But sex is not the only transaction in this game. Some aunties pay just to hold hands while others will lie with their 'boys' in bed refusing to be touched. Dosti (friendship) is another buzzword in this trade where actually friends are few. But that's what Rohit from Delhi promises me. I found him through one of the 150-odd massage parlour advertisements that regularly appear in the weekend classifieds of all top dailies. Quite a few of these places that offer herbal, ayurveda and relaxation massages are links to buy sex. They 'guarantee' satisfaction, promising male or female, home or hotel facilities. Some are escort services that will send you arm candy for the night. Others offer body to body massage—which means sex—starting from Rs 1,500 or more for an 'encounter'. Some send photographs of the gigolos on email or mms to choose from.
The thick cigarette smoke at Voodoo does not cloud people's naked desires. Voodoo is an inferno that comes to life after midnight. Male and female whores, gays and lesbians crowd the dank bar for sex and sleaze. It reminds me of a bar in Pattaya, Thailand, except that a young man is dancing on the floor thrusting his hips at potential punters.I am escorted by three men. My photographer colleague stays by me as the other two give us cover from a distance. Men leer and lech openly—everyone here is fair game.For those who would rather shop posh, there are the five-star discotheques. But it is the internet that most aunties trust.Abbas, all of 18, talks to me with trembling hands at Cafe Ideal at Mumbai's Chowpatty and shows me the cyber pathway.The bespectacled and mild-mannered Abbas has moved to Mumbai from Bangalore for work and is "doing aunties and men" till he finds a
job. In Bangalore, he sometimes had sex with aunties for free. The dinner and drinks that came along were enough motivation. He logs on to Yahoo messenger on my computer and points out to the numerous chatrooms that open up. Mumbai Gay Lounge, Aunty Bar, Gay Shreeram bar, Lesbian for Aunties, M2M (men to men) and many more.It is a fast world. Of webcams, chatrooms and mobile phones. In Delhi, Mansi and Amit were carrying pornographic magazines in their car, the doors of which didn't open from inside. Between the two of them, they had four mobile phones. Networks are widened through technology, the new pimp in the open market of surreptitious sex. It connects pain with pleasure, guilt with guise, sex with intrigue, infidelity with incessant desire. It links an Indian-born Miami architect with Abbas, who he wants to stay in his Versova flat so that he can have sex with him during his trips to India. More than anything else, the internet has converted women into buyers in a bazaar where they have only been sold. They can now have oral sex for a few thousand rupees, tenderness for two drinks and kinky amusement at a private party. Which is why male strippers like Ali, nicknamed the Greek God, who appeared on a popular TV show last year, now boldly proclaim their popularity. By now, the empty souls of these disturbed and aimless young men have begun to peep out from their eyes. There is something pathetic about their swagger. They want to believe that sex with aunties is the best way to secure their future but are often attacked by sharp pangs of self-doubt.I am equally bewildered by the other half of the story: who are these aunties? Do their husbands send detectives after them? Aren't they risking too much to buy orgasms, reassurance, self-worth? Do they think this is an extension of women's empowerment? Do they have male buddies?
A socialite friend finds one woman willing to talk to me. Mrs K lives on Mumbai's Carter road in a luxurious double flat. She says she is 35 but looks ten years older. She has been a slave of her husband's indifference and never got a chance to try buddy sex. With money stacked in her cupboard and nobody to fulfil her sexual appetite, she buys frequent escapes out of loneliness. She is wearing a smart black capri, a chiffon top and huge diamond earnings. She looks tired and cynical as she applies frosty pink nail polish on her yellowed nails. "To glide, you must grease," says Mrs K, quoting someone she can't remember. "The need to have a man inside the body is a real one," she adds. Has she ever considered walking out of the marriage? I ask. She laughs loudly. Clearly, this is the dumbest question she has been asked in a long time.Desperate housewives is perhaps a trendy term to use but it is explanatory. I wonder what Mrs K would do when even these hired men start rejecting her. When cellulite wins the war over passion and money cannot give her a makeover. Within this murky network, the business of pleasure is well-oiled. In both cities, I am told there are designated areas, pubs and bars where you can pick up gigolos. But a popular Mumbai socialite corrects this."You don't even have to look. They come to you themselves—you can get male prostitutes by the size, by the colour, by the minute," he says. "Bas hasi to phasi" (smile and you are in trouble), he adds."I will put you on my caller group," says Shakeel, a pimp, promising me behtereen (best) 'service'. "You will get a missed call...then you call back at your convenience. Or just walk in Colaba or Marine Drive smiling and looking around and someone will approach you to ask the time.This is a hint that the man is for sale," he says, ranting off locations where you can pick up gigolos. In Delhi, the trade doesn't appear to be so overt but if someone has a wish, its fulfilment is easy.As the sleaze gets uncovered, references and names from the glamour world and from the rich and swish set keep cropping up.I wonder about the verification of these anecdotes. But I also realise that different versions of people tell the same big story. Somehow, it all falls into place. But despite multiple partners, most people seem to be lonely. There is deception, so there is anxiety. Boys who don't get enough business rape and rob their clients and often land up in jail, says a Mumbai policeman. Some women are caught by their husbands and messy chapters begin in their marriages. At the other end of the pecking order are desperadoes who do not distinguish between aunties and uncles. These are the real nowhere men, bisexual and destitute, they are the flotsam of the trade—risking death and disease for small monies and mean sex. Sometimes they will dress up in drag or togs, go out and do it with anyone, money or no money. In Delhi, I meet a group of hiv positive men, now a part of a support group. All of them have got the virus through mindless whoring. Male prostitution eventually brings with it the same pathos that female whoring does.I want to go back and ask Abraham that after the deed is done, what will he do with the dagger? What about the day when he himself becomes an Uncle? This new story has an old beginning and end. Thrilling when it starts and chilling when it finishes.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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