Gym instructor, college student, multinational employee or BPO staffer...they are tall, dark and available. Finances, films or fun lure many men to a trade whose clientele is slowly changing from rich, bored women to the middle-class housewives.
Time 12.30 pm
Venue: Gateway of India, Mumbai
Rajesh stands with a rolled newspaper in the right back pocket of his jeans…soliciting customers. The newspaper on the right back pocket is an indication that he is soliciting women, not men…on the left it would have signified otherwise.
Time: 11.35 pm
Venue: A nightclub in south Kolkata
An able-bodied muscled hunk is dancing. The dance is interrupted by the entry of a designer saree-clad woman in her mid-forties who heads to corner, a glass of white wine in hand. After an exchange of glances the duo leaves the pub for an unknown destination.
Throw the word 'gigolo' at a party and there's a collective frown, but some ladies may admit to "one of my friends" having tried him out. Undergrad, gym instructor, multinational employee or call-centre worker by day, gigolo by night. Male prostitution is not a new phenomenon.
Also read: 'It is enough for pocket money'
What is new though, is the openness with which it is being talked about, a result of changing social acceptance levels. Which also explains the gigolo's changing clientele — from bored rich women to middle-class housewife or the average working woman — perhaps signalling the rise of the Indian "alpha woman".
Whys and wherefores
The Ahmedabad Crime Branch last week busted a male prostitution racket with the arrest of one Rajvinder Kaur alias Sonudidi from Mithakhali. Most of the men held admitted to turning gigolos to fund their film dreams. Manoj Shashidhar, DCP Crime Branch says, "They have to earn more to live in Mumbai."
Several starry-eyed youths with dreams of making it big either on reel or the runway, turn to prostitution on the side, like their female counterparts, to maintain that well-gelled look so crucial to success in the trade. However, a majority are in it to make an extra buck. Says Ankur Modi, a multinational employee in New Delhi, "I have accompanied several couples for vacations. They pay for my stay, travel and services. I get to see new places and they get their share of fun. I think that's fair business."
The Chennai gigolo is "essentially middle class". "I am from Chennai and 24 years old. I am a gigolo and have been so since my 16th birthday. I deal with only old (regular) clients. And I am not contracted with AIDS or sexual (sic) diseases," says one who identifies himself as Sharon on Rediff.
Gays also double up as gigolos for a living. Says Sunil Menon, a gay activist who works with male prostitutes in Chennai: "They do not enjoy being with a woman, but do it for money."
People Like Us (Plus), an organisation working with male prostitutes in Kolkata says gigolos in the city include unemployed youths, college students and even call centre employees.
Getting in touch
Social networking websites have spelt booming business for the hustlers. Most people from this 'industry' claim that websites like Orkut and Facebook have made it very easy for them. "Earlier we would hangout in pubs or other party hotspots. Now with the help of these sites we have a wider clientele and are able to maintain flexible timings," says Modi.
Bangalore police arrested two male escorts last Monday following an advertisement in a national daily. The escort agency was owned by one Paresh based in Mumbai. The men walked into a trap set up by the Central Crime Branch (women and narcotics division) and a scribe from a regional tabloid.
Paresh admitted to supplying boys to parties, picnics, massage parlours and other entertainment in the tech hub. "Male escort services are very discreet. Hence it is difficult to track them," says KN Jeetendranath, assistant commissioner of police, (women and narcotics division), Bangalore.
The Ahmedabad raid also was prompted by an ad, this time in a newspaper, for a 'friendship club'. "A man contacted the police after he read an item in Divya Bhaskar on Friday about a Friendship Club near Income Tax office in Agrawal Complex," says AK Jadeja, DCP zone-1.
Jadeja adds the man contacted the number in the ad and was told he would have to 'satisfy' the wives of men who mostly remain away from their homes.
Gay socialites in the party circuits also spread the word around.
Call-boys have been known to cater to rich ladies, but that profile is changing. "Women have the money and consider spending a night with a gigolo to be adventurous. Also the busy lives of their husbands leave them sex-starved," says Delhi's Anuj Malhan who claims to have a new client every day. "Often it is a boy toy they want," says a gigolo.
Middle-class women having fun with gigolos in 'traditional' Chennai are also not unheard of. A star hotel in Chennai ran into trouble a few years ago when one of its 'ladies nights' featuring male strippers and gigolos ceased to be a secret.
But a large number of gigolos also cater to men. Kolkata-based Adarsh, an unemployed graduate, says he was introduced to the trade by a gay gigolo.
"My friends who know about my activities think that my job is cool. But there are risks. And it's not just the fear of sexually transmitted diseases. Clients pay for a gigolo's body and stamina. The better we are in the two departments, the higher we charge. But to maintain both, we often need to pump in steroids which takes a toll on our health," Modi says.
But doctors say people who use steroids for bodybuilding can suffer from liver cancer and hormonal disorders.
It's all about money
Few wish to divulge the details of what they charge, but say that they wouldn't be doing this "risky stuff" if the money involved wasn't good. Rates are said to begin from Rs1000 for a couple of hours and go up to anything like Rs50,000. In case of a night cap, a hustler charges "compensation" for losing the night's other business.
(Some names changed on request)
With inputs from Arun Ram (Chennai), Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri (Kolkata), Puneet Nicholas Yadav (New Delhi), Bhargavi Kerur (Bangalore), Sarfaraz Sheikh (Ahmedabad)