Rumour has it…

March 1, 2008

Forbidden Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saad Sarfraz Sheikh @ 6:06 pm


f love

She stood outside her door. It was 8:45am Where was he?


He would often pass by in a horseless carriage, the crazy contraptions they had brought from England. He’d rarely look towards her and then drift ahead.


She’d smile back and cough in the smoke from his carriage. Her eyes would watch out for him as he disappeared into the horizon.


It was the year 1900 and things had started to change. Noisy wooden boards had begun to fly, carriages raced ahead without horses. A year ago, he would trot by on a horse, with all the pride and arrogance of a king.


And then amid the commotion, out of the blue, she heard a familiar sound.


There he was, his carriage swung around the bend, neatly dressed in a tweed coat, she could see the sky in his well-polished shoes.


But this time he didn’t look at her, he just sped past her.


Did he not see her? Did she not wear something attractive? Something was not right about today. Maybe he was in a hurry.





Jahanara, the apple cheeked girl, seemed as innocent as innocence itself. But that was not true. Even she knew it. Since she belonged to the Forbidden City that was carved out of lust. She was part of the world’s oldest profession, but she felt no shame, just little regrets. It was not something she wanted to do, it was something she HAD to do. Something her mother had done, and something, against her wishes, her daughters would do. For the world she was a mere commodity.

Everyday Mustansar would park his carriage near the fort. He was a different man. He didn’t come here for pleasure, and even if he did, he didn’t depend on others for that. He had his art to satisfy him. With his old camera, he’d click away at whatever pleased him. A diary would meticulously record his day.


A pair of eyes followed his every movement, as he unwarily moved about, his own eyes, searching for the perfect shot, many a people had photographed Old Lahore and the many monuments around it. He just had to do it differently.


Many a times, his thoughts had wandered to the notorious red light area. It was right next to the Badshahi mosque. The minarets of the mosque had often aroused curiosity in him and made him turn towards them. It was something he felt deserved a story of its own, or maybe a photograph. But he was careful, he was the son of an influential politician, word could get around.


Jahanara yearned to break free from these chains and escape by clinging onto invisible ropes hanging in the sky. Yet there were none. She’d try to grab onto something but remained empty handed. She was sinking into a ditch she’d dug herself a long time ago.

She wanted to live a respectful life, but society’s label was a tad too bit for her to remove the stain she carried along with her.


How she wished she could be someone else at this stage. Anyone poor or rich, just not herself. Every night she had sinned in ecstasy, and she’d be doing the same after dusk to put food on the table.

She’d dream of a man rescuing her one day, not a man who’d utilise her for his pleasure. Someone who’d love her not for the money he had paid her.

But that never happened in the bazaar-e-husn, life never changed there.

For centuries they had served royalty, bureaucracy and the literati.

Oil rich sultans would often pick a handful as a foreign sample for their harems.

She wore cheap jewellery and tied her hair with a plain black clip. She wrapped flimsy colourful dresses seductively around herself, with intentional exposure. Her dupatta fell a little more than often. These were tricks of the trade.


Her pouting lips were armed with street-smart vocabulary that enabled her to talk with anyone, be it the local thandeydaar or a literature professor. She was part of the forbidden yet mystifying world of the courtesans.


Men were attracted by the enigmatic sound of ghungroos and love-songs to the legendary beauties that lived behind the calligraphic balconies of Heeramandi, and many fell in love with them.

Jahanara was a classically trained dancing girl in her mid-twenties. Daughter of a nameless father and a mother who had children from different ‘marriages’. Society and poverty had robbed her of her childhood when her virginity was auctioned for 50,000 rupees at the age of 16 to a feudal from southern Punjab. It was an undying circle of madness. Her daughters could never fall in love, they would know that their mother would have no option but to barter them again and again to the highest bidder.


Age often got the better of the many courtesans that worked there, but Jahanara was filled right up to the brim with sensuality. Something she and many of her satisfied customers were aware of.


Mustansar belonged to one of the elite families of Lahore. His father was an old eccentric politician who still held authority among the masses. His love of art had brought him to the National College of Arts in Lahore. Away from the dizzying clamour of the city, he had found happiness among like-minded individuals at his institute, where all had one thing in common, their passion for art.


His hedonistic excess, his escapism, involved a drive to the walled city, Old Lahore, on his horseless carriage. A recent gift on his 22nd birthday, it took him two hours to reach his destination. He’d cross the magnificent canal, the artery that ran through Lahore and separated different localities. A turn to the left and he could hear Old Lahore’s long lost soul calling out to him as his carriage hit the concrete in front of the Badshahi Mosque.


The term ‘walled’ seemed appropriate for the old part of the city. It rejoiced in Mughal monuments that bore testimony to lost time, buildings that he’d read about in history books. Even its people were back in time, since nothing had changed for them.


The old city had choked itself inside the walled city, in its effort to retain its old glory.

It was dying a slow painful death. Mughal architecture was being replaced with Gothic buildings as the locals silently watched. They’d lost their land and now they were losing their heritage. Silent spectators at their own heritage auction.


And like everyday at 8:45am, he passed through Heeramandi across the Walled city.


Apart from the usual ear-pierced pimps that ran beside his carriage, there was this one individual who disturbed him. Jahanara.


She’d wait for him everyday at the exact time, he’d often thought of varying his time but to no avail. She was always there, as if waiting to be ‘picked’ up. She’d smile at him, her trained eyes expectantly following his trail, yet he was careful not to show any kind of interest. She’d sway herself yet remain motionless, never losing hope of a reaction from him.


Mustansar knew who she was, since every female in Heeramandi was a dancing girl, a courtesan. Her social label was like a scar, a souvenir she could never lose. He streamed silently through the streets to his preferred location. This was the price he had to pay to enjoy what lay on the other side, the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi mosque.


He heaved a sigh of relief as the minarets of the mosque materialised on the horizon.

This mirage was promising as dark clouds teamed up in the sky. God was painting a wonderful landscape for him to capture. He surged with happiness and his mind set of for the perfect shot. He clicked to his delight, experimenting with different angles. He was adding colour to black and white. And here he was, at one with the spirit of Old Lahore. Nothing could take it away from him. His work would be the envy of all his colleagues.


The buildings bathed in glory, the rain added a whole new colour to them. Old Lahore was alive and he knew it. And with the arrival of the rain, a beautiful maiden dressed in white emerged from nowhere. Her long hair glowed in the sunlight as she innocently hopped around. For Mustansar, God had painted a paradise, where everything and everyone was beautiful. This maiden could put Aphrodite to shame and he attributed every iota of his existence to her beauty. He took many photographs in his efforts to do justice to the heavenly being that stood in front of him.


Her mind erupted as passion flowed through her. In knee-deep rainwater, she moved through the clear stream. Water sparkled in her reflection, shying away from her. She was part of the water, it was part of her. They both streamed in the same direction, yet their destination was different.


And suddenly they were together again, her face gleamed with pride. They held each other, it seemed till eternity, never wanting to let go. Their fingers trembled with desire. They were alone in a foreign land and they were one, timeless, ecstatic, void of any fear.


Their love flowed through each other, swift currents were no obstacles. Every action meant love, passion and desire. Every act, every movement, every word, was a labour of love. They were one.


With the crack of thunder, their very act of love ended and Jahanara faced the world that stood ahead of her. She had been dreaming, but the very thought of it made her dance with extreme happiness. She finally had her man to herself. This man could love her for whom she was; make her feel beautiful with his art. He was the ray of hope she had waited for all her life. When society had kidnapped her and her dignity was used as a ransom, this was the rescuer who would release her from the clutches of her kidnappers. For the first time in her life, she had felt God. She knew her life would change one day, all thanks to this stranger. For God had arranged the perfect situation for her, this was her reunion with happiness.


But suddenly Mustansar’s camera dropped to the floor and silence plagued the land. They stood as if paralysed, motionless with no expressions on their face.

The clouds disappeared and no nightingales sang. Sunlight pierced through the sky and everything felt dry. Whatever happiness there had been, left with the clouds. Their eyes met, Jahanara, the courtesan of Lahore, met Mustansar face to face for the first time. No words were said, no hands were shaken. Mustansar slowly bent down to pick the remains of his camera with all his work lost. What remained was his showdown with a courtesan.







With the departure of the stranger, whatever dreams and hopes Jahanara had were shattered till eternity. She would have to do with those who loved her by the hour. Be it an hour, at least they loved her for some time. No one would ever come for her. For her world was restricted within the Walled City and its people. One day she would die within it, with a grave no one would want to visit. A tragic epitaph with a randomly selected verse from Deevan-e-Ghalib.


She had sold her white dupatta to society, like a white flag that declared defeat. She gave in to the realities of life. She hoped her tears would one day wash her sins away. She hoped that day was somewhere around the bend, like the stranger who for a very short period of time had made her happy and hopeful.


Yet till date, an amalgamation of humanity, despair, ecstasy, and love wrapped in a morbid stream still flows, not in her heart, but the many hearts that beat in the ancient yet lively pleasure district of Lahore.


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