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By Roshni Chakrabarty and Arnab Mitra
Hiding behind their swanky ambiance, dance bars and massage parlors have become hot destinations for quite a few. NewsGram reporter for Kolkata, Arnab Mitra went to uncover bits and pieces on what happens behind those satin curtains and scented lounges.
Sao Massage Parlor, Salt Lake
Large banners in the vicinity of the Sao Massage Parlor in Salt Lake announced its existence. According to the banner, one could avail Chinese, ayurvedic and various other massages here.
Arnab made his way to the massage parlor which took two floors of a residential building in Karunamoyee, Saltlake. The person who runs the massage parlor is a resident of that very building.
As Arnab attempted to enter the place, he was greeted by 2-3 men who welcomed him with a catalogue. The prices ranged from 500 to 20,000 rupees for the various types of massages. Along with the name of each massage was the photo of the massage expert. All of these “massage experts” were women.
Arnab flicked through the catalogue and said he preferred to “order inside”.
The beautifully decorated massage parlor was marble floored and looked like every other swanky beauty parlor. Separate sections were allocated for the different services. Customers could avail cigarettes, alcohol or ganja as per their choice.
Arnab chose a nominal hair massage worth 500 rupees. The North-eastern woman who came to offer him her services was dressed in a mini skirt and a half sleeved shirt.
On hearing certain noises coming from the nearby room labeled for Ayurvedic massages, Arnab excused himself to go to the toilet which was situated right beside that room.
A grizzly sight inside the room met his eyes. Around 3-4 men were pulling the saree of a woman in the room.
The woman, who seemed to be her early 20s, was pleading with the men who were relentless.
“Tumko 20,000 rupiya diya gaya hai massage ke liya, ab toh jitna maza karna hai hum karenge, parlor mein ghusne se pehle hi yeh kaha gaya tha humse.” (We have offered you 20,000 for the massage, now we will have as much fun with you as we like. We were promised this even before we entered the parlor.)
As the girl kept trying to fend them off, one of the men burnt her arms and body repeatedly with the cigarette he held.
Surprisingly, all this was happening right in front of the owner of the parlor- a middle aged lady of a seemingly middle class family. The other women working there strangely seemed to be enjoying the situation as they taped the incident.
Were these men really customers? Or were they brought in for some other purpose? Is every customer allowed to treat the women in this manner?
Such questions sadly remain unanswered.
Arnab took out his phone and, on the pretext of listening to music, tried to covertly capture a video evidence of the incident. But his intentions were promptly discovered and despite playing the press card, his mobile was snatched away and the video deleted before he was shoved out of the parlor.
When Arnab went to the Bidhannagar Police to complain about the forceful snatching of phone and deletion of evidence, the police mocked him. “Apnara toh news kilogramey bikri koren.” (You sell news by the kilo.)
Soon after, Arnab was asked to leave the police station.
City Heart Bar & Restaurant, Barasat
When Arnab entered the City Heart Bar & Restaurant in Barasat at around nine at night, business was flourishing. High voltage Hindi numbers played while beautiful young women danced on the floor.
Alcohol poured and money flew as the touts made deals left and right on behalf of the women. Earnings are divided amongst each member of the establishment, including the touts and the manager, the NewsGram reporter learned.
As Arnab offered 100-150 bucks to one girl, a tout came and inquired whether he was looking for something special. On a deal of Rs 5,000, Arnab was taken to the girl he had offered money to.
On meeting him, the girl took him by the hand and led him to a room right beside the dance floor, where she proceeded to take off her saree.
Arnab stopped her saying he had come from an organization which worked with sex workers and that he was just looking to speak to her regarding a few things.
After the initial hesitation, Tanisha(name changed) said she was in the profession willingly and that when she had applied for the job, everything had been explained to her clearly. “I am the sole bread earner for my family. I have to look after my parents and other family members as well. This profession helps me earn enough for that.”
She added that a dance performance would only help her earn around Rs 200-300 per day and it varied according to the time and customer. They had no fixed salary. “So, we have to choose the other path to ensure we have enough food in our stomach.”
The tout came and asked what was wrong and whether the girl had refused him. When he started to shout at the girl, Arnab quickly stepped in to clear the confusion.
Citing a family emergency, he paid Rs 500 and left.
Here is a video that Arnab took at the City Heart Bar & Restaurant:
What is the problem?
Unlike red light areas which undergo regular surveillance, these dance bars and massage parlors have no proper system to monitor them. As a result, anyone can do anything in these establishments. One can easily avail marijuana, cocaine and other drugs as well as indulge in various illegal under-the-table give and take activities in such places.
Establishments such as these are on the rise. In suburban areas such as Rajarhat and Salt Lake, a dance bar or such massage parlors be found at distances even less than 2km of each other.
Many of these massage parlors are situated in residential areas which give them adequate cover. Residents are worried about the safety of young women as areas in the vicinity of such establishments lose any semblance of decency after sundown. Young women are called names and harassed with obscene gestures.
“It becomes impossible for us to step out after 11 at night,” said Saltlake resident Amal Ganguly. These new businesses act as a deterrent to normal life of the public. “Drunken brawls, problems created by biker gangs and the damage of property are daily issues. The situation gets even more aggravated on weekends!” Ganguly added.
Residents allege that complaints to police, councilors and administration fall on deaf ears and they are only assured with promises of “will see to it”, but no action is taken.
An incident in Haridevpur around a month ago saw an innocent civilian in his early 30s shot to death in a gang war which started off in a dance bar. Kolaghat also saw a similar incident on Navami night where another civilian got killed.
The government needs to pay attention to these establishments and ensure a system which can monitor them regularly to avoid any grim incidents and criminal activities. Moreover, care should be taken that such businesses are kept separate from residential areas which might otherwise prove to be a problem for other civilians and destroy the natural environment of the area.
Arnab Mitra is a Kolkata based photojournalist and reporter for NewsGram.
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,
Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Cricket fans can now book the ultimate experience with the official accommodation booking partner for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Booking.com. The T20 Pavillion, a bespoke cricket-themed luxury stay that transforms the Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotel and Residences into a classic cricket stadium.
The suite offers guests an all-inclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience during the India vs Pakistan ICC Men's T20 World Cup match on October 24, 2021, packed with quirks and luxuries that is sure to satisfy even the biggest cricket enthusiast. Additionally, as a part of the experience, guests will also have the exclusive opportunity to meet Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor at The T20 Pavilion.
The booking window that opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021 and check-out on October 25, 2021. | Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
For one night only, guests can soak in the energy of a roaring stadium to enjoy the epic match on a life-sized screen while seated on comfortable sofas -- just like the luxury box seats at the stadium. They can also head to the locker room (dining room) next to the field (living room) to have some energy drinks, just like a cricketer would do or head to the bedroom, transformed into a net practice area. It's got the field, the pitch, the locker room, pitching nets and cricket memorabilia infused in every element of the room.
The booking window opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021, and check-out on October 25, 2021. The T20 Pavilion is priced at Rs 6666 only in honour of all the great sixes smashed at the T20 World Cup. The T20 Pavilion can accommodate up to four guests. Cricket fans can visit the website or mobile app to book this cricket-inspired stay. (IANS/ MBI)