People are acting as if the Supreme Court (SC) has made it mandatory to visit dance bars!” someone retorted hilariously on Facebook, to the feedback that the apex court judgement (lifting the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra) has received from various quarters. RR Patil, the state home minister, who took a moral stance on the matter while issuing the ban in 2005, seems to be in denial about the ruling, with the elections looming near. But something far more important has come of this verdict.
Whether dance bars are a nuisance or a boon to this city is a personal choice and may even be up for debate. But nothing is more invigorating than knowing that this Supreme Court ruling opposes more than just a ridiculous ban — it opposes moral policing, and in turn, those who stand for it. And that, right there, is the worthwhile win. Because with the state’s political machinery working towards hindering the resumption of the dance bars, their actual re-emergence might take more time than expected. For one year, in 2004, I lived in close proximity of a few dance bars in south Mumbai. Every time I’d return home late at night, the roads were busy and I would always get a taxi. I realised only a year later — when the bars shut down around August 2005 — that it wasn’t the good-hearted taxi drivers who’d queue up around the area every night to ferry passengers. They would be stationed there waiting for the crowd from the dance bars to disperse. And when the dance bars shut down, the taxis vanished too, and those roads became deserted.
As much as I’d like to see them for myself, I’ve only heard about these dance bars. Many years ago, two Americans — colleagues of a friend — returned disappointed after a night at one. Through the evening, they kept waiting for the finale of this ‘Bollywood show’. “When do the girls strip?” they asked. “They don’t,” they were told. “And we can’t go close to them either?” they asked again, unbelieving. “Nope, not everyone can; and by the way, your drinks cost three times the amount they do at a regular bar,” the friend told them. So what do these girls do, they wondered. They help some men relive their Bollywood fantasies momentarily. They earn an honest living. And they dance. Or at least they used to.