Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombays Dance Bars

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And their eternal tragedy is that their beauty fades, usually by the grand old age of thirty, but their essential thingness , their perceived worthlessness as anything other than beautiful and sexually available women, remains. And yet Faleiro's informants are neither cowering nor desolate, nor are they subaltern heroines, stiff-upper-lipping the world.

More infuriating than him selling her virginity to local policemen for a gang-rape at the station, she said, was his refusal to give her the money she earned. Bombay was much better. Even weekends at expensive resorts.

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Although the bar owner took the greater share of the money men threw at her, she made enough to live in luxury. If she was forced to "go" with a patron, he was usually a mafia boss, and there was both privilege and profit in sleeping with them. The histories of the other dancers are all riffs on the same general theme. They come from poor families with too many mouths to feed and little money to do it with.

They were prostituted from puberty, and the injustice of being the broke and abused breadwinner nagged them till they decided to start working for themselves in the big city.

In their first months several were tricked or forced into brothels, in conditions harsher than home, but most escaped—Leela by jumping out of a window—and found their way to a dance bar. In fact, if one manages to look past the scene-stealing women, Beautiful Thing is a chronicle of total institutional failure.

And even then it is a faceless, substitutable existence amongst a steady influx of fresher, younger girls. Yet, despite the horror, anger, frustration, pity and even guilty relief there, but for the grace of god Leela, having lost family, job, home, savings, and friends, is about to be smuggled into Dubai without a passport, ripe for every kind of abuse and exploitation imaginable.

A beautifully written review, I won't sleep until I find this book! Thanks Priyanka. I think Faleiro belongs on my syllabus for next semester! Sonia Faleiro tells her story with compassion, without pulling any punches and without any gratuitous sentimentality or romanticism, which books in this genre can almost unwittingly descend into.

The final result is a compelling view into the life of a teenaged girl, who is smart, plucky, selfish, narcissistic and above all, a survivor. A girl, who manages to retain some semblance of dignity in extremely difficult circumstances, on the fringes of a society that stigmatizes her while gleefully exploiting her. The book is peopled with extremely well drawn characters, who drift in and out of Leela's world, their stories no less compelling than her's. In the end, Sonia Faleiro serves up a brilliant and insightful book that goes far beyond reportage.

Against all odds we find ourselves rooting for this brash young girl, whose tough, blase and worldly-wise exterior is unable to hide the vulnerability that lies just beneath. Definitely worth a read!!! Dec 22, Sankarshan rated it it was ok. It is a well researched book. The aspect that jarred me was the constant usage of the phonetic. Perhaps it is an ethnographic trick. But for me that stuttered the pace of what could be a wonderfully written book. Till now I'd held up Maximum City as the index of writing a reasonably fast paced and written well book.

In this her writing style actually fades into the background without having it leap out at the reader across the pages and impressing with imagery or, skill with words. Combining rese It is a well researched book. Combining research, ethnography and a reporter's eye takes some ambition. This is an ambitious book. But it falls short of wrapping all of that into a narrative. Jan 26, Hannah rated it it was amazing. My review in Shelf Awareness: "Beautiful Thing is a portrait that begins in profile: "Leela's face was a perfect heart," Sonia Faleiro writes. On certain evenings at the dance bar, when she needed to increase the padding of hundred rupee notes in her bra, Leela would engage only in silhouette.

The article, deemed "un-newsworthy," went unpublished--but Faleiro, captivated by Leela's irrepressible vitality, knew this proud, independent girl had a story that must be told. Beautiful Thing is Leela's story, but through her, Faleiro unveils a larger narrative of Bombay's bar dancers and sex workers, one colored by love and violence, glamour and squalor, sex and corruption--and one that reveals the dark heart of Bombay itself. The city glittering with promises but "toxic, no less than an open wound" and its dance bars attract girls like Leela, who are lured into working "on the line" because of the immediate financial independence it promises.

Beautiful Thing, By Sonia Faleiro | The Independent

Faleiro discovered that essentially all of these young women were fleeing horrifying home lives rife with every kind of abuse; she recounts that "every one of the bar dancers in Leela's building had either been raped by a blood relative or sold by one. Faleiro follows Leela through a year of her life--into dance bars, into brothels, into tiny flats cramped with beautiful girls and plastic bags stuffed with gifts from their customers.

She meets a vibrant, heartbreaking array of dancers, prostitutes and hijras physiologically male sex workers who dress and act as women , as well as the pimps, madams, gangsters and corrupt police who govern their lives. Customers and lovers come and go; friendships are intense, rivalries brutal. Never judgmental or condescending, Faleiro delivers Leela's story with a reporter's distance and a novelist's immediacy.

She animates journalistic observations with vivid descriptions, and her dialogue sings with slang and dialect. Leela moves through the pages as a remarkable, tragic and inspiring figure--victim, heroine, survivor. Even more remarkable is the friendship between Leela and the writer which offers Faleiro an opportunity to go where few writers would be able to and at considerable risk to her own health and personal safety.

The local papers were full of the news of the closure of the dance bars and I asked a local colleague what it was all about. He blushed and, being a respectable Kerala Christian, explained to me that they were bars where men go to have a few drinks and watch ladies dancing but that they were not strip joints or pole-dancing places in so much as he had any idea what those were like either.

The bars had been accused of encouraging immorality and a local politician had sent in the police to shut them down. They say you should never judge a book by its cover but when that cover carries endorsements by William Dalrymple, Kiran Desai and Gregory David Roberts, Indiaphiles will realise that this is something very special and readers should sit up and take notice.

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Faced with such a life, she ran away to the city. By contrast the parents of her even more beautiful friend and fellow dancer Priya valued her virginity highly — so much so that they sold it to the highest bidder for a considerable sum of money, thus ruining any chance of a good marriage but pocketing a lot of money and saving themselves the trouble of a dowry. Is it any wonder that dressing in pretty clothes and performing Bollywood dance routines for a bunch of men paying over the odds for drinks must have seemed like a sanctuary?

Dancing girls are dancing girls — regardless of the time in history and the story is thus simultaneously very modern and somewhat timeless. The money brings the girls little benefit though because they can only live in certain areas of the city where the neighbours will accept their career choices and they spend like crazy.

Priya has a legal husband, a man she loves who bleeds her dry and cheats on her with other dance bar girls, impressed by how far one girl will go to self-mutilate as testimony to her love. Beautiful Thing is not entirely and unrelentingly miserable. There are moments — few and far between — when the story lifts your spirits. He and his family seem to represent the only family in the book who are not utterly dysfunctional. The bar dancers and the less fortunate hijras take great comfort from this tiny evidence that family relationships can work and love can conquer even the most extreme of life choices.

The book is an eye-opener of the most fascinating type — a rare and privileged opportunity to take a tour of not just the demi-monde of Mumbai but, after the bars close down and times get hard, the real hard graft of the unsafe streets and brothels of the city. To throw yourself into the underworld, court the friendship of fascinating but dangerous people, follow them wherever they go without apparent concern for your safety, and to do all that as a young woman from out of town, is nothing short of remarkable.

Even more so, to do it by choice. Jul 17, Margaret Sankey rated it liked it. Although Faleiro writes in Mumbai slang, this could be a trailer park in the US or Turks in Germany--anyplace where there are disposable people and a corrupt establishment that benefits from it.

It is tragic that Faleiro's very existence as an educated woman from a wealthier part of town is spotlight on how temporary and tiny bar girls' aspirations are--to use the five or so years they are young to accumulate cheap pretty things and live in an apartment while sending enough home to avoid beatings and attract the attention of petty criminals, most of whom are married and many of whom are HIV positive. Faleiro happened to be observing during an unusual period of puritanical crackdown driven by a crusading politician, and saw the rapid shifts in the informal economy as bar were closed and brothels went underground, creating, if imaginable, a worse situation.

In the end, as Leela takes off for a bar contract in Dubai, she is dazzled and optimistic, even if we absolutely can't be. Review from wonderful customer Denise! The conversations with the characters flow naturally in a mix of English, Hindi, and slang that is oddly easy to understand sometimes.

Things are told as they are, nothing more or less. The life of dance bar girls is told through the story of Leela a bar dancer , her family, her past, her friends Review from wonderful customer Denise! The life of dance bar girls is told through the story of Leela a bar dancer , her family, her past, her friends from the same profession, her customers, dance bar owners, the underworld, the policemen, the pimps, the health hazards. Life changes for Leela and the others in the most unexpected way.

You grow to care for Leela. And women like Leela end up resorting to alcohol and false promises of happiness and normal life Bought this years ago on a rec from Parul Sehgal. I was amazed by: -Leela as a character, as a human being. Masti Muskaan, Priya, Apsara!

I cannot even fathom. I tried some googling occasionally and often came up empty. The reader keeps up with her, she is not going to slow down for you. And it speaks to the power of her storytelling that even with my presumably large gaps in comprehension I was so moved by this book. Still read his London review of books article on ghosts tho. I am much happier with my recent decision to part ways with People Who Eat Darkness after reading this book. Apr 30, Deana rated it liked it. Could have happily spent the rest of my life not know that a bar owner in this book has constipation issues and picks "it" out then carries on with his day with out washing his hands.

But that says more about me and not the subject matter as the real disgust, shock and repulsion should be towards the fate of women in this society. Jan 25, Laurakmec rated it it was ok. This book was disappointing to me. While the concept was extremely interesting to me, the book itself left me wanting a LOT more. I expected a lot more first-hand information from the actual "dancers" - instead it basically felt like a reporter writing about the way things are in big city India, but nothing more, nothing personal.

I would not recommend this book. Feb 21, Satyajit rated it liked it. A remarkable book with truth May 05, Ben rated it really liked it. Faleiro follows the life and struggles of her protagonist Leela who arrives in the big city as a teenager from her native village in Meerut and works as a dancer in the bar-restaurant called Night Lovers on Mira Road, owned by her lover Purshottam Shetty, a married man with two children.

Bootiful Leela considers herself to be a kalass above the other prostitutes working the streets of Bombay. As for her boss Shetty, his chokris are high maintenance. But more fair than kustomers. And they have to be kept happy.

So any time one of them does nautanki, I throw notes at her. No worries then. Why no worries then? Because money is music. Yes or no? A shower of gold. He pays hafta, runs favours, writes off tabs, even offers women if the women consent, which they always do because it is expected of them. Gangsters have money.

They have tashan, style. Fuck me, they say, straight off. She calls her mother fat and very, very simple. The author explores the red light district of Kamatipura, a warren of brothels for men, women and hijras. At the Gazala brothel she attends a birthday party with Leela and Priya, in honour of Gazala, the madam of the hijra brothel. Faleiro describes this party with consummate skill and empathy.

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Of course, even my oldest friends have never displayed the transfixing curiosity hijras are known for. When they are comfortable with a woman, they sit real close and stroke her hair. They peek into her blouse to inspect the foreignness inside. In any other circumstance I would have left. That night, the pinching and prodding by Maya hijra and her friends made me feel on the in. In time, I came also to recognize this communal trait as a compliment. Their curiosity about the female form is an example of this naked urge and expressed most unabashedly with people they like, and wish to be like.

Each year pilgrims celebrate his Urs, or death anniversary, for ten days. Leela and the author go on this pilgrimage. Pushing aside the goats tethered there, they arched their backs against the walls of the communal toilets. All around the shrine, up and down the hill, the chill breeze gossiped of copulation. However, bar dancing was permitted in high-end luxury hotels.

After a period of wandering the slums in search of work, Leela decides to travel to Dubai to peddle her charms, such as they are.

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She has accumulated a huge material researching this book, material that she can transform into fiction in the future. A fictionalised story of bar dancers would allow for the creation of deep conflicts among the characters and for enduring human interest. Ben Antao is a veteran journalist and novelist who lives in Toronto. He has published five novels and several short fiction. His email: ben. Jul 29, Rural Soul rated it it was amazing Shelves: biographies-memoirs. A deep look into lives of the women, whose charms we wish to see in our own women. Still hating them for their profession.

Similarly as Manto had said, "A man desires charms of a prostitute and devotion of a bitch in his woman". Jan 05, Cain S. We are all subject to violence, who live, as someone somewhere is, always-already; what is a possibility once, after all, is a necessity for ever. The more idiomatic and transparent the narrative of a witness to violence greater the risk of the contamination of deeds by intentions, things by thought not mediated by the singularity of experiential being; in the self-subsistent sufferings of others there is seldom room for the others who are spoken of: they await their subjectivation by external description.

There are only insular narratives because only one may speak before any meaning is negotiated; the lone subject of experience, already a partisan to her reactive, first-hand knowledge is, paradoxically, the only one who can tell what it is that is her conditional being. The shaggy book, no mean feat for a mere two hundred and eighteen pager, is garrulous with the vacillations, evasions and gossip of the main sufferer Leela and her comrades in the bijness of copulation without exploring any of the larger social tendencies which ground the institution of prostitution as it has come to be repudiated by forces larger than the ambitious politician she passes verdict on- an opportunistic chief minister of Maharashtra, who took umbrage at the possibility of moral corruption of society was not responsible for the Indian notions of purity which predated him and allowed a culture of lundchoos [cocksucking] whores and dirty hijras [eunuchs] punished for their mere existence.

She is carried away in embodying the petulant whore and her bitter sweet resentment against her family, cops, men, society and her eunuch friend by dissecting their dialect". I forgot that I was reading a work of non-fiction. The author has so skilfully crafted the story and the characters that you feel you know Leela intimately from the very first page. Later characters like Priya and the cleverly constructed Apsara are also brilliantly drawn. Although the book covers a fairly short time span and is relatively short in length, this adds to the pace of the narrative, which was gripping throughout.

Beautiful Thing is a page turner. Leela is a character that stays with you long after the final page. There are many questions that remain unanswered, many fears for Leela that remain unassuaged. Faleiro is subtle in her revelation of the prejudices that exist within the world of the dancers themselves.

While it would be easy to focus on the obvious injustices the dancers face in the outside world, Faleiro succeeds in highlighting the bigotries that consume Leela and her cohorts, revealing a moral hierarchy within an immoral world. My one criticism about the book would be the use of long strings of Hindi, which had the tendency to disrupt the flow of the narrative rather than add to it. But this is minor. Faleiro has created an endearingly solid work that was five years in the making and is as beautiful as its title implies.

Beautiful Thing is a fascinating read, opening a window into a world I suspect most of us never knew about, much less imagined. The women of Bombay's dance bars sell themselves in every way imaginable - through dancing, through sex, through their involvement in the criminal underground.

These women proudly wear the hallmark of survivors. Whether or not you find it in yourself to admire these women, once you've read this book you will at least understand what extreme poverty, gender discriminati Beautiful Thing is a fascinating read, opening a window into a world I suspect most of us never knew about, much less imagined.

Whether or not you find it in yourself to admire these women, once you've read this book you will at least understand what extreme poverty, gender discrimination, and pure desperation will drive people to do. I thought often throughout this book of many Americans who aren't willing to clean their own homes and can hire this out because of their privilege. This is a great book for taking you outside of your cushy world and into doing what is necessary. Faleiro writes honestly and without judgement of these women and their stories. Much of this book is brutal and shocking and Faleiro doesn't shelter her reader from this.

She also doesn't pretend that any of these lives are dignified, even though through her empathy she draws the reader in. There are no cliched happy endings here. I liked the first part of the book very much, but found myself becoming a bit disengaged during the second half as the focus turned from the lives of these women to political concerns.

Despite this, Beautiful Thing is a rich and well-written glimpse into a world I'm very glad I don't have to live in. Oct 10, Kay rated it really liked it Shelves: great-stuff. However, this true story of the life of a bar-dancer illuminated many things for me about life in India as a Muslim woman, about the immovability of old social structures, the nature of old Islam and [of course], public health. I really feel some insight into the quandaries of life for women under the old and poverty-stricken Muslim regimes all through time and around the world.

You might pause to think about the nightlife in Dubai as well. Have a look at the blurb on Beautiful Thing from an Australian bookseller.


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I won Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro from a firstreads contest. I it is an account by the author of the life lived by bar dancers and sex workers in Bombay and its surrounds. The focus, is Leela, who ran away from home after her father prostituted her. She eventually finds success as a bar dancer at Night Lovers in Bombay. She makes money dancing, she spends it, and she lives a relatively normal life despite a traumatic beginning. Leela is our glamorous heroine, seeking to embody the actresses I won Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro from a firstreads contest.

Leela is our glamorous heroine, seeking to embody the actresses in Bollywood films she admires. Faleiro's focus is Leela, but she also covers a lot of ground in Bombay's sex work, hjiras transsexuals , prostitution, the "silent bars" where the bar dancers refuse to believe they might end up giving hand-jobs to customers after their youth and beauty have faded.