May 30, 2010
In Pakistan, they almost party like in the USA
If you ever visit Karachi make sure you have a local socialite contact so you aren’t bored out of your gourd on Saturday night because we have no bars, clubs or strip joints in town. Well… sorry, we actually do have strip joints – they’re called ‘mujras’ and tend to be rather sleazy affairs in farmhouses on the outskirts of the city. Take plenty of spare 100-rupee notes. Ask for a woman’s show otherwise you may get stuck with a hijra or trans-gendered lapdance.
Everyone, except for losers like me, ‘parties’ on Saturday night. The definition of party varies but if you’re talking about getting together with a couple of buddies to shoot the shit, it doesn’t really matter where or how. In the inner-city neighbourhoods, alley-cat runts with stone-washed jeans that would do Belinda Carlisle proud play cricket. Malnutrition and poor diet choices keep them poker thin with tiny fists for buttocks. Their hair is plastered down with their mom’s sesame oil and they wear leather wrist bands to look impossibly cool. If you ever want to learn real street Urdu, hang around these guys.
On Saturday night some of the ladies get chauffeured to the gymkhana where they sit on fold-out chairs with daycare coloured markers and play ‘tambola’ or bingo. Their drivers squat on their haunches and pick their teeth or suck on tobacco in the parking lot where they discuss Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Other women – the kind who wouldn’t be caught dead in cotton – swill around in their best drawing room silks at financier’s houses with their French manicures and ironed hair. Their banker husbands wet their lips with single malt scotch and pontificate about the rising tide of the Taliban, jockeying in unashamed spars of one-upmanship over who knows exactly WHERE Mullah Omar is hiding. The ladies grow steadily tipsier on the few bottles of the red stuff that were siphoned off an embassy connection.
And then there are some parties where vodka would never be seen. These parties take place in mosques where arthritic men lounge around on straw mats and drink cup after cup of tepid green tea. These Saturday night gatherings are ‘parties’ too, just the kosher kind. For everyone needs a little down time.
The ‘parties’ that have long fascinated me are the middle class ones. They take place in drawing rooms with leopard print sofas and baroque chandeliers. Families with too many cousins and overly polite conversation. Bored teenagers sulk in the tv room while their hosts develop crushes on them. Now that everyone and your dog has a mobile phone most of these long silences are taken up with them.
This Saturday night I wasn’t quite such a loser. A friend of mine IY is leaving Karachi and he was having a small farewell get together at his place. I finished work and drove over to the genteel neigbourhood of Defence Housing Authority Phase I. IY is from London and came traveling to Karachi where he worked at our newspaper for a short while as the sports editor. He’s a devilishly handsome young man with a likeness to Jeremy Irons, with a clipped British accent to go. When he came to Karachi he found a fantastic upper portion of a house for rent at Rs28,000. While he had put all his stuff in storage he still had a few chairs left that were out on the rooftop gallery.
While I’m too old to care now, the minute I walked in I realized that I wasn’t dressed for the night. (This is invariably the case with me). I was in a shalwar kameez and everyone else with in trousers and shirts or shorts. There was even, much to my marvel, a hot little thing in black tights and a tank top. Now, I’m no conservative, or fundo, but how in God’s name can you skitter around Karachi in clothing like that? Whenever I leave home I always make sure I have a dupatta or scarf at hand if I can help it. What if your car breaks down or you need to go to a police station? I guess, as a journalist, I tend to have to go to places like that, but still, it could happen to anyone.
They were drinking vodka and juice in paper cups and munching on slightly damp peanuts. Two groups had formed, one was IY’s journo friends from Geo, Dawn and The Express Tribune and the other was, as my friend R put it, “the kind of people we write about”. It included the black tights.
This group included a writer, a young woman who I am not terribly fond of because she thinks she’s better than me. She’s written one book and is working on a second with some Indian guy. I was introduced to a musician, a writer from the website cricinfo.com and a model-cum-director-cum socialite. They were discussing the male sex drive before 30. The musician was carrying on about how you have to produce your best work by 30 and that sex drive was key.
I quipped that the more someone talked about sex, the less they were getting.
When I grew faintly bored of the pseudo-intellectual drivel I turned to the other group where the more down-to-earth people were located. They offered me a drink and I refused. That opened the floodgates.
I used to say that it interfered with my SSRI intake but truth be told I have kind of given up drinking because I know my boyfriend doesn’t like it. There are Islamic reasons too. Your prayers aren’t accepted for 40 days after you’ve had a drink. Once I heard that, it was enough for me to stay away. When you’re 33 and chronically unmarried, you need God to listen when you pray.
I hung around that group for a while before deciding that it was time to go home. I wasn’t really up for much conversation anyway. The newsroom kind of leaves me dead. And because people know I’m a journalist, they often try to start a conversation with ‘So, what’s going on, what’s news?’ And that is the last thing I want to discuss on a Saturday night.