It was my first trip to Bombay, now Mumbai, in the mid-1990s. I imagined that it would be as glam and flashy as in the movies. It was far from it. Our Durbar Marg then was more classy, sophisticated and sublime than any streets in Mumbai. No wonder, while on their holidays to Kathmandu, affluent Indian tourists would leave their gilded cages – five-star hotels – to stroll in the dust-free, crisp Durbar Marg in the evening. Sadly, Durbar Marg today has lost the old-world charm and could be any garish street in the corners of Mumbai.
One thing good about Indians is they are friendly. A few days in Mumbai, and I already had a large group of friends. Dinner invitations started flowing in, and we would invariably dine at Nariman Point, Cuffee Parade, Pedder Road or Gateway of India.
One day, one of my friends asked: “Have you been to a dance bar yet?” I told him I did not fancy dance bars much as I had been to go-go bars in Bangkok many times. He said: “You should see it once. “ So one evening, off we went to a dance bar. Nothing remarkable about the place. It was seedier than sleazy. I was expecting the dance bar to be something like in the movies and dancers to be like yesteryear’s heartthrob: Helen. The girls were all dressed up in saris and salwar-kameez. Growing up watching Helen dance in the movies, I imagined the bar to be all glam and flash. It was far from it.
As we sat down, my host handed me a packet of 10-rupee notes. I looked at him askance. He told me I should give away money to the girls when they come to the table. The girls would step out from their floor and go to the table that they like to pull out the money from between the customers ‘ fingers or lips. Some customers would tease them playfully before letting the money go. Many of them were throwing money all over. One man went closer to the dance floor and started emptying his bagful of money before he went out happily.
Meanwhile, a customer tried to create a ruckus by insisting on joining the girls on the dance floor. The staff asked him politely to step back and not disturb the girls at work.
But after some time he ran into the floor. The girls were dancing nonchalantly. The staff cautioned him against trying the stunt again. Some people cannot control their excitement at such places. Years later, dance bar sprouted in Kathmandu like wild weeds.
A version of this article appears in print on December 02, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.