It’s time for curtain call at Falkland Road

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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.

Now, at a time when plush multiplexes charge as high as Rs 1,000 per ticket, stand Falkland Road’s age-old cinemas, complete with hand-painted posters offering their wares for a pittance. While the samosas here cost about Rs 3 a piece, local makes aka Coldrings cost Rs 5 onwards. Life here in Falkland Road’s cinemas is a rollercoaster ride and a psychedelic one too.

Fuckland Road, as it’s commonly known for obvious reasons, is home to the pinjaras housing under-aged girls offering sex to the poorest of poor customers ranging from the porters, to taxi-drivers and daily-wage earners at cheap rates. Gods here feature prominently in colourful posters on walls of the rooms the girls inhabit. Each tiny room of about 12ftx15ft is lined with beds along every wall, each partitioned by a purdah to create private cloth boxes.

Old sarees are tied into tiny hammock-like sacks suspended from each corner of iron beds supporting new-borns — mostly errors of judgment. Below each hammock lies a pink plastic bowl with cloudy water and discarded condoms afloat for the sex-worker to douche with after every session. That’s the best form of contraception used given the circumstances. “Tees rupaye mein laganeka aur dus rupye ka condom kaun khareedega? (For those buying sex for Rs 30, who’ll buy a packet of condoms for Rs 10?),” says old-timer and mother of three, Shalu.

Falkland Road also houses the dreaded Chhakka Galli where eunuchs provide sexual favours to the initiated, cheap alcohol, and even that stray joint of marijuana or brown sugar for the regular assured of his fix any given day or night. “Thoda charas peeke, ek do sutta brown ka marega toh ghode ke jaise ghanton tak laga sakte hai (If you smoke a joint of hashish and have a few drags of brown sugar, you’ll have sex like a horse, for hours on end,” says Shalu. And that kind of pleasure is possible only with eunuchs, vouches a Chhakka Galli regular reluctant to divulge his identity. “The place is guaranteed to cure all sexual problems of erection and premature ejaculation — a legend that has passed down generations, successfully battling all change, even time,” he says.

Falkland Road is the ugly reality of Mumbai’s night life, which isn’t only relegated to known pubs and bars. Sadly, owing to the AIDS scare in the late Nineties and the more-recent lure of re-development, the zone risks extinction. It’s a matter of time before Chhakka Galli and its legends; age-old movies of the last millennium that continue to be screened even today, the water-man selling his wares for as low as Rs 5 per leather pouch and all associated with the zone die a natural death – a victim of urban growth, consigned to a swiftly-dwindling public memory.