There’s a distinct whiff that marks Falkland Road, commonly known as Fuckland Road, in Mumbai. It’s a mix of cheap hair oil blended with the smells of alcohol and stale tobacco creating a heady, trademark smell of Mumbai’s badlands where the world’s oldest professionals struggle for survival.
It’s here that peeping out of the legendary pinjras (cages) are garishly-dressed sex-workers of Kamathipura, mostly minors, displaying bright lip hues in sync with colourful, tight blouses, reaching out to grab and entice potential customers walking along the pavement into their small shanties for swift sex that fetches them a paltry Rs 30 for ‘short-time’ and Rs 150 for the ‘night’ and not more than three ‘shots’.
“Dhandha abhi bohut kam ho gaya (Business has slumped like never before),” says pimp Deven looking much older than the 35-year-old he claims to be. “Abhi pehle jaisa nahin raha (Things aren’t as they were earlier),” he adds. “AIDS ke dar se bohut kam log yahan aate hain aur toh aur dhandha chodke bohut log chale bhi gaye hain. Aisa sunne mein aata hai ki dheere dheere sab bandh ho jayega (For fear of AIDS a lot of customers have stopped coming and we’ve even heard that the trade will stop in some time),” he adds.
The colourful ghagras that line the moss-laden buildings for drying signal the continuance of the trade. The cinemas here — Taj, Daulat, Alfred Talkies, Gulshan, New Roshan, Silver, Moti, Nishat — speak fondly of the times of yore when Falkland Road was constructed between 1866 and 1868 and named after the 10th Viscount Falkland (1803-84), Governor of Bombay from 1848 to 1853. The road was renamed Pathe Bapurao Marg after the renowned poet who wrote Shringar Geet. Royal cinema was, incidentally, the venue for countless fairs and carnivals that housed the ‘Maut Ka Quva’— the well of death – for years before cinema arrived in the city.
For years, before every movie show starts, a performing usher has been standing at the gated entrance of the cinema here yelling out his loud-as-ever curtain-raiser to the movie, mostly a ribald one, detailing lascivious sections for the benefit of the gathered minions. The idea is that the viewer actually hears about the movie, gets all charged up to see it and then, buys up! The ploy works till date. Today, owing to a manpower crunch, the usher doubles up as the ticket seller too. So, once done with enticing and directing all and sundry to line up, he moves into his place behind the ticket counter to sell tickets for as low as Rs 15 onwards.