Tag Archives: Heera Mandi

Stories of sex-workers in Heera Mandi, Lahore and beyond

Posted by Raza Rumi

A TV journalist prepared this bold documentary for a news channel but it was never aired for obvious reasons – electronic media remains conservative about taboo subjects. The documentary provides great insights into the way women live, work and identify themselves as sex-workers in Lahore’s oldest red-light district known as Heera Mandi (Diamond Market) ironically next to the great Badshahi mosque. Coverage of Multan in the later parts is also interesting.

The narrator obviously has his biases – the usual refrain of middle class Muslims of the subcontinent – but he tries hard to remain neutral and investigative. There is a good dose of Mujras inserted into the series for the viewers; and tit bits of the Hollywood/Bollywood melodrama on the oppressed ‘tawaif’ (prostitute). Whilst tragedies bring these women to the sex-trade, not all of them lament their lives. If anything, Mirza Ruswa’s Umrao Jan (way back in the nineteenth century) was pretty comfortable and empowered by her profession. Similarly, one of the interviewees says: “money is the father, mother and everything for tawaifs”. The head of Kanjar biradri says that girls are taught to be ‘men’, earning ‘horses’ fooling their clients! Not to be missed.

My favourite is the ‘client’ who confesses how intoxicating it is to be “in love” with a sex worker. One gets tired of ‘using’ a wife all the time he says. Wish this documentary had been aired.

The language of these videos is Urdu so it might not be accessible to all the visitors here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyRYGczqsQo&feature=related Continue reading

The scarlet secrets of old Lahore

We mustn’t forget that there are humans living here and we should treat them as humans.Zohaib Saleem Butt (writing for Express-Tribune blogs)

There is a bazaar in Taxali Gate called Heera Mandi. A few decades ago this place was famous for dancing and music. People used to go here for a visual and musical treat. Beautiful girls (kanjiries) used to sit in stall shaped balconies, called kothas, and ply their trade, the oldest profession in the world. The place was perhaps even more famous for singing and dancing. However, slowly the aesthetic pursuit became less arty and more tarty. The area became the centre of prostitution in Lahore.

Most people have the misconception that the Diamond Market got its because of the beautiful girls who worked there, inimitably like diamonds. However, that is not the real meaning or origin of the name. Actually this mandi is named after Heera Singh, who was the son of a minister of Ranjit Singh’s royal court. Heera Singh was also a minister of Sher Singh’s court during the Sikh period. The Mughals were the founders of that trend of dancing and singing, but as far as I know they never promoted prostitution publicly. Continue reading

Visiting the unmentionable bazaar of Lahore

Hamid Rashed’s visit to Heera Mandi is an engaging account that demystifies its snazzy reputation:

I visited Texali Bazaar of Lahore on August 16, 2009. I reached the infamous locality at 10pm and remained there until 3am.

A pimpled prostitute, wearing a black bra one size too small, laying on a stained mattress, awaiting the customers in a dusty room overpowered with strong smell of incense is the situation most people assume you into when you mention the name of this bazaar.

Contrary to popular practice of the visitors of this bazaar, mine was an informative trip. My friend Tariq Yar (from PTV) had invited me to Texali. I had a vague idea that the trip will be educational but didn’t know the extant.

Yar, who is doing research on the walled-city of Lahore voluntarily, introduced me to two of his friends. Advocate Iqbal, who also runs the Ustaad Damin Academy, and Mirza Rashid.

Iqbal is from Okara and is living in Texali for the past 28 years. He is a chronic bachelor and has no apparent appetite for facilities the neighborhood can offer at any time of the day.

Mirza is the inhabitant of the walled-city for the past so many generations. He knows the webbed streets of the walled-city like the back of his hand.

Read more here

Dancing girls of Lahore are forced out

LAHORE — The once-fabled dancing girls of Lahore, the capital of Pakistani Punjab, are fast disappearing.

 The performers have left the city’s red light district, Heera Mandi, also known as the Diamond Market, that lies in the shadow of the Moghul-era Badshahi Mosque.

 “I have lived all my life here,” said Iqbal Hussain, a painter and doyen of Heera Mandi, having been born there several decades ago. “I have seen all the phases. It used to be a beautiful area but now it is disappearing.
Continue reading

Painting prostitutes, Pakistani brushes off religious hard-liners

By Ivan Watson

It’s hot and sweaty in a rat-infested room in Lahore’s historic red light district, a neighborhood of narrow alleyways lined with brothels.

A barefoot, long-haired woman is gyrating and twirling on the carpet, to the beat of a four-man band whose drummer sweats profusely as he pounds out a furious rhythm.

The dancer, who only gives her first name, Beenish, is performing a kind of Pakistani belly-dance called the mujra.

Her harmonium player, a skinny bald man who squints through coke-bottle glasses, has been performing like this for the past 50 years. But he says the art form is dying out. Continue reading

A lost legacy – Ustad Daman’s Dera in Lahore

Ustad Daman’s Dera was regularly visited by the intellectuals of his time who would mix with the masses — a culture missing these days

By Ammar Ali Jan

A tiny room below a mosque in the midst of the infamous Bazaar-e-Husn. The empty room is filled with only two chairs and a bed with spider webs visible all around. No sign or tribute on the entire street for those who lived and visited this room-cum-house. Yet, it is this house that witnessed one of the giants of Sufi tradition, Shah Hussain, as well as the legendary Punjabi poet of the 20th century Ustad Daman.

The room, which is now called ‘Ustad Daman Academy’ has great historical significance for the cultural scene in Lahore. Shah Hussain resided in it and wrote much of his poetry from here. In those days, it was known as Hujra-e-Shah Hussain, named after the great Sufi poet.

Later, Shah Hussain left the house in pursuit of the Sufi way. However, during Ustad Daman’s life, this place reached mythical popularity with artists, poets, writers and common people all of who visited this place frequently.

Some of the bigwigs that have been to this place include Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, Akhtar Sain, Qamar Yorash, actor Moahammad Ali, ‘Queen of Melody’ Noor Jahan besides many others. The culture that developed at Ustad Daman’s place included not only renowned thinkers, but also common people who would come to share ideas with those who had accomplished many milestones in their respective fields. Continue reading

Iqbal Hussain – Lahore’s controversial artist

Iqbal Hussain from Lahore is one of the finest painters we have. Most of his paintings depict women from the Heera Mandi (literally the diamond market)- or the centuries old red-light district. I found the above image on the Internet today. The news-item referred to Iqbal’s advocacy through his powerful art works:

..Others, who have emerged as spokespersons for the women of Heera Mandi, including leading artist Iqbal Hussain, whose own mother was a sex worker, emphasise their “lack of empowerment, exploitation and helplessness”.

His works convey all of these emotions and bring to life extraordinary characters who are often neglected or spurned by the hypocritical culture of Pakistan.

Endnote from here:

Being termed a controversial painter in Pakistan, Iqbal’s subjects sometimes tend to shock “puritan painters”, but Iqbal follows his own visions and continues to paint his unconventional and radically innovative paintings. He enjoys a great reputation as an artist in the international art world. His paintings have been requested by Jordanian Princess Wijdan Ali for the Jordanian Gallery of Fine Arts. His were the only ones selected for Unesco Headquarters Prize in 1995, Paris. In 1998, one of his paintings was auctioned at the Sotheby’s Auction House in London.

More on Iqbal Hussain here

Heera Mandi – The Dream House of the Whores

Courtesy Mayank Austen Soofi

I felt like a bridegroom who had come to pick out one of the three beautiful sisters. Sitting next to each other on a blue sofa, they blushed and coquettishly glanced at us.

An old woman with a straight back and shining-white hair sat down on the floor and talked of the heat and humidity. She had a firm, commanding voice that sliced and rebuked the air with the sharp tanginess of a most refined form of spoken Urdu.

Unlike the brightly-colored and intricately designed shalwaar kameeze (Shalwar are loose trousers and the kameeze is a long shirt) of the girls, the stern woman stood apart in an off-white dress and a white netted dupatta (a scarf or covering for the head and upper body worn by women), carefully adjusted on her head.

It seemed like a cultured Muslim family, but the girls were not sisters. They were prostitutes. The old lady was not a mother looking for suitable boys for her daughters, but a pleasure-house Madam.

We were in Heera Mandi — ‘a bazaar of diamonds’ — Pakistan’s oldest red light district.

Crossing into the Red Light

Mian Naeem, a soft-spoken Lahore-based sculptor and art-critic, had agreed to take me for an excursion to Heera Mandi, a place I particularly wished to visit especially after reading an excellent book by the British author Louise Brown, The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan’s Ancient Pleasure District.

I was in Pakistan to take part in a conference for a visa-free South Asia and was tied up with a series of seminars and speeches during the day. Night was the time to explore the city and Heera Mandi had to be a necessary pilgrimage. Continue reading