By Venkatesh Raghavan*
Mumbai: The nightlife, sleaze joints, brothels and orchestra bars that were crowded with people who were on the lookout for fun and amorous encounters have all come to a grinding halt. The disruption that has taken place in the country’s sin capital Mumbai can find comparisons with only what happened to the city’s mill workers and laborers in the post 1980 era.
The prostitutes in Mumbai’s Kamatipura area are faced with a precarious situation with no customers and their only straw to clutch being the help rendered by local MLA Amin Patel in the form of rations and groceries. Jyoti (name changed), a 32-year-old Commercial Sex Worker in the streets of Kamatipura who originally hailed from UP said, “When the lockdown started it became clear that we will have to survive on our savings till the time normalcy is restored. With money running out and no way to pay for my family’s upkeep in native Uttar Pradesh, I am stuck. I was forced into this trade when I was 16-years-old by a trafficker who promised to make me a film actress. Knowing no other trade and devoid of skills, I just keep peeping out of my room window from time to time hoping that some customer walks in.”
Like Jyoti, there are many other Commercial Sex Workers in the locality. They hail from Nepal, Bangladesh, Assam and Bihar. “During normal times, it used to be fun. Customers used to climb the dark stairs and come into our dormitory. They used to order drinks as per our taste and enjoy the mix of alcohol and sex. Some used to enjoy smoking joints with us and chatting us before we have foreplay and sex,” narrated 25-year-old Rita, a native of Bihar. “We used to make 2000 to 3000 rupees a day when the times were good and after paying off the madam and our pimps, we were still in a position to save money. However, post March 24, 2020 our lives have entered an unbearable phase with clouds of hunger and starvation looming in the horizon.”
The scene in the dance bars which were more lucrative when operational was no different. The dancers, waiters and bouncers who used to cater to liquor guzzling clients are faced with the grim prospects of job loss and starvation with the only alternative for them being to return to their native states. The more worrying aspect for these bar owners is in addition to the restrictive night hours forcing them to shut down by 11.30 p.m., how will they be able to maintain social distancing and ensure that all their clients, dancers, bouncers and waiters stay clad in masks.
“Most customers walk in past 9.30 p.m. They have a maximum of two hours to toss currency notes at the dancers and guzzle their favorite poison. With social distancing and pandemic norms being imposed, it looks like we may run out of business staring into indefinite uncertainty. As of now, many of our staff have left Mumbai being unable to bear their daily expenses. There’s also no clarity on whether these people will return when normalcy resumes,” said a dance bar owner in South Mumbai.”
Performance Bars’ Association President, Bharat Singh Thakur summed it up, stating, “The future looks bleak. We are unsure of how long this harrowing nightmare can be withstood.” A bar operator expressed his fear that people who patronize night joints may no more have the means to spend on such entertainment.
With lockdowns getting extended sin city seems to have lost its charm for the fun-loving night birds.
*The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist and novelist. He is the author of bestseller thriller, Operation Drug Mafia (Times Group Books).