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Mumbai’s Dancing Queens

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
By Neel Shah

Before August 14, 2005, the day when state home minister R. R. Patil banned them in the state, Mumbai’s dance bars were the cynosure of all eyes. On July 16, 2013, nearly eight years after the ban the apex court granted a verdict in their favour, thus making it paramount to understand the dancing scenario

“Let it be clear: A real dance bar girl, the professional who dances for three to four hours a night in a dance bar, is not a prostitute. She does not take the easy way out, turn a trick or two in a hotel room and walk away with a sizeable amount. She has to work hard for the Rs. 2000 to Rs 2,500 that she earns per night and has to master not only the basics of dancing but also face stiff competition every night”, said A. Jagan, owner of Kaka Bar in Malad, which was quite popular in the Western suburbs.

 “A lackadaisical performance and fickle customers could reduce her earnings and whether or not her turnover for the night is good, about thirty to forty per cent of her earning goes to the bar owner”, added Jagan. She has to keep maintaining her good looks and keep fit, ill health or unforeseen leave could easily push her into a debt trap.

Almost all her savings go back home to feed an impoverished family where, more often than not, her mother holds fort. In most of these families, the father has either left or is dead. But ask any such dancer about her father and she will stoically say that he ‘died in a road accident’. For all practical purposes, she is the wage earner.

When she goes home for a deserved vacation or rest, she is treated like a queen by her family. Her wishes are their command with the men folk even cooking for her. No women’s liberation problems here!

This is a difficult way to earn a living. Night becomes day and vice versa. Highly superstitious and religious, an innocuous remark can spark off a furious rage or make her tearfully maudlin, while simple observations and jokes might evoke peals of joyous and unadulterated laughter.

The trap that she is in is overpowering. She earns between Rs.25,000 and Rs.30,000 a month and which industry can offer better wages for an illiterate, uncouth girl from a backward village? The fact that at the end of the year she does not have much money left does not bother her or perhaps she does not want to confront this harsh reality. As one of the wiser bar girls, while talking to the ADC, said, “In our business it is easy to get ‘roti’ and ‘kapda’. It is the ‘makaan’ which becomes almost impossible.”

She can never buy a house as she leaves in the twilight. With no ration card or bank account, getting a loan is almost impossible. Even if she did open a bank account, how would she account for her earnings? There are no cheque payments every month. In anything she sets out to do, the lack of ‘white money’ will push her into a catch-22 situation.

She is a human being with basic needs, who wants to settle down and raise a family. Bar dancers who get married are put on a pedestal and become sources of inspiration and motivation. But marriage is not easy. Often, these women fall for a glib, smooth talker who offers them the moon and are very soon left with a child and no support system.

Experiencing reality
Before the ban in 2005, this writer and a frequent dance bar visitor, visited a dance bar and went through the ritual of paying a dancer to see her perform, which she did quite seriously and suggestively. Suddenly, she came up to the frequent visitor and said, “Sir, another customer has just come in can I do a couple of dances for him and come back to you?”

 “Yes, why not?” the person said. She went, got paid by the other customer and returned. Seeing this, the frequent visitor said, “When I hire a prostitute for the night, she does not say ‘Wait a minute sir, I will dash into the other room where I have a customer waiting and come back in a while’.” The dancer, who was smiling a while ago, suddenly burst into tears and said, “But I am not that kind of girl.”


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