Bejewelled, beautiful courtesans, a la Madhubala or Aishwarya Rai, are just an indulgence in Mughal nostalgia. Hira Mandi, once a place of culture and tradition, has now been transformed into Lahore’s brand new Food Street.

The painter Iqbal Husain converted his mother’s home in Hira Mandi to a restaurant, Cooco’s Den. Facelift of the street has been at the cost of culture.

Nirupama Dutt

WHEN Urdu writer Ghulam Abbas wrote a classic Urdu short story called Anandi way back in 1939, and inspired a memorable film by Shyam Benegal called Mandi in 1983, was he playing the role of a clairvoyant? Well, if one looks at the fate and fortune of Lahore’s Hira Mandi one would certainly believe so. Well prophecy does accompany major literary endeavour but it was more a case of understanding human nature and power games. The story is a satire on politics and prostitution, both professions having many common principles, in which a brothel occupied by sex workers in the heart of the city is chosen by some politicians for its prime locality.

A lifetime later, Hira Mandi of Lahore seems to have become the target of the politicians’ imagination and the area known better for its sex and sleaze in present times is now the place for the rich and famous to dine on the choicest delicacies of Pakistani cuisine and pay a pretty packet for the fare.The new Food Street is the realisation of Pakistani Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s dream to replace the Food Street created by his predecessor Pervez Elahi’s at Gwalmandi in president Pervez Musharraf’s times. The V-shaped offshoot of the road connecting the Mandi to the Fort opened as Fort Road Food Street, with 27 buildings acquired for the project, opened business a couple of months ago. The old buildings have been renovated, painted and decorated to supposedly resemble the Mughal architecture of yore and Pakistani newspapers report that concentrated here are the business interests of multinational companies, business tycoons and others close to the ruling party.

Maryam Rabi, an architect at the Agha Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan, working on the walled city of Lahore, criticises the makeover in a blog for The Dawn: “On visiting the Fort Road Food Street, one would expect to be introduced to the true culture and experience of the walled city – the project, however, rarely brings forth that opportunity and instead presents a ‘Disneyfied’ version of itself to the public. The words, conservation, restoration and protection are widely misunderstood in most of Pakistan. What has been implemented on the Fort Road is merely a superficial facelift and a complete disregard for its historic context and cultural value.” French journalist Claudine Le Tourneur d’lson, who recently released her novel called Hira Mandi in India and Pakistan, disparages the appropriation of the buildings, and says her 1988 visit there showed how the red-light area of Lahore was different from those of Mumbai or Cairo: “There can be no comparison. In Mumbai or Cairo all you see is flesh trade. Nothing more, nothing less. In Hira Mandi you saw colour, you saw dance, you heard music. There was a culture to it. Sadly, it is no longer there. The girls have mostly gone to the UAE, where they make more money and where there is no moral police. The ones who have stayed behind practise their profession in posh localities of Lahore or are at the beck and call of hotel guests.”

Hira Mandi, which came up as the bazaar of the courtesans during the Mughal period and was reduced to the red-light area in modern times, is certainly in the royal neighbourhood just behind the grand Badshahi Mosque built by Emperor Aurangzeb. While some of its sanctity was lost in colonial times, it yet retained its grandeur, giving some great singing stars to the radio and films. Pran Nevile, the chronicler of Lahore, describes it thus: “It would be a mistake to take Hira Mandi for a prostitute’s street, which certainly it was not, even though some of its inmates carried on the world’s oldest profession for a living. The courtesan’s home was essentially a place of culture when some of the singing and dancing girls found their place into the royal court.”

The settlement came to be known by this name after a General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh called Hira Singh Dogra who lived in the vicinity. Many an exceptional musical talent was nurtured in the kothas here, including Noor Jahan of theAwaaz de kahaan hai-fame who rose to get the title of Malika-e-Tarannum in Pakistan. She is remembered well for her sonorous rendition of the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Sardar Bai is still remembered. There were others who made it to Hindi films like Mumtaz Shanti, Shamshad Begum and Khurshid and others who were a hit on the radio, including inlcuding Umra Zia who became a radio star of the 1930s, singing Mera salam le ja, taqdeer ke jahan tak. Nevile has fond memories of Gulzar Begum,daughter of the accomplished tawaif Sardar Begum, popularly known as Tamancha Jaan, radio star of the 1940s, whom he went to meet in Lahore when he took a pilgrimage to the past in 1997. “Most of my patrons were Hindus and Sikhs and they left Lahore with the Partition. Soon I shut down my salon and stopped singing and educated my children.” Munni Bai, who supported by singing on kothas the music career of Ustad Amir Khan, one of the greatest exponents of Hindustani Classical music and founder of the Indore Gharana, was originally from Hira Mandi.

Courtesy: The Sunday Tribune

Classical arts lost out to popular folk and film numbers and the era of ‘keeps’ or ‘mistresses’ ended and vulnerable sex workers grew out of the Mandi, with little protection and no patronage. And now their habitation is valuable real estate and up for grabs. Perhaps even the writer Ghulam Abbas could not envisage way back in the 1930s that the Mandi would come to such a pass.

Penning their lives

SELLING love and saving dreams in the Pakistan’s ancient pleasure district was the poignant sub-title of British sociologist Louise Brown’s book The Dancing Girls of Lahore,published in 2005. The past decade has seen several women writers from Pakistan and abroad picking up the pen and telling the dismal stories of their sisters in Hira Mandi. Brown, a lecturer of sociology in the University of Birmingham, spent four years in Hira Mandi studying the wretched the lives of the descendants of the women of culture and grace before picking up the pen to tell their stories.

The latest addition to the tales from these lanes and alleys is a novel called Hira Mandi by French journalist Claudine Le Tourneur d’lson and it is inspired by the life of the area’s well-known artist Iqbal Hussain, who was the son of a sex worker who studied art and became a teacher at the National College of Art, Lahore and realised his dream of freeing his sister and aunt from the bondage of selling their bodies night after night. He was also the first to convert his mother’s abode to a restaurant called Cooco’s Den. The story begins at the time of Partition and spans the next five decades during which Hira Mandi deteriorated from being a refined part of town where elegant courtesans and dancing girls held court to a crumbling red-light district.

Faryal Gauhar’s novel The Scent of Wet Earth in August came out in 2002 and it was based on her film Tibbi Gali. Teaching film-making at the National College of Art she told a poignant tale of a mute girl who yearns for a better life as she is caught in the dark world of her drug-addict mother and aunts who once sold their bodies. In telling this story she brings out many moving stories from the neighbourhood.

Social activist Fouzia Saeed’s book Taboo that also came out in 2002 takes an ethnnographic look at the sex workers of the Mandi. The book is a journey of discovery into the infamous red light district of Lahore tracing the phenomenon of prostitution coupled with music and dance traditions of in South Asia.

The Nation’s opinion: Azad J&K is India, Hina immotional & stranded Paks in B’desh

At least in new secondary education textbooks for class three in Indian Army schools in Srinagar, the Indian government accepted existence of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The new textbooks depict the map of Jammu and Kashmir exactly how Pakistan claims it to be.
Indian government officially used to call this part of the disputed territory between two nuclear armed countries as ‘Pakistan-occupied Kashmir region’ but the new textbooks now have shown it as ’Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, a term used by Pakistan to describe the region.
Further, the books showed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which India says is a part of Kashmir, is called the Northern Areas.
Indian opposition Bhartiya Janta Party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has said that the Education Ministry must get to the bottom of the matter. he said.

“The Education Ministry must look into the matter immediately. They must find out if this was a mistake or done deliberately. This is a serious matter because Jammu and Kashmir is a controversial topic. If wrong information about the country’s boundaries is being taught to young children, then it must be stopped at once because it is goes against the good of the country.” 

Meanwhile, Congress leader Rashid Alvi said action would be taken against those responsible. “We do not have information on the issue. If such a thing has been done, action will be taken,” he said.
Reportedly, some Indian army commanders have now asked some of the school principals to get back to them with the books so that they can take a look. In the meantime, the Indian army has decided to write to the Education Ministry regarding the issue.
Indian army has been maintaining that its position vis-a-vis the issue is very clear since the army is not a publishing authority. Also, the book was published by a leading publishing house based in Karol Bagh in Delhi, which means that, probably, the Education Ministry is going to sit up and take notice.
Later, the Indian army withdrew the controversial class three textbooks from schools, without giving any explanation.

(Hina’s) Incomprehensible judgement
It appears emotions, rather than pragmatism, have become dominant (in Hina) in this regard.

It appears emotions, rather than pragmatism, have become dominant (in Hina) in this regard.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s remarks on ties with India and other neighbours that Pakistan cannot afford to be selective in relations with them are contrary to what has traditionally been our foreign policy.

It appears emotions, rather than pragmatism, have become dominant in this regard.

Not only does this reflect a betrayal of the Kashmiris suffering under India’s brutal occupation, but also the disputed state’s singular importance to our very survival. Terming Kashmir as jugular vein is not a philosophical view, but a hard reality.

In its quixotic venture to cosy up to the Indians the government seems to be fascinated by the idea of bilateral trade. Ms Hina’s view that we can’t be selective in relations means compromising on this core issue. Peaceful co-existence can follow when Kashmir is resolved according to UNSC resolutions? As of now India is not even ready to talk about this outstanding issue? The government cannot be blind to Indian armament programme also that makes its intentions to push Pakistan to the corner, militarily as well as economically, quite clear.

Donaton for stranded Pakistanis in Banglades !

Donation for stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh !!!

Kannada ‘Dirty Picture: Silk Sakkath Maga’! Now, Pak import Vina Malik in south siren’s botched up life movie !!

Veena Malik has landed the role of Silk Smitha in the Kannada film titled Dirty Picture: Silk Sakkath Maga.
For quite a while, the talk about Ekta Kapoor’s The Dirty Picture being remade in the south has been doing the rounds and the actresses like Nikitha Thukral, Charmee and Pooja Gandhi were reportedly approached for the role. However, it’s Veena Malik, the hot import from Pakistan, who has landed the role.

Moreover, the producer Venkatappa claims that the film he’s making is not the remake of The Dirty Picture starring Vidya Balan. The producer says:

” I am coming up with a better interpretation of the south siren’s botched up life. I am not bothered about taking any remake rights from Ekta Kapoor because, none has the ownership of the story of Silk Smitha.”

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Veena Malik who already has a number of Hindi films in her kitty is excited about her Kannada debut. Veena is quoted as saying in a media report:

“Yes, I am doing a Kannada film based on the life of Silk Smitha…I will join the sets on May 12. I always wanted to have a career in the south too, and now it has happened.”  

Veena Malik is reported to be getting Rs. 85 lakh for her role.

Pakistan’s senior journalist Murtaza Razvi (DAWN) assassinated !

Murtza Razvi, senior  journalist and magazine editor of  daily Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper.

Murtza Razvi, senior journalist and magazine editor of daily Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper.

Murtaza Razvi, a senior assistant editor and head of magazines at Dawn, was murdered in the early hours on Thursday, in Karachi.

According to police, Razvi’s body was found from an office apartment in the Defence Housing Authority area. His hands were tied and his body bore torture marks and he had apparently been strangled to death. However, the real cause of his death will be established after the postmortem has been performed, police said.

The late journalist’s family has said that he did not have any personal enmity with anyone. They have requested the media not to speculate until the police apprehend his killer(s).

Murtaza Razvi was one of the most highly-qualified journalists, with over two decades of experience. He had worked at a number of renowned publications before joining the Dawn Media Group, where he also held the post of Dawn‘s Resident Editor in Lahore.

Later on, he had moved to Karachi to take over as Dawn’s magazines editor.

He is survived by his widow and three daughters.

He also authored two books, ‘Musharraf: the years in power’, a political biography of former president Parvez Musharraf, as well as ‘Ordinary People’ which comprised interviews with ordinary citizens of Pakistan about history, society and culture.

Razvi held a master’s degrees in Ancient Indian and Islamic History from the University of Punjab, Lahore and Political Science & International Relations from the US.

‘Jack of All’.. Pakistan Army to setup “Apna Pakistan” amidst protest

” jack of all trades and master of none..”

I am an Indirect financier of all the Projects run by Our Army. I am a Tax payer of Pakistan.I have every right to ask why Tax Payer’s money is spent like that .
When my 16 percent of the salary is deduced and i came to know that radio channels, housing schemes, private universities and colleges are going to be financed by Pakistan Army which in turn getting this money from Gov on the name of defence and that is actually my money and I am a Tax payer and i have every valid right to raise my voice. If they could spent out of their own pockets then i have no right.
All i want is some professionalism in our Army. There should be a Difference in a Warrior and a Businessman. Army Officials dont need to become Jack of All trades and Master of None. Be a Master of Defence and that is what Pakistanis want.

asks a pakistani citizen Jawas Jutt, on Pakistan Army’s ambitious project to set up countrywide radio network ‘apna pakistan’ to expand media outreach throughout Pakistan. Objections are also raised in media about this radio project which is will be parallel to Radio Pakistan and PTV aiming to create what the Pakistan Army calls ‘social harmonisation’ and to propagate ‘state vision’ in a ‘vibrant manner.’

After the successful execution of FM radio projects in militancy-hit areas of Swat, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Balochistan, a nationwide network of FM radios with a proposed name ‘Apna Pakistan’ is on the cards.

The network will run under the banner of 96 International Radio Network, with the military pulling the strings from behind the scene. Though most of the employees working with the network are civilians, a serving army officer will be the chief executive officer (CEO).

Taliban militants had set up their own network after having destroyed the state media network in Malakand. When the army moved in, it uprooted the militant network and established FM96 Radio Swat which has now been renamed FM96 Radio Pakhtoonkhwa.

Headed by a serving colonel of Pakistan Army, the network has continued to extend its outreach further and another station with coverage in Waziristan and Fata was later established which is now working as FM96 Pakhtoonzar. Yet another one was established for Balochistan named FM96 Vash Noori.

Equipped with state-of-the-art digital technology, the first of its kind in Pakistan, these radio networks are running ‘infotainment’ programmes – mainly local and Indian music – to counter ‘anti-state’ propaganda, officials said. Set up on February 24, 2009, the network initially used the studios of PBC/Radio Pakistan and the satellite facilities of PTV, but it now has a separate set-up in Islamabad and goes under the name of ‘Nine Six Media House’ where the latest studio facilities are available.

The only common question aired against setting up ‘apna pakistan’ is:

What is going on in Pakistan. Where is Professionalism. There are many media personals for this job. An Active duty officer have no right to run a broadcast network. After Defence Housing Authority, seting up private universities and colleges and many commercial projects now they are stepping into media business as well. So much for the Professionalism of Our Army.
We should learn from our Neighbor India is some aspects where An Army officer is only responsible to protect the borders of a country and they are not allowed to indulge in any other duty except to be a Professional Soldier and a defender of a country in the hour of need.

The army is already directing the entire media behind the scenes and now running Radio network parallel to civilian government? At a time when we want to push them back to purely military functions from running housing colonies, banks, airlines, universities, fertilizer and cement plants and other civil setups like NADRA etc. Another great business idea by Military Inc. Bloody Civilians, please get ready to pay for another 1000 employees from your taxes.

Pak media constantly under threats & mental stress !

Expressing concerns over the killing of journalists in the country, media practitioners in Pakistan recently called for better security measures for their colleagues.

“(Pakistani) Journalists were working in an environment of rising intolerance and growing ethnic and sectarian extremism. Staff and leaders of the city`s newsrooms receive all kinds of threats by SMS, email and telephone calls, putting them under serious mental stress.”,

says a Media Commission Pakistan`s report entitled “Attacks on Journalists and Media Freedom” released recently at the Karachi Press Club. The 96-page report has been prepared in collaboration with the South Asia Free Media Association (Safma), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), ATJ and the KPC.

The report noted that journalists were not provided adequate security by their corporate managers, especially when operating in the conflict zone. It said that journalists should be provided risk and life insurance coverage by the government and the media employers besides ensuring training in conflict reporting.

Urging the state actors to follow a code of conduct that ensures respect for freedom of expression and the right to know in their relations with the media, it also stressed upon the media to observe a code of ethics in reporting conflict.

While calling for a “balance between secrecy and accountability” in the conduct of intelligence gathering, the commission emphasises that “important agencies (ISI and IB) be made more law-abiding, through a statutory framework carefully outlining their respective mandates and roles.” It also recommends that “all agencies be made more accountable through effective and suitably tailored mechanism of internal administrative review, parliamentary oversight, and judicial redressal of citizen`s grievances against them”.

The speakers supported the commission in its call to parliament and the armed forces for implementing remedial measures by intelligence agencies and parliament to help improve relations between the media persons, citizens and security agencies.

About reports of multiple threats to journalists` security in Sindh, particularly in Karachi, the report chronicled the murder of Wali Babar, Altaf Chandio and several other incidents.

It has noted that a TV anchor hosting a programme on extortion was axed by his employer, and sadly enough, the journalist is not prepared to disclose the political party which robbed him of his job and access to information to the general public, because of fear. It has noted that gunmen open fire on media vehicles while reporters and cameramen are attacked and beaten up in the city.