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.
"We Were Artists . . . Not Gandi Kanjri"
(Hot Season: April - June 2000)
Lahore is a wonderful city with rich character and a worn charm.
The Mughal Empire has bequeathed some glories to the modern city: the
awe-inspiring Badshahi Masjid; the imposing Shahi Quila, or Royal Fort; the
pretty Shalamar Gardens; and the now dilapidated tombs of Emperor Jahangir and
his empress, Nur Jahan. Grand buildings inherited from the British raj sit in
stately, shabby order on the broad, leafy Mall Road running through the center
of town. New suburbs have grown -- some affluent and some not. The streets and
markets bustle and hum with life and the mosques and mausoleums are always busy.
Best of all, though, is this ancient place -- the Walled City -- a quarter of a
million people squeezed into a square mile of congested tenements and shops. It
is the heart of Lahore and it carries the city's soul.
Old Lahore can't have changed much for centuries. The moat was filled ...
I lost an entire afternoon to this book - I picked it up expecting to skim a few pages and found myself totally absorbed.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (366 words).
Louise Brown is an academic at Birmingham University in England and the author of several books on Asia. She frequently returns to Lahore, Pakistan.
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