Research Article

The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Book Review


  • Hassan Bin Zubair PhD Scholar (English Literature), Department of English, National University of Modern Languages, Pakistan


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. For as long as anyone can remember, the neighborhood known as Heera Mandi, tucked into the northern corner of the walled city of Lahore, Pakistan, has been a red-light district. The name means "diamond market," but long before the British arrived in the mid-19th century it was already well established as a pleasure center, a place for Pakistani men to stray from their arranged marriages and to spend time with beautiful women schooled in the arts of song, dance and seduction. The old neighborhood, with its crumbling buildings, is on its last legs now. The fabled courtesans of Heera Mandi, once sought out by princes and emperors, are a distant memory, their role much reduced, like the geisha of Japan. Today's client is more likely to be a fat businessman flashing a Rolex and driving a Range Rover. The women, hastily trained, dance to music booming from a tape deck if they dance at all. Some are barely in their teens. Art has given way to pure commerce. "It was good in those days, but all that has changed," an old prostitute recalls. "Nobody bothers with singing and dancing anymore. We were trained for years, but today nobody does that." Louise Brown, a British academic who studies the sex trade in Asia, spent seven years, off and on, living in Heera Mandi. "The Dancing Girls of Lahore" is her report, both chilling and heart-warming, on a neighborhood where all the rules seem to be changing except the ones that keep Pakistani women in a state of abject servitude.

Article information


Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Studies

Volume (Issue)

1 (5)





How to Cite

Bin Zubair, H. . (2019). The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Book Review. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Studies, 1(5), 111–113. Retrieved from



Dance, Girls, Prostitutes, Sex Trade, Red Light Area, Pakistan