Friday, 20 July 2007

The Condom Bar

The Condom Bar
by Nirupama Dutt

Never before has the condom been debated upon in Chandigarh as muchas it has this May. The reason: the recent opening of the Condom Barby the Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation(CITCO) in the Kalagram Arts Village Complex on the Chandigarh-Shimlahighway.

A full-fledged watering hole, the Condom Bar offers customers theworks - from a mug of chilled beer for Rs 30 (US$1=Rs 45) to a well-spiced Bloody Mary at Rs.70; and from a large peg of Antiquity for Rs45 to 100 Pipers at Rs 60. There are also soft drinks and snacksaplenty, including north Indian favorites like 'kalamikabab', 'tandoori chicken' and 'paneer tikka', all at affordableprices. A vegetarian 'thali' (platter) in the adjoining Rasoirestaurant can be ordered for just Rs 50. And, while you are at it,you can also order some condoms.

The Condom Bar is a first-of-its-kind venture that helps in raisingAIDS awareness and encouraging safe sex. The idea of starting such abar occurred to Jasbir Singh Bir, Managing Director, CITCO, duringhis travels abroad. He went ahead with the plan, fully aware that itwould raise many eyebrows. "Someone had to take the lead and Idecided to do so. It is high time we shed our hypocrisy and see whatthe ground reality is. We need to encourage condom usage rather thanbe embarrassed about it," says Bir.

The target, according to Bir, is the middle class and even the lowermiddle class. He says, "The elite are aware and visit the posh barsand getaways around the city. It's the middle class and people fromrural backgrounds that frequent the CITCO complex in Kalagram. Whathas made me happy is that the response has been tremendous and manyyoung - married and unmarried - couples are frequenting the bar. Ichose this place because it is on the highway and is easilyaccessible."

As you enter the bar, the brass lettering on the doorannounces 'Condom Bar' and prepares you for the message, as does thebig mascot of a condom, surrounded by the HIV/AIDS red ribboninsignia. This logo is actually a motif that appears all over thebar: on the tumblers, T-shirts and other souvenirs, and on theuniforms of the waiters. But that's not all: the backdrop of the barhas a mural made of hundreds of condoms. Sex is the theme of thepaintings on the walls and tablemats: 'Enjoy Safely', 'Don't Just GetOn. Get It On!' and 'Protect Yourself, Protect Others' announce themats.

Of course, there is no gender divide and condoms are available forboth men and women, with the UT State AIDS Control Society supplyingthe condoms. And if you have bought your contraceptives and had a pegor two, you could shake a leg in the adjoining disco where the DJspins some foot stomping numbers.

However, there are many opposing strains that can be heard. Saystheatre director Rani Balbir Kaur, a prominent senior citizen of thecity, "While we do need to raise AIDS awareness, such openness isonly going to encourage lust and licentious behavior among theyoung." Adds Avnish Jolly, a doctor who has been running an AIDSHelpline for several years in Chandigarh, "We are not yet culturallyready for such a place. What we need to do is create awareness at thegrassroots. Condom-usage cannot be developed without culturaldevelopment."

However, officials herald the bar as a positive move towards raisingAIDS awareness. Sonia Trikha, Project Director, UT State AIDS ControlSociety, who supports the effort, elaborates, "The opening of theCondom Bar has served the purpose of breaking the taboo on talkingabout sex and condoms. What is more significant is that this efforthas come from a government agency... At present, we have kept Deluxeand Nirodh condoms, taken from stockists. But we propose to keep allkinds of brands, including extra-lubricated ones for homosexuals."

Explains Bir, "We are seeing permissive behavior all around us. Thereare surveys showing that as many as 60 per cent of schoolgirls areindulging in sex. Young corporate professionals are living apermissive lifestyle. With the development of the IT city, 15,000young professionals from other cities will be descending here. It iswell known that weekends see young people getting together to de-stress, drink, dance and indulge in sex."

As the debate rages, the bar draws large crowds, roughly between theage group of 20-40. Evenings are particularly busy, with people linedup outside. Says A.K. Malhotra, manager of the bar, "We have a hometheatre screening a movie on AIDS, produced by the National AIDSControl Association." CITCO also plans to hold an annual 'Ms and MrCITCO' contest at Kalagram. Adds Bir, "We will invite the NGOsworking in the HIV sector to identify potential participants,irrespective of their HIV status."

Incidentally, Condom Bar was inaugurated by Pooja Thakur, President,Chandigarh Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. "The Bar servesthe purpose of demystifying sex and the condom. I am all for creatingawareness about AIDS at every level so that no one meets their endlike my husband, a truck driver, who died of AIDS."

It is estimated that the local Post-Graduate Institute of MedicalEducation and Research (PGI) has as many as 1,500 HIV+ peoplereceiving treatment. There are an equal number of such patients inthe surrounding areas of Punjab and Haryana. As many as 155 childrenare among those receiving treatment for HIV at the PGI.


Dr. Avnish Jolly said...

Study: CITCO's Condom Bar - 'ineffective' way to tackle AIDS

Dr. Avnish Jolly said...

'Condom Bar: CITCO removes picture HT IMPACT'

RituKamal Aggarwal said...

Valueable Debate...
Keep it up...

U r doing very good efforts for the masses...


RK Aggarwal