May 10, 2010 § 17 Comments

If you’re Indian or Pakistani, male, been living in Dubai for a while, drink alcohol, love Bollywood remixes, like desi women and have a bit of money to splash around then you must know Simran.

If you don’t know who she is then the following will be an academic lesson in the sport that has kept many a married man on the couch at night and countless single, young men struggling to make minimum payments on their maxed out credit cards.

On the other hand if by a remote chance you do fall into this very specific category you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Welcome to the seedy underbelly of Dubai’s night life : the Indian dance bar.

I remember the first time I stepped into Mehfil (the pioneers of the modern Dubai dance bar) and being knocked off my feet. I had seen mujrahs in movies before (never having the fortune to attend one in person) and was, thus, unsure when some of my slightly more experienced friends convinced me to give this vice a shot. So with heady anticipation and a slightly queasy feeling in my stomach I bravely stepped through the door.

As my eyes tried to focus in the dim light the first thing that hit me was the overpowering smell of cigarette smoke and man-sweat. Next was the pungent odor of stale spilled whiskey as it emanated from the worn out carpets. Finally intertwined with that was the spicy smell of Tandoori Chicken and Butter Nans as they wafted through the kitchen service door every time a new order was delivered.

My eyes then focused on the patrons. All men. And they came in all sizes, sitting on row after row of wooden tables and cushy chairs. Each table had various assortments of alcohol on it. This was accompanied by overflowing ashtrays (you know, the ones with Marlboro emblazoned across the side) home to a million cigarettes smoked in that one night.

Some were chatting and nudging each other while others were hi-fiving their pals in an apparent drunken stupor. But what really caught my attention was that a very large majority were simply sitting quietly, nursing their drinks and staring at one thing in particular.

The stage.

And then I realized why the habit of the dance bar is one of the most addictive of all.

For sitting on stage were a bevy of provocatively dressed desi girls the likes of which I had never before seen. I mean these were really nice looking girls. Sure they were dressed a bit trashy but who doesn’t these days, right? If I’d seen any one of these girls at a club some where I’d be hard pressed not approach them with a cheesy pick up line.

But here they were. Sitting onstage waiting for their name to be called out so that they could get up and gyrate to the best of their abilities while the entranced male audience sat sporting a collective gape. I was no exception.

My mouth hung open like a surprised gold fish, gulping only occasionally to draw in a breath of air. My seasoned friends gave each other a knowing grin and slapped me on the back.

“What do you think?” they asked knowing fully well my bug-eyed expression was answer enough.

“Dude” I said as I took in the plethora of dancing girls bathed in the amateurish smoke and light show. This was accompanied by the coolest desi remixes I had ever heard in my entire life.

We made our way to the back of the bar onto comfy sofas nailed to the wall. A young waiter in a bow-tie followed us to take our drink orders.

“Corona” I screamed and as he scampered off to bring our drinks I settled back and started to take in the sights and sounds.

Now the Dance Bar has a social and economic hierarchy, which may not be apparent the first time you visit but is painfully obvious as you become a regular visitor.

Plus my friends were more than happy to educate me. One of my friends (I’ll call him Obama) began to explain things to me.

“You know why we’re sitting in the back?” he asked.

“Because there are sofas here and they’re more comfortable?” I replied innocently

“No chutia” he smirked “we’re sitting in the back because we don’t throw cards.”

“What the fuck do you mean cards? What the fuck is cards?”

He directed my gaze to a table a mere 3 feet from the stage at which sat four rather overweight men. Stacked in front of them was a pile of blank white cards held together by a rubber band.

One of the dancing girls jiggled her way up to the edge of the stage and flashed a brilliant smile at the four dudes. This smile was accompanied by even more enthusiastic pelvic thrusting and boob jiggling.

As if on cue one of the guys peeled off the rubber band from a pile of blank cards and flung them all high up in the air. As they came raining down on the girl they all laughed loudly and hi-fived each other with gusto. A man with a broom rushed on stage to clear away the cards as they lay scattered lest one of the girls slipped and fell on her ass.

“Oh” I said as my feeble brain came to grips with what it had just seen “They’re really throwing money, aren’t they? And they have to throw cards because the Municipality doesn’t allow the throwing of actual money!”

“Shabaash Chotoo” said Obama. That means “well done, kid” in Urdu. I smiled proudly even though I was a year older than him.

“Now what a girl will do” continued my mentor “is target a guy who she thinks likes her. She’ll then act all flirty and make eye contact with him passing him the occasional smile. She’ll even get one of the waiters to deliver her number to him.

“She will then start a phone-only relationship with him confiding that she has feelings for him. She’ll have him believe that of all the guys that come to the bar he was the one who really stood out in her eyes.

“After a few days of this phone-only chatting the man will fall madly in love with her. He now believes that only by throwing cards at this girl will he really be able to show how much he loves her.

“So he returns week after week just to sit at the front tables and make eye-contact with his sweetheart all the while flinging thousands and thousands worth of Dirhams in cards.

“And that, my young friends, is how the whole Dance Bar business runs!” Obama concluded triumphantly.

“You’re kidding me, right?” I laughed not believing a single word of what he had just said.

“You expect me to believe that a guy will keep coming to the bar and throw money in the thousands on a girl convinced she also loves him? So does he get anything in return?” I asked, hinting at the obvious.

“Nope!” exclaimed Obama now smiling even more widely. “He doesn’t get shit because she’s not allowed to leave the house she stays in.”

“Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?” I said “He doesn’t get ANYTHING from her except for stupid phone conversations and yet he spends thousands on her? OK so maybe one dumb fuck fell for this scam. This can’t be the standard modus operandi. It’s too transparent!”

“Nope” said Obama again, now enjoying the look on my face even more. “Almost every single guy in this bar has a ‘girlfriend’ whom he comes to see and throw cards at on a regular basis.”

“Dude, you’re full of shit” I said.

Not wanting to hear any more of these lies I turned and focused my attention at the sexy antics onstage. As girl after girl got up and danced I noticed this rather pretty girl sitting by her self onstage.

She had been staring at me for a while now. Every time my gaze shifted to her I noticed her staring back. The fifth time I held my gaze a little longer and was rewarded with a sweet smile. The polite guy that I was, I smiled back, and looked away.

A minute later I couldn’t help but wonder if she was still staring at me. As I casually looked over in her direction I was greeted with the now all too familiar smile and pretty face.

“I like your hair” she mouthed while touching her hair and then pointing at me.

I used to have really long (silky!) black hair as a young man and was proud of the attention my tresses got.

I smiled modestly. Not wanting to be rude I touched my hair and pointed at her.

“I like your hair, too” I mouthed.

She giggled and clapped her hands. Unable to suppress a smile I turned my head away. A minute later one of the managers came over to our table and handed me a folded piece of paper.

My heart was pounding as I opened the folded note.

Simran 050 123 4567” the note said.

“Dude” I said incredulously, “That’s her number, man”

Obama clapped me on the back excitedly.

“I think she likes you, dude” he said.

“You honestly think so? Do you think I should give her a call?”

Obama looked at me like a wise father would at his son. Knowing fully well I was to embark on a journey that had nothing but over-drawn bank accounts and maxed out credit cards written on it, he simply nodded. For he knew this lesson in life had to be experienced and could simply not be told.

That night was 15 years ago.

How does this story end, you ask? Well let me give you a hint. I still have Simran’s number on my phone.


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