June Issue 2008
The Good Life
On the first day of the year, Pakistan’s consumer economy grinds to a halt. The BMW showroom near Agha’s supermarket may as well board up its shutters, the designer outlets on Zamzama should take a day off to count their profits. For once, Pakistan’s mega rich are not about to spend any money: they are too hungover.
A day of repose is surely the only balm to what transpired the night before. Many have pointed out the irony of forcing yourself to have fun just because of what day it happens to be. But Pakistan’s rich and famous don’t do irony. They do spend money, and on New Year’s Eve, they spend it like at no other time. The time-honoured, and slightly boring, way to herald the coming of another carefree and decadent year is at a charity ball, where a table can be had for Rs.200,000. Not that anyone will be doing much sitting. Well-lubricated, thanks to a seemingly never-ending supply of Kristal champagne, the attendees are far more likely to be seen shaking an uncovered leg on the dance floor.
There are some who say that charity balls are unimaginative, the same old thing year after year. For these people, the height of imagination is hiring an event manager to plan their New Year’s bash for them. But there was one unique touch added to an infamous New Year’s Eve party, hosted by college-going teenagers, that even the most daring event planner was unlikely to have suggested: uniformed waiters carrying silver trays of cocaine.
If New Year’s Eve is the pinnacle of forced fun, then Valentine’s Day should be its zenith. The only remotely sentient male who actually enjoys spending an amount that runs into the thousands — if not the tens of thousands — on his wife or girlfriend, is that strange species that everyone thought was extinct: the metrosexual. As with everything else though, Pakistan’s elite is a little behind the curve. On February 14, after a refreshing facial, this walking anachronism will buy flowers at five times the price he would have a week before. Then come the chocolates. No downmarket brand such as Cadburys or, shudder, Hershey’s kisses for him. Hand-made 97% chocolate would be ideal, but since that is not readily available he will make do with what is most expensive at Lal’s.
Since your typical metrosexual considers himself something of a chef, he will cook his significant other a memorable meal. Bread is made with wheat imported from Australia, the chicken and even the eggs from Dubai and the chocolate (both dark and white) for the mousse from Austria. This one day alone accounts for a significant chunk of the country’s balance of payments deficit.
But Valentine’s Day is an occasion for the young romantic, or at least it should be. The over-40s crowd gets its day in the sun in March. It’s Oscar season, and Los Angeles is the place to be. Our rich and famous may be wealthy enough, but they lack the requisite fame to be invited to the Oscar’s ceremony or the Vanity Fair post-party. This, however, isn’t enough to deter them from catching a glimpse of a Hollywood celebrity. One woman in her fifties chose March to have cosmetic surgery at a clinic in Los Angeles because she reasoned that the likes of Angelina Jolie might be popping in for a bit of nip and tuck. In the lead-up to the Oscars, cosmetic surgeons double their prices, so this woman’s nose surgery ended up costing her $60,000.
As the summer heat hits its stride in May, there is nothing your typical rich and famous Pakistani patriot wants more than to leave the damn country. Chances are, however, that his children won’t be off school for another month. The solution, at least this year, was stunning in its simplicity. Manchester United was playing Chelsea in the finals of the Champions League football in Moscow. Why not beat the heat in the land that froze Napoleon and Hitler? The only problem: tickets to finals are not available just a few days before a game and finding accommodation can also be pretty hard. One enterprising Pakistani bought a ticket to the match on eBay for £2,000, took the PIA flight to Moscow on the morning of May 21, attended the match and then flew right back.
As the school term finally draws to a close, Mr and Mrs Rich and Famous, along with Rich and Famous Jrs. get ready for a two-month long vacation. Home base is London and their million-pound, two-bedroom flat in Knightsbridge. Unfortunately, British Airways no longer flies from Karachi, so they have to make do with one of the Gulf airlines. At least they serve alcohol during the flight. They, of course, fly first class, but the maid is stuck in economy and so is the kid — at least if he is particularly young and noisy. After a few weeks in London, the family makes a short dash across the Atlantic, with trips to New York (where out of patriotic pride, they will stay at the $5,000-a-night suite at the PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel) and Las Vegas (where their gambling losses will equal the GDP of a small country).
Before the schools reopen, the family will have just enough time to go down to Dubai for the Bonhams art auction. This trip is spurred as much by envy as it is by a love of art. After all, if one rich Pakistani could pay $336,000 for a Gulgee painting, why can’t they all? An added bonus of the Dubai jaunt is the latest-model Lexus they pick up, all the while saying a silent prayer of thanks to Shaukat Aziz for removing import duties on luxury cars.
And before they even know it, it’s December once again, and there are New Year’s parties to plan and attend. That is, once they get through the wedding season. Rich people in Pakistan love to complain about all the weddings they have to attend and yet they never miss a single one. Much of the day is spent at the beauty parlour, where they are willing to dish out over Rs.20,000 per day on make-up and a similar amount to ensure they get their picture in GT. The weddings themselves are straight out of the pages of Hello! magazine. The shamianas are air-conditioned, the food is imported, the bar is open and the jewellery alone could pay of all the country’s debts.
Decadent, wasteful and seemingly immune to the inflation that has hit the rest of the country, Pakistan’s rich and famous inhabit a world of their own making, a bubble that shields them from the harsh realities of everyday life.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.