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Book Review~ Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District

Writing about the lives of “fallen women” is a problematic endeavor, especially in South Asia where the morality of the middle classes defines the views of the “educated”. There is too much romance, tragedy or judgment in such writing. So for an English-language writer to humanize women (and increasingly men) who pursue sex work as a source of earning a livelihood is often quite difficult.

Three years ago, when Mayank Austen Soofi told me about his project, I could not tell him how difficult it would be to write a book about the sex workers of Delhi’s GB Road. Of course there have been some interesting books about South Asia’s sex workers in recent years. British author Louise Brown, for instance, wrote a wonderful account of life in Lahore’s Heera Mandi in her celebrated book ‘The Dancing Girls of Lahore’. Pakistani writer and activist Fouzia Saeed wrote another important book on the subject appropriately titled ‘Taboo: The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area.’ Another book, though a work of fiction, is Feryal Ali Gauhar’s novel ‘The Scent of Wet Earth in August’. It tells the moving story of Fatima, a mute girl from the red light area, and her romance with one Maulvi Basharat from the mosque nearby. I liked Gauhar’s book for exposing the hypocrisy of a moralizing society while adding nuance to characters that were both victims and perpetrators of injustice.

Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District
Mayank Austen Soofi
Penguin Books Ltd, 2012
250 pages

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Mayank Austen Soofi with his bookMayank Austen Soofi with his book
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It was a chilly evening in Delhi when Soofi made me read the first five chapters of Nobody Can Love You More: Life in Delhi’s Red Light District. My trepidation vanished into thin air as soon as I read the prose, which was nothing like what I had read before on the subject. This book was about characters from the universe of a GB Road kotha, the North Indian equivalent of a salon, a place of performative art and sexual pleasure. I lost touch with Mayank for nearly a year, but having re-read those chapters now, I find them even more visual and melancholic than before. Soofi spent endless days, and sometimes nights, at one particular kotha. He immersed himself in the everyday lives of the women, their children, their pimps and clients, and saw it all not as an outsider but with an empathy and humanity that can only be garnered when you leave your preconceived notions before the act of writing. […]

Meeting Iqbal Hussain in Lahore

During my recent visit to Lahore, I met the Lahore artist, Iqbal Hussain. We had a nice, engaging chat, saw his recent works some displayed and some eating dust in the splendid Cooco’s Cafe located next to the Badshahi Mosque.

Iqbal’s matter-of-fact portraits have […]

Feryal Ali Gauhar – femme fatale

Conversations with novelist, filmmaker, feline aficionado, and femme fatale, Feryal Ali Gauhar, as she prepares to launch her second novel

Who doesn’t know Feryal Ali Gauhar? A novel at the top of The New York Times international bestseller list, years of television appearances and a highly publicised marriage to Jamal Shah that became fodder for countless gab sessions, have caricatured and made famous her persona. Had I not known her personally, I too may have fallen for the half-imagined tales littering the drawing rooms of socialites in this land of the pure. But I have had the pleasure of Feryal’s acquaintance for years, and not a moment of our friendship has resembled the images painted by petty gossip and lazy misinformation.

Feryal is a celebrated actor, filmmaker, journalist, activist, development worker and above all, a renowned novelist. Our recent meeting in her Zaman Park, Lahore residence took place after a long interlude. That afternoon, with the winter sun at our backs, we sat in her garden and talked with abandon while several of her cats and pet dogs meandered in and out of the plant-life; silent witnesses to our conversation and its occasional unfettered laughter.

Feryal is the youngest child of dynamic, accomplished parents. Her late mother, Khadija Gauhar, was a leading intellectual in Lahore who came to the city from South Africa after marrying her father, Sayyid was a military man from the NWFP who later retired from the army and took to farming. Her elder sister, Madiha Gauhar, is a talented theatre personality who founded theAjoka theatre group and has managed it for over two decades. Feryal was initially associated with Ajoka as its first female actor. The sisters also have an older brother, Aamir, an industrial engineer who operates a business in alternative energy products.

As a young woman Feryal attended the Lahore American School. Her experiences there included a reaction to the school’s requirement that all students, regardless of nationality, pledge allegiance to the United States. In response to this practice, the eight year old Feryal insisted that the Pakistani national anthem be played for the entire school as well. Later, Feryal was the first Pakistani and first female to head the school’s Student’s Council. She was an honour role student and captain of several sports teams. Several scions of leading feudal families at Aitchison College at that time remember Feryal leading her team into the school grounds to play soccer. What they especially remember is the soccer team uniform which revealed a rather shapely pair of legs. “Some have never forgotten that sight,” she chuckles. […]

Iqbal Hussain – Lahore’s controversial artist

Iqbal Hussain from Lahore is one of the finest painters we have. Most of his paintings depict women from the Heera Mandi (literally the diamond market)- or the centuries old red-light district. I found the
above image […]

February 6th, 2007|Arts & Culture, Lahore, Pakistani Art, South Asian Art|8 Comments