My Life as a Cabaret Dancer

MANIL SURI had always wanted to dance like Helen. He finally realised his dream at a book festival in New York

01 January 2011

IN AUGUST 2008, my cousin Sunilla accompanied me to a narrow shop in south Mumbai that dealt solely in women’s underwear. ‘Could we see some bras in black?’ she asked. Almost as an afterthought, she added, ‘Not for me, but for my brother.’

To her credit, the Sindhi woman behind the counter didn’t ask any questions. Instead, she gazed expertly at my chest, and with only the slightest curl of disapproval, began pulling out different styles from white cardboard boxes. Sunilla rummaged through them, discarding those that were too frilly or lacy, picking up the ones that met her approval and holding them against my body. ‘Don’t you have some with more padding?’ she asked, poking at the cup of the one she liked best and flipping it inside out. ‘He needs it for a dance he’s doing — we have to make him look more filled out.’

The Sindhi woman’s brow furrowed. ‘This is the maximum padding we carry, madam.’ The curl of her mouth deepened into a scowl when Sunilla suggested I try the bra out to make sure it fit. Reluctantly, the proprietress pointed me to the tiny trial room.

Manil Suri is the author of the novels The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva. He is the professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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