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Footlights

the durranis

Perhaps, just for a little while, we ought to set India-Pakistan cricket to one side, for such encounters unleash exaggerated passions on both sides of the border.

Zarmina Durrani and I agree that maybe we should have a different kind of contest — pitch the 10 most beautiful women in Pakistan against the 10 most beautiful women in India and allow Khushwant Singh to be the sole judge of the winning team.

Zarmina is in charge of product development for Latitude, the PR company looking after foreign journalists covering Pakistan Fashion Development Council’s Sunsilk Fashion Week in Pakistan. Sunsilk’s sponsorship, via its owners, Unilever, seems entirely appropriate — Pakistani women, like Indians, have long hair that always looks glossy and freshly Sunsilked.

Being Bengali and pretentious, I ask to be taken to a couple of bookshops even though, like everyone else, I want to go shopping really.

Sang-e-Meel in Lower Mall stocks mostly Urdu books, but I pick up Indian Muslim Students in Cambridge by KK Aziz. It just lists names and colleges, with Christ’s clearly most welcoming to Muslim students.

At another store, Variety Books, generously filled with Indian authors, I go a bit mad and buy Sufi music CDs and several books, including selected stories by Sadat Hasan Manto as well as Beloved City: Writings on Lahore, edited by Bapsi Sidhwa. The latter volume contains a nostalgic essay by Khushwant Singh, who has never got over his love for Lahore (last October in Delhi, Khushwant, 96, told me he had given up reading “apart from the poems of Iqbal in Urdu”).

Looking at Zarmina Durrani’s card, I recall the Kabir Durrani character from Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and ask her if, by any chance, she is related to Tehmina Durrani.

I expect Zarmina to shake her head. “My elder sister,” replies Zarmina.

Tehmina’s autobiography, My Feudal Lord, an intimate account of her tempestuous marriage to an abusive politician, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, has gone into nearly 30 editions, her younger sister tells me.

Tehmina, now married to the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, has gone on to write other books almost as controversial — A Mirror to the Blind and Blasphemy.

Lahore, with its canals, its tree-lined avenues and flower beds and potted plants, has a seductive quality. Zarmina, who is refreshingly honest (possibly because she went to school in England), gives me the lowdown on the city — how its high society works, its movers and shakers, who drives what, the identities of the queen bees, what they serve at their parties, the secrets of Heera Mandi and, most intriguingly, the best lookers in Lahore. Zarmina would include her sister on the list — “definitely”. What about herself? She blushes. “Not even in the first 25,” she lies for the first time.

Zarmina seems to know everything about everyone — much of it deliciously unprintable. She could have given my late lamented colleague and Daily Mail columnist, Nigel Dempster, the guru of gossip, a run for his money.

youth power

Hello, are there any young writers out there who know where it’s at (perhaps this kind of cool talk is not so cool anymore)?

Anyway, Sabene Saigol, who has taken over from her mum as editor of Libas, Pakistan’s premier fashion magazine, says: “I want to give it a young look.”

Sehyr tells me that when she launched the magazine 24 years ago, “I did not have a single ad”. A recent issue, 450 pages thick, was bulging with ads. “And our rates are the highest,” adds Sehyr.

The magazine, which has a Pakistani edition and an international one, seeks out “uplifting” stories about Pakistanis — and Indians — from all over the world.

Although Pakistan gets a consistently bad press in the world’s media, positive stories are not hard to find. In Britain, Granta last year devoted what has become a collector’s issue, to the arts and culture of Pakistan.

For example, I have an issue with a feature on how American literary agents are scouting Pakistan for the next Mohsin Hamid or Mohammed Hanif. There is also an interview with Baluji Shrivastav, the Indian instrumentalist who “excels” in the sitar, surbahar, dilruba, pakhava and the table.

Pakistan’s hottest property currently is the artist Rashid Rana — there is a party piece on the opening of his exhibition at Musee Guimet in Paris.

tastebud talk

In 1995, I met a Pakistani film director, Salmaan Peerzada, in London, after he had made an anti-establishment film, Zar Gul, which he correctly predicted would never be screened in Pakistan. “My family are in theatre,” he had said.

While visiting a restaurant-cum-arts centre run by twins, Faadan and Faizan Peerzada, it finally clicked —they were Salman’s younger brothers.

Though it was 2am, they called up Salmaan who was taken aback — pleasantly, I think — to hear a familiar voice from the past. He was just finishing a film.

The Boti Chicken at his restaurant explained why Lahore has a reputation for possibly the finest cuisine in Pakistan. They also serve a dessert best described as ice cream sandesh. When no one was looking, I had a third helping — well, someone has to bat for Calcutta.

“bihar babe”

A Sun sub-editor seeking alliteration would probably call Nalini Aubeeluck a “Bihar babe” — the 34-year-old is of Indian origin, born and brought up in Mauritius where she is a fashion designer and buyer, television weather girl and Bollywood dance choreographer. “But my dad’s parents came from Bihar,” she tells me, when we chat at the big party following the Fashion Week finale. “My mum’s parents are Telugu.”

More than half the 1.2 million population of Mauritius are of Indian origin, says Nalini, who is keen to trace her roots in Bihar. “If you came to Mauritius, you would think you were in India.”

The party, incidentally, is held in the magnificent flame-lit, country residence, 40 minutes’ drive from Lahore, of Mian Ahad — a friend says he is “one of Pakistan’s leading interior decorators and furniture manufacturers who divides his time between Lahore and Paris!”

With his courtly manners and long black achkan, he looks as though he has stepped off the set of Jodhaa Akbar.

Lahore is clearly the city where you party late into the night. The tradition is to end with a sumptuous breakfast as the sun rises. Things should be sorted out as quickly as possible between Pakistan and India so that people can come from Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi for the weekend and have a little wander around Anarkali Market before dressing for dinner.

TIES THAT BIND

When a young woman asked me what I thought of Pakistan Fashion Week, I assumed she was one of the models. It is an easy mistake to make, for Pakistani fashion journalists can be impossibly glamorous. Hani Taha Salim, fashion and lifestyle reporter on The Express Tribune, did an entertaining piece using our quotes for which I am grateful. But I must point out my green tie, worn as a gesture of support for Pakistan, was not put on every day but only on the day after the Big Match. I do believe it is against international convention to wear the same tie more than once during Fashion Week.

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