“Sorry, I don’t serve men.”
It is late evening in a hot and humid Kolkata. As I park my car on the sidewalk in front of the Indian Museum and emerge out of it, Sandy (name changed on request), walks up and makes his preferences clear.
I look puzzled at my friend, a senior journalist from a major Kolkata daily, who accompanied me to this interview. She was instrumental in setting up the appointment with Sandy and had only partly disclosed our intentions to the 21-year old man.
“It’s not what you think,” she laughs. “He will do the story for his website,” she says, pointing at me. “I have just come along to facilitate things.”
That relieves the tension from Sandy. “But do you want to talk here or go some place where we can sit?”
“Not that I am aware of any place where we can talk in private,” I shrug and say.
“There’s a bar nearby on Sudder Street,” Sandy says, “We can go there.”
I and my friend nod in approval and some minutes later are seated in a watering hole frequented by foreigners putting up at cheap hotels in the New Market-Sudder Street area. Sandy is hesitant to reveal much in the beginning. But after a fair bit of persuasion, opens up about his trade.
“The most difficult part of the job is to not get emotionally involved with your client. That’s a major trapping of the trade.”
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“Is it legal?” I ask.
“Listen, whatever happens behind closed doors between two consenting adults, is nobody’s business. We don’t advertise our services. It’s strictly word-of-mouth. If a woman is happy with me, she will recommend my name to her friends. That’s how it works. I have no time to invest in a relationship. Only when there’s a true connection during the course of the night, I offer my full services.”
“But it’s not always the physical intimacy that’s important,” Sandy says. “There’s a client whom I visit once a week only to listen to her miseries. Her husband is busy all through the day and is on tours for most part of the month. She has none to speak. I lend a patient ear and offer solutions to her problems. She loves talking to me,” he says, discounting the popular belief that clients and escorts are only interested to take to the bed as quickly as possible. “Sex,” Sandy says, “is not the only thing here. Not for me, not for my clients.”
Sandy never regrets losing his virginity at 18 to a woman more than twice his age. He was just out of school and was introduced to the profession by a senior who he had known for quite some time. “She had showered me with gifts. There were expensive perfumes that her husband had brought from abroad. A few days back I met her at a party, and quite understandably, both didn’t recognise each other.”
Sandy and others like him are in the trade for the money. “I don’t need to be apologetic about it. None has forced me into this. The money and the perks that I earn will put many mid-level executives to shame. I don’t come from a very well to do family and have to pay for my college fees. My trade helps me to look after myself. Besides, ours is a time-bound profession. Work trickles down once you are on the wrong side of 30. Your services, then, are no longer required.”
There are expenses as well. Sandy has to pay a good amount for an upmarket gym and club membership, and on clothes and accessories. “Women like smartly dressed men. You have to create that very important first impression,” he explains.
There is a huge demand for young men in the male escort trade and many take to it under adverse circumstances. But there’s also an equally big population, handsomely paid by women clients, who voluntarily join the trade. With male commodification surging in recent times through social media and newspaper advertisements, there has been a silent, concomitant rise in the demand for male escorts.
Women clients from affluent families, needless to say, are the ones who hire the services of a male escort. Their demands dictate how an escort should dress and cater to her fantasies. Massage centres, saunas, and spas are common liaison joints.
Sandy says he has to keep himself updated with world events. Many of his clients are highly knowledgeable. “They will outright reject me if I can’t connect with them at an intellectual level.”
But the profession, like any other, has its own pitfalls. “The biggest problem,” Sandy says, “is when you are not in the mood. Your reputation can be at stake. That is when your talking skills come of help. You have to wriggle out of the situation.”
“What will you do after 30?” I ask him. “No matter how much you earn, it won’t last a lifetime.”
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Sandy probably has asked himself the question more times than anybody else. He looks up confused. “I really don’t know. Maybe I will manage to land a job. I know that won’t even come remotely close to what I earn now. But at least it will bring some regular income for the rest of my life. Can you please help?”
“I really don’t know what I can do,” I say. “But I will try for sure.”
My words seem to have no effect on him. He may have heard them a hundred times before. He forges an indifferent smile and shakes my hand. “Please do, Sir. Another couple of years and I want to be out of all this. You can’t spend the money you earn to buy a flat or a car because that will grab eyeballs. You can’t tell your parents how you earn the money.”
And that perhaps is what everyone in this trade wants to be, a commoner who can return home to his family, who doesn’t need to carry the baggage of a profession which our society is still not ready to accept.
Sandy firmly shakes my hand before we get up to leave.
“A job, Sir. Please remember me.”
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