"The argument that dance bars corrupt the youth is not valid. The youth have multiple avenues for corruption. Let the youth make their own choice."
That's the opinion of writer Suketu Mehta, in an interview to Sunday Mid day. The issue in question is the closure of dance bars in Mumbai - and across Maharashtra. And I certainly agree with his assessment.
Of course, my knowledge of 'dance bar culture' is nowhere near Suketubhai's. I have only had the privilege of standing outside the erstwhile 'Blue Nile' for a BEST bus. And wondering, as a child, what must go on behind the windowless, copper-plated doors always guarded by a swarthy gentleman.
Suketu, on the other hand, spent two and a half years researching dance bars and has all the gory detais in his fascinating book 'Maximum City'. A book I am curently halfway through reading and highly recommend.
The Monalisa Smile
Mehta visited a whole spectrum of bars and hung out, in particular, with a dancer called 'Monalisa' who dances at a bar he calls 'Sapphire' (probably Topaz, at Grant Rd). Mehta takes great pains to communicate the fact that these bar girls are not necessarily prostitutes. At least not the kind who do it with 'just anybody'.
Monalisa herself states, in the book, that it is her business to make men fall in love with her. Yes, she does end up sleeping with some of them but a larger part of her job, she says, is to make each man in the room believe she is dancing only for him.
Apparently, men will shower her with money simply for that one loving glance. And before they get anywhere near her the Chosen Ones will spend hours talking to her on the phone about their hopes, fears and many problems. With some of these men, she will eventually have sex.
Of course, not everyone is a 'star' like Monalisa - there are seedier dance bars where the girls do end up dancing to basically 'display their wares' and then become available for sex.
But as long as these girls are not underage and brought to dance against their wishes - I think it's OK. What's really reprehensible is the young girls kidnapped or lured from villages and sold into hard-core prostitution at brothels.
Says Mehta in the SMD interview:"The city has a lot of migrant labour, who always find an outlet, whether it is dance bars or brothels".
There are 50,000 dance bar girls in Mumbai - only because there is a demand for their services.
The smarter and prettier ones, who work at the more exclusive bars that attract a better crowd, systematically exploit the weaknesses of men and earn lots of money.
The ones who work at seedier places which attarct junta crowd face a harsher music but even they are better off than the women who walk the streets in search of customers.
The 'Corruption' Issue
Anything forbidden is hugely attractive to young people, so hormonally charged 18 year olds will be tempted to check out 'yeh dance bar kya cheez hai'. One such fella summed up the experience as 'terrifying'.
Someone even came and whispered in his ear:"Uska saat sau rupya, room ka extra" so I guess it was one of 'those' bars. No, he didn't take up the offer and hasn't been near a dance bar again. But yes, he has friends who visit regularly - despite having girlfriends.
Have dance bars 'corrupted' these young men? Will they get reformed once these bars are closed?
I think it's a kind of addiction - like tobacco, or alcohol. Some are more easily addicted, while others satisfy their curiosity and move on. But the more you try to curtail availabilty, the greater the thrill of seeking that pleasure.
Already, alternatives are being discussed. There is talk of the dancers being redeployed as waitresses serving beer. If these waitresses are scantily clad (like the famous "Hooters") and jiggle a little while walking up to the tables - then what?
Anil Thakraney in SMD: "You are OK if the bar exists, the booze is served by girls. the music is on, but the girls must not dance."
R R Patil, deputy CM and crusader against dance bars replies:" (thinks) From the reports I have (hesitates), I am told where only the above happens, there are less criminal actvities".
And the Dalai Lama is a Catholic.
Bottomline: The more pertinent corruption is not the morals of young men but the other kind. Wahi - ghoos.
This entire closure drama is just an elaborate extortion ritual. Bar owners say they were 'willing to pay' the 13 crores allegedly demanded by the NCP (12 cr for the party, 1 cr for the guy brokering the deal) in return for certain 'concessions' such as longer opening hours. The deal apparently fell through.
Wonder though, what the politicians will do with these crores of easily earned money... If there are no more dance bars to scatter the notes about!