THE RED PAGES:
Sex Revives Mumbai Bars
In a large, dark room 25 km away in Mira Road (which comes in another district, Thane) liquor and food take a backseat. The main course here is cheap, casual sex. For just Rs. 300, the Latas and Reshmas are willing to give men a quick Hand Job, even allowing them to touch their naked breasts.
Welcome to the sleazy world of Mumbai’s Bars.
Although the Maharashtra government had banned immoral activities in its bars since 2005, the girls are back in action.
For eight hours each day, 10 girls like Priyanka sing Bollywood numbers and occasional Marathi folk lavani songs. And like her, they are game for the night after work. At the Mira Road Bar, you can have a beer even as a girl fondles you in your seat. Girls from West Bengal and Bangladesh make a living out of giving men a quick erection and demolishing it even quicker.
R.R. Patil, the home minister of Maharashtra, had, against much opposition, banned the “dance bars”. But the girls have not gone away.
The bar girls start trickling in, wearing glittering synthetic sarees with strappy blouses, taking centre stage as the songs become louder and faster. They make eye contact with customer. The negotiations begin.
In Mumbai Central’s Topaz bar, Mumbai’s best known money managers from Dalal Street were regulars. Soon after the ban, the girls were forced to become escorts for businessmen coming to the city. But not for very long. Most of the bars, situated along the border areas of Mumbai and neighbouring Thane, offer casual sex despite “tight” police vigil.
Lata works as a waitress at a bar in Mira Road, a western suburb of Mumbai. Her parents far away in West Bengal believe she is an assistant in a hospital. Her package includes sweet talks, hugging, kissing, but not on the lips; “… Kabhi bhi lips par kiss nahi karna (Never kiss the lips),” to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, she advises her customers. She does not mind removing her upper clothes and having men touch her breasts. All for Rs. 300. She works for four hours at the bar in the evening. The girls work on a rotation system so each gets the chance to earn; a girl doesn’t get more than two customers an evening.
A large part of Lata’s income goes towards funding her younger siblings’ studies. “I have to continue this job because I have to feed my family,” the smart girl in her late 20s says. She has a vast experience in handling customers at various bars in and around Mumbai.
The story is not different in the eastern suburbs. Reshma, a girl in her early 30s, works at a bar in Kalyan. She does not serve food or liquor to the customers. But if a customer wants sex, the bar manager introduces her first. The customer pays Rs. 1200 to the manager. Of that, Reshma gets half for her services and if the customer is satisfied, he gives her a tip which does not go beyond Rs. 200. “I used to work as a dancer in a bar earlier but since that has been banned, I’m forced to do this,” she says. She always shows her customer a photograph of her two children and asks him for a good tip. “My in-laws believe I work at a factory here. If they find out the truth, they will kill me,” she says.
Half of the girls in these bars are called Lata, for Hindus, and Reshma, for Muslims. Most of them are from West Bengal and Orissa. There are a few from Tamil Nadu and Kerala too.
The scene in Mumbai’s high-end orchestra bars is slightly different. One in Andheri East is full of female performers. The singers stand on a stage, the rest of the girls circulate between sofas occupied by the customers and serve food and beverages. Only eye contact is allowed. Outside the bar, however, an attendant guides the customers about “other services”. “Sir, you need to pay just Rs. 3000 for two hours (of sex). You will get a girl other than the bar staff of any age group. We will produce five-six girls to choose from. But if you want anyone from the bar staff you will have to pay more,” he says.
A source says that flesh trade exists in an indirect form in orchestra bars. You will not be allowed to touch the girl inside the bar. But if you manage to take her outside and convince her to have sex, it is treated as her personal life and the bar management does not take responsibility for that.
The bars appeared on the radar again after a March 10 police raid on Sangeet Bar and Restaurant in Santacruz owned by Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray’s grandson Nihar. Sudhakar Shetty, President of Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association, says he is against bars that flout rules but the police should not harass those who run their business honestly. “We have given warnings to our members that if we find any wrong doing, we will not renew their licence.”
In Mumbai, 220 bars and restaurants have valid licences for an orchestra. Bar owners have to pay Rs. 1.50 lakh as a licence fee and Rs. 1,80,500 as estate orchestra fee annually. Added to that is Rs. 50,000 per month as entertainment fee. The rule allows only four men and four women to perform at a time. “We keep eight singers at one time, the others are kept waiting in the rest room,” says a member of the Orchestra Bar Committee. “Police say our singers show indecent expressions. If they perform on Sheila Ki Jawani do you expect them to channel the expressions of Jab Dil Hi Tut Gaya?”
Mumbai has also seen a phenomenal rise in massage centres in the past three years. Besides light massages, these centres offer casual sex. The girls, most of them locals, are usually in their mid-twenties and charge anything between Rs. 200 and Rs. 700 for an hour of service popularly known as Hand Shake. “I work here only for money. I don’t maintain physical relations with the customers. Yes, I feel horny when I do the hand shake but I control my emotions, says a girl at a massage centre at Elphinstone Road.
She has come from Beed in Marathwada, one of Maharashtra’s most backward districts in terms of per capita income. Her only request: “Please do not reveal that we know each other if you spot me at a public place.”