A journalist lost in Mumbai's dance bar
An Economic Times journalist writing for its hallowed Edit page goes all open-mouthed about Mumbai's dance bars, calling it "Indra's court" and Vishwamitra's ashram. He is ignorant. Dig deeper with us.
Shubhrangshu Roy's enlightened article in the prestigious Economic Times (dated February 2, 2005) about dance bars and bar girls in Mumbai did not surprise me. This was surely not the first time that I have heard a journalist rave about the magic of the Mumbai dance bar. I still hold in my esteemed company several senior journalists who have blown thousands, may be lakhs of rupees at these lech clubs and have gone bankrupt.
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Male journalists as a class, I have found, have a certain morbid curiosity about the "charm" of Mumbai dance bars. In my last eight years in Mumbai, there are few journalists I have met who have not, at least in confidence, told me about the magic of the Bombay dance bar. The first time I visited one was in 1997-98. Unlike Shubhrangshu Roy, I was not fascinated with the "mascara magic". (Sic)
What Shubhrangshu Roy of Economic Times, may be a first-time visitor to a Mumbai dance bar does not recognise is the stench of corruption, flesh rackets, rapes, harassment and may be murder that hang heavily around the Mumbai dance bar. Shubhrangshu Roy does not understand that what he saw in Lakshwadeep (a posh dance bar in Juhu) or Topaz or wherever else is but a small shining tip of a gigantic iceberg. This gigantic stinking iceberg extends across the length and breadth of subterranean Mumbai. The lech land is frequented by male journalists of all hues. Since Shubhrangshu Roy has not been to many of them, let me enlighten him on the works.
The kind of dance bar that Shubhrangshu Roy visited is only one variety of Bombay dance bar, where customers sit around with wallets full of money and watch wretched painted women make annoying motions appreciated by their patrons as 'dance'. Since alcohol is the great leveller, many of these fat, balding Indras and Vishwamitras drooling around there cannot tell Kuchipudi from Samba. The bar girls know this, and they continue their motions, proud of their 'dance' skills.
If you got no money, don't think about the Bombay dance bar. A bottle of beer can cost you from Rs 150 upwards. Women serve liquor, which I believe, is a strong ego boost for many sexual desperados who frequent the scum clubs. You can hold their hands, (like Shubhrangshu Roy found out, and got goose pimples) but, he says, no groping is allowed. Shubhrangshu Roy can't wait to dance with one of these poor wretches, but he is not allowed to. Oh the wreteched life. Woe.
This is where Shubhrangshu Roy starts going wrong. One, you can hold hands and grope too. It depends on which dance bar you are in, and what exactly you mean by groping. At many dance bars, throw some more crisp notes and the danseuse will gladly come and sit on your lap. And then you can hold her hand or whatever. That need not come under the definition of groping.
Again, there are several varieties of dance bars which Shubhrangshu Roy has not been to. Let us throw some light there. Some of these dance bars go under the euphemism of 'service bars'. At these bars, holding hands and groping is just the beginning. They work more as sex shops under the guise of dance bars. There are rooms to which you can retire with your favourite danseuse after the show is over. There, dear Shubhrangshu Roy, they don't discuss the day's business stories from Economic Times. At least the regular patrons may not.
Let me narrate a small instance: A journalist friend and colleague once went to one of these magic mascara shops and drank to heart's content. At the end of so much money-throwing and clapping and holding hands, one danseuse was intent on 'booking' this friend for the night. Soon, he found himself in a room filled with women; he was asked to select one from among the bunch. He chose one and soon was in a room with the mascara lady. Even as he got into the room and shut the door, he found that the dancer had already undressed and ready. He said he was not too keen on sex, (perhaps he wanted to discuss business stories) but the woman and the waiting bouncers charged him over a thousand bucks that night for wasting the dancer's time!
Shubhrangshu Roy, according to his own admission in the prestigious Economic Times, was raring to dance with one of the Menakas, but was prevented. But he need not worry. There are so many dance bars in Mumbai where you can dance with the resident dancers and no one would bother. The bouncers are only bothered if you run into a fight with the bar girls. Most patrons are aware of this and wouldn't act stupid. Such pair-dancing is the time to exchange phone numbers and fix up schedule for the midnight masala. First-timer Shubhrangshu Roy, I am sure, does not know this.
True story: A friend was very curious, like Shubhrangshu Roy, about the dance 'service' bars in Mumbai. He somehow got the address of one and made it across to the dance bar. Sex was not on his menu, but he was quite curious, you see. He was led into the dance bar hall where all the beauties described by Shubhrangshu Roy were 'dancing'. He was led further inside into a dark corridor, which had no lights. The bouncer led him in, with a very thin beam of a penlight showing the way. He could not see anything except for the carpet. He could make out that he was now in a dark hall, with men sitting around in darkness beside tables, and there were many aahs and oohs he could hear. His heart, like Shubhrangshu Roy's, started beating faster.
He was finally taken to a seat, where a girl joined him. In the pitch-black darkness, he could not see the woman, but could feel her perfume and her body. After a mild conversation, she started feeling him up as part of her executing her 'service bar' job profile. (Shubhrangshu Roy, who knows, perhaps the Menakas in Indra's court would have done the same - who knows?) The friend did not want to resist the temptation, but just wanted to see the face of the woman who was taking liberties with him. But she would have none of it. She, I believe, somehow convinced him that it was a matter of her reputation to hide her face.
But my friend was determined. Very cleverly, he cooked up an idea to ask for a cigarette. When the match is struck, there would be light and he could see the face of his beauty! So he asked for a cigarette and it came. He took the ciggie to his mouth and lit the match. There was light, wisdom and knowedge as the bar girl's face came into view.
He almost ran. It was the face of not a pretty bar girl, but a 45-50 year old woman, the ugliest face he had ever seen. By his own admission, he had never seen an uglier face even among the rejected prostitutes of Mumbai's Grant Road. She was pock-marked, with sores and suited the role of a horror film ghost. My friend never went to a service bar again.
Shubhrangshu Roy may protest, that he went to a true dance bar - not a service bar. Just like today's breaking story is tomorrow's old hat, today's Menaka will be tomorrow's Shoorpanakha; and yesterday's service bar, today's dance bar - and vice versa. Nothing is what it seems like.
She was one among the hundreds, may be thousands, of Bombay prostitutes, who had grown out of their earning years, after they had been ravaged by hundreds and hundreds of men who did more than appreciate her beauty, and had finally been thrown out of the brothels which hosted them so far, because they had turned too ugly and could not longer bring any more clients. On the other hand, their presence would deter many potential clients. The darkened service alley of Mumbai's dance bar was the last refuge for her. There are many others like her.
Being an occasional visitor to Bombay, perhaps Shubhrangshu Roy is not to be blamed for calling it 'mind-blowing mascara magic' (Sic). But since his name goes in the prestigious Economic Times, may be he should have done some journalistic due diligence before comparing this business to Vishwamitra's ashram and Indra's court.
Let me wrap up with the story of another journalist, a former journalist friend of mine for years. He too was enamoured by the dance bar masti. Since he was doing the crime beat in the newspaper where he was working, he was in constant touch with all the cops in the locality. Many of the cops, by the way, are hand in glove with the dance bars. Whenever he wanted to go to a dance bar, he would call up his cop friends, who would, in turn, call up the dance bar nearby and ask for seats to be reserved. When he reached the bar, the manager would welcome him inside and take him to the hall. Food, drinks, all free. The dance bar keeps the cops happy, the cops keep the journalist happy, the bar girls keep the journalist happy. The story went on and on till one day the newspaper he was working for found out about his peccadilloes. He was sacked.
At least this journalist did his due diligence, and knew what he was doing. Dear Mr. Roy did not, and does not.
Shubhrangshu Roy will not be sacked, not for falling in love with Mumbai's lovable dance bars. There are many who knows, and loves them for what they are, unlike Shubhrangshu Roy. Among them a gentleman called Abdul Karim Telgi, formerly a renowned patron of Mumbai's dance bars. One day, he reportedly blew one crore rupees on his favourite bar girl in Mumbai. The bar girl made her life that one night and quit the job to move north. Telgi is currently in jail.
Read Economic Times, love dance bars, patronise the dancers. You are in august company.