I have never paid for sex, yet I have had my brush with prostitutes. If I was politically correct, I would have said 'commercial sex workers'; but I don't believe in a hollow nomenclature which only seeks to mask a supposedly vulgar word. But it is the vulgarity of the whole thing which makes men seek prostitutes in whichever town or city they are in. Vulgarity, after all, is a shade of sin, and sin can be fun, at least till you commit it.
It primarily stems from a simple logic: The more you are supposed to keep off something, the more you are tempted to check it out. My first brush with the world's oldest profession was in Varanasi, or Benaras (ancient India called it Kashi). I was 23, already on my first job, in Kanpur. My left-handed, leg-spinning abilities had earned me a place in the Kanpur journalists' cricket team and we had gone to Varanasi to play a tournament. The very first morning we lost a match against Lucknow journalists and were out of the tournament. But we had time to kill till the next afternoon. So after the match, as the rest of our team was getting ready to a cocktail party, a senior journalist from a Hindi paper and I slipped out to have a look at Varanasi. The city was significant for me, in the sense that I was named after the presiding deity of Kashi's Vishwanath temple -- Lord Shiva.
After a brief visit to the temple, where I prayed to Lord Shiva to make me a great journalist, we roamed around the narrow streets of Varanasi. And after a while, we found ourselves by the Ganges. We took a boat to the other side, only to find that parts of the ghat had been cordoned off because Rajkumar Santoshi was shooting Ghatak. Meenakshi Seshadri was supposed to be there, though I didn't see her. But I saw Sunny Deol -- a very fair, well-built man -- waist deep in water. We returned to the other end of the river and continued our stroll. "This woman," said my companion, the Hindi journalist, "has been following us. Don't turn back to look immediately, just turn around casually." I turned around under some pretext and saw a dark, short woman in a white saree behind us.
She followed us wherever we went, from this street to that street. I was excited: my first encounter with a prostitute. My companion, I could see, was excited too. But we couldn't still be certain she was a hooker: we were giving her the benefit of doubt. Then my companion said: "Let's get into this shop. If she follows us even there, then you know what she wants." We walked into a sweet shop and order samosas and lassi. The woman arrived before the samosas and took a bench next to us. We avoided eye contact but finally she asked: "Aap logon ko kuchh chahiye (are you guys looking for something)?" I felt extremely nervous and looked at my companion, but he seemed to be even more nervous: his gaze was fixed on the table. Without looking up even once, he told me: "Ask her to go." I gather courage to tell her that we were not looking for anything. She left the shop after having a glass of water. I had had my share of thrill.
In Delhi, where I moved to shortly after, the designated redlight area is a place called G.B. Road near the Red Fort, the home to the last Mughals. By the day, traders, who have shops on the ground floor of every building flanking the street, run the place. By the night, the pimps and the prostitutes, who live on the first floor of those buildings, take over.
Those were the days! In the mornings I would be a boyfriend. In the afternoons and evenings, I would be a political reporter, scuttling between office and Parliament House and Shastri Bhawan (where the ministries are housed) and the BJP office and then finally filing copy after copy over pegs of rum. On certain days, a late-night development would take place -- such as Cabinet reshuffle or secretary-level reshuffle. I would have to call up contacts, look at agency copies and file a story -- often I had only 15 minutes to write the lead story. And when there were no such developments, the nights would be reserved for chatting on the internet: the chatting had just started then and was not as vulgar and sex-hungry as it is today. Finally at 1 am, we would leave in the office car: the drivers, mostly Sardars, had become my friends.
After everybody else was dropped, the few bachelors who remained would coax the Sardardji on duty to take us to a roadside dhaba for a dinner of roti and daal-makhni. Actually we wouldn't coax him, we would command him: for he too would be eating with us, on us. And there were nights when we would decide: "Ok, let's go to G.B. Road." What fun! The Ambassador car would be parked on a road whose silence would be broken by catcalls. The number of the catcalls would depend on the previous date of the police raid. If the raid was recent, the catcalls would be hushed.
One of us -- it was never me --would go out of the car and negotiate. He would come back and say something like, "Sattar rupaye maang rahi hai, chalna hai (she is saying it would be Rs 70 each, want to come?)?" Rs 70 was peanuts, so we would agree. There would always be a boy in our group -- mostly a trainee sub-editor -- who would be too scared for such an adventure. We would ask him to stay in the car and deposit our wallets and watches with him. And thank God we had boys like that to stay behind, because prostitutes in Delhi change colours the moment you climp up to their tiny, grimy rat hole. The scene is usually like this:
The prostitutes: "I don't know who told you it will cost only Rs 70 per head. We charge Rs 200."
One of us: "But we spoke to your man."
One of the prostitutes: "How do you know he is our man? Seventy rupees is peanuts."
One of us: "That's all we have, and that's what we can pay: Rs 70 each. Take it or leave it."
The prostitutes: "You guys can't be trusted. We are sure you have money hidden somewhere." And they go on to feel your pockets, your underwear and even you socks. Yes, I have had to remove my socks in the brothel, and I thanked my stars for having left my wrist-watch behind.
After my first such examination in G.B. Road, I found three women fighting for me. Wait, this is not even remotely flattering, especially when you are in a dingy hole just wanting to get a feel of the world's oldest profession. One of them grabbed my arm and put it around her waist, then a second snatched it away and put it around her waist. All in a matter of minutes. And then a third one appeared: she pushed the other two and grabbed me. I went with her into a tiny cubile which had a cot. She shut the door and stripped below the waist and lay on the bed, but not before handing me a condom she took out from inside her bra.
"Look, I am not here to do anything, I only want to chat with you," I told her. The woman got senti. She instantly hugged me and kissed me and said: "You resemble my younger brother!" And then she went on to tell her life-story: she was from Ongole district in Andhra Pradesh and that she had got into this profession to support her family and that I should come only to her when I am here the next time. Before she could finish her story, her mates called out from outside the cubicle. "Oh, looks like your other friends have finished," she giggled. I went down the dark stairs and found myself following my colleagues. In the car we exchanged notes: none of us had had sex except our driver. The driver did whatever he had to within minutes and had walked out, prompting the inmates to hurry the rest of us.
I returned to G.B. Road once again, this time pissed drunk. My partner was a fat woman, who said she hailed from Tirupati. She sneered at me: "Heh, you are so drunk, you are not capable of doing anything!" I told her that my drinking was none of her business and that since I had paid the money, she should at least strip. Strip she did, but even before I could register her contours, her mates shouted from across the wooden walls to say that my time was up. The driver, once again, was the culprit.
When I came to Chennai in 2001, I was not only girlfriendless but also friendless. I did make a few friends, but they were no good because they themselves were in search of girlfriends and were seeking my advice on how to find one. How could I render advice when I myself was seeking not only girlfriends but also those forbidden pleasures in a new city? It so happened that I was looking for a new house, and in the classified columns of a paper, I also found the answer to my physical urges. I spotted an ad of a beauty parlour in T. Nagar which promised facials as well as a 'relaxing' body massage.
I was not new to the 'body massage' business because when I was leaving Delhi in 2001, the place was full of parlours that offered such 'massages'. They even advertised in respectable papers such as Times of India. When I called up the number mentioned in the ad for the T. Nagar beauty parlour, a female voice answered. "I want a facial. What are the rates?" I asked. The female answered: "Sir, the rates depend on the attendant you choose. Please come to our parlour and you can have an attendant of your choice."
I was in the parlour within the next 45 minutes -- it was in a popular shopping mall in T. Nagar. "Welcome, sir," a leotard-wearing woman said. Another woman, plain-looking and wearing a saree, smiled. "I want a facial," I said.
The leotard-wearing woman asked: "Normal facial or Shehnaz Hussain facial?
"What's the difference?" I asked.
The leotard-wearing woman: "Shehnaz Hussain facial is Rs 1000, normal facial is Rs 750."
"I would go for the normal facial."
"But sir, I do only Shehnaz Hussain facial. She does the normal facial," the leotard-wearing woman said, pointing to the other woman.
"In that case, give me Shehnaz Hussain facial," I said, settling into a chair in front of the mirror.
As she prepared the concoctions, she asked: "Sir, do you also want company?" Company? What on earth is that? I could vaguely guess what she meant, so just to be sure, I asked her: "And where will you give me company?" She replied, pointing to a couch, "Here."
"Thank you very much, but I want only a facial done." Not that I was not tempted, but such kind of sex is risky business. Shady massage parlours, from Kashmir to Kovalam, have female attendants who jerk you off under the pretext of doing you a favour by 'massaging' those parts of the body which is supposedly not permitted to be massaged. "I will massage this as well, but please don't tell the owner/doctor. You only have to give me some extra money," the female masseur will tell you. I had heard that in Delhi, I had heard that in Kovalam as well. I had obliged in most cases, but having full-fledged sex with a supposed beautician/massueur? That was a strict no-no. What if Tamil Nadu police had chosen that very day to raid the parlour?!
To be honest, the leotard-wearing woman did a very good job with the facial. And while she was at it, putting pieces of cotton over my eyes, she lamented the hazards of her profession, that too in impeccable English: "If a guy says yes, you have to have sex with him. You are not even wet, but still you have to spread your legs just because he has paid for it."
I was suddenly glad that I did not pay to have sex with her. For that matter, I have never paid for sex, as I just told you. Sex, after all, is not about what is between the legs: it's about what is between the ears. It is the structure of her writing that turns me on, not the structure of her body.