October Issue 2009
Recession . . . What Recession?
Sipping a mug of steaming coffee priced at above Rs 500 — the equivalent of her 13-year-old maid’s weekly expenditure for a family of six — Mrs Q proudly talks of a ‘flowing peshwaz’ she has bought for her 16-year-old daughter. Six yards of fabric “smartly stitched with light trimming — not heavily worked or ornate” for which she paid ‘only’ Rs 15,000. That amount, however, was equivalent to her live-in maid’s salary for a quarter of a year. This isn’t the only item on Mrs Q’s completed shopping list: she talks of shoes and matching bags that she has picked up from an upscale designer boutique in Lahore for the “stellar price of Rs 80,000” (do the mind-boggling math to figure out how long her maid’s family could have stretched that amount), the sell-out pre-Eid diamond exhibition she went to where she picked up a pair of earrings and a ring for herself and her daughter — “the last of the lot — thank God for the cash I had in my handbag to pay the entire amount up front” — and ends on the modest note of the price she paid for getting a shirt stitched for her six-year old: only Rs 1,500.
If the world is reeling from recession, Mrs Q literally seems to be living in a protected economic bubble. But I am not sure if she is the only one in Pakistan who seems to be taking retail therapy — if that is what you want to term her gaudy shopping frenzy — to another level of indulgence. While retailers worldwide are having liquidation sales, luxury high-end retailers seem to be mushrooming all over Karachi and Lahore, amidst the energy, food and security crises. Nero being the ultimate yardstick, urban city dwellers of this land of the pure seem to have taken fiddling to unseen heights.
According to international trade pundits, Asia is leading the world out of the economic slowdown and Pakistan does not seem to be an exception. Whereas in the US, designer brands like Prada, due to the severity of the economic downturn, have for the first time slashed their prices and shunned their exclusive image by running rack sales, Pakistani design houses are at an all-time high with bridal joras selling — and people buying them — for anywhere between five to eight lakh rupees. Restaurants are charging Rs 800 per head and are chock-a-block with customers. Wrapping services, designer chocolates, cakes, cigars, clothes — the shopping mood during Eid seemed anything but subdued. Major markets were open till the wee hours of the morning throughout Ramazan, coffee houses were open for sehri and, according to a major economic survey the results of which were published in Dawn, affluent Karachiites spent a total of Rs 80 billion on Eid shopping whereas their poorer counterparts spent Rs 20 billion in all.
Many local traders have expressed their disappointment with Eid-related sale volumes, but informal reports of teeming crowds at shopping centres seem to run contrary to such claims. Tailors were not booking orders for Eid before Ramazan and those who used loadshedding as an excuse to turn down work need to give an explanation for all the extra generators that were lined up outside the majority of shops. Even cash withdrawals from banks before Eid defy the claims of the businessmen. According to the same news feature published in Dawn that cited the survey, customers this year used credit cards instead of cash to shop. Banks also publicised heavy cash withdrawal from ATMs, implying sizeable household expenditure on Eid-related items. For example, MCB claimed in an advertisement that it disbursed Rs 628 million via 126,000 transactions over Eid through ATMs. The bank has the largest network of 434 ATMs nationwide. The State Bank is reported to have issued over Rs 70 billion in fresh currency notes during Ramazan. If social and economic indicators are anything to go by, Pakistanis surely celebrated Eid with full splendour. So really, recession … what recession?
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