Thou shall not womanize – A review of ‘The Dancing girls of Lahore’

Thou shall not womanize - A review of ‘The Dancing girls of Lahore’

In my 45 years of existence, I must confess that I have never come across such a painful yet chilly novel. Yes, this I write about ‘The Dancing girls of Lahore’ by Louise Brown who has almost spent 4.5 years in the ‘Heera Mandi’ aka Diamond Market i.e. the red light district of the famous walled city of the Mughals, Lahore of Pakistan.
I have always wanted to at least visit the ‘Heera Mandi’ since the time I became matured enough (although I still act like a 16 year old) but just the thought would give me goose bumps as to what my parents, peers, friends and foes alike would think about me if I would take this journey. Louise has done a big favor by writing on the subject in such a threadbare fashion that while reading the book, you almost start living the experience.
She has described the life of Maha (the main character), her three daughters, her supposed semi-husband Adnan in such a fashion that you cannot help but cry on the pain and agony that all of them go through in their life in the ghetto and still come out larger than life and accept the way things are for them. It is usually a taboo to talk about such women in our culture leave aside visiting such places but Louise has been brave enough to live amongst them and become a character in the novel herself.
Then there is mention of Iqbal Hussain, the painter who is born in the Heera Mandi and not just lives there but owns a restaurant nicely tucked away in the heart of the district where the ancient rubs shoulders with the modern. ‘Cuckoo’s Den’ is the name of the hangout and is situated on the Fort Road. The Café is perched between the debased and the divine.
Iqbal too was part of the real life there that sleeps on the ‘Cross’ and is resurrected on a daily basis. Unfortunately, Mr. Hussain, the son of a dancing girl died in April 2009 at the tender age of 98. He had worked hard to preserve the old city’s culture by painting the area’s traditional dancers and prostitutes.
Coming back to the book, I almost broke down when I reached the harrowing part where Nena, the eldest daughter is being sold to an elderly Sheikh from Dubai and instead of cursing her luck; she is rather happy to tie the nuptial knot at the tender age of 12. Losing her virginity at this age rather selling it is called ‘Marriage’ in the local lingo although such marriages may last for a night to three months at the most.
Louise has thrown in every molecule of her life in writing this ‘Pearl of the Sub Continent’ (if I may) and has provided painstaking detail in exposing the life of the dancing girls of the ‘Walled City’ not just to the Pakistani masses but to the entire universe if they are interested to know as to how life wakes up in this beautiful little paradise.
This book in a nutshell teaches us as to what goes on in the life of a Tawaif, a Prostitute or to put it more politely; a dancing girl.
Louise, I as a Pakistani is extremely grateful to you for writing this one and taking me through the streets & life of the dancing girls of Lahore. May you live long!

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