They used to entertain at Mumbai's dance bars. But after the government clamped down on these homegrown pubs on moral grounds three years ago, many bar girls have taken to playing business companions and wives for a fee.
The girls are there, the clients are there - only the arrangements are different. The hapless girls are now part of escort services or are even out soliciting on the roads in this teeming metropolis that is India's financial and entertainment capital. Moral policing has clearly not yielded the desired results.
"No government can stop us from working. Now we are going as business companions and wives with rich people," said Rajni Yadav, a former bar girl.
"I have five rich customers and one among them is a top police officer who takes me on his business trips to places like Bangalore and Delhi. Sometimes they identify me as their wife. We talk to them by name - no sir, no sahab," Rajni, 32, who originally hails from Uttar Pradesh, told IANS.
Bankers, business executives, doctors, cricketers and even senior police officials are among the people taking bar girls as companions to places like Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Goa and Jaipur.
The girls said business companions charge anything between Rs.30,000 and Rs.45,000 as payment for one month of "outside assignments". Perks like gold and silver jewellery, saris, dresses and sweet packets also are there.
"This ring and necklace are gifts," said Rajni. "We don't take cash payment. All through bank cheques and that too in advance. They want physical favours and we need money. Who can stop us from doing this?" asked Rajni, a Class 12 pass out.
Sadhna, another bar girl, is defiant and says she is enjoying life more these days. "I am beautiful, why should I not earn money? Mumbai kyun aye hain? (After all, why have we come here?)"
"I have been to Goa, Hyderabad and Jaipur with businessmen. I charge at least Rs.20,000 for two weeks. My clients have given me some good clothes as gifts," Sadhna, 28, said.
She said besides business companions, young bar girls were working as escorts at big parties and marriage ceremonies.
Those who can speak English have an upper hand in this "new job" market.
There are over 15,000 bar girls in Mumbai. They are mainly from Karnataka, West Bengal, Nepal and Bangladesh, besides Maharashtra. In 2005, the Maharashtra government closed many dance bars and declared the profession illegal.
Begum, another bar girl, said she still dances at discotheques, five star hotels and private parties.
"They closed the bars but can never stop the profession. In fact, more and more bar girls are entering prostitution as the government decision has left them jobless and homeless," she said.
"I am into the sex trade but do take protection to stay away from AIDS. I know some bar girls who are HIV positive. It's a health concern and I am taking the help of an NGO," she added.
Prabha Desai, the head of the NGO Sanmitra Trust, who has been working for the rehabilitation of commercial sex workers and bar girls, said the blanket ban on these girls was unfair.
"You may stop bars but cannot stop customers from availing themselves of the services. Many of the girls are now doing almost the same thing but under a new guise. Business companion and escort services are like old wine in new bottle," said Desai, a professor of economics, said.
"I think entertaining and creative sex is better than crude, penetrative sex. The government needs to do a rethink. I am in favour of bars being reopened so that these girls do not become prostitutes and solicit customers on the roads," she added.