Jagjit Singh and Ravnish Bhola are finding it difficult not to think about sex. Safe sex, that is.
Singh, 23, and Bhola, 22, are customers at India’s first “Condom Bar” in the northern city of Chandigarh where table mats have messages such as: “Get It On!”, next to a condom design.
Behind the granite bar, hundreds of condom packets are on display.
“This place is great,” says Singh, a desktop engineer with an Indian mobile phone service provider, drinking beer and eating chicken tikka in the noisy and subtly-lit bar.
“We Indians are shy about sex. But here, you start talking about safe sex because of all these condoms,” says Singh, dressed in a white kurta and pants.
Bhola, dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt, agrees. “It’s cool.”
Nearby, free condom packets fill a crystal bowl.
The Condom Bar is run by the Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corp Ltd (Citco), a semi-independent state agency in Chandigarh, the Union government-administered capital of the prosperous northern foodbowl states of Punjab and Haryana.
Citco says it wants to do its bit to raise awareness about safe sex in a country where millions of people are HIV-positive but attitude towards sex is conservative. “We want people to have a good time but be safe,” Jasbir Singh Bir, managing director of Citco, says.
Illuminated signs depicting a red ribbon and condom greet patrons as they enter the Condom Bar.
Dozens of young and middle-aged Indians let their hair down at the bar late on a Friday night. One of them is a doctor. “Let’s not be hypocrites. In these days of AIDS, we cannot afford to be closed minded about sex,” says Betty, who gives just one name, as a waiter serves a beer glass carrying a condom motif.
“This is a bold step.”
Citco says Chandigarh, an emerging information technology hub with one of the highest literacy rates among nearly all Indian cities at over 81%, is a good place to try out its concept.
But the bar has been criticized by some who say it promotes promiscuity.
Singh disagrees. “Actually after visiting the bar, you will think many times before indulging in casual sex, and if you do, you will make sure you do it safely,” Singh says.
Nursing their drinks, Jagjit Singh and Bhola say they will definitely visit again.
“Right now, my girlfriend is out of town so I don’t need a condom,” Singh says with a grin. “But I will be back.”