I am going to Houston; it is very far away. Just the thought of flying 19 hours it will take me to get there from Mumbai via Dubai gives me the shudders so I block the thought out of my mind; for now at least. Emirates Airlines is getting ready to depart when the seat next to mine is occupied first with a rather sturdy scent of cheap perfume, then the tingling of ornaments and then the presence of a girl-women face that regards me for a second before getting to settling down.
I regard my fellow traveler; a dark, pretty but knowing face like a sly fox. She settles down and then gives me a brilliant warm smile. Kaise ho uncle, she asks and my face darkens. Did she just call me “uncle”? I am allergic to being called by title, especially one that denotes (elevated) age; I respond with a tight thin smile that lets her know, I hope, that I am not amused. Then she rubs it in, would you please mind my bag while I go to the loo, uncle? Nothing will happen to your bag, I tell her rudely, go. She registers a surprised, hurt look on her face but gets up and goes away. I eye the small bag and consider hiding it just to be mean but I don’t fancy being arrested either.
She smiles her thanks upon return and settles down once more, heavy bangles of gold tinkling all the time she moves and layers of gold chains on her neck an instant attraction for an eye. She gets busy studying the movie guide and magazines and I lose interest in her. It is while we are eating our meal that she gets talking again. The omelet is very dry, she laments, but proceeds to clean up everything on her try in half the time it takes me; not bad for a person quite slim and petite. I am going to Dubai, she tells me, to entertain. My interest immediately piques; entertain what? She turns towards me and her eyes laugh. Men, she says. My interest elevates even more but fades much faster as my mind processes ideas. Oh, no! I shut up.
It is not what you think, she says, disappointment (and disgust?) evident in her tone. I am a mujra dancer; she says, a good, respectable, years of hard work and trained mujra dancer, just like any actress in Bollywood, even better, perhaps. You watch movies, uncle? There she goes again! Sometimes, I respond, my wife and kids all the time. Ah, you see uncle, I am just like any of them actresses, like Kareena and Katrina, but much hard working and better, only they get all the glamour and rupees. I act as well, and I dance and make people happy, especially ugly and lonely men. Especially in Gulf countries, where men live without their wives and are very lonely.
Interesting, I tell her. What about abuse, is she not abused by the men she entertains? Only if you let them, she says with a firm tone, a clenched fist that pumps in front of her for emphases. I never let men abuse me; they respect me, give me money, lots of it, she caresses her gold adorned fingers to indicate the universal sign of cash, and want to be with me all the time. They even want to marry me, especially the Arabs, you see. But they become quiet when they find out I am Hindu.
Do you go to Mujras, uncle? No, I growl, I do not. Perhaps you should, she says enthusiastically, come watch me. I will dance for you. She gives me a name of a place in Dubai where she will be dancing for the next 2 weeks and invites me. Come uncle, really, you will enjoy. I will dance for you in a private room and please do not worry; you do not have to pay me either.
Baab re baap…