The sights and sounds of little luxuries in Pakistan.
I have been to Pakistan twice in the last two years and might go again soon. This, naturally, surprises a lot of people at home.
Why, ask some, do you go to Pakistan? Is there, say others, a new angle to terrorism?
To this, I like saying that I go to Pakistan to search, and satisfy, my interest in luxury. Luxury, exclaim many, what is luxurious in Pakistan?!
So this, then, is my little, colourful explanation (I wanted to call it ode but that word always sounds a little morbid, don't you think?) of the sights and sounds of all that is luxurious in Pakistan.
So here's five of the little luxuries of Pakistan in this column, and another five will come in the next one.
Expresso in Karachi
Fatima Bhutto goes there. How do I know? She told me last week. I said I have been to Karachi and it never sleeps. She gave me the weary all-knowing smile of someone who never does too. I said, I have spent many nights awake drinking coffee at… she completed the sentence, actually both of us said it together: Expresso.
It's a tiny place, only four or five tables when I first went there in 2008, and they are always full. This is where people come to talk, and love, and play. This is where the canoodling and the coaxing happen, where caffeine mixes with causticity, this is where the crying and the gentle coughing, the caressing and the callousness, this is where it all comes together. This, Fatima Bhutto's smile seemed to suggest, is where Karachi cohabits.
I asked Ms Bhutto if she knew a friend of mine who almost lives at Expresso, who, as it so happened, dated and decided on the man she wanted to marry, at Expresso. “This is that subcontinent thing, in India and Pakistan everyone assumes that everyone knows everyone, that everyone went to school with everyone.”
That's the magic of Expresso. Everyone here does know everyone. In a city bereft of alcohol and its associated bonhomie, Expresso, in turn explosive and demure, is the hotline to knowing everyone, sniffing every catfight and cosying up to every nook and cranny of Karachi.
Usman Peerzada, Pakistan's theatre man extraordinaire, is as expansive as the leading man roles that he once played.
Baritone, handsome in the salt and pepper years, he and his family run Pakistan's best known theatre and puppetry group, including their museum of puppetry and the legendary Peeru's Café where the performances could as varied as puppetry set to jazz, object puppetry, mixed media theatre.
If he likes you, Usman Peerzada will take you aside and tell you tales from his travels around the world, to him taking on conservative authorities and how his festival survived bomb attacks.
The idea is to see the puppets, lounge in the cottage like dens that are sprinkled across the garden and watch the garden light up in the evenings. I could say magical but Usman Peerzada would never use such a boring term.
Yes, I have eaten and drunk there. Haven't you? There is no place that brings out the joy of red wine smuggled in in brown paper wrappings and poured out in the perfect Bordeaux glasses to go with endless plates of sushi as that bubble to beat all bubbles haven Fujiyama at Lahore's old Avari hotel.
Everything about the hotel, from the faux Mughal meets more faux Raj reeks subcontinental opulence, everything about the experience suggests giggle and nod, wink and cheer, everything suggests fun, though not quite on the run.
If you are at Lahore, find a kohl-and-catty damsel to take you to Fujiyama. Let her choose the wine and the sushi. Let her bring in the girlfriends.
Let them be blissfully catty. Intersperse with self deprecatory humour. Be a gentleman and pay the bill. Guffaw later about it all in your dreams.
Iqbal Husain, born of a nautch girl in Lahore's ever red Hira Mandi, has built, from his inherited haveli, the city's every-night-new-applause restaurant with the fall-in-love-instantly view of the Badshahi Mosque.
The meat is murderously soft. The Dunhill smoke pure and poisonous, the food comes up from the ground floor to the terrace restaurant in a rope and pulley system and when you walk up three floors to reach the restaurant, you can see canvas after canvas of the nudes of real nautch girls painted by Husain and bits and pieces of Hindu and Buddhist artifacts that he has gathered over the years.
Enough to get him threatened with suicide bomb attacks from time to time but he is usually busy eating and feeding and painting.
The Bhutto suit
No, it's not because Feeha Jamshed is a cross between the Vogue cover and the Guardian books page. No one in Lahore will believe me but it's really not because of her. But this time when I am back in Lahore I shall hunt, once again, for that idyllic man's kurta in black and white with a military shoulder strip held on with a single monotone button.
By far one of the most elegant pieces of clothing for men, first invented, as Feeha told me last time, for her father for their iconic brand TeeJays. Worn by politicians, including by Fatima's grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, this is that head-over-heels thing: comfortable, elegant, hard to dirty (if in black) and slimming.
Five more to complete the list next time. Till then salaam from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to Pakistan.
Hindol Sengupta is Associate Editor, Bloomberg UTV