Rudra Pratap, a 27-year-old gigolo based in Jaipur, India, bears a distinct tattoo across his shoulder blades in a blood-red jagged typeface - two strangers in the bright lights.
"It is from the song 'Wish I Knew You' by The Revivalists ," he told VICE. "Something about this particular line fascinated me when the song first came out in 2016. Now, though, this line has weirdly come to define what I do for a living."
Originally from the southern Rajasthan district of Banswara, Rudra Pratap is a sex worker who specialises in cuckolding couples across sexual orientations. And he seems to relish every moment of it. An easy, satisfied grin permeates all his answers as we chat.
The mechanical engineering graduate says his clients like it when he ties his flowing hair in a bun, particularly when he uses the wife's hairclip in doing so.
The act of cuckolding derives its name from the cuckoo bird, alluding to its habit of laying eggs in other birds' nests. In traditional cuckspeak - the husband ("the cuckold") watches his partner ("hotwife") have sex with someone else ("the bull"), often involving humiliation for the cuckold.
Historically, being a cuckold indicated an unwitting marriage to an adulterous woman - undesirable, by all accounts. But sexual appetites change. A quick search on your porn website of choice will reveal a wealth of cuckold-inspired videos, from amateur hotel liaisons to professional content. The men we spoke to for this piece help Indian couples translate such fantasies into real life.
Mahi is a 28-year-old gigolo based in Mumbai, and like all the other gigolos VICE spoke to, goes only by his first name because it's "less heavy and more sexy." This is apart from the obvious security reasons and the legal/societal risks that might come with unprotected identities.
Mahi believes that being well-groomed is essential to the experience. To that effect, he carries a high-end hair styling product and moustache clippers in his vanity bag. When headed to a couple's place or a hotel room booked exclusively for a cuckolding experience, he always wears a linen shirt. "It's better than cotton," he explained. "Less sweat."
Speaking to VICE about his first cuckolding experience, he said: "The man was not as comfortable as the wife. I offered to play a bartender and served him drinks while his wife blew him. I massaged him too. The idea was to make him feel good about himself so that he could ease himself into the act. It was only when he was comfortable that I proceeded to fuck his wife."
In a country where marriage is held sacrosanct and non-monogamous relationships are taboo, the sex workers we spoke with insist that cuckolding can actually be a liberating experience. According to researcher and sex therapist David Ley, who spent a year researching cuckolding for his book conservative men might actually be drawn to cuckolding due to cognitive dissonance. "The more taboo something is, the more condemned it is, for some people, the more sexually charged and exciting it becomes," said Ley.
In Mahi's experience - he has been circling the cuck route since 2019 - he's found that Indian women are surprisingly more forthcoming than men. This is often the case even when the idea was the husband's to begin with. "Perhaps Indian men have a hard time coming to terms with getting emasculated," he said. "But in the end, they always give in."
For Rudra Pratap, his experiences with gay couples have generally been the smoothest. "I don't know if it's because of the ease, but I charge them a lower fee as opposed to straight couples," he said. "Five grand a session ($67) for gay couples and double the price for straight ones."
What explains the ease with gay men? Rudra Pratap ascribes this to the fact that they are perhaps "more widely attuned" to their sexuality and kinks than straight couples. "On an average, even the kinkiest thing a straight couple will do in bed will pale in front of
what gay couples do in their bedrooms. They are obviously more into experimentation and embracing new experiences without fear."
And yet, the most surprising question that 26-year-old Chennai-based Gautham got asked by a client was about his caste.
"He told me I could fuck his wife but I had to disclose my caste first," he said. "And he was not joking."
Gautham goes by the moniker "Red Velvet" because he specialises in using red velvet cake in all sorts of creative ways. When he is not busy cuckolding married couples, he helps at his father's handloom factory that specialises in using sustainable fabrics for men's clothing.
He later learned that the caste-obsessed man is one of the wealthiest businessmen in Chennai who has bankrolled some of the biggest Kollywood (Tamil cinema) hits. "It goes without saying that he was from a privileged caste. He could not take my word for it though. He asked for my birth certificate and was ready to pay a heavy price to breach my privacy. But at least this job pays well."
Gautham eventually relented. What followed was among the most "sanitised fucks" he's had. On reaching the couple's place, he found the bed strangely covered with camphor balls. It turned out that the husband would get turned on by its piercing smell. It got stranger when the wife, fully draped in a blinding Kanchipuram silk sari, refused to undress. "They wouldn't let me undress either," he laughed. "It was controlled chaos. And those gazillion camphor balls made my nose run for a whole week."
Mahi's had his own share of surprises, too. After he'd made that first cuckold husband comfortable with drinks and a massage, he had sex with his wife in a standing doggy position while the husband lay on the floor watching.
"Towards the end, when the wife was about to cum, she abruptly pushed me away and squirted on the husband's face who was still on the floor," he said. "And like magic, he came without touching himself. It was one of the most surreal experiences, purely because I could see the wife relishing the power trip."
Mahi, much like Red Velvet, solicits wealthy clients who approach them through a well-connected web of middlemen - generally the clients' chartered accountants, or their close friends and confidants. He adds that he's single and would rather remain so, too. Apart from the safety concerns, his profession is just "too much of a headache to be clandestine about it."
But for 34-year-old Himanshu, the snazzy lanes of Sector 5 in the north Indian city of Chandigarh is where the action is.
By profession an investment banker based in nearby New Delhi, he moonlights as a gigolo at least once a month when he is in his hometown of Chandigarh. His clientele: widowed women and their boyfriends. He has been doing this for almost six years now, all thanks to his pimp who also leads a hugely profitable talent management agency for Punjabi singers in Chandigarh.
"I can't imagine doing anything with married couples, least of all in Chandigarh," he said. "The stakes are too high because they are often politically connected and things might get too murky. There is also fear of getting outed because most husbands can be quite impulsive. I'm sure there are gigolos who do it quite efficiently. But it's just not my scene."
Only recently, before his usual monthly sabbatical began, he shacked up with a widowed woman for two nights. "The cuckold had a clear mandate - he wanted me to refer to him throughout the two nights as 'choti lulli' (small dick). If I slipped up even once, he wouldn't pay. But for some reason, it didn't feel like I was humiliating him. There was a hidden power he exerted over the two of us."
It was the first time he was asked to actually sleep with the woman after the session was over. "He slept in a different room but he wanted me to cuddle with her and send photos of us throughout the night," he said.
But Himanshu couldn't really sleep. Even though he was in a different room, the boyfriend kept blaring Hindi pop hits that reverbed through their two-storey mansion. "He kept replaying Asim Azhar's song . Maybe because the song deals with heartbreak? Fuck knows. But he was paying me well, so asking him to lower the volume was the last thing I could do."