THE winter in Islamabad lingers on longer than the southern regions. So, theoretically at least, one has longer occasion to enjoy the pleasant and pleasurable interlude leading up to the summer season. It is far from one’s intention to dwell on the vagaries of the weather. What is of interest rather is what the otherwise deprived get to enjoy – free of cost – as a corollary of the changing weather. So here goes!
It so came to pass that in the course of one pleasurable morning walk, one came face to face with a phenomenon that had hitherto escaped one’s attention. One refers to two rather smug and comfortable looking ladies engaged in the leisurely pursuit of sweeping the road – yes, Islamabad persists with the traditional practice of entrusting this important function to members of the fair sex. The first thing one noticed, then, was that the duo were operating at that indolent pace and rhythm that comes only after years of honest – though hardly intense – toil. The road was being swept as per regulations but not without the ladies leaving a distinct imprint on the whole exercise. But one is digressing!
On the occasion under reference, it was not the ladies’ work rhythm that attracted one’s particular attention, remarkable though it was in itself. What struck one at first glance was the manifest fact that the two ladies were wearing what in the developed world have come to be recognized as ‘designer sweaters’. There was no mistaking the texture and the outlandish pattern that have all become the hallmark of the ‘Rich and Famous’ in the so-called developed world. And what is more, the brace of ladies in question were carrying it off as if it was just another day in their checkered lives.
Presently, the two were joined by a middle-aged male colleague, who – going by his (you guessed it!) designer sweater – could easily have passed off as the indigenous version of an aging Hollywood actor. This set one’s mind into a racing mode. Had we in the Land of the Pure, unbeknown to the common man, been overtaken by an Industrial Revolution of sorts, wherein fashionable apparel was being mass-produced at affordable prices? Or, had our blessed working classes struck it rich, thanks to the intricate web of statistics – based on macro and micro policies of the financial wizards – as woven by our indefatigable planners? Regrettably, it was nothing that exciting though. A quick and short enquiry revealed the mundane truth that the designer apparel in question had been procured from the ‘weekly bazaar’ at, what can only be described as, throw-away prices.
Thanks to our second-hand clothing markets (in some cities known by the rather catchy nomenclature of ‘lunda bazaar’) our working classes have found fashion within their reach, at least during the harsh winter months. This weighty discovery had the effect of stimulating one’s thought process. The ‘Rich and Famous’ of the Western world spend virtually small fortunes on purchasing so-called designer clothing just so that these garments would set them apart from the common herd. And thanks to their ‘wear and quickly discard’ habits the unwashed of the developing world get to steal a few moments of glory among their peers.
A look back recent history may be in order. It so happened that the great revolution of the ready-to-wear garment industry in the developed world had resulted in the mass production of middling quality garments. This had the effect of bringing the prices down to within the reach of the working classes, thereby prompting the ‘Rich and Famous’ to look for alternate sources for their wherewithal. Their only – and modest – desire was basically to be (or at least to look) different from the herd. As a consequence, then, whereas the working classes managed the means to pick up their suits and sweaters from outlets such as Marks and Spenser, the upper classes started opting for bespoke tailoring and the designer stuff.
So much for the developed Western world! The situation in countries such as ours, one notices, was somewhat different – in fact, reversed. Whereas the ‘great unwashed’ wear the designer stuff (courtesy the good old lunda bazaar), our upper classes proudly flaunt their wealth by making a beeline for the ‘imported’ Marks and Spenser genre. The underlying idea, nevertheless, is the same: that is to look different from the multitude and to stand out in the crowd. One man’s meat is another man’s poison as they say; or is it the other way around?
Fashion, as it has come to be called, is ephemeral – fleeting. The desire to be different and to look different, though, is engrained in human nature. It has always formed part of what can be identified as the class struggle among the homo-sapiens. By the time the common folk catch up with a fashion (thanks to the hardworking plagiarists), it is time for the select band to move on to greener pastures, if that is the phrase one is looking for.
In the Land of the Pure, today, money reigns supreme. It is their wealth, rather than fashion sense, that our haves like to flaunt. This explains the abundance of shops selling (smuggled?) foreign apparel that have spawned around the country like wild mushrooms after the rains. These shops stock items of the Marks and Spenser genre plus plagiarised designer models from the underground factories of East Asia, all selling at staggering prices. Money is no consideration for our nouveaux riches, though, and thus the cult of pseudo-fashion flourishes in this land of pseudo egos.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.