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.
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.