By Amit Sarswat for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Editor’s note: For decades, sex workers in India have been pushed to the margins, forced to deal with shame and stigma from society. ‘Unheard Stories’ is a series of six stories by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with 101 Reporters that aims to bring these narratives to the fore, to build a more inclusive and accepting society.
Living in Mumbai, a dire financial situation three years ago forced Akash (name changed) to look for ways to make money. A friend of his, a seasoned gigolo (male sex worker), talked this 28-year-old into joining his line of ‘work’ and live a ‘life of luxury’.
“I’m paid big money for providing (and receiving) carnal pleasure. Money was what made me say ‘Yes’ to my friend’s invitation to join the business,” he tells this reporter.
Akash gets anywhere between ₹6,000 and ₹25,000 for one night, depending on who he spends the night with. The average taking per night is more than ₹10,000. In the three years, he has been in the business, he claims he has built a respectable list of clients, besides gaining ‘experience’.
“I feel they are either in a one-sided marriage or have no sense of belonging. They want to boost their self-worth and satiate their sexual needs,” he says about the women who call him. “I have shared a bed with housewives, corporate honchos, air-hostesses and college students. They all have different stories but the same desire: the flawless boyfriend experience,” he adds.
He tells this reporter of one of his regular clients, a woman from a wealthy family. Married for nine years, she lives in a posh locality in Mumbai, owns a fleet of luxury cars, and many bungalows and huge plots in Maharashtra. Every time she meets Akash, he says she behaves with him like he’s “her husband”.
“She shows me the stuff she has purchased recently and keeps on talking as if I am the father of her children!” he says with a bemused smile.
Then, there’s the college-going woman he had an encounter with around Christmas last year. She hired his services for ₹7,000. She also paid for the dinner. As the night unfolded, she revealed that her long-time boyfriend had dumped her. “Lying on the bed, she kept talking about the boyfriend until she fell asleep on my chest. That was the first and last time I met her. Lovely girl,” he says, snapping back from the memory.
With money not being a constraint for these women, he says, he meets up with them at plush hotels. At times, even at their very homes. But some of them live in places far from Mumbai, like in Dahanu and Vasai-Virar, so the encounters take place at shady lounges or hotels. He’s careful to avoid the police glare. So far, he claims, he has never had any trouble with the men in uniform.
He is also careful about keeping his profession a secret amongst his social circle, worried about the censure and isolation that a revelation might bring. He recalls how a distant friend, who was in a similar profession, had to resort to intense medication to treat depression as his family has disowned him upon learning about his job. Akash says he gets to hear such stories often, but it’s an occupational hazard they have to live with.
Akash tells Youth Ki Awaaz independent gigolos like him are not many. The majority of ‘G-Men’ are tied to the ‘network’, which mostly operates through so-called ‘massage parlours’ and ‘friendship clubs’. Men aspiring to ‘Gigolohood’ get a foothold into these parlours and clubs, where they get ‘trained’ for a couple of weeks before being launched.
The problem, says Akash, is these clubs and massage parlours charge hefty commissions. The higher the number of agents behind a gigolo, the less the takings are for him personally. “It’s not an easy ride,” says Akash. “Many gigolos who are part of a network drift when they find the money is hardly worth the work.”
And work, he says is not easy to come by. While he agrees that women have it tough in our patriarchal society, he feels that in this particular profession, they fare better than men. In comparing a female escort to a male one, he says that a woman with “age and looks on her side”, is far more likely to end up with a high-paying client. And she can easily make a lakh in one go. However, a man will have to take up five or six assignments to make that much. And even then he will have to wait for a month or two, while women get work almost every night.
In spite of the “fear and anxiety” of contracting an STD in his line of work, Akash is proud that this job enables him to take good care of his folks back home. His father is a retired government employee and mother a homemaker. He has two sisters and is grateful that he’s able to save big bucks for their grand wedding. His strong financial status not only means he has the satisfaction of being a support to his ageing parents but also that he enjoys the company of friends who rub shoulders with “powerful people”.
Akash has no intention whatsoever to quit. The ‘9 to 5’ job never attracted him anyway, he says. Being a gigolo, he is his own boss. He works according to his own will and there is no pressure or deadline. With the pay being handsome, this is a life he is comfortable with.
But things would be still better if this trade was legalised, he feels. His rationale? It will give a tight slap to this outdated society.
In his conversation with this reporter, Akash came across as someone who appreciates empowered women. He shared how one client from the corporate world gave him business tips that gave him mind-boggling results. He lauds the sexually liberated women he has met with and wishes that more men stop viewing women as sex objects. He also disapproves of Khap panchayats and their regressive diktats that seek to impose restrictions on women.
A master of his own destiny, Akash says this change, that women are acknowledging and unapologetically satisfying their needs in a male-dominated society, is huge. And something he approves of wholeheartedly.
About the author: Amit Sarswat is a Mumbai-based independent reporter and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.