The walls surrounding this cavernous expanse of a room are seemingly dank and tirelessly throbbing with the latest Bollywood chartbusters. The profusion of multi-coloured lights incessantly emitting off mirror balls, moving heads, and strobes intercept each other compellingly before splashing on the receptive walls in such a way that it almost looks as if thick globs of fresh paint formed by a slew of colors are crawling down to the floor. The seating arrangement and the furniture supporting it looks as if a Bengal tiger with claws sharp enough to easily rip apart a bank vault once owned the entire set. The smell reminds me of a morgue that just hosted a grieving, pack-a-day smoking family that owns the world’s largest cheap-perfume factory. I, however, suspect not one soul patronising Gajalu Dance Bar tonight cares a whole lot about the amateur-at-best lighting, the almost obliterated sofas, the bizarre smell, or the all-Bollywood-all-the-time genre of music that is blaring inside. As I carefully sit on the nearly dismembered sofa, I notice Aashiqa approaching my table from the dressing room which is adjacent to the elevated stage where she and the other girls dance; solo as well as duets with their male counterparts.
“And here you are yet again!” exclaims Aashiqa. I manage a “yeaah” or something close to it with a self-conscious and a bit sheepish (I think) smile. Aashiqa is originally from Jhapa. When her ex-boyfriend refused to marry her after impregnating her, he went off to the Middle East intending to make serious money. She then slit her wrists intending to die but came a bit short which leftbehind scars to last for more than a lifetime. Her newborn lived, just like she did. Her scars coupled with her distant and dopey brown eyes have the power to draw you into them, seeping you in segmented fragments into her skin, like another healed slit, and rendering you nothing more than a corruption of her life that she would most likely want to forget … but can’t.
“Men. Why can’t you commit instead of coming here to spend time with us and blow your hard-earned money away? Can’t you find girlfriends?” As Aashiqa admonishes me, she looks behind me and smiles, waving. She has a smile that can kill but not quite enough to hide her scars. Shifting her gaze only a tad, she turns to look at me in the eye and bluntly mentions, “I have to go to the table behind you. They are regulars with money to burn. Don’t worry. Nisha will give you company.”
Nisha looks like a movie star. She’s sweating a bit as she just came off the stage after bending her curves to “Ooh la la Ooh la la ..”. Wearing a dangerously short and suggestive dress that is attached to her sweaty and moist skin as if it were glued there, she finds a safe spot on the bristly sofa. Crossing her legs with her hands folded gently on her thighs and a demeanor that can calm a Nepal Banda enforcer she says, “You look tired and betrayed. Some wine should ease you off. How about we order a bottle?” There it is. Just like that, NRS 1800 threatening to bid me goodbye.
“Thanks but I’ll just have a beer.How about I buy you a glass of wine?” I offer.
“Glass of wine sounds fantastic!” With that, Nisha motions a kid who looks like he’s not a year older than 12 to the table and orders him to serve us the drinks.
Nisha then fishes out a pack of Surya Lights from her purse. After tapping the cigarette pack for a few seconds against her palm, she smoothly pulls out a cigarette and lights it with a matchbox. As if suddenly remembering something terribly important, she offers me one after taking the first drag on hers. I don’t deny her offer.
tretching her slim body across the table, she lights my cigarette after handing it over to me. As she does so, her cleavage lights up all of Kathmandu and I stare at them like a monkey in Pashupati stares at the fruit vendor’s stall decorated with bananas. As if to oblige me in some manner, she then walks around the table and sits comfortably beside me; hopefully for her bare legs’ sake, not on one of the rough patches sweeping across this sofa. She doesn’t seem to care either way as she focuses on me like a stray dog outside a Khasipasal focuses on the activities inside after a slaughter.
“You know, this is my last month in Nepal. I’ve always wanted to get away from here. This place suffocates me. My boyfriend found me a dancing gig in Bangkok. I leave next month. I can’t wait to go!! Two of my friends who used to dance here are already there and they say it’s perfect!”
“Wow. That’s great! Great for you and also great for people like me in Bangkok, I would say. Not so good for us though here in Nepal.”
“Awwwwww? You know, if you’re looking for a girlfriend, my friend Lily would be great for you? Want me to hook you up with her? She’s more beautiful than I am and is hands-down the best dancer here. She’ll accompany you to the movies; go shopping with you, to restaurants, clubs, anywhere … Nagarkot, Kakani! Like I said: a. n. y. w. h. e. r. e.”, she drawls at the end of her pseudo-proposal.
“Yes . Who doesn’t go to Nagarkot these days? That’s where most of my friends’ boyfriends take them.”
“Yeah. Who doesn’t?” I play along. “So does this involve me paying Lily anything, you know, for accompanying me to the movies, restaurants, clubs, ummm … Nagarkot?”
“I can ask her. But even if you have to pay, I’ll get you a discount. Don’t worry. You drive a car, right?”
“No I don’t. A discount?” Discount coupon cut-outs from print media encircle my imagination.
“Yes I’ll get you a good discount. Don’t you worry sweetie! Do you have a motorcycle?” She sounds like she’s gathering census. What’s next? Whether or not I own a rickshaw?
“Well, then how are you going to take Lily to Nagarkot? By Micro?”
That’s funny. I burst out laughing out loud.
Like most Nepali youngsters, dancebar girls are also gunning for greener pastures that the globalized world has to offer. Nothing wrong with that, of course. They don’t make much money here. For what they do, the pay is peanuts compared to their counterparts in developed nations. The pay scale spans anywhere from NRS 5000 to Rs 15000 a month depending on the bar. If I were a dance bar girl, I’d be doing the same thing, wanting to go wherever I got paid in truckloads. The only thing is, if this dance bar girls exodus is an emerging trend, men like me who visit Dance Bars every once in a while will be doubly miserable. I wonder if the day when I find myself walking to the Consulate to apply for a visa for the sole purpose of hopping dance bars there will ever arrive. I wonder how the visa officer would respond to my primary reason of visit.
Amidst my musings, a melee breaks out at the table behind me where Aashiqa had gone to entertain her regular customers only a short while ago. I turn back to look what’s going on. Two men are at each other’s throats. They’re wasted out of their wits. Aashiqa and their remaining drunk friend are trying to unsuccessfully broker peace between the two inebriated Nepali bros.
“She’s mine! Look at you, you dumdum! No way will she come with you!!”
“Shut up you *@&! &^%#*@!! She’s mine!!!”
With that, as if on cue, they go at it, no holds barred. Treating each other with fists and hurling even more obscenities like there’s no tomorrow,they tumble to the floor, never failing to throw punches in the process.
They’re fighting over Aashiqa – a dancer, a mother, with a smile to kill and scars that’ll never allow her to forget her past and the present.
Source: Wave Magazine Nepal