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Late at night in Mumbai, India, one can hear sounds like that of the midday central market: cars with bad mufflers and blaring horns, music from open doorways, and people talking in too loud voices. Bob and some companions make their way across the street, through a small gathering on the sidewalk, into a doorway, and up two flights of stairs through a dark, narrow hallway with paint peeling off the walls. Bob knocks. The door opens, and he enters a dimly lit room. There are no windows. A fan moves the air, billowing the curtains that separate the cubicles. Several men stand around.

Bob asks one of them, "You in charge here? These are your girls?"

Once it is clear who is "in charge," Bob tells the translator to "explain to him what our deal is. Tell him movies and pictures."

The proprietor brings five or six young girls into the room from behind the curtains and tells them where to stand while Bob looks them over. Some are wearing long dresses with the native saris; some wear short, tight skirts. Their thick black hair flows freely to one side. They cross their hands in front of them, standing awkwardly, tight-lipped and straight-faced (though a few giggle and seem to enjoy the attention). Bob asks, "This one is how old?"

The proprietor answers, "Thirteen."

"This one in the white?"

"Fifteen."

"How old are you?" Bob says to one of the girls.

"She is saying sixteen," the translator says.

"How old is this one? And this one in the orange?"

And on it goes. Bob finally says, "How much for one night—night to morning?"

"Four thousand for one night. One girl."

"How much for three hours, to take pictures?"

"Two thousand five hundred."

"That seems to be the standard price," says Bob. "Any more girls?"

He finally concludes the transaction: "I'm ...

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In the Magazine

August 9, 1999

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