Their resilience. Their quest for life. Their resolve. Their fighting spirits. Their yearning to get integrated in to the mainstream. I have observed these bar dancers and felt that they are very intuitive, too- Devasis
Devasis talks about his book Without Prejudice: Epic Tale of a Mumbai Bar Dancer exclusively with Bookaholicanonymous.
Devasis is a communicator, corporate reputation advisor and brand strategist. He did his graduation in commerce from Calcutta University. Thereafter, he did his post-graduate diploma in PR. Initially, he chose his career in advertising, later on he took up Public Relations as his calling. He began writing free-lance non-fiction features just after his graduation since early 1980s, during his spare time and continued writing them in various Indian newspapers and magazines for nearly two decades. Thereafter, because of varied domestic and overseas senior executive roles and assignments, his articles became few and far between. Devasis currently lives in Mumbai with his family. Without Prejudice is his maiden novel.
How and when did you think of writing on the topic of a bar dancer? Since when have you been researching?
The idea of writing something on the issues related to Mumbai dance bars was there with me since 2004. I did not think of a book, initially. I thought of writing an article, may be in one of the mainline English dailies. I used to write a lot of articles in non-fiction format, at that point of time, centering around urban history and on issues related to my professional expertise, that is, Public Relations. However, more I researched on the issues related to dance bars more I became intrigued about the subject. So, to that extent I was on the project for 11 years. However, specifically, since 2007 I became very serious about writing a book. The manuscript was ready by the end of 2015. So, it took me 8 years of serious research, including field research and writing, to complete Without Prejudice.
What intrigues you about bar dancers?
Their resilience. Their quest for life. Their resolve. Their fighting spirits. Their yearning to get integrated in to the mainstream. I have observed these dancers and felt that they are very intuitive, too. Their world is shrouded by a blanket of silence. Very difficult to penetrate. But, once you know them, they are as gracious and intelligent and full of empathy as any other human being. They have to trust you. Because of taboo attached to their social status, either they tend to avoid mainstream or gets covertly aggressive/defensive in social situations.
Is it a true account that you turned to fiction?
To an extent the element of truth is there in every story. Art imitates life. To be candid with you, the story of Without Prejudice is very close to life. Very. You get the drift? Right?
Tell us a little about the journey of 'Munia' to 'Pallavi Singh'? How are girls chosen to become bar dancers? Or how was 'Munia' chosen to become a bar dancer?
For that one has to read Without Prejudice. It is a beautiful story. It is a journey that is full of courage, sensitivity, sacrifice laced with a lot of pain.
What kind of girls are bar dancers? Are they captive/victims, independent, assertive, full of life, sad, or depressed?
Well... the problem is that whatever we know about these girls are fed to us by the administration. Look at the media reports they only carry versions released by the police. As such, our thinking gets coloured. Where is the reportage from the dancers’ point of view?
These girls are not held in captivity. Without Prejudice has very illuminative descriptions and narrations on this issue.
As far as timeline goes....what is the expanse that your novel covers?
The story of Without Prejudice can be looked at from two different timelines. One being immediate - it spans for about 60 days. But, in another level the story is of more than 200 years or even more.
A lot of what you had researched is in the book. What did you have to leave out?
I edited portions of my commentaries on the current administrative and legal issues. If I have written the book in a non-fiction format those could have been included. However, I wanted to narrate a beautiful story on the triumph of human spirit. Especially, the story of a socially excluded yet courageous young lady (yes I think she is a lady), a maverick and scheming middle-aged mentor and an introverted sincere young man, surrounded by years of taboo, social exclusion and 'Omerta'.
When one reads the about 'bar dancers' one is immediately reminded of 'Chandni Bar' by Madhur Bhandarkar. What is the difference between the two?
Chandni Bar and Without Prejudice have serious differences on the perspective of looking at the issue. I suppose, he looked at the immediate surroundings. In my opinion the issue is much bigger and universal in nature, both socially and politically. Even the human pain and sufferings are more omnipresent. The criminality to this profession is not necessarily created by the local hoodlums or mafia; and not necessarily all dancers come to the profession due to poverty, as ‘Chandni Bar’ portrayed. The problem is far more complex in nature and deep rooted within our social-political history and traditions.
Finally, something everyone wants to know, why do bar dancers not go back to their homes?
Who said they don't? It is an avoidable myth. With authority I can say that within their social and familial systems they are much more entrenched. Possibly more entrenched and consistent than any one in any enlightened urban families.
What next? Are you working on a new novel?
Of course. And, I am also open to suggestions as well. Do you have any interesting idea? Tell me!
Bookaholicanonymous wishes Devasis and we are eagerly waiting for his next novel!
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