BOOK: Without Prejudice (Epic tale of a Mumbai Bar Dancer)
Publication: Niyogi Books
Price: Rs. 450/=
Never judge a book by its cover. Without Prejudice (Epic tale of a Mumbai Bar Dancer) comes closest to this popular saying with amazing blend of characters, events and fictional reality that debutant novelist Devasis has managed to offer the readers.
Never an easy task to maintain a connect from the start till the end despite changing the topographical connection, Devasis has successfully managed to build a bridge between the wild ravines of Chambal from where his central character Munia (later to be known as a popular bar dancer, Pallavi) has her origin to the dazzling nightlife of Mumbai where another important character, Roy (an investigative journalist) has landed to excel professionally in this ‘Maximum City’. Following two paras, indicate the author’s skill to present transformation of one’s lifestyle yet staying connected to the roots.
PARA I: Against the backdrop of the setting sun, in the ravines of Chambal, within the protective barricade of a temporary changing room formed by the chunris and dupattas which so far had covered the heads and faces of the women till recently…Munia stepped into womanhood.
PARA II: Throughout the day she heard rumbles of suburban trains going underneath the bridge. Their full-throttle sounds were different from the sounds of the train she had experienced in her village. Trains in Mirpur looked so romantic in comparison.
That’s exactly how the Mumbai’s nightlife changed too. From cabaret shows to hosting some of renowned striptease artists, Bombay had its own style of mid-night intoxication during the pre-independence era. Later, even before the permit rooms came into existence in Bombay, South Bombay used to cater to mujra lovers. Author’s knack of getting into details comes to the fore when he mentions through a quote of yet another character, Mr Mahendra Goradia of Goradia, Bengzon and Lall, Attorneys and Counsellors-at-Law. “All such dancers and singers occupied the tenements at the Compound or Banarasi Chawl, near Opera House close to Kennedy Bridge and also stayed at Bachchu Bhai Ki Wadi, Banaras Ki Gali at Foras Road near Mumbai Central,” informs Goradia.
As you turn the pages, you are gradually taken from the Bombay’s mujra mehfil and permit rooms to the emergence and growth of Dance Bars (DB) in Mumbai. But one thing that remains common and witness to this transformation is multifaceted character named, Rajkumar (lovingly addressed by Pallavi as Rajababa). Whenever Devasis brings in this character during the read, it only enhances a reader’s curiosity. Questions like Why? Why Now? Or even what could be his motive behind doing this? makes the read not just interesting but inquisitive too.
Author has taken utmost care to present both the sides of the dance bar culture that once existed in Mumbai. Munia-Rajkumar-Roy though play in and out of the plot, it is always either of the two that takes the centre stage in several chapters.
The author penetrates directly into the minds of the readers with a sudden introduction of one-page chapter: No more dancing…several questions raised, applicable till this date.
Past midnight, when India celebrated her 59th Independence Day on 15th August 2005, the dance bars of Mumbai became mute; bars that were once spectators to glittering and opulent nightlife. Over hundred thousand dancers and nearly hundred thousand support staff lost the chance to earn their living and were made redundant. The DJ consoles became quiet. The spotlights diminished and faded out. Rightly or wrongly, the euphoria surrounding a unique yet controversial element of Mumbai’s nightlife evaporated. No more dancing. The dancing stopped. But what would happen to those thousands of dancers? What would their future be? And, what was their fault? What made us exclude them from our lives? Was it only because they were a disadvantaged lot of women dancing in the bars? Who would hear their stories and take corrective action? Provide them with solutions? Remedy the century-old degeneration forced upon their communities? Unanswered questions; questions defying answers…
As we keep turning the pages, it resembles a Dance Bar DJ’s collection of songs, changing the mood and the tempo with every new page. Devasis, who raised these questions also unknowingly or deliberately answers most of them in the concluding stages of the book. Something more to write or reveal about the book would be unjust to narrative brilliance of the author.
On the illuminated streets of ‘The City That Never Sleeps’, one can still hear the music played clear and loud…or are they the echoes of once upon a time shut Dance Bars that are making their presence felt even today. Only the time shall tell, till then happy reading.