Male sex workers or gigolos comprise a shadowy group of people in India. The BBC's Soutik Biswas meets a group of gigolos in the eastern city of Calcutta.
Gigolos in India are bonding and joining HIV prevention groups
What is common between a draughtsman, an accounting clerk, a shop assistant and a school dropout?
Nothing much apart from the fact that the four men come from middle-class families in India and - barring the drop out - quit humdrum jobs to start selling sex to women in the crowded eastern city of Calcutta.
Dibakar, Samrat, Pallab and Goutam have also come together to bond in a group called Anandam that includes gays, lesbians, transgender groups and bisexuals to push HIV prevention programmes.
They are also stepping out of their shadowy world to talk about their lives and problems in a society where very little is known about them, talking about sex remains a taboo, and homosexuality and soliciting sex is outlawed.
Most female sex workers in India walk the streets or work out of thriving, grubby red light districts. Male sex workers usually cruise downtown streets in main cities, work in shady massage parlours and trawl internet chatrooms for clients.
There are several thousand of them in the big cities and their numbers are growing as the mobile phone and the internet have made business easier for them.
They are hardly spoken about in HIV prevention programmes, though they comprise one of the most high-risk groups in the country.
"Nobody really has any idea of what we do, and the problems we face. In India, the gigolo is usually made fun of. Some of my friends tell me, 'what an enviable life you live!'," says Samrat, a earnest looking thirty something man and a science graduate.
Most of gigolos in India tell stories of hailing from middle or lower middle-class backgrounds and getting introduced to the world of selling sex through friends, parties, and working in seedy massage parlours that have sprung up all over the country.
They have now begun putting adverts in newspaper classified columns and 'penpal' magazines, hawking themselves openly as male escorts and 'friends'.
They say that they not only meet their clients for paid sex charging upwards for 1,000 rupees ($25) for an hour, but also get their clients to top up their prepaid mobile phone cards and pay for their internet connections for phone and cyber sex.
They also offer some insight into the changing sexual mores of a growing number of Indian women who are ready to spend money on buying sex in a traditionally conservative society.
It is hardly a easy job to do - in the absence of male brothels, gigolos like Samrat cruise after dusk for prospective clients, mainly upper or middle-class and rich women who usually drive in their cars with dark tinted windows.
"It is not all fun and games as people think. Just as female sex workers face violence and get cheated, we face such situations from time to time too," says the son of a bank worker, who joined the sex trade after a short stint as an employee with a multi-national pharmaceutical firm in the capital, Delhi.
"I have often not been paid by clients, and when I have protested, they have threatened me with telling the police that I tried to rape them. And there are clients who love to stub out burning cigarettes on our bodies. These days I have begun to charge for a cigarette burn - 500 rupees ($11) per stub," he says.
Sudeep says it is easier to get clients these days
Over the years, the profile of women buying sex in India has also changed, Samrat and his friends say.
"Even four years ago, my clientele was what you would call 'high class' - wives of businessmen, executives, bureaucrats, traders. Now there are middle-class women calling us," says Samrat.
Also, says Sudeep Chakraborty, 31, an accountancy graduate, it is no longer difficult to get in touch with clients.
"Women who seek us out are no longer bashful. They are as professional as men seeking female sex workers," he says.
Sudeep says he met his first client at a friend's party. The lonely wife of a businessman, "as she described herself", took him aside and poured out her heart to him. Then, the two began going out for dates.
"She used to pay for my company, and later for the sex. She would give me pocket money. With her, I was making 800 rupees every time we met, so I thought why don't I join the trade," he says.
Younger men like Goutam, Pallab and Aditya, who all dropped out of school and began working in massage parlours before picking up the trade, say the clientele is not as thriving as some make it out to be.
And for that reason, they say, many of them have to sleep with men to keep their home fires burning.
"Women can be very demanding. Sometimes they shock my middle-class upbringing with their demands. When we don't get women, we have to sleep with men. It's not fun and games at all," says Pallab.
Some names in the article have been changed to protect identities