Beauty and Mumbai's beastly trade

 

Sonia Faleiro was simply in search of a story she could sink her teeth into. A campaigning reporter on a number of Indian newspapers, the 33-year-old from Goa adhered to one overriding credo: "To convey information about people we know nothing of." And so, when she came across a small news item about dance bars in Mumbai, dens of iniquity in which disadvantaged young women were used and abused by the city's elite, she knew that here was something worth delving into.

"I met with one of the girls, Leela," she says, "a 19-year-old who had no doubt suffered [as a child, her father sent her out to be gang-raped by the police] but who, since arriving [in Mumbai], was so alive, and so optimistic."

Faleiro spent several months shadowing this engagingly self-dramatising heroine, convinced that she was worthy of far more than a mere article. The result, six years after they first met, is Beautiful Thing, a book that throws the doors open on Mumbai's sex trade.

"I never actually thought people would read it," she says, still shocked at its bestseller status in India, "but I did think its message was important: this is who we are as Indians; this is what we do to one another."

After a Mumbai ban on dance bars was introduced in 2005, Leela left for Dubai, after which the two lost touch. She has so far failed to resurface.

'Beautiful Thing' is published by Canongate on 4 August

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