Their profile photographs usually have muscled torso closeups, or shirtless photographs of themselves, with the head cropped out. Some of them – the more experienced ones – don’t mind showing their faces. Their profile names read “paid top” or “hunk top pd” or “hot top pd” or “massgr pd top” or “nothng is 4 free”. Earlier, they would just call their profiles “massage anyone?” or “massager top”, and if you wanted more than an oil rub, you would have to hint at it. They would then tell you how much they charged for a hand job, a blow job or “full fun”. Most of these men are models and aspiring actors who have washed ashore at Mumbai from different parts of the country — mostly Delhi and Punjab — and need to find a way to sustain their lifestyles. This includes rent, gym memberships, protein supplements, food, conveyance, grooming products, clothes and enough money to party at the right places — all a very expensive business. Many struggling actors and models don’t have degrees to fall back on, have left their families behind and want to make their glitzy dreams come true, only to realize that the industry is a cruel and unforgiving place — it’s not easy to get a gig. So, when they find out about gay dating apps and the scope to make good money from just a few hours of sex, it seems like a neat proposition.

Gay dating apps like Grindr and Planet Romeo were around even when gay sex was illegal. Recently, players like Blued and Hinge have also entered the market, but no app is as user-friendly and quick as Grindr. On it, you can tap on any profile and message that person directly. You get to see how close by they are, what their body type-height-weight is, their preferences, their Facebook-Instagram-Twitter-Tumblr accounts and swipe through an album of photos. You can see if they have read your text, and if they are online. You can send images, voice notes and documents and can screen grab anything. Grindr thus makes communication between two consensual parties quick and easy, and if you don’t want to talk to the other person anymore and don’t want them to reach you, you can just block them and disappear.

Many people who do not have Grindr Xtra (the added features include exploring people in other parts of the world, chatting with them and unlimited blocks) block people they would never connect with, to make space for people they just might like. Grindr lets you tell people what kind of men you like – and what kind you don’t. It is common to come across profiles clearly stating “no fatty, chubby, femme… only muscular hunks” or “girlish CD and old aunties plz excuse”. Everybody is looking for a hot body on Grindr, and while they are hoping to find a man who packs a heart along with rock hard abs, they don’t mind a pit stop at some hunk who is ready to give it to them exactly the way they like it — for a price.

“I think people are getting tired of conversations”, says a colleague who is active on Grindr. “Men are not like women. We don’t care about finding out what the other person is about and creating an emotional connection before hooking up. Men just want to fuck. And India is not exactly the most good-looking of countries. Throw in the fact that every gay man wants to fuck someone who is in great shape, and the pool just gets smaller. Someone you like might not like you, or might not be into your kinks. So, what do you do then? You turn to someone who is hot and ready to do exactly what you are in the mood for.” There is an interesting dynamic that needs to be explored here. Gay men who are tops (tops are the active participants in homosexual intercourse) have it slightly easier in this country, because their requirements for a bottom (the passive participant) are usually thin-youngenthusiastic-about-oral-sex. Bottoms who don’t necessarily fit the thin-fair-young parameters are the ones who have to struggle to find tops for themselves — but it’s not like they don’t have wish lists either; tops should preferably be tallmuscular-toned-hung. In this constant hunt for each other’s perfect sex partners, many feel a void, which is what gay-forpay men actively fill.

In Mumbai, the starting fee for a two-hour session is Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 these days. If you want to purchase services for a whole night, it goes up to Rs 10,000-12,000. Some men who feel very confident about their looks and prowess often quote astronomical figures, but are open to negotiations. Many of them will send a list of what they will do and what they won’t. Most of them don’t kiss or blow. Some send lists of kinks they are comfortable with. Some even mention how many “shots” they are ready to deliver, in the time they are charging you for. A recent recurring request is that of a token PayTM advance, which is non-negotiable for some. When you start the conversation, they will happily send a flurry of shirtless photos, dick pics and nudes, along with other details. Most of these photos are portfolio shots and photos taken on film sets — or in hotel rooms. Some will also ask for your photograph before they set the fee. Others might demand a few extra hundreds for conveyance, and some might ask you to book them in advance, while others might be available for a quickie. Anything and everything is available. I became interested in trying to understand these men about a year ago. How comfortable were they about being physically intimate with men? Had they had sex with men before a transactional experience? How had they changed as people? Had they started enjoying what they were doing? Were they discovering nuggets about their own sexuality? “I had never seen a dick before getting into this line,” Rahul tells me. I don’t know whether that’s his real name. He is a muscular, handsome chap who speaks good English and smiles brightly. Rahul was one of the first guys I approached for this story; I told him I would pay his fee for two hours, but that I just wanted to talk. He said he would only talk at my home, and not at some restaurant. I agreed.

When he came over, after some small talk, I offered to pay him up front, before we began chatting. He smiled, dismissed the offer, stood up and took off his tight T-shirt . “You really don’t want me to fuck you?”, he asked, and then, quite cheekily, made his pecs dance. I declined. We started chatting, Rahul walking around my apartment, casually picking up stuff and checking them out, and then checking himself out in the mirror. “You want to see my monster cock? It is huge”, he offered. “So many of these bottoms in the city haven’t seen a cock this big. At first when I tell them 5k for 2 hours, they whine, thoda kam karo, kam karo, but then I send a dick pic and they say abbhi aa jaao.” He laughs. I laugh.

Rahul comes from a middle-class family in Rohini, New Delhi. He has a younger sister who needs to be married off, but his parents were quite eager to support his dream of becoming an actor. “My mother sold two pairs of earrings to give me some pocket money. I sold off my car. I came with capital to Mumbai, like I was getting into a new business.” But then, after spending days in Aaram Nagar, trying to get phone numbers and contacts, waiting for hours to meet directors and casting agents, Rahul realised that it wouldn’t be easy. The money was drying up. One evening, when he was into his fourth glass of DSP Black at his paying guest accommodation (he shares a 1-bed flat with five guys – all strugglers – in Mumbai’s Yari Road), grumbling about how he wouldn’t be able to pay rent next month, a roommate took him aside and introduced him to Grindr.

 

 

“Hum bahaut shock ho gaye, haan? I had heard about all this gay-way stuff, but I didn’t know anyone. My friend told me he had a profile on Grindr and that whenever he needed some money, he would go out and get 2-3 clients. Easy 15-20k in one day. I was shocked. Usne bola, tera body itna acchha hai, you can aaram se get 5k for one shot. I didn’t even know what that meant.” I ask Rahul what his first time was like. “It was new, but also a little ajeeb, you know? Maine ladkiyon ke saath sex kiya tha, but never with a guy. I knew you had to fuck ass, but I didn’t know start kaise karte hai. My first client was this 25-year old guy in Bandra. He was nice. Not bad looking, not dirty, not hairy. He undressed me and started blowing me. Tab main mood mein aa gaya. I fucked him for 2 hours straight.” Did he feel weird? Uncomfortable? “Starting starting mein thoda sa, because I like boobs. What do you do with your hands? But then it got better. He told me to finger him.. But when I started fucking him, it felt different, but aisa kuch ganda nahi laga. He paid me in full when we were done. We hugged and I left.”

Sameer is a professional masseur from Kochi, who travelled to Mumbai to make lots of money; I haven’t met many quite as confident as him. “Everybody keeps talking about how much money Bombay has. They say it is easy to make money here. So, I came.” He is tall, dark and mythologically-built. His accounts on Grindr and Tinder are to the point – faceless body shots of him flexing his biceps and back with a one-line bio: pure top, prof masseur, paid, no tympass. “I was doing achha khaasa, giving massages and then one day, this man asked me to give him a hand job. He said he would pay extra for that. I used to make 2k from Indians and 5k from white people for massage. Now I charge 5k from Indians for massage plus fun and 10k and above from foreigners. And if I do service at hotels, then they order nice food and whisky also. Why would anybody say no to that?”Does he enjoy himself with men? “See, I am a pure top, so I don’t like getting fucked or oral. But I love fucking ass. I give service to women also. I think I am bisexual.”

The second time I meet Sameer, he’s become more comfortable with me. He asks me about my sex life, and shows me videos and photos from his various escapades. I stare at extremely private – and pornographic – videos of him having sex with various men, often in bad light, sometimes with masquerade or animal masks on, and once on a beach in broad daylight. “Where is that?” I ask, assuming that one of his clients had taken him abroad. “Manori”, he smirks; it’s a tiny island getaway about an hour’s drive from Mumbai.

Sameer tells me about hooking up with Hindi movie actors and directors. I prod him to give me names. He asks me to switch my voice recorder off and shares graphic details about some very well-known celebrities. “After his wife left him, he would do coke every night and would call me over and make me fuck him.” He talks about an A-list actor. “But it was no fun because he was always so depressed. I stopped taking his calls after a month or so. But the money was very good.” How varied are the kinks he comes across? “Don’t even ask!” he laughs. “Some people are so dirty, yaar. They say they will pay me 5k more to pee on them, they want me to shit on them, they want me to beat them, they want me to wear shoes and then lick that… one guy wanted me to put on red heels and then fuck him, another guy would call me only when it started raining and would want to do it on the terrace… crazy ekdum!”

 

Kinks and fetishes are the other reasons that people feel comfortable paying for sex; in a non-transactional situation, the other person is not obliged to participate. “I cannot believe that someone likes to be peed on”, says Mark, another struggling actor and backup dancer. “But I have peed on people. I get a lot of role play requests. Someone sent a photograph of a middle-aged guy once, and asked me to dress up exactly like the dude in the photograph. He also made me fuck him fully clothed. Later, he told me that was his father’s photograph.”

“I absolutely hate the toilet fetish”, says Anish, a dancer and TV extra, “So, I ask for a lot of money for that. See, I really don’t mind BDSM and handcuffs and all that. I actually have started enjoying them. That is something I like about fucking men. Women in India don’t experiment much. They don’t want you to whip them, tie them or use sex toys. This dude once told me he had a rape fantasy. He wanted me to grab him and fuck him in a dark and dirty alley next to his house. I actually enjoyed acting that out. A woman would never do stuff like that.”

Rohit did not want to talk to me. He was apprehensive about discussing anything about his “paid work”, as he called it. He was a gym trainer and had come to Mumbai to become a model. That career didn’t take off, his training gig doesn’t pay him enough, and he has too much self-respect to go back to his home town, outside Noida. “Kis mooh se waapas jaaoon?”, he tells me on the phone. When another trainer at the gym he works at asked him if he was open to paid sex, he decided to give it a thought. “I make 12k a month at the gym. My shift is from 3 PM to 11 PM. So, I started freelancing and took on clients in the mornings. But that was exhausting and left me with no time to train myself. But now, I just log into Grindr after work, pick up one or two clients and make in one night what I make in a month at the gym. Why wouldn’t I?”

It hasn’t been all rosy, however. “One time, this guy offered me a drink, and in a while, I blacked out. I woke up the next morning with three guys on the bed with me. When I tried to explain that I charge per person and also on an hourly basis, they laughed and asked me to leave. I was too weak and dizzy to put up a fight, but it was scary. I don’t know what they did to me. Another time, I told this guy I was versatile and he wanted to fuck me. He put on a condom when we started, but after we were done, I realised that he had taken it off in between and had barebacked. I was horrified. Who does that? I punched his face and left. I couldn’t eat or sleep for days. I kept googling HIV symptoms.” Did he get himself tested, I ask. “No. I don’t have the courage to. What if I am positive?” I offer to accompany him to a testing centre, but he brushes that off. “Once, I shared photos with a guy on Grindr and then when we met, I realised he was my landlord’s son. Isi liye, tab se, I ask people for their face photos first before sharing mine. It is scary out there. Pehle toh all of this was illegal also. Ek toh paid sex, upar se gay sex. Now at least gay sex is not an offence. But even then, if someone does anything to me, kiske paas jaaoonga main?”

Altaf, an aspiring actor from Jammu, tells me about how people confirm a booking on Grindr, have you come over and then bargain after the deed is done. “Beizzati ekdum. We are always open to bargaining, but do that when you are chatting, na? Why agree on an amount, call us over, have sex and then say, utna bhi achha nahi tha, kam paisa lo. That is why I ask for an advance on PayTM.” I came across at least five men on Grindr who asked for a 50 per cent advance before meeting in person. They were not ready to come over even after I told them that I would pay them before doing anything with them. “The other problem is high fun”, Altaf says. Two profiles out of five want to take recreational drugs during sex. They clearly mention that they only want to hook up if “stuff” is available. Sameer tells me about guys who could only have sex after ingesting poppers, or MDMA.

What does this tell us about sexuality and sexual behaviour? Does this mean that people can be open-minded only behind closed doors? Most of these young men come to Mumbai from north India, a typically conservative and patriarchal part of the country. To see these men be physically comfortable with other men is quite surprising. They are ready to flirt, role play, create a faux atmosphere of romance and passion, indulge in kinks and fetishes, give in to desires and allow other men to do whatever they want with their bodies – can money really be that strong a motivation? “It is no big deal”, Rahul laughs. “Hole toh hole hi hota hai. Yes, I am not saying that I like fun with men as much as women, but now I don’t have any problem.” Sameer agrees. He has a wife and two sons in a different city, but he proudly celebrates his bisexuality in Mumbai. He also had a steady boyfriend for a while, with whom he would host orgies at his apartment. “But then he became possessive. Didn’t want to share me. So, I broke up with him. If I stop doing paid fun, how will I survive? By just giving massages?”, he snorts. I smile. It’s a bittersweet situation. On the one hand, I am glad that these men have explored their sexuality and have come to terms with how elastic a concept it is; on the other hand, the quick money is making them short-sighted. How long can they keep doing this? Most of them brush off such pointed questions, but it seems like they are living in the city of their dreams while their dreams fade away, sacrificed at the altar of survival.