Pakistan’s Economic Woes Hit Heart Of MM Alam

Pakistan’s Economic Woes Hit Heart Of MM Alam
Gulberg, Lahore. Glittering, overpriced, and full of aunties. The disparity between Pakistan’s haves and have-nots, the elites and the rest of us, the zamindars’ wives and their Filipino nannies, has never been more on display than along the raucous, congested, yet meticulously manicured, MM Alam Road. But Pakistanis are resilient and no amount of IMF conditions or dwindling currency notes will stop them from collecting on Pakistan’s premier shopping street, especially while the weather is nice.

Visiting Lahore, I am struck by the persistent, unshakeable, and monumental pride of its denizens.  Asked about Karachi, the average Lahori will scrunch up their face, shake their head, and recite the famous adage: He who has not been to Lahore has never been born. I have heard this phrase time and time again.

No where is this pride better exemplified than at the local shops and markets: inlayed-tables, rolls and rolls of fabric and ribbons, exquisite handiwork. This hustle and bustle reaches its ultimate crescendo at the center of Pakistan’s textile industry for women of certain style and taste: Khaadi. Inside, lawn kurtas hang, flowing in the gentle breeze of the AC, leather chappals are lovingly displayed on tables, ‘Sale 60% off’ signs festoon the windows. The effect is a maze of intricate kapras and jhoras, just like the intricate embroidery stitched on these ornate garments made of the finest imported cotton.

Yet the bright lighting and comfortable storeroom air temperature mask a troubling reality for many of the women inside: skyrocketing commodity prices, and extreme taxes on imported goods to Pakistan have drastically altered their way of life. Many have been forced to stop their tri-annual foreign vacations and Dubai shopping sprees, once a germane pilgrimage for these aunties of a certain way. No, instead they have been pushed to the local market, their young daughters flooding the ‘Western-wear section’ for jeans and short button-down shirts. Pakistan has never been an easy country, but certainly it is harder for some than for others.

Inside Khaadi, an aunty pushes past me on the way to the dressing room, nearly knocking me into a table of chaapals. I wonder, is this what it takes to survive in Pakistan?

Luckily in Lahore, too much thinking can be tempered with a plate of spicy karahi, the thicker the veneer of oil on top the better. Here one is afforded the finest selection of Pakistani cuisine east of Birmingham.  On the tandoor, Pakistan’s linguistic and ethnic diversity is on full display. Biryani from Karachi, Chapli Kabab from Peshawar, KFC from Bhera Rest Stop – all meld together to constitute what is known in the West as Indian Food.  I go to a restaurant which best encompasses this blend of cultures, of regional preferences and specialties, which makes Lahore’s food scene so diverse, dynamic, and insatiable: Paola’s. I’m treated to a cheese-naan type dish they call pizza, and a Mint Margarita (the addition of Murree’s Gin my own).

How much more can a person, a country, a society take? One thing is for sure: despite the turmoil, the PTI campers at Zaman Park, or the Bijli rations, the beating heart of Lahore will never rest, the lawn-wearing aunties shuffling from lunch to lunch, tea to tea, their husbands playing 10-over at the Gymkhana, afterwards watching the red-orange sunset from the 19th hole…