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Story of a bar dancer: 'This place kills love'

Last updated on: July 19, 2013 19:37 IST

Story of a bar dancer: 'This place kills love'

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Two bar dancers share their story of struggle. With the Supreme Court striking down the Maharashtra government's ban on bar dancers, will their life change for the better?

Please tell me one thing, before we begin this talk. Tell me honestly, will the bars re-open? Give me hope, please. I am not a good singer, I am forced to sing. My family is my sister and her children. I don’t want us to suffer anymore. I don’t think I will ever have my own children. This place kills any love one may have had. I was once in love, had dreams. I don’t blame the man, he changed. All fingers aren’t the same. I won’t blame anyone. It was my destiny. I have to work now. That also was taken away from me.

Ask me anything, I will try to tell all. I came here when I was 15, my sister worked as a dancer. We lost our father early and we all lived together. My mother single-handedly brought us up. My sister was forced to work and treated me like her own daughter. It was natural I would accompany her.

When I first came to Mumbai, I was starry-eyed. Aren’t we all? I wasn’t a music buff then, who knew what destiny had in store for me? At that time when I came with my sister I was asked to give ‘shaking a leg,’ a chance. It wasn’t legally permitted, like I said I was 15 then. I was excited, the lights, dancing there in the centre. I would dance a number or two.

We were well-protected. Anybody who tried acting smart or tried to come near to touch or feel, our men (read bouncers) were always around. And not a dozen, mind you, but strong, muscled two dozen. But I tell you, not all those who came to see us were horny. This is what the government of Maharashtra has tried to misconstrue. There were genuine ones who were mostly out of town visitors, whose idea of relaxing and entertainment was to share a drink or two and enjoy seeing us dance. Tell me, what was wrong in that? They had the money and we were entertaining in clean way.

It was made out that we all were doing something wrong. It is not like that. At that time I’d see, bar dancers were given respect. They had quite a following. It is interesting how a profession tells you about human beings and our society. We’d get to know who the first-timers were. They’d try to get touchy, wanting to feel us. Of course we’d tease them. Which woman wouldn’t enjoy this power? I was a minor but there was no tension, all the more reason I was taken care of. I wasn’t exploited. I wouldn’t be sitting here otherwise.

August 2005, was the beginning of tragic times. When we came here, I realised I am uneducated, I had seen my sister slog hard. I realised as she got older, I will have to follow suit. She has a family and we all live together and help each other. She has three children. We didn’t want these children to suffer like us. Remember, having no education, means we will not be given good jobs. We had to take jobs like these only. But it was well-paying. We got good tips. That’s when I made two resolutions. First, to educate my nieces and nephew. And, second, to have our own house.

As told to Neeta Kolhatkar

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Image: Moon Moon in a dance bar in Borivli East, a Mumbai suburb
Photographs: NV Reuben

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By god’s grace, I made enough money and nearly came to signing a house deal. But I had to give it up. Do you know what it feels to know that I am back to square one? I’m tired and frustrated of changing houses every 11 months. Go through the same trauma of convincing society members, neighbours that yes we are…

Since the time when we came from Kolkata we have been living in Mira Road (a suburb in neighbouring Thane). We suffered, though only a few times. But it was tough. The society where we were gave us short notice to leave. We have always been open about our work. What’s with people in Mumbai? How these moneyed people behave in their own homes! Our work may be dancing in bars, but we know what it is to live in society. We aren’t disruptive, we don’t indulge in any vices, anti-social activities, we don’t shout or scream like some of our neighbours. We don’t wear revealing clothes that some of their children wear. They kept a watch on us and then they realised we aren’t bad as they had thought.

We settled down and I had to begin to learn Hindi. I learnt this language at the bars. In this city people look at you if I say, please Hindi mein baat kijiye, mujhe angrezi nahi aati. That is why we kept my nieces and nephew in St Xavier’s school in Mira road. Little did we know the upheaval we’d face. We had to pull them out in the last eight years. My mother suffered from cancer. She died five years ago. Those were tough times.

Today there is hope. Yes, I am on What’s App, message groups. I have many friends. Now, I will have to go back, I’ve spoken for a long time, manager will come to see. Right now I am forced to sing. I prefer dancing, after three weeks we hope to see old times.

Remember, the tips also vary for singing and dancing.

Maya's story: ‘On the first night at work I was arrested’

You will not click any pictures, either on your camera or cell phone. Show me, are you recording? No, I need to b convinced. Sorry, please understand, today’s times aren’t good. Now please hurry, I was asked by the manager to talk. My life story is very long, I will have to fast-forward it. I may forget something, though it is better.

You can ask me anything. Yes, you want to know my age? I am 45 years old. Yes, they all call me Maya didi. No, I am not bothered about competition. I know I have got older, but I have stamina. Don’t worry. What shelf-life? Anybody gets older, they become useless? I am a grandmother.

My son is married, I have a daughter-in-law and two daughters. Seven people live on my earnings. I get nothing to save, thanks to your government. There was a time I was a beauty. I had killer looks. I want to show you the photograph of my younger days. Yes, you can say I was a looker in my jawani. I was married early by my parents. It was arranged, I won’t say anything more. It was decided for me. Little did I have a say. 

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Photographs: NV Reuben

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Do you know where I am from? I come from Rajkot, from a conservative Gujarati family. We Gujaratis give most importance to the tip of our nose. It means our izzat. Till today my parents’ family doesn’t know I work in a bar. But my in-laws know.

In 1993, my husband and I left Rajkot. We got fed up of our lives there. We lived in a joint family. It was not easy, too much of adjustments. I had no say. We had our fights and we decided to leave for Mumbai. I came to Bombay then, just after the serial bomb blasts. They weren’t easy times. At that time I would work at a buckle manufacturing unit. We lived at Gorai. I had no idea of your city. I have still not understood the geography of this humongous city. Now I know Gorai, Mira Road, these areas. Back then, my children would play at the neighbour’s homes. One neighbour had a daughter who lived elsewhere and would visit once in a while.

During one such visit, she asked where I was working and was it well-paying. By then my husband was detected with cancer. It was traumatic. My meagre earnings after slogging at a manufacturing unit would fetch me Rs 1500-2000. She suggested working at a dance bar. At that time there were plenty of them. She said she will take me to Satyam Bar, near Charkop. I had never visited these areas, but I liked the idea. She said with my looks I would get good money. The first night I began dancing I got a good tip of Rs 14. We could take our tips home in the night, the monthly salary we’d get at the end of the month. This has helped us to meet all the demands at home.

The first night of tip was also a memorable night of my life. The police raided the premises and we all girls were rounded up. Can you imagine my shock? Me a Gujarati working mother had to see a jail? We were taken to Bhayander police station. I remember only crying. Thankfully a lady police saw me and asked why I was sobbing. I didn’t know Bombay, forget Bhayander! Meanwhile younger girls were more aware, they told me to escape from the back door. I came out and I have never felt so lonely in my life. I didn’t know Bhayander and I lived at Gorai. I sat in an auto till Dahisar check-naka, and there I spent Rs 10. I had only Rs 4 from the first tip of my life! Before I knew, it was all over. I had to walk for an hour late at night.

But after that I never had to look back. This job gave me strength and all the money. I earned a lot, as people came to see me. And much to popular perception, I can tell you, no man ever dared to touch my hand. I didn’t look at any other man. I had my husband. He didn’t work even one day, later he fell ill. Who to get angry on? My parents had got me married, this was my destiny. I did a lot for my man. I lost money which is negligible compared to losing him.

I am still working and thanks to the Maharashtra government, I will have to work for another five years or so. I have a family to run. My daughter-in-law is a housewife. She shouldn’t work. I will not bring any girl to this job. No, they won’t suffer like I did. Eight years I have had to work on measly tips. These were the trying times of my life. God forbid, such times shouldn’t fall on anyone. I have got slipped disc, I fell once at my work. Every time I get a problem, I have to spend Rrs 1 lakh. Who would wish such times on another person? I have to save for my own healthcare.

As told to Neeta Kolhatkar


Image: Moon Moon in her little den
Photographs: NV Reuben

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