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With beautiful understatement, Louise Brown turns a novelist's eye on a true story that beggars the imagination - the lives of the 'dancing girls' of Lahore, Parkistan. The dancing girls of Lahore inhabit the Diamond Market in the shadow of a great mosque. The twenty-first century goes on outside the walls of this ancient quarter but scarcely registers within. Though their With beautiful understatement, Louise Brown turns a novelist's eye on a true story that beggars the imagination - the lives of the 'dancing girls' of Lahore, Parkistan. The dancing girls of Lahore inhabit the Diamond Market in the shadow of a great mosque. The twenty-first century goes on outside the walls of this ancient quarter but scarcely registers within. Though their trade can be described with accuracy as prostitution, the dancing girls have an illustrious history: Beloved by emperors and nawabs, their sophisticated art encompassed the best of Mughal culture. The modern-day Bollywood aesthetic, with its love of gaudy spectacle, music, and dance, is their distant legacy. But the life of the pampered courtesan is not the one now being lived by Maha and her three girls. What they do is forbidden by Islam, though tolerated; but they are gandi, "unclean," and Maha's daughters, like her, are born into the business and will not leave it. Sociologist Louise Brown spent four years in the most intimate study of the family life of a Lahori dancing girl. With beautiful understatement, she turns a novelist's eye on a true story that beggars the imagination. Maha, a classically trained dancer of exquisite grace, had her virginity sold to a powerful Arab sheikh at the age of twelve; when her own daughter Nena comes of age and Maha cannot bring in the money she once did, she faces a terrible decision as the agents of the sheikh come calling once more.


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With beautiful understatement, Louise Brown turns a novelist's eye on a true story that beggars the imagination - the lives of the 'dancing girls' of Lahore, Parkistan. The dancing girls of Lahore inhabit the Diamond Market in the shadow of a great mosque. The twenty-first century goes on outside the walls of this ancient quarter but scarcely registers within. Though their With beautiful understatement, Louise Brown turns a novelist's eye on a true story that beggars the imagination - the lives of the 'dancing girls' of Lahore, Parkistan. The dancing girls of Lahore inhabit the Diamond Market in the shadow of a great mosque. The twenty-first century goes on outside the walls of this ancient quarter but scarcely registers within. Though their trade can be described with accuracy as prostitution, the dancing girls have an illustrious history: Beloved by emperors and nawabs, their sophisticated art encompassed the best of Mughal culture. The modern-day Bollywood aesthetic, with its love of gaudy spectacle, music, and dance, is their distant legacy. But the life of the pampered courtesan is not the one now being lived by Maha and her three girls. What they do is forbidden by Islam, though tolerated; but they are gandi, "unclean," and Maha's daughters, like her, are born into the business and will not leave it. Sociologist Louise Brown spent four years in the most intimate study of the family life of a Lahori dancing girl. With beautiful understatement, she turns a novelist's eye on a true story that beggars the imagination. Maha, a classically trained dancer of exquisite grace, had her virginity sold to a powerful Arab sheikh at the age of twelve; when her own daughter Nena comes of age and Maha cannot bring in the money she once did, she faces a terrible decision as the agents of the sheikh come calling once more.

30 review for The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Pleasure District

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    Read in January 2011. Edited August 2011 about three times) and totally rewritten 24 Sept 2014. This book wasn't what I thought it was going to be - an academic's study on the sex trade in Lahore. All the time I keep hoping the book will get to the nitty-gritty, it never does and it is explained in the afterword that the author does intend to write the sociological book the title implies 'at some point'. In the afterword! The book is about the time the author spent living with a particular 'danci Read in January 2011. Edited August 2011 about three times) and totally rewritten 24 Sept 2014. This book wasn't what I thought it was going to be - an academic's study on the sex trade in Lahore. All the time I keep hoping the book will get to the nitty-gritty, it never does and it is explained in the afterword that the author does intend to write the sociological book the title implies 'at some point'. In the afterword! The book is about the time the author spent living with a particular 'dancing girl' and her family in extended visits over a period of nearly five years. A disappointment is author's mealy-mouthed approach to sex. If these had been fruit sellers the author would have written about the varieties of produce, supply, pricing, display, preservation, marketing curve etc. But this is about sex so she writes of the dancing girls' attitudes were towards it but not specifically, not exactly they offered and for what price. There are few details about customers, pimps, brothels, training and the actual act(s) they are selling. All of this is very sketchy and to be filled out with the reader's own knowledge. But what do I know? Should I presume that brothels are alike all across the world, that pimps are always exploitative, that all prostitutes hate sex and will never kiss their customers? On the island I live on there is a very fair system of brothels - the prostitute pays double normal rent for a room and is expected to spend a lot of time in the bar (brothels always have bars here, anyone can go). She can choose whichever customers she pleases, or no-one at all and all her money is hers to keep. Or is Lahore like Nevada - the girls pay a huge commission to the brothel owners and must have sex with any customer that selects them? Its just too sketchy but is important information in a book on prostitution. The most interesting parts are the descriptions of the transvestites who are very reality-tv but poorer and the disgusting trade in (necessarily) very young virgins with the Arab states. (view spoiler)[What is it with men and virgins? Don't they want their partners to be skilled at what they are doing? Don't they want the girls to enjoy it with them? (hide spoiler)] some of the descriptions of Shia religious ceremonies are interesting as well. I am somewhat familiar with one of the ones described as it also takes place in Trinidad. The difference is that in Trinidad, the ceremony is celebrated with much alcohol, food and ganja and are open to all of any faith (its a party after all), whereas in Lahore they are more strictly Muslim and forego the stimulants and take things much more seriously. The book would make a great documentary, the sort that appears deep on the surface, but it's more in the serious tone of the BBC journalists than in any information imparted in a 50 minute program. I would have liked more depth in the book but I would read Louise Brown again on the strength of her writing. Next time though, I would search preface and afterword carefully to find out if the title is going to deliver what it promises before I bought the book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jibran

    A dancing girl performing in a seedy establishment Louise Brown suffers from the same outsider's malaise: generalisation after generalisaiton about people, culture, religion, social attitudes etc, all based on her few extended visits to the county, that dull the educative value of this memoir-cum-travelogue of Lahore's Heera Mandi, the red light district. (Stereotypes in this book are somewhat subdued; the other one about sex slaves in Southeast Asia is worse). This might be a useful read as long A dancing girl performing in a seedy establishment Louise Brown suffers from the same outsider's malaise: generalisation after generalisaiton about people, culture, religion, social attitudes etc, all based on her few extended visits to the county, that dull the educative value of this memoir-cum-travelogue of Lahore's Heera Mandi, the red light district. (Stereotypes in this book are somewhat subdued; the other one about sex slaves in Southeast Asia is worse). This might be a useful read as long as you can separate wheat from the chaff; but since this is aimed at a Western audience, I can see how easy it would be lose focus and go down the dreaded tangent. For a better appraisal of the book's content I will refer to Praj's succinct review. Be that as it may, I for one welcome books that lay bare the hypocrisies and contradictions of our society where the passing of Women's Protection Bill (2015) is met with uproar from the religious right for allegedly "destroying the family unit" while the same people seem to disappear off the face of earth when civil society groups make a call for protests against honour killing, forced marriages, sexual harassment and rape which, according to each and any interpretation of Islam, are expressly verboten and, since religious cons care so much about morality, each one of these crimes should send them into one of their famous fits of rage. But none of it does! They instead create as many hurdles as they can in the name of culture and tradition while ignoring the problems that need urgent attention. The sordid business of sexual exploitation under the cover of dancing continues without let or hindrance in the shadow of the Great Badshahi Mosque of Lahore, while we expend our energies on non-issues and hope with stars in our eyes that paying lip service to Islam and morality will magically fix all our social ills. March 2016

  3. 4 out of 5

    W

    Louise Brown is a British academic who spent a fair bit of time with the practitioners of the world's oldest profession in Lahore,Pakistan. It certainly doesn't feel like academic research.At times,it is absolutely hilarious,especially when the author uses local slang.She also helpfully provides a glossary of the local terms of abuse. Most of the book deals with the time spent by the author with the family of a local prostitute.She has young girls and by virtue of their birth,these girls would hav Louise Brown is a British academic who spent a fair bit of time with the practitioners of the world's oldest profession in Lahore,Pakistan. It certainly doesn't feel like academic research.At times,it is absolutely hilarious,especially when the author uses local slang.She also helpfully provides a glossary of the local terms of abuse. Most of the book deals with the time spent by the author with the family of a local prostitute.She has young girls and by virtue of their birth,these girls would have little choice but to continue the family trade. Their suitors would include,among others,Arab sheikhs from the UAE.Among them,the name most fondly mentioned by the author's subject is that of Sheikh Zayed,the late ruler of the UAE,whom she calls her "first husband." The UAE would remain a favourite destination for these girls to make some money. The author stays with Iqbal Hussain,himself a product of the area,and renowned for his paintings of these women. She even goes to the downmarket Tibbi Gali in Lahore,where the situation of the working women is so desperate that they sell themselves very very cheaply.She meets an old woman of 60,who is still trying to work,after being brought and sold into the street as a young girl ! There are also some hilarious accounts of the author being propositioned herself by some clients,and being subjected to derisive comments by the locals. The author has been to some very seedy places in Asia,but terms her Lahore experience unique. She tells the story breezily enough,with a fair bit of comic dialogue.But at the same time,the stories of these women and girls are fundamentally tragic as they have little choice but to pursue this profession.The book highlights their desperation and their fear of middle age,when they would have to use their daughters for their earnings. An interesting enough book,which could have been better still.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Praj

    A beautifully scripted heart wrenching saga on the turbulent life of Maha( a veteran in sex trade) in the illustrious red light area of Heera Mandi /Diamond Market in Lahore, Pakistan. Heera Mandi once famous for its artistic aura of courtesans known purely for their dancing and singing skills has now been reduced to a commercial sex factory. A similar fate experienced by the courtesans of Lucknow (India) and the Geishas of Japan. Brown’s protagonist Maha who is at the dusk of her career (prosti A beautifully scripted heart wrenching saga on the turbulent life of Maha( a veteran in sex trade) in the illustrious red light area of Heera Mandi /Diamond Market in Lahore, Pakistan. Heera Mandi once famous for its artistic aura of courtesans known purely for their dancing and singing skills has now been reduced to a commercial sex factory. A similar fate experienced by the courtesans of Lucknow (India) and the Geishas of Japan. Brown’s protagonist Maha who is at the dusk of her career (prostitution was looked as a profession), fights the dilemmas of her burdensome life encompassing struggles from being the sole breadwinner to being a mother to five children. Her family is yet to find the respect privileged to the so called civil world. In her prime, Maha was sold to a wealthy Arab in Dubai at the age of 12. A few years later she donned the role of a mistress to a wealthy Pakistani man. As years passed by, she was disowned by her wealthy benefactor compelling Maha to live on the charity of an opium addicted businessman. Moreover, her daughter’s incidental attraction to her world worsens her dilemmas. Maha’s story does not have a happy ending. It is not a fairytale but a reality that overwhelms many lives of young innocent victims of sex-trade. Brown’s characterization of Maha is an eye opener which exposes the dark underbelly of a civilized society. Maha is one the countless blameless outcasts of a situation created by lecherous sexual elements.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jalilah

    This book attracted me because I am very interested in various forms of ethnic dance and the social positions of professional dancers in different societies. I spent many years of my life studying Egyptian style “Raqs Sharqi”, or what is here referred to as “belly” dance. I lived and even worked for a while as a dancer in Egypt and know first hand that dance has a very ambivalent position in the Middle East. On the one hand, almost everyone there dances. In the “old days” before the society got This book attracted me because I am very interested in various forms of ethnic dance and the social positions of professional dancers in different societies. I spent many years of my life studying Egyptian style “Raqs Sharqi”, or what is here referred to as “belly” dance. I lived and even worked for a while as a dancer in Egypt and know first hand that dance has a very ambivalent position in the Middle East. On the one hand, almost everyone there dances. In the “old days” before the society got so conservative and the younger more westernised generation found the traditional dances too old fashioned, no wedding would have been complete without a hired “belly” dancer. Even in a very traditional, veiled society the women all dance when they get together, however professional dancers are looked down upon. For some reason, I assumed that professional Indian Kathak styled dancers would be more respected, but according to this book, the dancers in Pakistan have an even lower status than in Egypt. I soon found out that this book was less about dance and more about prostitution, for the dancers in this book are working prostitutes. The author Louise Brown is a sociologist and spent years studying the sex trade in Asia and this book is a study on it. Parts of it were very hard to read about, for example how girls as young as 11 are sold by their parents to work as dancers and prostitutes. However I think it is a very interesting book concerning things we should all be aware of, so I would definitely recommend it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fatima Afridi

    A flat, almost passive tone and yet makes such an impact. I am a fan of non-judgemental report-like manner in which most of the western authors write. Reminds me of how we were taught to lose our opinion and write facts in our English Language class in school when writing a 'report'. It's not easy to write reports. Such a dedicated and professional take on the subject and yet she can't stop herself from getting emotionally involved which becomes slightly obvious in the 2nd half of the book. I cou A flat, almost passive tone and yet makes such an impact. I am a fan of non-judgemental report-like manner in which most of the western authors write. Reminds me of how we were taught to lose our opinion and write facts in our English Language class in school when writing a 'report'. It's not easy to write reports. Such a dedicated and professional take on the subject and yet she can't stop herself from getting emotionally involved which becomes slightly obvious in the 2nd half of the book. I could not put this one down. I read it through traffic jams on motorways! I read it during my few minute breaks during night shifts. I was amazed that 'honour' has a place in Heera mandi. Tells you how deep-seated some beliefs are in Muslims. I was disturbed by the misogynistic male mentality once again. I cannot get used to it. I have witnessed these double standards personally. Lahore is my favourite city. I have been to the majestic Badshahi mosque and to Iqbal Hussain's restaurant 'Cuckoo's'. I have climbed the rooftop in a curiosity to peek into these stigmatized womens' lives. All I could see was the 'alams' and the 'panjas'. I have seen Iqbal's paintings. I remember one in particular. A women lying in bed with a flat expression, shalwar untied and currency notes spread beside her. It was disturbing. It was well worth the time and effort.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    Louise Brown is a British academic who has spent many years researching prostitution and trafficking of women and girls as sex slaves throughout Asia. Over a period of four years, she made periodic visits to Lahore, Pakistan. During each visit, she spent a month or two living in Heera Mandi, the official brothel quarter within the old walled city. Her main focus was on one family, consisting of Maha and her three adolescent daughters, but she got to know many other people as well. The profession Louise Brown is a British academic who has spent many years researching prostitution and trafficking of women and girls as sex slaves throughout Asia. Over a period of four years, she made periodic visits to Lahore, Pakistan. During each visit, she spent a month or two living in Heera Mandi, the official brothel quarter within the old walled city. Her main focus was on one family, consisting of Maha and her three adolescent daughters, but she got to know many other people as well. The profession of "dancing girls" (prostitution) is passed down through the generations. There seems no way out of this ongoing trap. When the women become middle-aged and can no longer attract customers, they see no way to generate income but to sell their daughters' bodies to the highest bidders. Maha sold her most attractive daughter's virginity to an old Arab man for $8,400!! As I got deeper into the book, I was glad to discover it wasn't just about prostitution. The author kept a daily diary of everything she experienced among these people, so there's a lot about food, religion, superstition, poverty, drugs, and the caste system that officially does not exist in a Muslim society but is strictly observed nonetheless. All in all a very interesting cultural and sociological eye-opener.

  8. 5 out of 5

    dianne

    Not about dancing - much - mostly about being born in a predetermined doom. One of the few traditional Asian groups that celebrate the birth of a girl as she'll eventually pay for herself, from her fated position as a disposable, degradable plaything for men. Lahore is a beautiful city - dirty and chaotic like most Asian huge population centers - and totally charming. Although i didn't stay long, i did visit the neighborhood she describes (as it was in Fall 2012) and spent two evenings at Iqbal's Not about dancing - much - mostly about being born in a predetermined doom. One of the few traditional Asian groups that celebrate the birth of a girl as she'll eventually pay for herself, from her fated position as a disposable, degradable plaything for men. Lahore is a beautiful city - dirty and chaotic like most Asian huge population centers - and totally charming. Although i didn't stay long, i did visit the neighborhood she describes (as it was in Fall 2012) and spent two evenings at Iqbal's restaurant where the author stayed when in town. It overlooks what i think is the most beautiful masjid in the world - the Badshahi, which captures light like nowhere else. That such a sad example of institutionalized misogyny, cruelty and hopelessness lives, has lived, for generations in the neighborhood next door seems incongruous with the poetry and beauty of Islam. The women themselves were lovely, surviving in such a dire world - rather that there has seemed to be a need for a permanent class of these doomed sisters; THAT is incongruous.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    This is an anthropological "study" of the red light district of Lahore, Pakistan. The author, Louise Brown, returned to Pakistan repeatedly for several months a year for seven years, living in the district and sharing the lives of the residents -- particularly the family of one. I found myself alternatively repulsed and saddened by their stories…and I often wondered how Brown could stand by and watch, without stepping in with the small amount of money that would have improved their lives so much This is an anthropological "study" of the red light district of Lahore, Pakistan. The author, Louise Brown, returned to Pakistan repeatedly for several months a year for seven years, living in the district and sharing the lives of the residents -- particularly the family of one. I found myself alternatively repulsed and saddened by their stories…and I often wondered how Brown could stand by and watch, without stepping in with the small amount of money that would have improved their lives so much. Eventually, towards the end of the book, Brown admitted that she felt conflicted as well. I felt a particular connection to this book, because I briefly visited Lahore, including the building in which Brown stayed during most of her visits. I wish I had taken the time to look a little closer. And…also because I felt somewhat the same during all of my visits to the Gaza Strip. I was torn about whether I should try to "save" everyone.

  10. 4 out of 5

    William

    I loved this book. I have a very strong streak of wanderlust and this book seemed to put me right in the middle of the red light district of Lahore Pakistan. A place I'll probably never get to see nor particularly want to. But its so much more than a sensationalist or purient tract. Its the story of one main family and other relations and friends. It horrific and beautiful at the same time. Its life as it exists for many in the 3rd world. Its a chronical of child slavery and prostitution but it I loved this book. I have a very strong streak of wanderlust and this book seemed to put me right in the middle of the red light district of Lahore Pakistan. A place I'll probably never get to see nor particularly want to. But its so much more than a sensationalist or purient tract. Its the story of one main family and other relations and friends. It horrific and beautiful at the same time. Its life as it exists for many in the 3rd world. Its a chronical of child slavery and prostitution but it is not without hope. The author was skillful and honest and made me smell the smells and revisit my short stays in similar places in my own travels. And I cared deeply about the lives of the people she writes about. It was no surface treatment. She stayed with them for months at a time for over 5 years. A great book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Liralen

    I can't imagine that these girls will make successful prostitutes. Their fate, though, has been sealed from birth. They are barely literate. They don't go to school. In fact, they don't go anywhere. They spend their lives in these two dark rooms in the corner of the courtyard, tripping down the spiral staircase, hovering around the entrance to the alleyway, and occasionally going in a rickshaw to buy food and clothes. That is the extent of their world. (18) Brown went to Pakistan as a researcher, I can't imagine that these girls will make successful prostitutes. Their fate, though, has been sealed from birth. They are barely literate. They don't go to school. In fact, they don't go anywhere. They spend their lives in these two dark rooms in the corner of the courtyard, tripping down the spiral staircase, hovering around the entrance to the alleyway, and occasionally going in a rickshaw to buy food and clothes. That is the extent of their world. (18) Brown went to Pakistan as a researcher, but she ended up learning a great deal more than she expected. The story she tells is not an academic one, but rather a personal one; it's a gradual unfolding of the lives of a family living and working in the local prostitution district. It's a world where the trade is passed down from mother to daughter, although this is perhaps not prostitution as Westerners think of it: if a woman in Heera Mandi is lucky, she will acquire a semi-permanent 'husband', a man who probably has a socially acceptable wife already but will provide for this second woman and take her, effectively, out of the business...for a while. Until he tires of her. And then she's back in it. I pause and try to imagine what it must be like to have been traded in Heera Mandi for fifty years—for all your adult life and more. I can't possibly imagine it. And yet, in the shade of her tiny room, with its charpoy barely hidden behind a curtain, this woman, who is the same age as my mother, can still laugh and tease me because I don't have a man. (188) But it's complicated. Brown keeps coming up against the fact that narrative subjects don't fit tidily into the 'victim' box she'd expected them to. Oh, some things are unambiguous: that these girls shouldn't be in a position of viewing lives as prostitutes as the natural order of things, for example. Within the reality of their lives, though, it's not the 'terrible decision' that the book flap makes it out to be. Nena is thrilled—and I'm confused. I thought I was coming to Heera Mandi to document a terrible trade, and yet Nena is seemingly not being dragged into prostitution: at 14 she's embracing her family's business with enthusiasm. She's going to do what generations of girls in her family have done before her, and in twenty years' time she will be like her mother—abandoned and dependent upon the sale of her own teenage daughters to survive. But, for now, she's flattered that Moto wants to spend so much money on her. It's a reflection of her status as a beautiful, high-class dancing girl. Probably for the first time in her life, Nena is exercising a form of power, and she's enjoying it. (214–215) Nothing has prepared me for the reality of this event. I don't know how far I should oppose the decision. I'm here to document life in Heera Mandi, not to intervene in it. In the social codes of Heera Mandi, Nena is not doing anything unusual. By the standards of the mohalla she's not a child: she's ready for "marriage" and she's ready to become a kanjri. I know this on an intellectual level, but it doesn't lessen my unease. I've become too deeply involved in the lives of the people I'm supposed to be researching; I'm no longer an objective observer but a participant in their world. I can't walk away from this situation without losing my integrity, but I can't stay and keep it either. (226–227) When I write about prostitution and the trafficking of women in my office at the university, the issues seem clear, and yet here I am, in this dreadful place, witnessing a girl whom I am deeply fond of being trafficked to another country so she can be sold to a man who collects virgins. (234) So Brown learns to look at things from the context of the culture she's observing. Doesn't make the fact of these girls' prostitution (or, perhaps more importantly, the fact that they don't see any other options) okay. Does make it a different conversation than she'd expected. And...sometimes Brown ends up adopting the values of the culture. Out walking with a woman intent on defying rules of propriety, she says: For the next few years I'll have to walk around these streets, and I can't afford to have my reputation compromised in this manner. I like Shamsa—she's refreshingly different and a loose cannon in a very rigid social context—but I'm not sure if she's actively challenging an unfair society and making a stand for women or if she's just utterly mad. Whatever the case, being associated with such a wild young woman puts me in danger (162). In some respects she wants Shamsa to rebel; in other respects she's too aware of what that rebellion might mean for her own status within the community to be comfortable with it. I really, really, really wish Brown had given us more contextual detail. That is, there's a fair bit about culture and some history and so on, but I was left wondering just how common this life is (how many women in Pakistan? Is there one of these districts in every sizable town?) and how the industry compares to those in other countries and, well, more facts and numbers and details. More academia mixed in with the memoir, I suppose. Still...kind of a cyclical, wandering book that tells the story a whole lot better than statistics alone could. Other, brief notes: If brightness, intelligence, and hard work were determinants of success in this world, Hasan would grow into an important man. The tragedy is that, barring some miracle, he'll run errands all his life, sink into heroin, or, if he has aspirations, he'll follow the example of other ambitious men in the mohalla and become a drug pusher or a pimp. (177) "Can you read and write?" I ask her. She laughs and shakes her head. "What a useless thing that is in this place." (189) ...a raped girl is bad for the family: it shows that they can't protect their woman; that they have little social standing; and that they're not respectable. It's worse for the victim because once a woman, or a girl—or a boy—is known as the target of a rape she becomes so despised, so shamed, so worthless that she turns into public property. No one is raped only once. (197)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anum

    In a country where women are equated with honor, there is a well-known “secret” mohalla where love and sex are openly sold. Louise Brown’s “The dancing girls of Lahore” is an insight of the life in the Shahi Mohalla and Tibbi Gali of Lahore, also famously known as the Heera Mandi of Lahore – famous for being home to Lahore’s courtesans. A while back I read a similar book about Lahore’s Red Light District by Fouzia Saeed titled “Taboo”. Although “Taboo” was more involved in the study of how the H In a country where women are equated with honor, there is a well-known “secret” mohalla where love and sex are openly sold. Louise Brown’s “The dancing girls of Lahore” is an insight of the life in the Shahi Mohalla and Tibbi Gali of Lahore, also famously known as the Heera Mandi of Lahore – famous for being home to Lahore’s courtesans. A while back I read a similar book about Lahore’s Red Light District by Fouzia Saeed titled “Taboo”. Although “Taboo” was more involved in the study of how the Heera Mandi business was losing the ancient culture of singing, dancing and courtship, and turning more obviously into a brothel. Saeed’s book was more focused on the feminist aspects of the mohalla and how the mohalla had more of a reverse culture compared to that of the outside society, where women were in power and responsible for making money and the birth of boy children was looked upon sadly. The mohalla was described as home to women that men liked to spend time with but never honor, whilst their women at home were kept for honor and producing children but never truly loved. Where Saeed’s book was very insightful regarding the cultural and feminist aspects of the life at the mohalla, Brown’s book is more of a general overview. She gives as a hawk-eye view of the life of various people she met and spent time with in the mohalla, during her research. I felt that Brown was more involved in the people and her book was more engaging due to this involvement. However, for the same reason it also lacked objectivity, which was so profound in Saeed’s writing. Brown evokes emotion in the reader regarding both the glamor and the horror of a life in Lahore’s Shahi Mohalla; however, it does not do justice to the causes of this social predicament. It could be, perhaps, that Saeed being a part of the Pakistani community experienced the differences more vividly; while Brown compared it to her previous research locations like Japan and India as well as to the Western setting. Nevertheless, there are two main ideas that are consistent throughout the two works: These women almost never have a choice, due to social pressures and sometimes due to the people who are responsible for them. Sometimes, these people include their mothers. Sometimes, they include pimps. But almost always they include the passive outside society, which turns a blind eye and looks the other way. These women are usually uneducated, know nothing about the transmission of sexual diseases and have no clue how and why one should use protection. Their children are doomed to the same fates that they have endured and the vicious cycle never breaks. Society does not accept them and in doing so they do accept them but only as dirty prostitutes, “gandi kanjari”, that they never want to imagine near their vicinity or their children. Secondly, there is a sustained demand from that same society that refuses to accept these women. These women may be considered dishonorable and horrible, but the men who visit them are both honorable and respectable in the society. They are, as both authors describe them, “shareef.” Saeed gives a reason for this. In Pakistan, men’s honor is the honor of the women in his family. Their ‘izzat –honor’ is marred if the women of the family do something dishonorable. The men have no honor of their own so no matter how dishonorable their deeds are, they still maintain their ‘izzat’ as long as their women are safe and secure in their house. Only the women have the ability to be dishonored personally, not the men. Brown’s book finds evidence of Saeed’s idea by suggesting that where jails are filled with women who have committed ‘zinna – fornication’, there is not an equal amount of men incarcerated for the same crime, even though the law should be aware that it takes two to commit the crime. I felt that these two books go hand in hand and should be read together. I found Louise Brown’s narration very engaging. She tells the story as it is meant to be told: with involvement and compassion. However, Fouzia Saeed hits the nail on the head with her commentary giving insight into the sociological causes and the mindset that results in the sustained exploitation of these women in a country where their business is a crime, sometimes punishable by death!

  13. 4 out of 5

    SSShafiq

    Being an account of the author’s time in Lahore, this is more a travelogue and memoir than a history on the subject of prostitution in Lahore. Near the end the author acknowledges: “.... I’ve become too deeply involved in the line of the people I’m supposed to be researching; I’m no longer an objective observer but a participant in their world...” (Page 226) In the afterword the authors states: “I thought I came here to write an academic analysis ... but this place and people have touched me in a w Being an account of the author’s time in Lahore, this is more a travelogue and memoir than a history on the subject of prostitution in Lahore. Near the end the author acknowledges: “.... I’ve become too deeply involved in the line of the people I’m supposed to be researching; I’m no longer an objective observer but a participant in their world...” (Page 226) In the afterword the authors states: “I thought I came here to write an academic analysis ... but this place and people have touched me in a way that is as much personal as it is analytical.” I was expecting an out and out history so the memoir tone surprised me. I wish I had known this going in so I could have adjusted expectations a little bit. As it was, I wasn’t engaged by the book as I wanted to be and I didn’t learn as much as I thought I would. Parts of the book were familiar - the descriptions of Lahore I remember. I believe a lot of this has changed with the recent development of the city but this beginning description of the city gave me a shock of recognition. And other parts of this book read like a novel and as soon as I got into the “story” I had to remind myself that this was real. This was especially awful when there was mention of one of the girls losing their virginity at 12 (Ewwww - 😠😠😠). The story is told by one of the prostitutes who is narrating her life and not a history / social commentary per so. A lot of the book is like this - a collection of short stories from Heera Mandi’s inhabitants. The writing is fairy chatty and works like a novel / journal so I ended up judging the book like that. I am still not sure what I think about this - is this a plus that I was engrossed in the “story” or “exploitative” since it doesn’t give the story any context or weight in terms of how bad the situation actually was. Still the book is worth reading for a look at a different culture and people that you will likely not meet directly. The mix of history and anecdotes will likely work better for others. I liked it in the end but I wasn’t blown away. There were definite more interesting parts but no real learning for me. In the end the theme was “Heera mandi is a bad place and ….” thanks? It felt like a BBC documentary in the end; not much deep anthropological understanding here or macro view here. I like BBC documentaries so take that for what you will. I would recommend this if you can get it from the library like I did.

  14. 5 out of 5

    C-shaw

    This is a very interesting book about the lives of the nearly destitute dwellers in the slums and brothels of Lahore, Pakistan in the late 1990s to about 2005. The author is almost too descriptive at times, making my skin crawl at the filth and lack of future which most of these people endure. Ms. Brown herself is not a very sympathetic character: She leaves her home and family in England for a month or two every three or four months and lives mainly with a particular family whose income has bee This is a very interesting book about the lives of the nearly destitute dwellers in the slums and brothels of Lahore, Pakistan in the late 1990s to about 2005. The author is almost too descriptive at times, making my skin crawl at the filth and lack of future which most of these people endure. Ms. Brown herself is not a very sympathetic character: She leaves her home and family in England for a month or two every three or four months and lives mainly with a particular family whose income has been dependent upon prostitution for at least three generations. She recounts their extreme struggles to survive, yet does not seem to do much to help them morally or financially. If she were merely observing from a distance, this might be acceptable, but she becomes a member of the family and therefore I felt she should have shouldered some responsibility for improving their situation. The family's life is amazingly horrid and they are not likeable in the least. Despite their upbringing, I expected there to be some familial love, some care on the part of the mother for her children, some attempt at keeping their hovel livable, but the main-character mother is a totally despicable character. And yet, the book was an interesting story and I "enjoyed" it, if one can say that about reading of the plight of the less fortunate.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bruna (bruandthebooks)

    What I love the most about books is reading about a reality that is completely different than mine. This book opened my eyes and taught me SO much. It was painful, brutal, and ugly. “Two stigmatized communities live side by side in Heera Mandi: the prostitutes and the drug users.” Louise Brown lived in Heera Mandi - a ghetto in Lahore, Parkistan - with a local family, learning and writing about the lives of the dancing girls. Even thought they sell sex for money, they don’t call themselves pros What I love the most about books is reading about a reality that is completely different than mine. This book opened my eyes and taught me SO much. It was painful, brutal, and ugly. “Two stigmatized communities live side by side in Heera Mandi: the prostitutes and the drug users.” Louise Brown lived in Heera Mandi - a ghetto in Lahore, Parkistan - with a local family, learning and writing about the lives of the dancing girls. Even thought they sell sex for money, they don’t call themselves prostitutes. “Women who sell sex are the lowest, most vilified women on earth. But every day, for an hour on either side of midnight, Heera Mandi makes a concession to lewdness.” The book is insanely descriptive and I could literally feel myself there. I really liked knowing more about these girls but as you can imagine, it’s not an easy read. Reading about defenseless young girls who have no choice but sell their body for a few dollars is excruciating. “It’s worse for the victim because once a woman, or a girl - or a boy - is known as the target of rape she becomes so despis

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julia Graf

    Fascinating but grim look into Lahore's Red Light District, a mixture of artisans, transsexuals, pimps, drug addicts, children and prostitutes. Louise Brown touched on so many of the social issues surrounding this environment that affects the lives of the people living in this district, and how it causes so many problems that are almost impossible to break free of. I completely understand why the daughters of prostitutes frequently turn to the trade themselves, because in a society where they ar Fascinating but grim look into Lahore's Red Light District, a mixture of artisans, transsexuals, pimps, drug addicts, children and prostitutes. Louise Brown touched on so many of the social issues surrounding this environment that affects the lives of the people living in this district, and how it causes so many problems that are almost impossible to break free of. I completely understand why the daughters of prostitutes frequently turn to the trade themselves, because in a society where they are so stigmatised and no option of financial support or education is given to these women, they have almost no choice but to continue in their mother's footsteps to make a living and to support their aging mothers through their own income. What I found so surprising was the attitude of Nena - she embraced her role and took pride in being a coveted young dancer, whose virginity is put up for auction to the highest bidder. I do wish the author could have given a stronger voice to Maha's daughters, and not just made her own conclusions. She discusses Ariba a bit, and her story is particularly hard to digest, I felt so sorry for her. I wish Ariba would have had a bigger role in this book, and she had really delved into this girl's misery and her hopes in life. Maybe the author found it hard to win Ariba's trust, as she had been abused and neglected her whole life. I wish I could know what happened to the family after this book was written, but the reality is that we all know what will likely happen. Nena will follow in her mother's footsteps, and Maha's daughters will likely face a lot of the same problems her mother faced. It's a sad vicious circle, which can likely only be broken with a massive overhaul of Pakistan's social and political system, and the role and value of women in that society. Sadly, this isn't likely to happen anytime soon. :( I totally recommend this book to anyone interested in women's issues, poverty, sociology, and the issues surrounding prostitution and addiction.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    This is an interesting look at a part of Pakistan that is not often visible, discussed, or considered. The story is well written, covering the lives of many of the different elements of the seedy nightlife in the old city of Lahore. The author primarily follows the life of one family, along with the supporting cast around it. It is intriguing, disturbing, but entertaining all at the same time.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Huma Rashid

    How did GoodReads delete my review of this?! UGH. It was the best review EVAR. :( Suffice it to say, go read this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dr Tanzeel

    Well, there were quite a good number of reviews about this book, but unfortunately I didn,t like it much. The writer seems to lack the true understanding of the subject and is having a superficial observation of the surroundings.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Sorry, Malala, couldn’t get into the writing. Gave it about 30 pages and then moved on.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    A telling of the selling of sex in Lahore, Pakistan by an English researcher- told in the form of a novel. This was at times, difficult to read as I think about the day-t0-day reality of teens in other parts of the world. I think what made this read even more interesting is the culture layered on top of this reality. In South Asian culture, people's perceptions of you are incredibly important- to the point where most people end up living in an alternate reality where they start to believe this p A telling of the selling of sex in Lahore, Pakistan by an English researcher- told in the form of a novel. This was at times, difficult to read as I think about the day-t0-day reality of teens in other parts of the world. I think what made this read even more interesting is the culture layered on top of this reality. In South Asian culture, people's perceptions of you are incredibly important- to the point where most people end up living in an alternate reality where they start to believe this perception of a world they have created for themselves. For example, someone who 'buys' one of the girls for sex if referred to as her husband to give the girl status and credibility. Perceptions that one family's girls are worth more than others and that the men they service are of a higher caliber lead to higher 'respect'. These households where the man of the house leads multiple lives, sometimes with multiple families and therefore is unable to financially support the women in a world where women cannot support themselves leads to generations of dancing girls and a life of drugs to cope with all the dissonance. There were times that Brown was too honest, in moments where even I would have preferred to sugarcoat the issue with another 'reality' as I am Pakistani and felt defensive of this country. While many of us were thinking about homework and prom in highschool, girls from Heera Mandi are being flown to Dubai to be de-flowered by the highest bidder. It is a disturbing reality and one that I will need time to process.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Naush

    I was instantly attracted to this book the minute it was mentioned. Not just because it talks about hush hush zone of Lahore but also I wanted to see the views of non pakistani Britsh writer.I was expecting a judgemental comments from british writer about Pakistan Muslim society.But I was disappointed. I became a fan of Louise Brown dedication and passion, she spent years living in heera mandi doing her research where women like me are scared to go in bright day light or even mention the name of I was instantly attracted to this book the minute it was mentioned. Not just because it talks about hush hush zone of Lahore but also I wanted to see the views of non pakistani Britsh writer.I was expecting a judgemental comments from british writer about Pakistan Muslim society.But I was disappointed. I became a fan of Louise Brown dedication and passion, she spent years living in heera mandi doing her research where women like me are scared to go in bright day light or even mention the name of the place. I loved her writing, totally non judgemental, she writes what she sees without mixing it with her opinions and emotions, she leave the readers to think for themselves. She manages to find a brighter aspect in that gloomy place, she appreciates the art and artistic background of heera mandi, only an art lover and optimust person can do that. I was shocked with the details and background information, i have cried so many times throughout this book, some sentences are stuck to my brain and they will stay their forever. In this book Louise Brown tells us about women and just women and their lives in that zone without involving any country, religion or race.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    The first time i read it I liked it. But I just tried reading it again and couldn't get into it. This is a great immersion into a culture, especially if you don't know much about Pakistan. But the author spends a lot of time going forth in her cultural discussion between India and Pakistan which made it hard to remember the book is set in Pakistan. And she throws a lot of unfamiliar words at her readers without defining them. The first time I glossed over these, assuming she'd define them, but t The first time i read it I liked it. But I just tried reading it again and couldn't get into it. This is a great immersion into a culture, especially if you don't know much about Pakistan. But the author spends a lot of time going forth in her cultural discussion between India and Pakistan which made it hard to remember the book is set in Pakistan. And she throws a lot of unfamiliar words at her readers without defining them. The first time I glossed over these, assuming she'd define them, but the second time I found myself stopping to look up these local references, which makes it hard to get into the story.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Reshma

    An interesting look at the red light district in Lahore. The story is real. The author recounts her experiences with the people she met over years of living amonst them. It has a slight western perspective on many things (Engligh author) but recounts the chaos, emotions, and reality of life in the district very well. What I like most is that through the author's closeness to one family, the reader becomes aware of how difficult it really is for daughters not to inherit their mom's profession. A An interesting look at the red light district in Lahore. The story is real. The author recounts her experiences with the people she met over years of living amonst them. It has a slight western perspective on many things (Engligh author) but recounts the chaos, emotions, and reality of life in the district very well. What I like most is that through the author's closeness to one family, the reader becomes aware of how difficult it really is for daughters not to inherit their mom's profession. A true eye-opener.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shikha

    I wish I had read this book before or during my trips to Lahore, particularly the old city, so I could envision what Heera Mandi looked like when Louise Brown chronicled her experience. I was one of those kids who grew up watching Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan, romanticized portrayals of the courtesan culture in the Indian subcontinent. Brown's portrayal is real, raw, uncomfortable, and in many ways tragic. I wish I had read this book before or during my trips to Lahore, particularly the old city, so I could envision what Heera Mandi looked like when Louise Brown chronicled her experience. I was one of those kids who grew up watching Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan, romanticized portrayals of the courtesan culture in the Indian subcontinent. Brown's portrayal is real, raw, uncomfortable, and in many ways tragic.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    The author is an academic from Birmingham, England. But this book, although written in a matter-of-fact format for the most part, is informative without being dry. Brown writes about her trips to Pakistan from 2000 through 2004, after 9/11. If the author had focused on just Maka and her family the book might have been a bit more concise. All-in-all, I found this book very interesting.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kashif Nasir

    It's a life changing book, the author sacrificed so much and wrote a gem, I loved every chapter It's a life changing book, the author sacrificed so much and wrote a gem, I loved every chapter

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sagheer Afzal

    This is an excellent book. Louise Brown has the inner eye of a novelist and the analytical insight of an academic and she has combined the two to produce a profound and moving insight of the underbelly of Pakistani society.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Feisty Harriet

    Too much conjecture, not enough story. I wish Louise Brown had a better, more personal way or writing, her research on brothels in Pakistan. The stories are gripping, but it was hard to follow them.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Baljit

    A beautifully written account which transgresses the academic and makes the characters so real. There is no happy ever after ending here, as there never is with real-life, but there is always hope.

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