Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars-Sonia Faleiro
Non fiction/Investigative Journalism
"Leela introduced Sonia to the underworld of Bombay’s dance bars: a world of glamorous women; of fierce love; sex and violence; of customers and gangsters; of police; prostitutes and pimps.
When an ambitious politician cashed in on a tide of false morality and had Bombay’s dance bars wiped out; Leela’s proud independence faced its greatest test. In a city where almost everyone is certain that someone; somewhere; is worse off than them; she fights to survive; and to win."
Faleiro immediately plunges you into this secret world. She doesn't really explain anything until a few chapters in, you're in Leela's world, and even though I know very little about Bombay dance bars (and hadn't understood the distinction from a strip club), Leela is very well defined. This is not a long book but it certainly packs a lot in.
Let's be honest, I was annoyed by everyone and the society. The extent that sex and money was the most important thing to everyone made me so angry and it made me angrier that men always got it. It's the reality, unfortunately. It's a society where the women are kept subjugated, vapid and into self-centred dolls. I found it so galling that mothers sell their daughters into the life that they acknowledged was horrible to them and the matter of fact treatment of rape as a given of life. It was a society where becoming a madam and continuing the whole cycle of mistreatment was considered a good thing. There was also the whole inevitability of being washed up and unhappiness especially since there was so much bittersweet longing for becoming a housewife or Bollywood endings. A lot of it stems from poverty, capitalism, and post-colonialism but good god, I got so angry. And considering the lack of self-pity, I certainly made up for it with my pity.
I failed Leela's main tenant:
"When you look at my life, don't look at it beside yours. Look at it beside the life of my mother and her mother and my sisters-in-law who have to take permission to walk down the road. If my mother talks to a man who isn't her son, brother or cousin, she will hear the sound of my father's hand across her face, feel fists against her breasts. But you've seen me with men? If I don't want to talk I say, 'Get lost, Oye!' And they do."
And certainly, the fact that this false sense of emancipation was freer and better than the horrible picture of marriage as the woman bound to a man for everything but happiness/love...well, that made me even angrier.
Faleiro was doing something right. By following one bar dancer and occasionally getting in detail about others, it made it all more viscerally real than a non fiction book of statistics and disjointed anecdotes. All throughout, Faleiro gives you a sense of conversation, personality, and vocabulary (sometimes I felt as if I could have used a glossary). Faliero inserts enough of herself for the reader to take her role of a sensitive, educated outsider which somehow made Leela and her world a lot less dismissible.
The contradictions of the life chronicled really makes me, as a Western woman, acutely aware of my privilege as a "good" girl in a society where we've made more strides for the woman as a person.