A self confessed “excitement junkie”, Rajendar Menen tries to compress two or more decades of breathing life on the streets of Mumbai into less than 200 pages and comes up with a hurried account of his experiences. Admittedly they are varied and rich in nature with a few of his escapades thrown in for good measure along with some pulp Buddhism.
For the wide-eyed or uninitiated into Mumbai's reality, it can be a spectacular revelation. But if you know even a bit about the city and its street life, the narratives may not hold you in thrall.
While Menen criticises the nomenclature of a prostitute which was changed to the politically correct commercial sex worker, he cannot resist calling prostitution the oldest profession. Parts of the description read like a brisk tourist guide to Kamathipura, the Welcome brothels, or Juhu beach and Colaba.
This guide, however, gives you a human angle of the people who inhabit these places and how wretched their lives are. From prostitutes to eunuchs to young boys with monkeys, strugglers on the beach and people dying of AIDS or those who simply sit on the street, Menen has them all wrapped up in furious little interviews which almost seem clinical.
He goes to Nepal to meet young Tulasa Thapa who is on the verge of death after being extricated from a brothel, her body ravaged with venereal disease. That is the most moving account in the book because he lets you see her for what she is.
For the most part Menen fills you up with his narrative but it is a roller-coaster ride from one wretched life to another.
Menen sees what you have to see, tells you what he thinks, how he is ogling at pretty toes or watching someone press a girl's buttock, or how women offer him marriage or a gold chain. There is a twinge of remorse when after one of the longer interviews of a woman he knew for two decades, he says that he too has used her in a way.
Menen thinks that ladies' bars are an extravagant and harmless way to spend time but is sympathetic to the poor girls who were victims of moral police and are now forced into prostitution. He portrays himself as a do-gooder as well, helping the dead and dying to the Missionaries of Charity and ends the book rather abruptly with an interview of an Irish woman who came to India to work for Mother Teresa on the Lord's bidding!
With a longish account of Dominic D'Souza's harassment after he was arrested for contracting AIDS, and his subsequent death you are reminded that Menen was primarily a reporter covering HIV.
He wants to silence his critics who tell him he has slept with the women he has interviewed with a caveat that he was on a dangerous beat. Amen!