly asked him if he would marry her. As Nehru was left red-faced she went on to say, “It is very easy to preach but tough to practice.”

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