Reporter delves into world of Mumbai dance bars

Thu Nov 3, 2011 9:47am EDT
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By Anna MacSwan

LONDON (Reuters) - Determined to reveal the India behind the glitz and glamour of its economic boom, Sonia Faleiro spent five years immersed in the brothels of Mumbai - befriending bar dancers, transsexuals and policemen.

Faleiro, originally from Goa, has lived and worked in India for most of her life. In a culture where "the middle class is our new obsession," she was frustrated by the lack of reportage and representation in the public sphere for marginalized groups.

She made a name for herself writing about the high incidence of suicide in rural areas among farmers plagued by debt. After watching a TV report about dancers in Mumbai she became keen to learn more and asked a source in the industry if he would introduce her to some dancers.

And so she met Leela, the highest paid dancer at a Mumbai club called Night Lovers who would become the subject of her book, "Beautiful Thing."

Through Leela, readers gain a moving insight into an industry which employed 75,000 women in Mumbai alone, before being outlawed in 2005.

In an interview with Reuters while in London as part of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival, Faleiro said that she met a number of people who she thought merited a book, but chose Leela for her fighting spirit in spite of her suffering as the right woman to tell their story.

"She was very intelligent, vivacious and aware of how she is perceived, by people in and outside the barline," Faleiro said. "She was interesting to me because I knew that any bar dancer would have suffered a great deal to have got to the point that they were comfortable working in the bar. For Leela to be so joyful, kind and generous made me want to probe further."

The encounter turned into five years of friendship intertwined with research for Beautiful Thing, during which Faleiro met Leela's family, friends and an underworld network stretching from politicians to brothel owners.   Continued...

<p>Indian men walk past a display at the entrance of a dance bar in Bombay May 18, 2005. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe</p>