Lahore – Heera Mandi

April 26, 2006

Masjid Badshahi di senja hari (AGUSTINUS WIBOWO)

It’s just next to this holy mosque

“Larki marki dekaun?,” asked a man, when I passed the famous red light area of Heera Mandi on my way to the biggest mosque of Mughal dinasty, the Badshahi Mosque. What he meant was whether to show me the girls. Without me asking, he said that the price was 300 Rs only, very cheap.
“Mujhe dilcaspi nahin!” (I am not interested) I said after quite a while he kept following me and trying to “sell” his comodity.
“Accha!” he left me alone.

The red light district of Heera Mandi, had been the place of dancing women, transexuals, and prostitutes since the era of Mughal kings. And in modern Lahore, the area is still notorious for the similar things. I was interested to learn more about this area and the life behind, but it was too risky to do research here. Heera Mandi itself looks quite normal during the day, old bazaars with small alleys, women in purdah, males wandering along the ways (some are pimps).

I was in Badshahi Mosque, just few meters of walking distance. Actually it was bizzare to consider the location of this great mosque just next to the redlight area. It was a hot day. Lahore was burning this summer, 42 degree. Due to the heat I decided to go back to my hotel and waited until sunset when it could be cooler.

Later on the same day, I returned back to the Badshahi Masjid. This time I was not thinking about Heera Mandi at all, and didnt expect that this venture threw me deep into the heart of the prostitute district. Hmmm.. this is a mosque visit anyway. So what happened? Just keep reading.

I met some photographers who work everyday in the Mosque area, taking pictures of visitors and get paid. Their income was not bad, for 10 photos of different scenes, they got 180 Rs (3 dollars). From these photographers I also met some guides. One guy even spoke some Malay like “Senang bertemu Anda!”, “terima kasih”, etc. But he pronounced the Malay sentences in Chinese tones. Strange.

One guy, introduced himself as Jvd, an English teacher cum guide, shaked my hand when the first time he met me. Just a second later, he asked for the second shake hand. I felt this guy is suspicious.

I was talking with other photographers about my photography work. And the guy, Jvd, asked me to take some, some beautiful photos of him. I said it was difficult due to the lighting. It was dawn, so no sunlight to lighten up the face. But he said no problem.

It was prayers time. Jvd and other photographers went inside to do the prayers. I just wandered around and took some pictures of the interior of the mosque during the prayers. Actually I already forgot about Jvd, I couldnt remember his face as that day I just met too many people. Once, he called me after he finished his prayer. He asked to be photographed. Then he also invited me to visit his family’s house nearby, just for 5 minutes, for tea, he said. “You can take pictures of my mother, my sisters,” said him. But for five minutes? And the location? Yes, next to the mosque, then it should be Heera Mandi.

I told him I would like to go to Minar-e-Pakistan first before going with him. Actually he was much more in hurry. But he said I should do my business first, he could wait. So he kept following me to the Pakistan Tower. There were some girls sitting in front of the mosque.
“Which one is beautiful? The left one? The center one? I think the center one,” said him.
I didnt respond.
When we crossed the road, he asked me in Urdu whether it was possible for male to marry another male in Indonesia. I said no. I wondered why he concerned about gay marriage. Then I told him about Indonesian movie, Arisan, which won the best movie in 2004, a gay movie.
Opposite the mosque is the Lahore Fort. He said tonight there would be orchestra, only open for VVIP guests, but he said that we could see from his rooftop in Heera Mandi. Hmmm, why not?

I was taking pictures of Minar-e-Pakistan, this English teacher was always beside me. When I finished, I told him, “OK I have time now”. We walk together to the gate of the park. Everytime we passed a girl, he always said, “Beautiful…” or “Sexy…”
I didnt really like to comment. I do really feel embarassed on commenting the “beauty” or “sexiness” of girls in hejab.
“What girl do you like?”
“Small ones,” I said, “Indonesian girls are small and cute”

He was in rush. Despite the fact that Heera Mandi was so close, we took a rickshaw. Of course he paid.

Heera Mandi at night, doesnt look like quite a red light area. Hmm, it was not that late anyway. It was just 8 o’clock. I asked him about the prostitute.
“Ssshhh!!! Don’t be to loud!”
We walked through a small alley.
“Look at the young baby,” he pointed a baby of two or three years old playing on the fence outside a house, “she is the daughter of that woman” pointed him to a woman in the house. And he meant that the woman was Heera Mandi example of woman.

We walked through smaller alley in the small alley. There was row of houses, not closed by door but only a slice of curtain. We went to one of the houses, directly go in. An old woman was sleeping, and suddenly woke up. Surprised. She then put on her dupata to cover her hair.

Jvd asked me to sit down on the same matras as the woman’s. He said I should be relaxed and feel at home.
“Now on, only English. Dont speak Urdu.”
He asked for permission to go upstairs. I was waiting in the room with the old woman, dressed in yellow khameez and green shalwar.

It was a small room. As been told before, the door was opened, and it was only covered by curtain. Maybe it was too hot for the woman to sleep with the door closed. The room was blue painted. Completely blue, reminded me to the blue houses of Brahmins in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Some photos of family are on the wall. On the other side was a smaller room, look like kitchen. And there were stairs just behind me. That’s where Jvd went away.

The woman didnt talk a lot with me. I felt quite uneasy, as Jvd just left me away with this completely stranger (he, himself, was also a stranger for me). He came back after five minutes, talked with the woman in Urdu, that I was a tourist going to see the rooftop.

Kota tua Lahore dengan gang-gang kecil yang bak rumah sesat menyimpan banyak kejutan. Salah satunya, Heera Mandi (AGUSTINUS WIBOWO)

The neighborhood is full of mystery

“This is not my house,” he said, “she is not my mother.”
I got confused. I asked for explanation.
“I will tell you the story on rooftop.”

There was another story upon the first room I described before. The same size of room, with television set and looks like family room. Nobody inside. We kept climbing the stairs until the rooftop. There were some charpoys there, three if i was not mistaken. The rooftop was not that high anyway. I wondered how could I see the performance for the VVIPs in Lahore Fort from this rooftop of simple hut in Heera Mandi. Even the surrounding buildings are much higher that I hardly see even the Mosque.

He asked me my penis size.
I forced him to tell what story he was trying to hid, without giving answer of his question.
He asked me the average penis size of Indonesians.
I said I didnt know, I never did research by measuring penis sizes of Indonesian males. I asked him again the story he wanted to tell me.
Then he asked to check my legs, he meant to touch.
I didnt give him. No point.
I wanted to listen more stories about Heera Mandi.
“You are not journalist?”
“Not writer?”
“Please dont write about this. Dont try to take pictures of the people here…., dont ask for anything.”
“I am not writer!”
“Yes, sure.”
“OK, this is secret.”
He said that the house was prostitute house. The woman’s daughters are prostitutes. He came here actually to ask me whether I would like to get prostitutes.
“But I am not pimp,” said him, “I mean I could get discount, you pay 1000 Rs, I pay 500 Rs.”
“No, I dont pay for sex.”

OK, to get more deeper about the story, I let him to check my leg.
“Very strong,” said him, then continued by asking, “you get your corner of the penis cut?”. He meant circumcision.
“Sunat?” I asked.
“Yes,” answered me, “It’s common in Indonesia.”
“May I check?”
“Then you check mine.”
“I dont need to.”
“Please….,” he tried to confince me.
I am not a doctor, and I am sure he was not. What are this checkings for?
Considering now I am in Heera Mandi, on a rooftop of who-know-what-it-is house, with complete strangers, and eager to gather more picture about this area, I think that touching his thing is not harmful for me.
I kept refusing, he tried to confince me. “With left hand, with left hand.”
“OK, with left hand.”
“Please don’t mind…. we in Pakistan, no woman…., sometimes also do sexy jokes with boys.”
He was not the first one.

He got happy. He said that he wanted to go down, for 2 minutes, to have fun with the girl. 2 minutes? It was too fast anyway.
He came back less than a minute.
And he did the same thing for twice.
He said, “can not do yet. Have to wait for that woman to make tea.”
I think he was nervous of something.

“As you are photographer, I tell you one secret…” The “secret” was every night at 10 there would be women dancing on the street, then I take photos. But I dont think the women like to be photographed, and there should be kinda mafia in this area. He thought for a while, and say, “Hmm… You can take photos from far away. I have a friend here, so we three can go together!”
The payment was 300 to 400 Rupees. I said it was too expensive. He said to sleep even 700 or 800. But to watch dancers 300 Rupees? He said it was tea money, the term what in Indonesian we call as uang kopi (coffee money) or uang rokok (cigarette money).

“You friend, me friend…” he said, “What are you worrying.”
OK, so here is the story, from his version. He said that the woman had two daughters. He liked one of them. He wanted to get close with her, but if he came alone without me it would be strange.
“You know, it’s Pakistan…” said him.
So he wanted to use me, as a foreigner who wanted to see the rooftop of the house.

I thought he was telling lie. How can he said that someone whom he loved as a prostitute initally?

“Where is that woman?” he got annoyed. We have been waiting for quite a while on rooftop. Actually it was about 10 minutes, but I was in fear and nervousness, listening to weird story in a rooftop of a house in the center of a red light district, with someone who-knows-who-he-is. “I paid her 30 Rupees for tea, why not coming?”
“30 Rupees for tea??? it’s too much!”
“10 Rupees for sugar, 10 Rupees for tea, and 10 Rupees for her.”

He brought me to a room. It was dark. Small. A toilet. He wanted to do more with me. I was so scared. He said he wanted to suck me.
Luckily someone was coming. So we went back to the charpoys on the rooftop.

A girl. Very young. Not veiled. But the dupata was on her breast. Oh, she wear short sleeves also. They were talking in Urdu but I didnt get quite clear. Maybe it was Punjabi. He asked her to give me salaam. Yeah, shakehand. Then just smiled. Then the girl went down the stairs.

“Did you see that?” he asked me.
“I smooched her butt,” he said, “she is my girlfriend.”
All right.
“But her sister is also here. Cant do anything.”

Once again, he asked whether I was not writer. He saw a photo of my Malaysian journalist friend on my mobile, he also warned me not to tell her.
“Why should I? She is not in Pakistan anyway,” I said.

“So, have you done sexy conversation before?” he asked me.
“Yes, in Pakistan, quite common.”
“Please tell me, how many times boys asked you to touch yours. I dont ask the name, the age, the location, because it’s secret.”
“Quite a lot,” I answered honest, “I dont know why”
“Because your hand is soft.”
I remembered he asked me why my palm is soft. Because I was student and photographer, not working physically. I remembered someone in Gilgit told me before that the sign of gays are soft palmed. I told him it was not true, nobody can see others’ sexuality just by rubbing palms. But I realized that Jvd tried to shake my hand twice. I now realized what he was trying to check me. Including those leg checking and body checking.

And also realized, that this house, the rooftop with charpoys, also what he rent to get me laid. 30 Rupees was not for tea, it was for rent. In fact we never saw the tea and I only took water. Those five or seven minutes he asked from me in the Badshahi Mosque was not for tea drinking, it was for my body.

I insisted my other friend was waiting for me. I was waiting for his phone. Indeed, I was waiting for someone’s call to save me. But nothing coming.

Jvd, a young guy claiming himself as English teacher (he said that he also had to keep everything secret because his position of English teacher that people respected him), moustached, asked me about my sexual experience with girls.
I told him he had reached the limit of my privacy.
While saying this he kept rubbing mine.
I think I had given him too much. Time to go.

We took a rickshaw, he dropped me somewhere in the middle of old city. He said he wanted for internet.
“You forget me, I forget you, OK?”

2 Comments on Lahore – Heera Mandi

  1. oop..that was quite messy situation.. infact quite unfortunate and shamefull for pakistanies. But if end is well all is well..and i think in foreign land one should not believe on peoples so soon..especially when behaviour of this cunning person was doubtfull from very start.
    BTW you are a good writer..picturization of events and places is quite impressive..while reading the events it feels that i was the by myself..
    any how best of luck in future

  2. mahhad malik // April 28, 2006 at 6:30 am // Reply

    hey am really amaized to heard that story..u just be care-full next time haan..have-fun..bye..

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