Mumbai's Zona de ToleranciaFriday, October 20, 2017
|Dipti Mehta, October 19, 2017 Vancouver|
I visited my friend Licenciado Felipe Ferrer Junco in the early 90s to write an article about him for Vancouver Magazine. At the time Ferrer was the Federal Police Chief in Acapulco.
From the beginning he told me, “I am going to show you everything I do here. But you must remember to be careful in what you write as it could cost me my job,”
He wasn’t kidding. I saw everything even a suspect who was made to talk by fizzing up mineral water and Salsa Búfalo (very hot chili) up his nose.
But the most shocking but at the same time rewarding experience (besides being allowed to shoot off a few rounds on an AK-47) was Ferrer’s very modern interpretation on how women were to be treated.
A lovely young woman in tears was shown into his office. She told Ferrer that she had been raped by a young man who had promised to marry her but now had reneged on his vow and was marrying someone else that coming Saturday. Ferrer asked her to tell her in what church the ceremony was going to be held.
Using some rather nice Mexican epithets I will water down he said, “If that f…..SOB thinks he can get away with this in the sanctuary of a church he is mistaken!”
A few days later (not quite Saturday) Ferrer took me on a tour of the darker side of Acapulco. Mexicans have a neat word for red light district. They call it a “Zona de Tolerancia”.He stopped his car at the infamous Acapulco house of ill-repute called La Huerta and took me inside. Some of the women inside who had loads of makeup reminded me of the famous photograph of a pair of Tijuana prostitutes taken by Cartier- Bresson. Since Ferrer was known in the house by his position of authority we were offered rum cokes.
As we left, not far from La Huerta I spotted our jilted woman. I pointed her out and told Felipe, “She is a common whore. And you plan to nab that guy?”
Felipe stopped the car and very seriously (and again using language I cannot place here) said, “Do you think that just because she is a whore that she is not a woman with rights. That man promised to marry her. I am going to put him in jail.”
|The Acapulco groom|
This he did. Later Ferrer took me to the local clink and I was able to photograph the young man behind bars who was wearing a rather nice black suit.
The above lesson I learned from my friend the police chief has served me well. Not too long ago I photographed some exotic dancers dressed as London Bobbies. The photograph (the only time I ever used a 4x5 camera) was used to decorate the then rather famous strip joint called the Cecil Hotel.
The location for the session was an old warehouse in East Vancouver that reeked of rotting onions but that had a white painted brick wall that was one of the necessary features of our photograph. I had brought a large sheet and draped it over a rope which became the area the women could change into the uniforms. My assistant told me, “Why do they need a changing area? They are strippers and they are used to taking their clothes off.”
Thinking of Felipe I immediately answered, “They are women and we have the obligation to respect them."
The show Honour: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan which opens tonight at the Vancity Culture Lab (an intimate theatre for such a delicate subject matter) at 8pm deals with many of the subjects I raised above. The play is written and performed by Dipti Mehta and directed by Mark Cimigliaro.
I was able to attend a dress rehearsal yesterday Thursday and I can tell you that this is a play that reveals the travails of young women in Mumbai (and of course in many other parts of the world) who are pressed into prostitution by economic, by their parents or simply because they have the ambition of someday being able to go to New York.
Mehta not only plays the young girl in question but her mother and other nefarious creatures of Falkland Lane.
Somehow the brilliant colours of the set almost compensate for the tragic story revealed in 65 minutes.
This play is part of the ongoing Diwali in BC project that has Encounter (with lovely Indian dancing but again with a serious subject) simultaneously showing at the Cultch’s York Theatre.