Two drunk men are standing talking about nothing in particular, when one of them is bothered by a handcart… he glares at the guy behind the hand cart, and the other man consoles him, thus preventing a fight. The other man draws him aside, the hand cart moves ahead, maneuvering around a Qualis that honks impatiently at the other drunk man, who glares at the Qualis driver, and who is consoled by the guy who glared at the hand cart, thus preventing a fight. The hand carts winds its own way through the crowded streets, as does the Qualis, only in the other direction. In the background is a veritable moving palace, drawn by twenty bulls with red circles painted around their eyes. Inside sits the Ganpati idol belonging to the richest Mandal in Pune, the seventh richest religious establishment in the world, including the temple at Kanyakumari and the Vatican City. The crowds throng around the Ganpati, ears, tusks and crown glittering with gold and jewels, but there is a lot of movement of people into a side street, their backs to the glimmering electrical chariot, away from the processions, which is pretty strange. The Ganpati is supposed to fulfill wishes, where could this steady stream of people possible be headed? Obviously, the chronicler investigates.
Cigarette shops and bars litter the area, but that is not the major concern here. There are dead looking empty black buildings, where people are sleeping drunk, vomit leaking out of their mouths, and while others sit and smoke or sleep for the night to pass, since the next morning, the procession begins again. There are men dressed in white handing out back and leg massages – malish as they call it… the price is pretty cheap, two bucks – two bucks for some unit of massage known only to the massager. The crowd meanders through, all of this, and suddenly, there is light. Cigarette shops and bars litter the area, but they are all more lively. There are yellow buildings, with clothes out to hang. Young girls chatter away and look mischievously at the crowd. Boisterous men gesture enthusiastically as they wave around their cigarettes, bleary eyed men walk out of the bars, consoling each other from fighting over trivial issues, and strangely enough, there are a lot of young men around, walking slowly, with tired but satisfied smiles – no – grins on their faces.
I walk around with a smirk on my face, and look around. From the window on the third floor, a woman dressed in a perfect oriental costume – straight from the sets of Memoirs of a Geisha stares right back. I wonder if it is a part of some old tradition of this place to dress up women in exotic costumes. The women here are all, in fact, dressed up in various ways… it is like a fashion show, Arabic, Assamese, Victorian, and Punjabi seem to be the most popular trends going around, but nothing can beat the western look – or at least the look attributed to the west in the 80s bollywood movies. Knee length skirts, a blouse, and a garish red lipstick… most of these skirts move up the thighs for a while before dropping down, something the men find very entertaining.
I was fascinated… Bhudvarpet in Pune was a sight… mostly because it was so lively, unlike the shabby and demented look of Mumbai’s kamatipura.
Personally, I was beyond excitement or disgust, it was fascinating, and yes, I admit, oddly uplifting, to walk around in an environment where the very atmosphere was charged with some sort of taboo gratification… because here it was not just a fuck and pay thing… there was an aura around the entire transaction, there was some wooing, some selection, even some romance involved in the entire affair.
There were famous windows, from where the most renowned (the words used to describe was “the best of the lot”, but I guess, I am being more fair here) prostitutes used to peek out and there were crowds below waiting for that one glimpse of her. She, would earn a lot irrespective of her looks and abilities only because of her reputation, and some weird kind of arousal generated because of the prospects of fucking someone who showed just a glimpse of herself to a hungry audience every now and then.
The middle aged whores dressed in exotic ways, and it is funny to see an Egyptian goddess sitting most invitingly at the door or a Mallika Sheravat look-alike in a sarong and a top smiling and waving at the passing crowd. There were the demure girls, probably newbies, or trained to act innocent, I could not make out which, staring shyly at passersby with dilated pupils. The most popular activity, was however, the group flirting, where a bunch of prostitutes were surrounded by an even bigger bunch of men, with some bargaining and negotiations known only to them going on.
Up ahead, after another turn, the army and the police were struggling to keep a large crowd waiting for a glimpse of the Ganesha under control, and we were walking towards it. The microcosmos around me was fading, but before it left its hold over me, managed to cheer me up with the most pleasant parting gift of laughter. You see, some over forthright man tried to grope a girl, and she publicly insulted him, making everyone else laugh. What interested me really was, that even for a whore, calling someone a “pimp” is a really really bad insult.