Reading guide for The Dancing Girls of Lahore by Louise Brown

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Dancing Girls of Lahore

Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Ancient Pleasure District

by Louise Brown

The Dancing Girls of Lahore by Louise Brown X
The Dancing Girls of Lahore by Louise Brown
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2005, 311 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2006, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Introduction

In Heera Mandi, the red-light district of Lahore, Pakistan, sociologist Louise Brown examines the fate of the beautiful and tragic dancing girls. Once the courtesans of kings, graceful and erudite, contemporary dancing girls find themselves in dire straits, clinging to an ancient romantic identity while facing a destitute future.

Central to Brown's study is Maha, a middle-aged dancing girl of increasing girth who must auction her daughter's virginity to the highest bidder. Tasneem, a young khusra, navigates the demarcation between male and female at will, yet is doomed to be less than either. Tariq, of the untouchable sweeper caste, Maha's increasingly uninterested "husband" Adnan, Laila, the former dancing girl turned promoter/pimp, and high-paying sheiks in Dubai are but a few of the people introduced in Brown's unflinching portrayal of a world that, much like Maha herself, veers between "rage and joy, cruelty and gentle compassion."

Questions for Discussion

  1. Consider the reversal of traditional Pakistani norms in Heera Mandi-"in the mohalla, female beauty and sexuality are openly celebrated . . . lauded and envied." Why does Brown refer to "luxury of purdah" enjoyed by affluent families?

  2. How do shame, honor and social status intertwine in Heera Mandi? How does Maha manage her "shame" and why does Brown say, "paradoxically, a veil can heighten rather than lessen a woman's power"?

  3. With "no education and few skills" Nisha and Niha are trapped in a vicious circle of prostitution. Given the complicated realities of cast and class in Pakistan, would these girls have a chance even if they were educated? How does prostitution become an economic inevitability when one must support parents and siblings in a patriarchal society?

  4. In Heera Mandi "love is a transaction conducted on the basis of an illusion." How do words such as "beloved" and "lover" maintain the illusion for both the tawaif and her tamash been? How do Iqbal Hussain, Mumtaz, and Hasan illustrate the manner in which even men born in this milieu are scarred?

  5. When Brown decides to clean Maha's house, why do her actions signify an "irreconcilable culture clash"? Do you find Maha's dismay to be understandable in this context? In what other instances does Brown find her Western values and customs to be incomprehensible to the people of Heera Mandi?

  6. Do you find Maha's behavior-the rages, the mystics, the Corex – to be self-destructive or coping mechanisms? In this setting, is self-delusion a survival requirement?

  7. Brown observes that the women of Heera Mandi, "don't believe me when I tell them that the lives of the other women are equally blighted." By maintaining facades of prosperity, how do they inadvertently contribute to their own misery? Consider the double-bind: society demeans them, while their own community judges them as dirty or respectable based on stringent rules of behavior.

  8. Who are the khusras? Do you find it surprising that they exist in a conservative Islamic society? How do the khusras fit in a society built on male privilege, honor and masculinity, excused from women's obligations, but never seen as men? Are they homosexual in the Western meaning of the word?

  9. Why is Shiism "particularly suited to Heera Mandi"? Do you find it paradoxical that prostitution and particularly flagellating form of godliness coexist in this society?

  10. When Maha agrees to send Neha to Sheikh Khasib in the Gulf, Brown faces a moral quandary: "I can't walk away from this situation without losing my integrity, but I can't stay and keep it going either." Is it possible to resolve this situation? What would you have done, and how would you justify your actions?
Free Book Club Report

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Call Me American
    Call Me American
    by Abdi Nor Iftin
    As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Last Ballad
    by Wiley Cash
    A hundred years ago or so, farming land west of Charlotte, North Carolina was given over to giant ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family caught between present and past.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Place for Us
    by Fatima Farheen Mirza

    A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Patel's stories introduce a bold and timely new literary voice.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A P Saved I A P E

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.