I was fully drunk and half scared in a Kolkata bar named "Paris" with three middle-aged British expatriates, a middle-aged Bond villain with a bald head and affable disposition, an older gent who'd been to this hellish place several times before and a 45-year-old lesbian with a healthy tan and a yellow t-shirt to match her shock of blonde hair. We apparently made an uninteresting sight in the corner of the bar, where our waiter paid us only a limited amount of attention.
Where we were was something like an Indian strip club, minus the nude flesh. There was a slightly elevated stage to the side of the bar with an all-male house band accompanied by a group of scantily clad Indian girls. The girls were dancing for a rowdy clientele of Indian men in bright button up shirts and high-waisted trousers. It was Saturday night; a night for making poor decisions and planning to sleep late and neglect shaving on Sunday.
I use the term "strip club" loosely, for these young girls were only stripped in the sense that their discomfort was apparent, plainly visible in their hollow smiles and empty gestures. They wore spaghetti-string tops that were too tight, matched with equally form-fitting jeans that accentuated their child-bearing curves. A roomful of the mustaches that are ubiquitous in any crowd of Indian businessmen curled upward in hearty approval.
The three-piece band played synthesizers and an impoverished electronic drum set. The music was too loud and the lights too low. Still, the girls onstage soldiered on with a spirit that was probably moving, and definitely admirable. Though as I sipped my beer and felt that familiar comfort wash over me, I felt little save bewilderment.
The alpha moustache belonged to the ringleader of the twisted display of flesh, denim, and synthesizer onstage; a portly fellow with a maroon turtleneck and brown blazer with oversized lapels. As the band played on and the girls continued to writhe uncomfortably, the ringleader would sing loudly into the microphone and point with gusto to various tables scattered throughout the room. As he singled out certain groups, the men seated would produce rupee notes, deposit them in the hands of the nearest waiter, and the waiter would then rush onstage to transfer the funds to the ringleader. It was, and is to me still, unclear precisely what the ringleader's role was in the context of the girls onstage, the electronic band, or the bar itself, but whatever his title he was important. Be it pimp, pusher, or proprietor, here was a man who understood how to get ahead in this crazy game. A man who understood the benefits of surrounding yourself with scantily clad women in an ocean of sexual frustration. A man who could take a stand with vigor, and stand out.
Whatever and whoever he was, I wanted to meet him. More than that, I wanted to be this mysterious presence on the microphone; this parasitic savior in a sea of misplaced desire and cash. The thought was unsettling and unfiltered by conscience.
"What a scene," mumbled the Bond villain.
I nodded in agreement.
"Not bad, eh chum? I told you it was wild!" said the elder gentleman seated to my left.
That it wasn't "bad" couldn't be denied; it was something more -- something else. I knew little in that moment, save for the fact that it would not be my last visit.