The Karachi Brothels Report by Burton – O’Hanlon Heroes (S2)

O’Hanlon travels after Richard Francis Burton. O’Hanlon follows Burton in his first major trip to West India. Because it was here that Burton developed the skills that would make him a famous explorer….and a spy that would deliver a very controversial report on the behavior of the British army in the Karachi brothels.

Richard Francis Burton, the translator of erotic works such as the Kamasutra, was kicked out of Trinity College in Oxford as a young man. Too obstinate and too difficult. And that’s when the young Burton signed up for the East Indian Army and traveled to West India. In no time he spoke several languages ​​and knew everything about Indian local religions, traditions and customs. And they were – to his great pleasure – a lot more liberal than the prudish England.

Burton’s inquisitiveness initially came in handy for the army leadership, because his ever-growing language skills and contact with the population made him a perfect spy. But his fellow soldiers felt that he went too far in his ‘anthropological’ interest and called him the ‘white negro’. Eventually, the free spirit of Richard Burton also became too much for the army leadership. After a number of years in northwestern India, Burton was instructed to report undercover of the brothel visit of his fellow soldiers in Karachi. And it was not ‘ordinary’ brothels but the houses of pleasure, where young boys, eunuchs and transgenders provided their services.

Burton took his assignment very seriously and wrote his famous Karachi Papers. A report that was so detailed that the army command put it deep in a drawer and dismissed Burton on the spot. O’Hanlon wants to know where those missing Karachi Papers have gone and is looking. En route he puts his life at risk in the Indian traffic, he comes face to face with crocodiles, he dances under police protection with transgenders in Karachi and in current Pakistan he is quite nervous about the enormous amount of Kalashnikovs around him .

Original title: De Karachi papers

O’Hanlon’s Heroes is a series of documentaries in which the British writer Redmond O’Hanlon follows in the footsteps of his heroes: naturalists, explorers and adventurers from the 19th century.

Presented by: Redmond O’Hanlon
Camera: Jackó van ‘t Hof
Research: Adelheid Kapteijn
Production: Nicole Frints en Nina Huisman
Direction: Roel van Broekhoven
© VPRO December 2013

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