Travels through India

This is a story about three great cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore

Chapter 10

The bar had a colorfully lighted entrance, like most other bars of a similar kind and stature in the rest of the city. It was named, rather a bit too obviously, Yaari. Yaari is a Hindi word, derived from Urdu which means friendship; and in certain cases translates to a more amorous meaning also. It was somewhat ironic to Tarun, because a dance-bar was probably the last place one went to looking for love. For young nubile dancers with slim waists, yes!!! But for love, one had to go elsewhere. The company of several hips moving simultaneously to loud, freshly released music would normally not be a person’s idea of looking for love. A gaudily dressed doorman greeted the three friends who dragged their limp bodies to the door of the bar. Anup felt the odd flutter in his stomach turn into distinct loud rumblings.

Subho was in front, leading the way. He had however just visited one bar till then and wasn’t too confident of himself either. All of them knew that dance-bars were just one of the several other dark pleasures which the city had to offer; and somehow, all of them wanted to restrict themselves to just the dance-bars. The guard at the door had a bushy mustache and Tarun could smell booze as Subho talked to him.

“Yeh dance-bar hai na? (This is a dance-bar right?)”, he asked the guard.

“Haan, saheb. Achhi ladki hai. Bahar leke jaana hai kya? (Oh yes, this is a dance-bar. There is a good selection of girls inside. You want to take someone out, is it?”), the guard asked, lowering his normally loud voice into a just-about-audible whisper.

“Nahin, nahin (No, No!)”, replied Subho, in mock displeasure, slightly pleased at knowing that dates with the bar-girls were not taboo, and pretty much a part of the regular business.

As the guard opened the door to the landing, Tarun noticed a small corridor leading to a staircase which led up to a room with a glass door which frequently opened to let out a gaudily dressed girl, or a prim waiter. Subho walked up the stairs even as the guard had a palm held out in expectation of a little reward for the question which he had asked just a few seconds ago. Tarun and Anup, tentative and just a little scared, followed Subho up the stairs to the glass door, which another guard (this one not so gaudily dressed, and with a thin line for a mustache) opened the door to them.

The room with Tarun, Anup and Subho entered was a massively large and ornately decorated one. Fitted with disco lights on the ceiling alongside marvelously powerful Air conditioning vents, the placed looked a highly polished discotheque. There was just one minute difference, the men were not dancing. Middle-aged to old men sat in plush sofas, mostly in groups of two, with a Fosters bottle being shared between the both of them; some opening agape at the luscious bodies in front of them, some a tad nonchalant but horny as hell; some overtly excited, giving currency note after currency note to a bar-girl, and grinning with malicious pleasure as the girl comes close and takes the bill, brushing against his arm in the process. A group of moderately young men sat at one corner, a few of them with office security tags still around their necks. These guys are in big trouble if the police ever decide to raid this place, thought Tarun. The group of young men were boisterous and two of the over-boisterous kind were even shouting along with one popular number, literally forcing the long-suffering waiter to come and request them to be quiet.

“What a seedy place”, exclaimed Tarun, with a slight feeling of displeasure; partly because he found the whole affair rather unpleasant, and partly because it was mildly titillating.

“Don’t worry; I felt the same way when I went to my first dance-bar. You’ll love it after you relax and have a mug or two of beer”, replied Subho, confident, happy, teeth bared.

A burly waiter dressed in an immaculate black suit, which Tarun happily noticed, was not as good as it looked from a distance, came up to the group of three, and led them to a table in one of the corners. Subho ordered two bottles of beer between the three of them and Tarun lit a cigarette. The music was loud, and the song had changed to one of the innumerable disco numbers which the music directors of Bollywood churn out by the dozen.

Every beat of the song was played loudly, and the bass drum felt like it would beat the shit of Tarun’s heart. He wondered if he should have the marijuana he had in his pocket. As he was running various thoughts quickly through an embittered mind, another waiter, this one not as burly as the first, came up to them and extended a greasy palm towards each of them. Tarun didn’t want to shake his hand, but when he saw Subho and Anup surrender rather meekly, he didn’t have much of an option. He excused himself after the waiter went and went to the bathroom. He sat down on the commode and wet the stick of marijuana. I wonder if it’s as common in Mumbai as it was in Kharagpur, he thought. He lit the stick and took a long deep drag, when the door opened and a strong waft of loud music thundered in shaking him out of a somewhat bottomless reverie into which he was falling. He wondered if the person who had come in to pee would realize that someone was smoking grass in the bathroom. He then reassured himself, saying that if the person did know that it was grass, he would definitely knock on the door so that he could have some of it; and if he did not know the smell of grass, there was nothing to worry about at all. Water flushed, and the door opened, letting in another bout of loud music, as Tarun took a monster drag at the stick, relieved, happy and on the path to getting stoned.

The joint got over, and somehow Tarun found the idea of going back to the big, air-conditioned room, and watching some steps get repeated by a set of garishly dressed female dancers faintly uninteresting. He flushed the toilet just as well, opened the door and washed his face at the wash basin. I feel just a little better, he thought, as he opened the door and went back to the sofa, almost tripping over a girl’s long sari in the process.

“Watch your step”, laughed Subho, as he sank back into the seat, and uttered a sigh of relief. “Where had you gone? Were there any girls inside the washroom? Ha ha ha”, giggled Subho in child-like wonder and excitement. “Check that girl out, isn’t she absolutely stunning”. Subho pointed to girl dressed in a deep green dress, standing close to the mirror and powdering her nose every other minute.

“She’s OK”, replied Tarun. “But she’s not dancing, right?”

“Don’t be foolish. These girls dance only when someone gives them money. They don’t dance for free. And even if they do, it’s just to make some of the people get enamored by them so that they earn some fast cash.”

“OK, so what you are saying here is that, you have to pay two-hundred bucks for a beer, which is close to four-times the shop-price of the bottle, to drink in a dance-bar; and in addition to the extra which I pay for the beer, I have to shell out more money to get a girl to dance?” asked Tarun, amused and shocked at the same time.

“Yes, that’s what happens in any dance-bar, or for that matter, strip-joint all over the world”, said Subho.

Anup put in a word. “Umm, when did you see the sex-industry of any other country?”

“I haven’t seen any”, replied Subho, indignant and a little annoyed. “But I have heard the practices are similar. And this is not the sex-industry; sex-industry is what happens in pick-up bars, which…”

“You’ve gone to a pick-up bar too?” asked Tarun, feeling the marijuana deliver a nice solid kick.

“NO, I haven’t”, muttered Subho. “I just happen to have a lot of information, which you guys somehow don’t seem to bother to get. Anyway, I am gonna shower that green-sari-girl with some cash, let us see if she dances for us.”

“How much cash do you intend to spend?” asked Anup.

“500 bucks, max!”

“That’s a fair amount; it used to be a big thing in college, remember”, warned Anup.

“That’s OK. This is just another form of entertainment.”

“Yeah”, said Tarun. “It’s like paying an exorbitant sum of money to sit on freezing sofas, drink horrendously over-priced beer, and getting forced to watch a movie which you could have very well done without. If that's entertainment, I wonder what torture is...”

“So that’s OK. No one is forced to like or dislike any particular form of entertainment. It’s up to you”, replied Subho, annoyed and a little-bit angry. He took out a wad of hundred-rupee notes, and gave five of them to the waiter, asking him to get an equivalent number of 10 rupee notes for the amount. The waiter came back with a wad of freshly issued ten-rupee notes, and handed over the same to Subho. He remained standing after Subho took the wad and counted the notes.

“Umm. Do you really need to count them? After all, you are going to blow pretty much all of it on the girl”, said Anup. “And I also think the waiter wants some money. He’s pretty much not moved ever since he handed over the wad of notes to you.”

“That’s all OK”, whispered Subho to Anup. “But I need to ensure that they are not tricking me in any way.” Subho handed over a ten-rupee note to the waiter and held one note out for the girl dressed in the green sari, looking her way, and desperately trying to catch her eye. The girl was still pretty much busy in powdering her face.

Dance-bars have several kinds of girls. There are the contemptuous kinds who would only dance for affluent customers who are guaranteed to shower thousands of rupees on them. There are the desperate kinds who would gladly dance for any person, no matter how dirtily he is dressed as long as there is the tiniest bit of hope of some kind of cash from him. Then, there are the happy kinds who dance just for pleasure. They keep dancing all night, hoping to collect goodwill change from each and every person who comes into the bar. Of course, there are the smart-assy kinds who have the basic level of education to understand that even though the customers have money, it doesn’t always have the last laugh. These are the kinds who powder there faces and noses at regular intervals and mostly dance for the mirrors.

The girl who Subho was trying to attract was the smart-assy kind. She finally noticed Subho waving the note in front of his face, grinning sheepishly. She sauntered onto the landing in front of the table and stretched her hand to meet the note, gathered it into rough palms, wearied down by years and years of hard labor; and thrust it into her blouse. Tarun found the whole process strangely arousing. She lingered around the table looking into the mirror at times, and smiling at Subho at other times; and soon Subho was forced to hand over another ten-rupee note to the girl. Soon he had given over a hundred rupees to the girl, but she was showing no intention of dancing. She had moved her hips to around three beats during a song which she found interesting, but resorted back to lingering around and sauntering around after that. Subho was getting enamored and frustrated at the same time. Just watching a girl strut around displaying her wares can be interesting for the first few minutes, but gets rather boring after a while because you sort of know what to expect. It gets unduly predictable and finally you realize that you are just terribly bored. Subho called the girl close to the table and asked her for her name.

“Mona”, she replied in a voice, trying to look shy, but looking hideous in the process.

“So Mona, tum dance nahin karti? (So Mona, don’t you perform for the customers?)”, asked Subho, expectantly.

“Nahin saheb, main nayin hai idhar; abhi bhi dance seekh rahi hai (No sir, I am new to this business. I am still learning the steps)”, she replied with mock sincerity.

“Achha (OK)”, replied Subho and let the girl go. “She doesn’t look like she’s making any effort to learn the steps”, he told Anup.

“She lied”, said Tarun. “Wasn’t it obvious?”

“Why would she lie?” asked Subho.

“Well, there could be several reasons. I would not like to venture a reason, but maybe because she is tired, because she had a long night yesterday, and did not want to dance. Also, it’s quite possible that she has a long night ahead tonight, if you know what I mean, so she doesn’t want to dance and tire herself out. That’s why she lied”, said Tarun. “And of course, you fell for it.”

“Do you guys want another beer, or should we pay up and go back to the hotel. I think it would be infinitely more satisfying to have a joint after we get back to the hotel”, said Anup. “I find this music kinda dissatisfying and heavily irritating.”

“Let’s go”, said Subho, in a voice which had a distinct touch of moroseness and sadness writ all over it. He called the waiter and asked for the bill. After paying a whopping four-hundred rupees for two beers and some hardly delectable snacks, the three were about to leave when a swarm of five waiters swooped in on the group, with greasy palms extended for money and the perfunctory hand-shake. Mechanically, Subho handed over ten-rupee notes to each of the outstretched hands, as Tarun felt distinctly awkward and wished the whole thing would get over. Anup felt the guard blocking his way as he tried to open the door, and realized that he too wanted some money. Tarun handed over a badly mutilated ten-rupee note into his hand, and came out of the bar.

He heaved a sigh of relief, and lit a fresh cigarette.

2 Responses to “Chapter 10”

  1. # Blogger * The Cynical Consultant

    Hehe... This is interesting to say the least. Place sounds like a bar i mistakenly walked into in hyderabad, (except without the girls)  

  2. # Anonymous aru

    well well well .. what can I say :D ... relived those days through your writeup ... The Industry they called Dance-Bars has always been an object of awe to me .. awesome at times and awefull at others ..  

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