I always feel bereft when I find myself in the purgatory that exists between the finishing of a good book and the search for the next. It is a refractory period. The imagination pulls itself out of the world it was immersed in, the neurons regroup and only then can they begin to respond to a new stimulus, a different author, a different world.
I was browsing through heaps of books in an old book store, when I came across a well preserved, hard bound copy of ‘The dancing girls of Lahore.’
It isn’t as if the topic is a new one, or that I haven’t watched documentaries about prostitutes in Pakistan. I suppose the reason I was tempted to read it was because (a) the book was in REALLY good condition (always a temptation to pick up in an old book shop), and (b) it was written by a non-native, a British academic and anthropologist called Louise Brown.
It tickled my imagination to think that this woman, this pretty, red-headed, long-maned ‘goree’ actually spent four years on and off, living with and documenting the way of life of the inhabitants of the brothels in the seediest areas of Lahore: Heera Mandi….(arguably) the source of most of the actresses in Lollywood.
I expected the book to be educational, but I never imagined it to be quite so entertaining, even hilarious at times. I loved the perspective of the author as an observer, the way she presented our culture and our people back to us, but in a carefully unskewed way. The places and the events she describes could very easily become sordid, not that they aren’t, but somehow the reader manages to transcend the sordidness and the poverty and see things clearly for what they are. Sad, funny and overall, inevitable. We’re all faced with similar survival struggles, some struggles are just more epic than others. And the homosexuals and the drug addicts, the prostitutes and their children live a marginalised existence in our society, denied the compassion and the understanding of those born in different circumstances.
Now when I see billboards with some well known faces associated with our film industry, I almost feel as if I know them, and where they’ve come from. I am struck by the awareness that these women have escaped their fate and come out winners. It’s weird, but I actually feel they deserve to be applauded; they have worked hard and suffered and survived and what’s more, they have achieved fame. They exist, and they fulfill a need, and if they can make some money out of it, why the hell not? Why the derision and the censure?
If you don’t agree with me, read the book. Then we’ll talk. 🙂