A bar dancer being showered with money at a dance bar in Borivali. (File photo by Mahendra Parikh)
Johnathan Remedios, nicknamed John, was in Class XI when the ban on dance bars was put into effect. He had just started going to junior college, a few railway stations away from his locality, and was learning to enjoy the freedoms that come with attending a college away from your house, as opposed to a school ten minutes away, but before he could fully cherish the freedom, one of the most talked about adventures – a dance bar visit – was out of bounds for him. So he had to content himself with listening to stories told by his seniors. He visited a ‘ladies bar’ once, but found out that there was no fun in sitting and ogling at women who appear interested in you only if you have a currency note in your hand. He never went back.
Sure, over the next year or so, he heard of dance bars that still operate despite the ban. But he also heard of periodic police raids on these bars, with all patrons being hauled to the police station and not being let off till they paid the bail amount. He shuddered to even imagine a scenario where he was calling up his father at 2:00 am to tell him that he had been caught in a dance bar raid.
Today, John is working with a software development firm. He is earning good money, is over the legal age to visit bars and is currently single, so no guilt there. And dance bars are coming back. John is smiling in anticipation.
Jaan Nisaar Sheikh, lovingly called Jaani by his friends and elders – his son calls him Abbu and his wife wouldn’t dare call him anything but ‘suniye’ – has been earning a living driving a taxi for the last 20 years of his life. After ten years of braving rush hour traffic, scorching heat and parking nightmares, Jaani became fed up and started plying at night, picking up fares from outside a dance bar in central Mumbai. By not refusing a single fare, no matter how short distance, he not only was able to drop several fares in a single night, but also developed a name around the bar as the cabbie who never says no. Patrons would wait for ‘Jaani taxiwalla’ for as long as 15 minutes. Then cell phones became cheaper and he started handing out his number to patrons. Then one of the girls at the bar asked him if he would drop her home after work, and Jaani, after dropping as many fares as he could, would make sure he was outside the bar when the girl left for home. That was one fixed fare from Tardeo to Mira Road on top of all the other fares, and the girl would let him keep the change more often then not.
And then the state government banned dance bars.
Jaani was married and his son was a year old by this time, and he had no intention of getting into trouble with the law, however small. He started picking up fares outside regular bars. He would still hand out his number to his passengers. He would still drive around till seven in the morning picking up fares. But business was no longer as it used to be.
Today, Jaani’s son is 11 years old. His needs are increasing. He himself isn’t getting any younger. And dance bars are coming back. Jaani has enough money saved to be able to buy at least one new taxi, hire a driver and put him to work outside a dance bar, while he goes back to his old spot. Maybe buy one more with time. Jaani pulls himself off his bed and reaches for his phone. He has work to do.
Janardan Kamble is a head constable with the Mumbai Police. He was a Police Naik, the next step after Police Constable, when the government banned dance bars. By that time enthusiasm and idealism had already started giving way to cynicism and bitterness. Over the next ten years, he moved through various postings and saw the city change around him, for better and for worse.
He saw a dip in crimes of passion against bar girls, in cases of domestic violence by men addicted to a bar girl, in suicides by lovelorn young men who really thought his favourite bar girl loved him, and finally realised that she didn’t, in cases of fights in bars by drunken men hell bent on proving their masculinity to bar girls.
He also a saw a rise in the scale and scope of the flesh trade, in the money earned and influence wielded by the few who were able to quietly run dance bars on the sly, in the corruption that resulted from the inevitable nexus, as pockets on the outskirts of the city flourished with illegal dance bars, and his colleagues, senior and junior alike, pocketed money by the handful every night.
Today, Janardan is posted in a police station in central Mumbai, and dance bars are coming back. Janardan is a year away from retirement, and is looking forward to a year of increased patrolling, possibly a rise in late night or early morning drunken brawls, maybe murders and suicides.
Sitting in the police station watching the news on TV, Janardan says what so many of his colleagues are saying. “Night chi vaat lagnaar aahe (The night shift is going to be hell).”
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