Delhi''s GB Road struggles to keep a dying history alive

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Ekatha Ann John

New Delhi, Feb 7 (PTI) Romanticised in reel andreviled in real, Mujra dancers in the capital''s red-light areaare fighting a losing battle to keep a once celebrated artalive.

"I still remember those days when the ''kotha'' wasfilled with people. Today, there are hardly a handful," says45-year-old Shenaaz, as she dabs rouge on her cheeks,preparing for the routine mujra dance session that takes placeon GB Road every night after nine.

"There were times we were called to dance at partiesand weddings, now few call us. Everyone wants foreign women todance at their parties; it''s a matter of status. We''llprobably embarrass them with our cheap saris," says Shenaazwho hails from Rajasthan.

Of the estimated 1000 odd sex workers on GB Road, onlya few know and practice mujra now. While some train underartistes, for others the art has been passed down throughgenerations.

"My mother was a mujra dancer and so was mygrandmother. Under them I learnt the classical form of thedance, but now people want to see us dancing to Bollywoodnumbers. It kills the purity of the art, but do we have achoice!

"Previously dancers did it because they enjoyed it,today it has become a matter of survival as those who danceare paid more" smiles 26-year-old Shanti from Lucknow,revealing her paan-stained teeth.

Mujra, which incorporates elements of Kathak dance,was patronised during the Mughal era. But over the centuriesthe term ''tawaif'' (courtesans) became synonymous with sexworkers and ''kothas'' came to be associated with brothels.

"We saw a demure Rekha in the movie ''Umrao Jaan'' andMeena Kumari in ''Pakeezah.'' They won acclaim for these roles,but reel life doesn''t come close to reality," says historianNazaf Haider, Associate Professor in Jawaharlal NehruUniversity.

People''s perception of the art form has changed overthe years, says Haider, adding that today these dancers areassociated to prostitution more than the hundreds of years ofculture that they represent.

"When once Mujra was performed to ''thumris'', ghazalsor popular poems of Ghalib, today it is performed to Bollywoodnumbers. In the original dance the emphasis was more onfootwork. The art has lost its patronage. It is dead now," hesays.

"No, the art is not dead," counters Vineet Hans whoruns an events management company in Delhi.

"A lot of parties these days want Mujra dancers. Theonly difference is that the demand for blonde European womenhas gone up; white women up the glamour quotient," says Hans.

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