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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. If you don't like a guy, you can send him back, having paid for his conveyance. But once you say yes, the meter starts running. Rates start from Rs 500 for forty-five minutes and go up to Rs 10,000 a night depending on the kind of guy you hire and the service you ask for.
But Rohit, it turns out, comes cheap. A Meerut college dropout, he runs a beauty parlour in Delhi and has the Gayatri Mantra as his cellphone hello tune.He smses 'blue shirt' to me for identification and quibbles for Rs 600.When I hesitate, he quickly drops his price."You are very nice, I don't want money, buy me a gift instead," he pleads in Hindi.I am getting tired of speaking the same set of lies. So I say I am a novelist from Chicago researching some "masala" for my new novel.
We order chicken masala and he bares all. "Everybody, men or women, wants sex, massage is just a bahana (excuse). Many of my clients are women whose husbands are always busy. They have a lot of what you call black and other lace panties (he is groping for the word lingerie) from foreign and wear them when they call us." I ask him what happens if he doesn't like a woman who has hired him. "It is the client's choice, we have to go with it. This is dhanda," he says. His wife, a cashier at his parlour, has no clue about his secret life. Later, I help Rohit select a checked shirt from a nearby mall as his gift, hoping that I don't bump into friends or family as I wait outside the trial room.
Sex, says everyone, is easy money. No stories of tortured men with hearts of gold come to the fore. But the sex is peculiar. Oral sex, yes, but no kissing, which is too intimate and off bounds. Some say that foreigners don't mind kissing but Indians do and that men from the Middle East are the most generous clients when it comes to payment and tips. The boys claim they can get to state their own sexual preferences too and insist on safe sex. There are no older men in the trade. If you ask for a 35-plus intelligent man, chances are you will go to bed alone. Most of them are young, brash, brawny, brainless and bisexual. But there are exceptions.
Like Abraham. He is the Alpha male at Voodoo, a notorious hangout in Colaba, Mumbai, with a dance bar called Slip Disc. A college student around 22, Abraham is strictly heterosexual. Dressed in blue jeans with a pale yellow designer dhakai shirt, he makes heads turn as he walks up to me with a macho swagger. "I am a model," he announces with a flourish. I believe him. He claims he has modelled for Man's World and Times of India, done auditions for adman Prahlad Kakkar and photoshoots with lens guru Prabuddha Das Gupta. Once, a businesswoman from Hyderabad offered him a modelling contract and a visit to her bedroom one night. Since then he has been bedroom-hopping.
Abraham claims he 'understands' when women want to give him up to Rs 20,000 for a night or a computer or "anything, anything that I want". You are a rich man, I tell him. But do you polish your craft like all professionals must? "Oh yes. See, sex is business for me and I better be good at my work. I have enough stamina to go on and on till the woman is satisfied. I make sure I don't have an orgasm until she does," he says, unable to disguise his libidinal arrogance. Abraham doesn't want a steady girlfriend but allows himself to fall in love with his clients. These days he's besotted with a 36-year-old housewife from Jaipur. He pulls out a fancy palmtop and shows me her photograph. "Isn't she gorgeous?" he gushes, bashfully revealing his forearm that is scarred with her name in cigarette burns.
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.