A Universe of Failed Unions, Dreams and Abandoned Hopes

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The young men frequented the kothas to learn the bearings of polite society, the older men to socialize, or rekindle the memories of their lost youth. Whenever one of them fell in love with a tawaif or a nayika, his affairs provided a spectacle and entertainment to the rest of them, until he was cured of his passion. Those who could not survive it did not return. A tawaif who fell in love had only two choices: she could either put an end to the association, or leave the kotha to pursue a life outside — if one was offered her. Implicit in the latter choice was the understanding that she would never be readmitted to the kotha if the promise of the new life failed her. There was a universe of failed unions, dreams, and abandoned hopes that started in the kothas and trailed off into the anonymity of the city’s dark alleys. It was said — with some justification — that only the fickle survived in the kothas, and only the pitiless prospered.

—From Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, a novel with extraordinary characters in the twilight of their lives. Read more fiction in the Longreads archive.

Photo: British Library, Flickr

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