Saturday, October 26, 2013

STYLE: A ‘Haute’ Ticket Item


Published in Daily Times Pakistan (Entertainment Section) / 26 Oct 2013

Your talent will get you far, but your passion will get you further” – Tabassaum
Mughal

Bath island - turns out, not really an island; it is a place where one can find, among other things Tabassum Mughal’s outlet and her shiny new salon. Her signature piece was featured in Bridal Couture 2013 (BCW) earlier this year. Her collection was later seen on London’s runway. And a bewitched crowd now circles her new line for Eid, drawn by a certainty that behind the closed doors lay the proverbial ‘one’.

They are not wrong. As she unveils a new vision of silk & satin to the world, there will be a constant embedded in that impeccable fashion statement. She has achieved a wonderful hybrid harvested from the rich heritage and decadent flavors that define our poorly misunderstood region.

The person in-charge of these creative coups can be seen flitting in and out of the situation room – otherwise known as the exhibition space. At the counter, a buyer is trying to pay far less than the design is worth. It is not her fault really. She walks off with the purchase after the designer decides to honor, what could well be a mischievously mislabeled tag. ‘Our mistake, our responsibility’ she intones and darts off in another direction, which, given those pencil thin heels, is quite a feat. The press corp. arrives and demands to know if there will be important people for them to shoot; she assures them there will. They are pacified.

This is what Tabassum does - manage incoming setbacks with a gracious nod and complies with an unending tide of celebrity / friend requests of keeping a little ‘something something’ aside with a cool, business like precision. A quick Google search reveals the modest beginnings of ‘Tabassum Mughal Haute Couture’, its mastermind busy working in a shop undeterred by the cramped spaces – in 10 *10 dimensions, with 2 workers in tow whom she trained; and in a span of a few years became an owner of her own workshop, with an army of 300 workers whom she personally supervises. It is a moving tale – one that gives a bit of insight into her unique design philosophy used to illuminate the path to success.

Her label offers Luxury Pret - some fit for a queen, others perfect for a day out on the set, or for those red carpets where famous faces are seen proudly waving the Tabassum Mughal banner. They range from Rs. 57000 (making some stop in their tracks) to Rs.4000 (making others hastily call dibs before the figure changes) – each piece exquisitely crafted - an exotic fusion of futuristic beats and quaint echoes.

The blend of contemporary / conservative on display caters for high-end clients and mortals with its graceful lines and perfect cuts calibrated with classic tones. Someone who believes that only a leopard can pull off a leopard print will make an exception for a TM design, because the traditional blueprint, when reinterpreted on shamus silk would make any cat proud, and its owner glow.

It is art, of a kind, and the artist engraves her passion and imperial sense of style on limited editions leaving an indelible mark on the Pakistani fashion scene. The timeless appeal of Tabassum’s creations combined with the origins of the Mughal Empire upgrades this ambitious young designer from player to asset in our style wars.


Monday, October 7, 2013

VIEW: Syria’s Detox Debate


Published in Economic Affairs / Oct 2013 issue

‘The Newsroom’ stumbled upon evidence of a black op codenamed ‘Genoa’ in Season 2 where Sarin was allegedly used, but by Obama and not by Syrians. The show employed a premise that flitted with the potential fallout should evidence of war crimes perpetrated by an American administration were to surface, and bore no resemblance - accidental or otherwise, to events that were to unfold a few weeks later.

The fictional Sarin saga would be resolved just as the Syrian episode was gaining traction. Syria’s use of banned Chemical weapons would send America’s Commander-in-Chief scrambling to the war room to devise an appropriate response, give Russia an opportunity to practice their ‘mediator of the month’ skills, and put Assad on a makeshift dock.

The world gets ready to batten down the hatches in the midst of all the political point scoring. Because the decision to use force that could potentially cripple a nation is not without side effects; the creation of a hydra that feeds off the ethnic/sectarian divide and further destabilizes an already troubled region being the most obvious one. ‘It’s not complicated’ Kerry intones; Sarin was used, Assad has them, ‘ergo, Ipso, facto, Columbo, oreo’ – it was ‘he’. America has cried WMD one too many times and are now having some trouble rallying enough pitchforks.

Syria, however does possess biological weaponry since it recently agreed to become a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, effectively placing its stockpile under international control. And Obama seeks the destruction of all, though Assad says it will take a year and cost a billion dollars.

By pleading guilty to possession, Syria fits in that ‘Slam Dunk’ profile mistakenly used for Iraq. Since 189 nations have officially said no to WMD’s, there are real consequences to using such banned substances, or keeping them around the house for that matter.

So far the regime has not admitted to using Sarin. Clever. But Sarin was used. Whether it was by Assad, ‘a man of no credibility’ as Kerry so eloquently muttered or the rebel factions made up of ‘hard-line Islamists’, as IHS Jane sees them, alongside the Free Syrian Army, or mercenaries, is a matter of some dispute. The nature of the fight changes with the results of these findings as does the tempo of the war drums.

But the fellow holding up grisly images of dead Syrian kids in Congress to sell war has gotten hold of an outdated narrative, given how ordering forced spring cleaning of Assad’s house shows a multi-tiered strategy at play with altruism at the very bottom of the scale. The act reportedly benefits regional players, neutralizes a potential threat, sends a ‘behave or else message’ to rogue states and pacifies some very worried neighbors - not necessarily in that order. If innocents get saved in the process - excellent but the role of savior is seldom listed on foreign policy agendas.

There is Israel’s finance minister who is not too happy living next door to a regime engaged in civil war with a cache of WMD’s stashed in the basement. The Arab League (22 member states) would not mind seeing Assad knocked down a few pegs and pro-Syrian regimes like Iran curtailed. To that end they stand together with Israel, and maybe Turkey and in an awkward twist of fate, the Al-Qaeda.

Between America’s call to arms and Russian’s plea for peace the military option is on pause. Their diplomatic dance-off buys Syria time. The discussion oscillates from strikes to disarmament to a mutating battlefield. The plot thickens when Russia steps up with evidence allegedly provided by the Syrian government that conveniently implicates the rebels. It curdles when they waved aside the ‘smoking gun’ which they say is actually an out of service missile and quickly point to the ‘Made in USSR’ sign. They can do so because the original UN report notes the presence of surface to surface missiles but their investigation reportedly has limited scope; it determines the ‘what, where & when’ and not the ‘who’ (Amanpour). It is open to interpretation since America has yet to share intelligence that conclusively proves Assad’s guilt.

The ‘whodunit’ part remains unresolved prompting the former Cold War adversaries to join in the manhunt. Russians are dismissive of UN findings and continue to glower; they want attacks before 21st August investigated, specifically the March 19th 2013 incident. Both the US and Russia are playing for high stakes and their respective self interests might colour their world view.

The Middle East waits with bated breath as clouds of war darken the horizon, limited or otherwise. The fear of escalation is real. Resident analysts aren’t worried given these are meant to be surgical strikes and not a regime change – on paper at least. Syria is nothing like Iraq they insist. It is difficult to predict the contours of an Assad free Syria, but there are plenty of takers in the form of jihadists mixed in with opposition waiting in the wings. That rebel factions are already turning on each other prompting Turkey to close a vital border and giving extremists a foothold, shows the aforementioned hydra prophesy coming to pass.

The United States, notwithstanding the string of Middle Eastern / South Asian misadventures might believe that a credible threat of military strikes brought Assad to his senses. Obama will not take them off the table. The Russians, despite their ominous warnings, would reportedly not have interfered with America, had Syria refused to play nice. Does it also mean they will not run interference on the ground like they may have done in Afghanistan for some good old fashioned payback?

The HBO show that pursued the elusive trail of WMD’s on the Pak-Afghan border which could topple an administration and jeopardize America’s standing in the free world speaks to the seriousness of WMD related charges. Framed against a stark chemical warfare laced backdrop, the specter of Syria’s lethal arsenal upstages its domestic woes. War must always be the last resort. ‘Detox’ plans, on the other hand can be handy negotiating tools, notwithstanding their Russian origin.


BOOK REVIEW: A Restless Wind

First Published by Daily Times (Pakistan) / 07 Oct 2013

This is an Advanced Review

Zara Hamilton returns to Qila, her ancestral home, to a dying aunt, a troubling secret and a cradle full of memories. Her Pakistani origins, Indian roots and British background add spice to a casual road trip. Her quest will be inscribed against a stormy backdrop darkened by communal rites, tired superstitions and Hindu-Muslim divides. It casts the requisite pall on princely states, and their gracious guardians, and turns the few memorable chapters from her life into a lovely epic.

Shahrukh Husain lifts the barriers separating two worlds, unearthing crevices filled with centuries of emotional debris and calcified remains of old glories. Her new novel traces their luxurious outlines with grim determination as it staggers into a vault of memories and retrieves a closet full of worn-out skeletons in search of clarity.

Married to an Englishman, the protagonist’s dual identity and rich heritage come in handy as she makes the journey to a land far, far away. Trivikrampur becomes the perfect foil. It is where old flames are dusted off and stately homes reopened as the protagonist treads into the unknown. It is where readers can sift through the secrets and lies through a series of flashbacks, as a multi-ethnic cast of characters take the rein.

The writing becomes a bridge between a fairytale existence of maharajas and mystics set next to a comfortless terrain occupied by marauding bandits, maniacal activists and potential spies. Yes spies. Each layer adds a different dimension and tries to cut through the stiff formalities separating the Ramzi and Vamana dynasties. Occasionally, it runs into roadblocks when a simple family drama/bittersweet homecoming collides with sinister matters of national (in)security, sending its principle character hurtling through a spy thriller fantasy.

Ms Husain is a British writer of Pakistani origins whose work as a psychotherapist has put her in the path of asylum seekers. It allows her to devise an exploratory mission that strays beyond designated waters and taps into the desperation and heartache in and around the qila (fortress). There will be an array of side stories tugging at the plot; Zara’s abandonment issues and faith are paired with lingering post-Partition hostilities and the human condition.

The sojourn in the Qila will remain shrouded in mystery, a veil of mist that never lifts completely, leaving distorted shadows, providing a cosy home for dreams and nightmares. Readers can follow the trail of suspense leading to Zara’s old abode where remnants of a slightly gothic feel permeate the air, or they can opt for secondary plot-lines that passionately argue for lost souls cast out in the cold. The Oxford years, however, breeze by without disturbing the ornate setting or its wild untamable heart.

A Restless Wind can be viewed from multiple angles: as a salacious soap opera, a damning political indictment, a glorious tale of two dynasties or an awkward spy thriller that merrily paddle the shores of East & West and dock somewhere in the middle.

Their motherland’s luminescent core is dutifully mined for the exotic flavors; its deep-seated prejudices put on public display. A sprinkling of supernatural livens up forgotten legends and infuses the narrative with a dreamy quality. It dashes in and out of genres, tripping alarms, laying bare a gaping void within the homeland and paranoia-driven policies that mar regional peace. And in between the drama and fancy trimmings, migrant woes remain relevant.

That the character’s protective cocoon provided by her Western connections dissolves easily does not require suspension of disbelief. The transformation from a theatrical countryside flanked by mysticism and theology to a landscape bleached of colour is achieved by a few frighteningly simple strokes. The local Muslims are seen musing if they are still outsiders after a thousand years; the visitors debate their status in their adopted countries. Since Zara wears the cape of a crusader, which will ultimately set her on a collision course, is perhaps an unavoidable twist. That anyone can come out of such an ordeal without scars leaves the final act with some jagged edges.

A Restless Wind is an unconventional family portrait, evocative of Trivikrampur’s lost grandeur and primitive soul. Here the east lives up to its reputation, a place of wonder and magic, its savage streak visible beneath those garish hues. It may not always be a flattering depiction but it is a powerful one.


Link to Daily Times Site.