Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Hoarding Dreams in Pakistan's Ancient Pleasure Districtby Louise Brown, T. Louise Brown
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
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.
A great journalist takes readers places they've never been before, while a great writer makes them feel as though they're really there. Brown qualifies on both counts, as evidenced by her groundbreaking foray into the lives of the women of Heera Mandi, a red-light district in Lahore, Pakistan.
An academic researcher who has studied prostitution globally, Brown spent four years gathering materials for The Dancing Girls of Lahore, and informs readers that this red-light district dates from ancient times, when courtesans would vie for the hearts of sultans and emperors. The older women like to remember themselves as artists. "Their skills had nothing to do with sex -- except, perhaps, sometimes." But today Heera Mandi is a run-down, congested, dangerous ghetto where women are born into the profession with scant hope of escaping.
Brown's depiction of these "dancing girls" is as gripping as it is devastating. She describes the influence of the local drug trade and the filthy conditions in which the women live, and readers sense her struggle with her role as an observer when she desperately wishes to save one young girl from a dismal future. The Dancing Girls of Lahore is essential reading, because it forces its readers to see that regardless of how much women have achieved in many parts of the world, there's still much progress to be made. (Fall 2005 Selection)
The Washington Post
The New York Times
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.05(d)
Read an Excerpt
"We Were Artists . . . Not Gandi Kanjri"
(Hot Season: April - June 2000)
Meet the Author
Louise Brown is an academic at Birmingham University, England, and the author of several books on Asia. She frequently returns to Lahore, Pakistan.
- Birmingham, England
- Date of Birth:
- June 1, 1963
- Place of Birth:
- Stone, Staffordshire, England
- B.A. Honors in Medieval and Modern History
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book gives a very good in depth view of the lives of the men and women who live in the Lahore red light district. Although the lives of most that we meet are sad and inescapable it helps us to gain insight into other parts of the world. I really enjoyed the book.
This book provided a very real snap shot into the lives of the women in Lahore's red light district. Very real and honest. It was also a very interesting glance into the practices and beliefs of Muslims in Pakistan. My only complaint is that I felt the heart of the book took place in the end. I found myself wanting to hear more about the adult lives of the main character's daughters. But I also realize this book was primarily intended for academic research, not entertainment, and since it is non-fiction, their story is still unfolding. Perhaps a sequel.....
Dancing Girls is a little too long but well written. Brown from England, lives in the Pleasure District for weeks at a time. This can be very painful reading, very young girls are raised to be prostitutes, neglect and abuse are rampant. But I am curious as to how and why Brown (an academic) can leave her own daughters back in England.