The Dancing Girls of Lahore by Louise Brown
Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Ancient Pleasure District

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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.


About Louise Brown

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Louise Brown is an academic at Birmingham University, England, and the author of several books on Asia. She frequently returns to Lahore, Pakistan.
Published October 13, 2009 by Harper. 320 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Religion & Spirituality, Business & Economics, Health, Fitness & Dieting, History, Gay & Lesbian. Non-fiction

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Brown manages both to expose the horrors of the women’s circumscribed lives and to show that Maha and her daughters are complicated, smart, tough—victims of a horrible system, yes, but also, simply, people, no less multidimensional than anyone else.

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I make this distinction because, I believe, on one hand Brown has to understand the culture while simultaneously processing what she is witnessing (there are times she admits that understanding what is going on is hard because her Urdu is not proficient enough) while, on the other hand, she is su...

Jul 01 2005 | Read Full Review of The Dancing Girls of Lahore: ...

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