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Origin of Object of Desire

I’ve lived in India for over fifteen years, yet Indian culture continues to throw me curveballs, or things that I didn’t expect. One such surprise inspired me to write a novel. In late 2002, an acquaintance told me that nude cabaret shows were running in the nearby city of Pondicherry. I had been living here for seven years at that point, and everything that I understood about India made it very difficult for me to believe this story. So, I went to see for myself. I learned that such shows were running in four well-known hotels; MASS, Blue Star Hotel, Fillo and Sun Guest House, and that the shows attracted standing-room-only crowds for two performances on weeknights, and three performances on weekend nights. Despite being illegal, one of the shows ran across the street from a police station.

The first time I saw a young dancer take the stage, I immediately wondered how she ended up there. What had landed her in this work? I imagined her story would make a fascinating novel.

The shows were crude and degrading. Young women in black underwear simulated intercourse with one another in front of a rowdy and rude mob of drunken men who rarely tipped the dancers more than ten rupees. The end of each show featured dancers disrobing for the crowd. I suspected that something pretty horrible must have happened to make young Indian women desperate enough to take such work.

Over the next couple of years, with the assistance of NGOs that work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, I interviewed dancers in Chennai and learned more about the lives of such women, many of whom had performed in Pondicherry’s shows. Some of the women had performed also in bars in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and several other Indian cities. Some danced in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East. I also interviewed commercial sex workers in Chennai, Mamallapuram and Villupuram.

I travelled to New Delhi and Dubai to observe shows that the dancers told me about.

My novel is an amalgamation of the stories that these women told me, their lives shared many common themes and experiences. One striking common denominator was that nearly all of the dancers were raised by single mothers. Poverty, poor education and a lack of better economic opportunities combined to drive women into such work.

By 2008, I had completed a 450-page manuscript that, for many reasons, was unpublishable. In January, 2009, a friend put me in contact with an editor named Jess Taylor, who I hired to help me restructure the story. Working with Jess was a fantastic experience that yielded a roadmap for a revised and expanded story. I am now in the process of rewriting the novel, and I aim to have a new draft of the manuscript ready by September. As part of the rewriting process, I am doing research to inform the life of my main character before she became a dancer. Fieldwork for these sections of the novel takes me to Madurai and Chennai where I am interviewing more women to learn about their childhood in villages and their life in urban slums.

I started this blog to share my experiences as I gather information for rewriting the story.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Kelley permalink
    June 16, 2009 4:03 pm

    Great site!

    I have yet to respond to your valid comments sent via FB.

    I will respond when I have more than a couple of minutes, but suffice it to say that I appreciate and value your input!


    • Brooks Anderson permalink*
      March 5, 2010 12:26 pm

      Hi Dan,

      I’m very sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier. Your comment was in my spam folder, which is full of comments written in Russian.

      Don’t know why your comment landed up in there.

      I’ve negelected my blog lately because I’ve been on an assignment, documenting solid waste management projects in 4 localities. My document will finally go to the printer next Monday, and be officially released on March 19 by a vice consul from the US Consulate in Chennai.

      Shano and I will be back in the US in April to attend my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Looking forward to spending time with them and Allison’s family.

      I hope you are safe and well.

      Best wishes,


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