This is an interesting article sent to us by Usman Khan
The other day I attended a dawat by a fairly well off middle class Pakistani family. You know your average bi-monthly get-togethers where the chaps sit largely in cold silence while the women pontificate on everything from the best way to control their servants to the latest drone attack in FATA. Anyway I digress. Whilst there, the amiable host tapped into my love for all things sweet and whipped me up into a frenzy about a new ice cream that was to be served for desert. Well who can fail to be excited by ice cream? Not me, that’s for sure. Imagine my dismay then when, instead of being served an ambrosial, delicately crafted desert, I was handed cup of Wall’s ice cream with all the pomp and ceremony of a banquet in the court of Bahadar Shah Zafar. It seems that a local vendor had started selling small scoops from Wall’s various array of premium packaged offerings. It was not exactly what I had in mind. But perhaps that is my fault. If six years in Pakistan have taught me nothing else – then it is that unfortunately Pakistani’s do not have an eye for a good thing.
Let me explore this further. For many months I had been hearing rave reviews about the Monal resteraunt in Pir Sohawa, Islamabad. It was an architectural gem, I was told, on par with anything found in Europe and America, a testament of Pakistani ingenuity and skill. A grand, majestic, superlative restaurant if any there was one. Well from my two visits there the best I can say is that the food is good, if slightly overpriced. Otherwise the restaurant itself is a hideous monstrosity. Instead on erecting a gem of a building, made from locally sourced material and one in tune with its surroundings, the owners have created and absolute eye-sore which instead of complimenting its setting, imposes itself on the beautiful hill with the same brute force of a vexed khala or phupo. And yet it is heralded and loved rather than loathed and despised. The only possible reason I can think of is that it has marble floors, large windows and generally conforms to most locals idea of what is ‘Western’ or ‘Modern’.
Pakistan is not a country lacking in culture. In fact it is steeped in it. But instead of embracing it – Pakistani’s have chosen to turn their backs on their heritage and embraced a very disjointed and distorted form of ‘modernity’. The highest form of praise it seems is to describe a thing as modern or westernized. Nowhere is this better highlighted than in the consumer habits. So many a Pakistani would rather buy a Cornetto than go to a local Kulfi wala and eat something that is made of actual milk. Others are likely to opt for the odiousness of KFC rather than going to their local Tikka place and having a far better quality meal at half the price. And god forbid one has their furniture hand made from a master Chinioti carpenter when flat-pack furniture can be purchased from Ikea or worse still Metro. While there are even people who prefer to buy Nestle yoghurt as opposed to local dahi – because it has a rawaiti maza! Surely, I am not the only one who sees the twisted irony in that.
Whereas in the West – the fashion of the day seems to be the embrace of good local, high quality, well sourced and distinctive foods and products – here it seems that the conglomerates and the culture of ‘identikit’ everything rules. Fashionableness and indeed status it seems is judged by branding as opposed to excellence. Which is a shame really because there is so much potential in the country for excellent local businesses to thrive and do well. There are certain exceptions to the rule. CoCo’s Den in Lahore is very notable one as are the fashion labels Khaadi and Ghulabo which have fused tradition with modernity to excellent results. But alas they are few and far between. For now though, it seems that the reign of Hyperstar and Pizza Hut is very much here to stay.