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Tours of Bangkok and Pattaya advertised in the Delhi papers for Rs31,999, all inclusive, seem pointless if a ‘happy’ ending (of the sexually pleasurable kind) is what the local enthusiast is seeking from the ‘boom boom’ side of the magical kingdom of Thailand. For Rs1,500 plus tips, the many massage parlours in the basements and second floors of markets and residential colonies across the capital will satisfy that and more. For those who get thrills from winning at the card table or roulette wheel, a close equivalent of the (legal) casinos in Goa, Sikkim, Daman and Kathmandu is available at residences and tucked-in farm houses. Addresses are publicised through word-of-mouth. And then there are the international models. Attitudes ranging from completely non-judgmental to its other extreme towards women going out solo or in pairs for a night on the town have resulted in a gender imbalance on nightclub floors. Eastern Europeans in the city on modelling contracts fill the gap with their energy and wide smiles. The birth of ‘models night’ was the outcome.
In conversing and meeting with the partakers and providers of these services, I concluded that I had to write about this side of Delhi, a city that has it all once the layers are peeled off. In most global cities, a tour of the pleasures could be discussed openly at the pub. Even in India, the Bombay (of yore) had, for decades, made peace with its dance bars. Its (largely) ‘live and let live’ attitude attracted many of Delhi’s free spirits. But when Sanjay (a person interviewed for this book) goes for a threesome at a spa in a market not too far from where his girlfriend is lunching with her friends, he keeps it ‘hush hush’ not just because of the consequences on their relationship (should she find out) but because he does not want to give away the location. Every day, hundreds of people walk past the spa whose sign announces that it offers ‘traditional’ massage. In a land comfortable with the benefits of Ayurveda, this is possibly the safest front.
No, this is not The Netherlands, Germany, Nevada or any other part of the world where a large number have accepted (and legalized) sexual activity for a fee as a ‘subjective’ space, left to human choice on both ends – provided it is regulated, safe and consensual. In Delhi, many eat ‘strictly veg food’ with family a few hours after devouring tandoori chicken leg pieces with friends over whiskey on the car dashboard. Add to that the equation of power and money that displays itself over a game of cards, and the permanent place Russian, Ukrainian and other fair dancers, models and hostesses have in adding ‘glamour’ to even mundane activities like gym workouts, and it becomes clear that the city has found a way to indulge in common human vices in a manner that is quite unique to it.
(Courtesy the author)
As my book shows, the world of card parties, naughty massage parlours and models who moonlight as hostesses comes alive in the experience of setting foot into those worlds. A few feet in, I meet a South Delhi gymnasium owner who offers free membership to international models because their mere presence “pumps up the energy level of other members”. The models aren’t complaining as they even get a free pick up and drop to the gym. Gym members stay loyal and recommend it as a place with a “great vibe”. The perks for the models includes free drinks at night clubs and just showing up at parties to add glamour, down a few tequila shots with guests, and leave with anything upwards of Rs25,000 for an hour.
The cards craze cuts across all economic levels. Come Diwali and Delhi opens its doors wide to Goddess Laxmi. Heard the cliché of the guy who put his luxury car keys on the table when he ran out of money to stay in the game? Well, it’s true. One hardened player links that and many other brash gambling moves to the city’s obsession with the display of wealth and the preservation of the ego attached to it. For some like Panditji, who agreed to meet after much dodge ball, the obsession was larger and led to the establishment of an underground casino where seasoned gamblers play ‘serious’ games all year round rather than “waste their time on teen patti”. After that was raided, he set up a mobile casino in a large van. Entry is by invitation only.
But it is really only when a masseuse, who gives ‘extra service’ at a spa, happily discusses the “nice” experiences she’s had and the advice she’s received from various clients about how to approach her ultimate dream of joining the cabin crew on an airline or cruise, that I began to see a slight harmony in this shadow world irrespective of its critics and dangers.
Panditji puts it well: “Sometimes all that separates an indulgence from becoming acceptable in a particular place is a piece of official paper.” But then, Delhi’s grey layer and the characters that make the city spin wouldn’t be as interesting.
Reshil Charles produces and presents television and web content. He lives in New Delhi
First Published: Jan 11, 2019 21:02 IST