22 July, 2013

Mumbai Dances...Again

July 16, 2013, The Supreme Court of India upholds the Bombay High Court 2006 verdict squashing the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra as per the Bombay Police (Amendment) Act 2005.

Dance Bar: Liquor Bar having girls & women dancing to film music encouraging patronage of customers who would shower & garland them with money in appreciation. Considered political opinion had it that these were the seedbeds of vice hence needed to be shutdown and they were in 2006, summarily.

Mulund : 20th June 2013, 2.00 pm

The fan above made a whirring sound and the rain beat furiously outside the dirty window pane, bouncing off thin metallic parapets, creating an incessant beat. The room just an hour ago had heard the bed creak to a more basic rhythm where the couple above had furiously started a battle that began with moans, continued with sweaty grunts and had ended in a whimper. Illicit acoustics never made for good music.

Strewn clothes indicate the man to be a member of the constabulary of the Bombay Police and the stars on the epaulet rank him as a senior Police Inspector. The other clothing is feminine, rather flashy not having seen the inside of a designer’s studio for sure. Just as we are reading this, they were being gathered and draped around a rather comely form of a young woman about 24 years of age. The face is beautiful but the expression in those dark eyes is resigned to that of a chore completed. The man is sleeping, tired from the bout and she completes her dressing up. Looks around for her sandals and purse, searches inside, finds & fishes out a comb to get her hair back into order. She is Roshni, a commercial sex worker, since the dance bars closed back in 2006. Originally from Jabalpur, Roshni had come into the city of dreams to join the movies but reality caught up with her rather quickly. Being good looking and able to dance very well proved to be an advantage. She found work as a second string dancer in Opal Bar. The money was good and there was no compulsion to go with a client who hit on her and they did. She retained her dream of getting into movies while the bar funded her stay in Mumbai. It was a kind city but showed its cruel side when one didn’t have money. Money made Mumbai move.

She sent some money back home to her parents regularly; never had they come to visit her here. She had been free and lived on her terms, life was good. Then the police had come and shut the bars down. The money she saved started to dwindle yet she did not go back. By then news had trickled back home on what she did. The family called her all kinds of names but still took her money, they didn’t have any issue with that. She bitterly recalled this while combing her hair in the cracked mirror. Having no skills, survival was indeed an issue. One of her kindly patrons had asked her out and she had gone with him, got paid. Sporadic work happened in the film industry but there were millions who came to the city in search of work willing to do anything and it was not long before she had hit the streets. She was caught soliciting and brought in front of the senior PSI Vishnu Kadam. He didn’t arrest her but brought her to this lodge for the first time a couple of years back and had his fill with her. Now once in a couple of months he would call her and she would have to come. She gave, he took; there was no commerce, only congress. The bars had opened again and this gave her hope. Amreek Singh the owner of Opal had called her and she had her old job back. She had been tried out and was frontline this time, she was happy there was respect there.  

As she stood up and clicked her purse shut, her hand brushed his trousers hanging on the chair and it fell to the ground spilling his wallet. She stooped to pick it up and saw Kadam’s family in a faded photo. As she was gathering up the money, the noise woke him up and seeing her with his wallet he reacted with a flash and screamed, “You bloody thieving whore”. She was no stranger to foul language but the words had the same impact of a hard slap delivered and something inside her snapped.
“I was going, your purse fell and I picked it up. She said calmly, very quietly with the anger and hurt seething in every word ‘I am a whore, yes...but not a thief. I have always paid a price for what I have taken and when somebody pays me, I give him his money’s worth. Ask yourself who is a thief in this room? Sahab, with you my duty is done, forever, never call me again and even if you do I shall not come, now. She walked out of the room without a backward glance. Roshni was free to dance again

Chembur : 20th June 2013, 4.00 pm

 The import of her words sank in and Kadam felt ashamed. He almost shouted after her to come back, but knowing that it would expose him to the lodge owner, he resisted. Dressing up he took a taxi to his police station at Chembur. Something in her words had hit the mark and he grew morose. He knew he had lost her and asked the Hawaldar Shirke to fetch him a chai. The Hawaldar came with the chai and dropped a fat envelope into Kadam’s drawer. Testing the envelope, he forgot about the girl and beamed, the collections are improving. Havaldar Shirke said Saheb, the bars have opened again na! A ha.

The last eight years had been tough on him and the rest of the police force. The Home Minister on one fine day had suddenly decided that the dance bars have to close and the police had little choice but to action the diktat. The Police Commissioner had tried to reason with the minister that the move was unwise but to little effect. As Kadam sipped his chai, he thought to himself that every large city requires its whore houses, its dance bars; in fact every civilized city should have them. The city was a conflux of people and people are a bundle of energy. This energy needs an outlet; it keeps the pressure under check. He firmly believed that the whorehouses and dance bars were the “Whistle (safety valve) to the city's pressure cooker, if the whistle does not blow periodically, the cooker could explode” & in the last 8 years it had. Crime had virtually spilled out onto the street. It had become more violent, more graphic and now there was no place to gather the information anymore. The paid informants who frequented these bars had melted away, that the collections had reduced was the other impact. It was pretty much tough to sustain living on a police mans salary. He for one was glad to know that the dance bars had opened again. He also fervently hoped that the jokers in power don’t go and do something as idiotic again and upset the apple cart. 

He bunched up the envelopes into a bag and had Shirke send it along where it would find its way through the upper echelons of power from the commissioner to the secretary who handled it for the ministry. Things were rolling again. Shirke had gone & forgotten his phone on Kadam’s table. It rang out quite loudly but he made no move to pick it up. The caller tune rang out the popular new release “Badtameez Dil”. Kadam’s mood lifted and his foot automatically started tapping in rhythm and kept on even after the tune had faded away.

Malabar Hill : 20th June 2013, 9.30 pm

In distant Malabar hill which was the bags final destination before it would be emptied and sent back, the same song played at a party organized by Kokilaben aka Kuku Patel. Kuku was the wife of the chief secretary in the home department. A leading socialite married to a bureaucrat, she came from a rich industrial family and the plush apartment was proof of her lineage, it had been her dowry. Kuku gave great charities ( NGO's if one were to insist on a correct nomenclature) and great parties. The party was a fundraiser to one of her charities which had been dormant over the last eight years; in aid & rehabilitation of bar girls forced into the trade. During the time. the bars were on, her page 3 contacts had ensured she got good press. She heroically fought for the bar girls across the lobbies and restaurants of many a five star hotel. She and her coterie had sampled the finest foreign liquor, food and condiments while giving ample sound bytes to the media on the great work being done by them for the bar girls. Then her party had been pooped as the dance bars were shut down. She had screamed at her husband to convince the minister to rescind the order. Three new Michelin starred restaurants were to open up. Without her NGO and an issue to make noise about she would now possibly have to pay. She was damned if she were ever to let it happen. Just imagine the gossip, Kuku Patel has to pick up a tab in her own town, the horror of it all, what would that do to her reputation as a powerhouse hostess ? 

Mangalbhai Patel had patiently heard his wives rant and ignored it. She who rarely got down from her high hillside set & making her way downtown to the dance bars was less than remote. She had never to his knowledge visited a single dance bar but had convincingly operated an NGO dealing with the subject. It was not an easy task and he admired her initiative & drive. He on the other hand was bored to death of her party crowd and was waiting for the bag to arrive such that he could leave. The fake conversation, the innuendo and the musical beds played by his wives friends and their toy boys they maintained was just about tolerated by him. Her family had important contacts and as much as he needed them, they too needed his services from inside the ministry, it was symbiotic. The men were more practical making allowance for the women who chose to turn up their noses at where their fount of champagne flowed from.
He saw Jamila Sircar pull a young man to his feet and sway to the song playing. The fellow an aspiring actor aped the moves of Ranbir Kapoor from the movie to a T. Then he grabbed her in a close hug and they swayed to the music barely conscious of the crowd around. They simply moved against each other.

Mangalbhai’s phone rang;the bag was here. He went to the door, collected it from the policeman who had come from the HQ and walked back into the bedroom. Pressing a button he released a catch and the wardrobe swung aside to reveal a large safe. He put most of the money in the safe, some fat covers from the bag he removed and put them into his coat, shut the safe, and returned the bag back to the courier. Mangalbhai was excited. His friend had phoned him about an old dance bar that had reopened with a great fanfare only for select high profile visitors. Unlike Kuku, Mangalbhai was no stranger to the dance bars. He found them more real than his wife’s parties. The dancing was certainly more sensuous, the promise in the eyes more ethereal, even the liquor tasted better and the dealings were cleaner as they had their roots firmly embedded in the earth-bed of commerce . Commerce to him justified everything. Did not the city danced to the tune of money? Their was power in it and he enjoyed wielding it. Against Kuku’s protestations he left the party at his house and got into the car. Leaning forward to his driver he just said ‘Opal' 

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