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A Sudden Visit to Pakistan: Heera Mandi – The Dream House of the Whores

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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.  

A Road Leading to Sin  

Mian Naeem parked his vintage car outside the periphery of Heera Mandi. It was past midnight, perhaps the right time to take a dip into the secrets of the flesh.   

The evening had grown slightly middle-aged. The madams and their agents were likely to be more tolerant towards pleas for cheaper bargaining. The available girls were unlucky to be picked yet and hopefully more resigned in their choice for customers. Further, the shield of the deep-night darkness made it easy to imagine that Allah would be too sleepy to notice his faithful venturing out to make sinful transactions.  

The streets were crowded with the revelers of the night. Restaurants, and only restaurants, lined both the sides. The blazing fire in the tandoors, the complicated smell of chicken curry and gutter stink, the cries of the cooks, and the laughter of the diners combined to create a blurred sensation in the mind.   

The path was narrow, but not straight. We climbed up and down as if walking in the old quarters of a hill resort. The people who inhabited the ancient houses in these streets looked suitably decent, making it difficult to believe we were approaching a red light district.    

The Ground Beneath Their Feet  

Some more steps, then a right turn, and we walked under an open sky. "This is Heera Mandi," Mian Naeem declared.   

A crowd of boys cheered in a dimly lit tin-shed where a snooker table glowed under a bare light bulb. There were carts selling bananas, biryanis, and flowers. Brightly lit eateries with used chicken bones strewn on the floors were filled to the brim.   

There was no lady standing under the lampposts soliciting clients. There was no man acting like a lady's agent. The shaky, frail-looking structures rising up on both sides of the street ahead were gloomily submerged in darkness. Their doors and windows were closed and the balconies were sullen and quiet.   

We walked ahead and noticed an alley to the right. Two women stood a short distance away, whispering to each other. Their faces were cloaked with shadows. A thin man with a garland of chameli flowers wrapped around his wrists appeared from behind and overtook us with drunken steps.  

Gradually the darkness began to lose its sheen. The street became livelier. As we penetrated deeper more doors were found open and more windows gave view to the lighted spaces inside. Mian Naeem pointed across to a room jutting out into the pathway. It had a large window and a most beautiful creation was peeking out from there.   

She looked divine and more beautiful than the Indian actress Aishwarya Rai. With a pimple-free fair complexion and fine shaped lips, her eyes expressed eagerness and her hands signaled invitation. Her steps were as light as a bird as she hurried from the window towards the door.

Dressed in a white lehenga (a long embroidered skirt) and her anklet bells jingling music every time she moved, she looked all set to burst into a mujra (traditional dance of the courtesans). There were no creams, rouge, eyeliners, and powders disfiguring her face. A mild shade of maroon suggested the promise of a kiss from her slightly pouted lips.   

Tempted by a Dancing Girl  

Our eyes met and her face simmered of sentiments that suggested my walking away would break her heart. She looked pure, gracious, and yet highly amorous. It seemed as if I was the wine she was thirsting for all her life.   

Mian Naeem said her name was Saira, that she used to be quite coveted in her time. Now, Saira was in her 30s and her business had gone down. Unlike in the past when she picked out only the handsome and the very wealthy, she presently took in any person who walked by her quarters. The revelation was disappointing. That she had singled me out was unremarkable in light of this information.  

More Sight Seeing  

Three unshaven boys, looking hip in their long hair, sat in a shop that had its walls adorned with posters of Gone with the Wind and Casablanca. Guitars, electronic keyboards, and drums were placed haphazardly on a wooden counter. It was a rock music band that accompanied the ladies in the private dance parties, a popular trend in upper class Lahore.   

Until a few years back, Heera Mandi was acclaimed for its musical heritage. It boasted a rich tradition of Indian classical music and indeed many famous singers of the subcontinent were born, groomed, and trained in its chambers.   

Adjacent to this rock band was the sitting room where Mian Naeem had taken me to have a look at the 'three sisters.' The ragged-faced agent who stood outside suggested a girl of our choice could perform a Bollywood dance for five hundred rupees. After we took leave of the 'three sisters,' Mian Naeem mentioned there were higher prices for other kind of performances.   

Indeed, the highest possible price was always demanded for the betrothal of a virgin. Deflowering involved rituals that were not different from the ceremonies demanded by a proper marriage. Large sums were paid by the 'groom.' Feasts were thrown by the madam-mother and blessings were offered to the girl as she prepared for her initiation into the world's most ancient profession.

Usually the most beautiful had their virginity sold to the rich sheikhs and princes of countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain where they were flown and their temporary living arrangements paid for by their 'husbands.'  

As we walked past more such sitting rooms, Mian Naeem pointed out the agents and provided tips on how to identify them. In many places, the rooms were closed from the front but there were camouflaged entrances from the sides. On one of the balconies lounged a bare-chested man while below the lady of the house was eyeing the prospective clients. A little ahead, brightly dressed women were quickly settling themselves in a cab that, according to Mian Naeem, would take them to the apartments of rich Lahori men.  

The Unreal Reality  

It was strange walking in the by-lanes of Heera Mandi. Officially, Pakistan is an Islamic republic where prostitution is punishable by death and where most of the women do not show their naked face to any male except their closest relatives.   

Yet we were in a neighborhood, in the heart of Lahore, which seemed to have been frozen in time. It was as if the outer rules of the much real world could not intrude here. No one seemed to be bothered by the laws that were applicable in the rest of the city.   

Heera Mandi was like a paradise where one could freely indulge himself in the pleasures of the flesh, where one could get away from the oppressed world of Shariat laws and Koranic injunctions; a balm which one could apply to soothe his soul made claustrophobic by so many morals; a relief which one could momentarily cherish amidst a life made predictable and burdensome by nagging spouses and aged parents.   

Heera Mandi was a world far away from the despairing headlines of Islamic fundamentalism, America's war on terrorism, and Bin laden videos. It was a world very different from all the known worlds. Heera Mandi was an easy place where life was unreal and where it was possible to experience unconditional love and fanciful sex — for a price.  

The Tragic Face of the Pleasure District  

But of course Heera Mandi is a pleasure house only in its false description. It is actually a mirage that has the power to destroy the lives of both its residents and its visitors.   

Attractive prostitutes like Saira might be able to hide their true age and be familiar with all the seductive charms for trapping gullible boys, but they are done with once their bloom is lost. From there it is a downhill journey towards a life plagued by poverty, despair, and loneliness.   

Most of the Heera Mandi prostitutes share the same miserable end. These women who had once sold their virginity for thousands of dinars to rich gulf state sheikhs finally slip down to a stage where ten rupees is their demand price (which could be further bargained) for hurried services with poor vegetable vendors. There could not be more poignant irony.  

Some prostitutes, fortunate to give birth to beautiful daughters, do live a luxurious life of rich madams, but still the melancholy of their old age could not be wished away.  

The Twilight Days of Heera Mandi  

Happily, the morally righteous have reasons to smile. These are the final days of Heera Mandi. The place has started decaying like a rotten corpse. What had started off as a pampered district built next to a Mughal fort now lies uncared for in a filthy part of old Lahore.   

Once upon a time, Mughal princes courted its virgins. The wealthy culture-loving families, from the feudal estates of North India, used to send their young sons to be trained under the guidance of the Heera Mandi ladies. They were expected to learn the style of fine Urdu conversation, to appreciate the nuances of Hindustani classical music and to get well versed in the art of lovemaking.

Once upon a time the ladies here were more sophisticated than the women of the most respected and rich families of the land. But now an eclipse has set in.   

Times have changed. Heera Mandi is merely another red light district. Girls are patronized for quick sex sessions rather than for their poetry recitation. Courtesans have become call girls. Eminent people, with claims to middle-class respectability, no longer desire to be seen strolling in its streets. Even the ladies' chambers are shutting down.   

The pleasure ladies are gradually leaving Heera Mandi quarters for the modern secretive flats of Defense and Gulberg. The thrill of midnight cruising is being replaced by deals made over mobile phones. A world is coming to an end, soon to be gone with the wind. Heera Mandi will become a fable, a fantasy, a dream house of the whores.  

Epilogue  

On our way back we stopped in a mud-built shack to have sweet, milky cardamom-flavored tea with oily fried goat testicles.   

The night was growing old. The noise was quieting down. And the shadows were growing larger.  

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About Mayank Austen Soofi

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    “On our way back we stopped in a mud-built shack to have sweet, milky cardamom-flavored tea with oily fried goat testicles.”

    Now, come on, if this doesn’t get the public in what will?

    Just kidding. I found this piece to be extraordinarily well-written, with the subtle nuances that indicate the depth of the writer’s craft. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece and feel saddened that such a place exists.

    Of course, I have been to every continent except Antarctica, and I have seen shadows of what you describe here in cities everywhere. Judging by what I have encountered, the myth of the “happy hooker” is far removed from reality. Your piece only lends credence to that perception.

    Thank you for an amazing read!

  • Monica Singh

    Well “Mayank Austen Soofi” i m very impressed from this article. Really ! First thing is “the way u used to express the feelings of other people is amazing. I mean sometimes the character of your article speak thereself only” and the second thing “i get lots of information about “Heera Mandi” now i can tell anybody what exactly “Heera Mandi” is……! third thing in my opinion ur this article can catch anybody attention towards “what miserable life prostitutes are living………”

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I have to echo the compliments you richly deserve for this finely written article. The subject is timely (sex, like death, is always timely) and the tragedies of both sex and death, along with life’s painful truths await the reader of this article.

    Kol hakavód!! All honors to you!!

  • Sonam Tsomo

    As usual..well written… You experiencing such things and having them put in words actually helps most of the people, like us esp. who are ignorant about these kind of facts.

    Thanks for introducing the realities of life, it was just a fiction to me before i read this piece.

  • Anshu Tyagi

    I have always heard about prostitutes and red light areas vaguely from people, but never have I had such a close insight into a whorehouse of yesteryears.

    Your experiences have put me into a dilemma. This flesh trade would indeed continue “Heera Mandi” or not with technological assistance of mobile deals and trademark of a call girl for a prostitute, but will it actually bring an improvement in the living conditions of the women involved in it or lead them further to their doom.

    After reading this article i feel I am stuck in a time warp.

  • http://-- Tehman Lall from Lahore.

    Mayank, exquisite and intimately written. The ‘Mandi’ couldn’t have been described better in words. I do hear that its by far the most classically sustained and maintained red-light district in the country, keeping in-touch the ‘darbari’ heritage seen from the old alley-ways and tall sub-continental architectures. But I couldn’t make the comparison from experience!

    But you’re right, it is a fading ‘art’ or artistic tradition, if you will. Now its gradually coming out of those overshadowed alley-ways and onto Lahore’s main roads!
    Come friday and saturday nights, one can witness(say once in two weekends) sickly sex-starved men on fancy wheels making deals on road sides in Gulberg and other densely populated commercial areas. Or the time-strapped lad could get the odd-job in his car seat on a dark residential street nearby!
    What goes on behind closed doors in some social classes, I leave to your imagination. But make no mistake, that is the status quo.

    Your observations and articles put alot of things in context for even a Lahore’s resident, Mayank.
    You should and will go places..

  • http://thedelhiwalla.blogspot.com Mayank Austen Soofi

    Thank you Tehman. I have a blog called Pakistan Paindabad (at blogspot). I invite you to write for it. My blog needs persepctive on Pakistan from a Pakistani. You will be much welcomed. I assure you.

  • ammar UK

    its indeed a classic way of expressing the outcomes of the heera mandi.the author has depicted very nicely in comprehencisve words to show the glance of the red light district.

    really lovely

  • whore shud be banned

    awsome man fuckin awsome

  • http://www.abudhabicalling.blogspot.com Kaya

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. My recent visit to Lahore took me to the famou are but only during the daylight hours where we had halwa puri at PHAJA’S (Fazal Haque).
    Having recently read the book TABOO, I am tremendously intrigued by the whole Heera Mandi set up. What is represented historically and what it is today.
    Thankyou for a sensitive, insightful, well written piece.

  • zain

    wow what a great article!! you must publish it in some paper stuff! great!!!!!!!!

  • http://google Angie

    i enjoyed reading The Dancing Girls of Lahore.Louise Brown did a FANTASTIC job.this the first book I have read that i cried at its close.
    my heart cries to all of the oppressed women of the world who are able despite the suffering have
    been able to maintain an enduring spirit

  • Nancy

    Another great article, Mayank. Very evocative; I almost feel like I’ve been there myself. This should indeed be published.

  • http://none none

    Hello, U didn`t show girls rates in your book. Show each girl rate with her pic.

  • zohaibb jan

    well i didnt studied by the lake of time.but the comments shows that it was good.

  • Ahmad jamal amlik

    good but it is ery short,like fozia saeed written in “taaboo”.
    Its news that one idian director sanjay bansali has purchased the rights of ur booka nd will make movie over this,
    Graete Job.
    Ahamd Jamal.

  • SALMAN

    IT IS GOOD BUT
    WHAT ELSE CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE MANDI

  • abid sultan form india

    i am very sad to read that how much u people happy to.u know that its not reffer the socity level of the muslims.what is going on in india.the aids ratio is grater then pakistan and the indian film industry is the cause i think.here in india i saw lot of that like places,plz think twice before u talk

  • shahzad butt

    what i had the been a little bit of experience of these things i found that this heera mandi is an a point of callgirls instead of dancing girls you can say it dancing girls bazar at least 10 years ago .

  • http://mmm ali

    i want to see full sex

  • gma pk

    sex is a need of every man

  • Hassan Masud (from Lahore)

    This is surely a good piece written in as many good words, sometimes bordering on the edges of no-mans-land describing things and events and thoughts in a way most would deem outrageous or simply obscure yet portraying the locality and its inhabitants in a light that deserves a read.

    I am myself from Lahore yet never actually laid my foot in this so-called-which-so-many-want-to-believe- “Harem Paradise”. Probably a family trip to the nearby Anarkali Food Street for a few classy chiken haandis was enough for me then.

    Good Work Mayank.

    Regards,
    Hassan Masud
    GIK Institute of Engg.

  • umar

    my LUN is very hot and sexy plz try my LUN one time cheeseeeee BUND

  • http://rahimyarkhan khalid

    goood good very very good

  • http://www.sharepiks.com/ unknown

    Very well written!

    keep up the good work!

  • Ali (England)

    i m very impressed from this article. Really ! First thing is “the way u used to express the feelings of other people is amazing. I mean sometimes the character of your article speak thereself only” and the second thing “i get lots of information about “Heera Mandi” now i can tell anybody what exactly “Heera Mandi” is……! third thing in my opinion ur this article can catch anybody attention towards “what miserable life prostitutes are living……..

  • Shahid

    Sex is good thing but it should be in limit

  • Shah je

    My work is onky fucking girl in heera mandi.And your?

  • sara

    i greatly appreciate this article..u shud really publish it in a newspaper..ur style of writing is unique n touching n u have indeed done justice to dis topic.keep up da great work..

  • burhan

    no good why? i am muslim

  • Hameed

    I dislike all this but muslims at last muslims now a days pakistan is passing very dark age please i request to shery rehman plese close all night club as muslims plese………

  • Hamad khan

    It is a good place for love

  • saif

    i love u nishaat.plz forgive me

  • zeeshan,

    if any body belong to karachi(shah faisal colony) tell my girl friend shanti to forgive me pleeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • zeeshan,

    a.a.MESSEGE FOR MR.ASIF ALI ZARDARI. (i want to meet with MR.HAAKIM ALI ZARDARI.SIR PLZ ASK YOUR FATHER THAT WHO IS HAJI SHER BAAZ KHAN, I M HIS GRAND SON. WHO LIVED WITH YOUR FATHER IN IRAQ, [Personal contact info deleted])PLZ HELP.

  • alimgeer khan

    all this is the lack of education,the main problem of pakistan at the present time is prejudicey against the person of other province we should recover this bull shit.

  • Farhan munir

    plz come in my life.MISS. AMBER,i m from faisalabad.and my girlfrnd from RAJA CHOWK faisalabad.

  • pasha

    i want new girl who have anew pussy

  • farooq

    this whole world is heera mandi.

  • lov 4r girl

    heera mandi ke phone nmber send karo [personal contact info deleted].main un girl selna chata hon.aap ki mahrbani ho gyee.

  • lov 4r girl

    pllllllllllllllllzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • Waleed Zafar

    An excellent descriptive article regarding the Heera Mandi! I have always wondered how the red light district of Pakistan would be like and this surely demonstrates the true nature of the place. I do agree with the rest of the people who have commented that you publish this on to some magazine since i have not found any article that is so rich in detail.
    Thanks Mayank for writing an incredible article!
    (btw really disappointed by later comments. Typical uneducated behaviour!)

  • Alok from India

    Hello friends,
    I really loved the language that the author has used. Thats awesome. I happen to visit a similar whore locality in Delhi too for short sex experiences. The scene that you have beautifully depicted is very close to the one observe’d in GT Road in Delhi. Superb article indeed. I congratulate the author for the honest attempt. We must not forget that its one of the oldest profession for the mankind. I know its very derogatory but we have to live with it.
    Alok

  • Sanghar

    Good Good Very Good

  • Syed Zahid Abbas

    My sweet hi to ALL,
    Well, picture of Lahore Heera Mandi is carefully drawn in a very beautiful manner by the non resident author. If you need to know more about real life in this RED AREA OF LAHORE CITY, please don’t hesitate, just make a call and get desired information for your documentaries, research purposes, study and learning with positive point of view. I’m Lahore city resident and have been in touch with Media, directed & produced documentaries on various topics for commercial and non commercial purposes. If, I may serve you for your convenience,It would be a great pleasure for me,
    Syed Zahid Abbas
    [personal contact info deleted]

  • Nina

    Mr Mayank undoubtedly you have a beautiful expression. The impression i got from this piece was that the decline of heera mandi as if was a really sad truth and a cultural blow to Pakistan which requires attention.
    Its a shame how people fantasize sex for pay as Love and a escape from the so called Suffocating shariah laws (as if Pakistan is an epitome of all the sharia laws which i guess only protect the women, poor and the needy with correct understanding and proper implementation) and responsibilities without even for once realizing that most of these women are forced for such an act, and when they want to escape from this dark world they cant find a place.

    I wish all such places like heera mandi never exist where women are exploited in the name of pleasure.

    Nina Siddiqui
    IBA Karachi

  • Sal

    Nina, did you ever live in the UK as a child?

  • Umar

    Please brothers don’t waste your time in such bad habits

  • sameer

    that’s not gud i don’t kike this

  • sohail

    hi ,
    if some woman like to meet me for good ralations pl mail me at idealhort@yahoo.com

  • usman

    i am too hot and i want to put my LUN in the mazedaar phuddi

  • abbas rizvi

    amazing article mr.soofi , you have pictured and portrayed heera mandi as true as it is. you have truly said what had to be told , im sorry i read it after a while but i just couldnt stop appreciating your work.

    I have visited the place once and you actually told the story like i saw it , it was like my story being told by another. An excellent piece of work Mayank.

    Abbas Rizvi
    Karachi,Pakistan
    MBA Student

  • imran…………lahore

    good dude keep up the good……….your writing style was awsome…… really fluid…….character descriptions were awsome……….people in pakistan should read this stuff teaches you to look at different facets of everything……unfortunately if u talk about heera mandi in pakistan the only thing tht comes in peoples minds is sex and sin…………lols ironic tht these two should be the two things……..lols shows how simple minded we all are

  • jia khan

    very impressive

  • kashif

    heera mandi iz very comfortable place 4 becholers. they go there and do sex wid any hot girl. i also go there even 3times daily go

  • Talha

    Well Done!

  • Ali

    these alll are begrat nosence

  • EZAZ KHAN

    i hear lots of times abut ths plce and i wish to visit it

  • saif.

    o god me remember my grlfrnd parveen

  • najam

    always be thinking in positive

  • bili

    fucking is bad habit for muslims girls

  • bilal GCUF

    girls not somthing for boys so ignore plz

  • Ali

    Ap me koi mere sath sex krna chatahe any girl in faisalabad

  • Iksar

    Good old women for heera mundi & sexi poops

  • ali

    hello

  • Debashis

    Came across your piece while casually reading about Pakistan. Really nice… It’s sad that such a historical place is going down the drain in such a miserable manner.