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My life started the day I got HIV: A candid interview of a sex worker with HIV
Getting late to the office, cribbing about bad living conditions, and bitching about an intolerant roommate, often makes us miss the point that we are fortunate as life can dish out worse situations. Talking to Geeta Turbhe, a sex worker and a HIV positive patient, this citizen journalist got some perspective back in her life. I hope you get the same from this interview.

“ZINDAGI KHOOBSURAT hai” was the one line, which this radiant, full-of-life and beautiful person Geeta repeated more than once. She also said that her life got a new meaning after getting HIV. The person who was asked to take up prostitution at the age of 10 by her own mother, wants to lead life to the fullest. She wants to reach out to people in the similar predicament and wants to play in KBC. With a daughter of 8 years, Darshana, who sadly also has the disease, she truly lives life like the Rocky motto, “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

CJ: When did you first learn that you were HIV positive?

Geeta: It was November 19, 2006 when I learnt that I had HIV virus. The people who I worked with had a regular check up for us and that is how it was detected.

CJ: What was your reaction and your family's reaction?

Geeta: I married in 2000 and my husband had the disease. He never divulged the truth and so I contracted the same but as soon as my in laws got to know that I am HIV positive, they blamed me and said that I gave him the deadly disease and not the other way round. They left me and my daughter without even thinking twice as to how I would survive on my own. For me it felt as if life has come to an end and there is no way out. I was devastated and it felt like a bottomless pit.

CJ: Did you tell someone about the disease and who was your confidante at those troubled times?

Geeta: For 3- 4 months I did not leave my house. I was lonely and did not know who to turn to. However, there was a madam from Aastha Parivaar, who often used to visit my colony, near Purva Railway station in Mumbai. She used to ask me, cajole me, even irritate me asking as to why I was not working or why I was not going out. But still I held my tongue, as I was not sure what to say. I had many questions, reservations and no answers at all. However, she somehow gauged the matter and one day took me to her office. There I met Chandrakant sir, who was a blessing and I confronted my own truth when I told him what was it that I had and how crushed I was. I must say people in Aastha changed my life. They tested my daughter, who was of 18 months at that point of time and the test came positive. They really took me under their wing and gave my life a new meaning.

CJ: Do you think that time has changed or the society for that matter?

Geeta: I will never blame the society. It is we who make the society - people like me, you as well as Aastha. We should change and the society will change with us.

CJ: Have you changed your lifestyle after discovering that you have HIV virus?

Geeta: Of course, I have. I try to better my life each day with whatever that I earn every month. People around me help me in that. I live in a colony, which has many sex workers with the same problem and we look after each other.

CJ: What about medication? Do you take medicines for AIDS and who pays for that?

Geeta: Each month I get medicine from the Governmental hospital. They provide medicines for my girl as well.

CJ: Do you get help from the government?

Geeta: They do help but out of 100 percent, they help only 50 percent. Like I spent around Rs. 8,000-10,000 last month on my daughter, Darshana, who was running a high fever. We were not able to determine what it was for quite some time after which we learnt that it was tuberculosis. This is the second time that she has contracted the disease. In such kind of situation a lot of money has to be spent from our pockets.

CJ: What kind of work do you do now and how much do you earn?

Geeta: I work with Aastha Parivaar in making chocolates, bags and earn Rs. 3000 per month. Sometimes, I get a customer for Rs. 500 or 1000 that adds to my income. But since my daughter is growing up and she doesn't like it I am reducing that kind of work now.

CJ: So people do come to you inspite of knowing that you are HIV positive?

Geeta: Well, most of them these days are aware. All use condoms and make sure that they are safe while having sex. So, yes, people do come but the number has certainly dwindled.

CJ: I have heard that you reach out to other HIV positive patients and give them hope. Can you recount one incident that is near to your heart?

Geeta: I once traveled with Aastha Parivaar to Pune and I met a man who was recently hospitalized for HIV. I knew that he must be feeling as if the world has ended for him so I went and talked to him. As soon as I approached him, he started and forbidden me to come near him. But I went anyway and told him that even I was HIV positive. Initially, he did not believe me but then I showed him my medicine and I could see that he was surprised that I was leading a normal life. He had not eaten anything for 2 days but after that talk the first thing he did was have food. That is one incident, which is very close to my heart.

CJ: What is the message that you want to give to other HIV positive patients?

Geeta: Zindagi jeene ka naam hai. Bahut khoobsoorat hai isliye nirasha ko kahin jagah mat do. Mujhe pata hai jab pehli baar pata chalta hai to aisa lagta hai ki zindagi khatm ho gayi, lekin sach maano zindagi to shuru huyi hain tumhare liye. Start your life from the day you discover that you have HIV.

CJ: What message would you give to ordinary HIV-free people who can never fathom your side of the story?

Geeta: Be aware about HIV. It does not spread through touch, only if your blood mixes with a HIV patient can you get the virus. So learn more about the disease from an NGO or councilor and do not discriminate.

As for Geeta's dream, she wants to compete in KBC, win some money and build her own house so that her daughter has a secure place to live in. Darshana, her 8-year-old girl is a huge fan of Salman Khan and would love to meet him. So if anyone who is related in any way to Mr. Khan please pass on the message as both Geeta and her little daughter should be applauded and showered with love for leading a big and hopeful life inspite of the life's choices forced on her.

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