The Delhi Walla hangs out with a dancing girl of Lahore’s Heera Mandi

Heera Mandi, Lahore’s fabled red light district, is almost dead. Most dancing establishments have shut down. The courtesans no longer pretend to be mere dancers. Operating as full-fledged sex workers, they have set up discrete bases in the city’s other areas where they solicit clients on cell phones.

The mujra woman at a heera mandi kotha

However, tonight as The Delhi Walla is walking in a Heera Mandi street, while the moon is rising above the minaret of the grand Badshahi Mosque, I can hear the music of dholaks and harmoniums, and the tinkling of womens’ pajebs (anklets).

The Delhiwalla with a heera mandi madam

Once, Mughal princes courted the Heera Mandi’s virgins. The feudal families of North India sent 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. But now times have changed. Heera Mandi is merely another red light district where men go only for sex, not for music and poems.

Stepping into an establishment, I find a lady sitting on a sofa. Her face is gleaming with layers of makeup. Dressed in a parrot-green kurta and mullah shalwar, she is wearing one necklace and two finger rings. On the floor, her musicians are waiting for customers. I try talking to her but she is refusing to tell me her name. She is not saying where she has come from. But now she is getting up to dance for me. She is the last of the Heera Mandi legend.

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