Kiran Chaudhary Amlani on witnessing the happiness of two people in love
Moving between India (where I now live) and Pakistan (where I still go back for work), I find myself constantly marveling at the opportunities that exist for cross-border collaborations in almost every field. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of the aesthetic. Pakistan has a very refined sensibility in the creative space, whether its fashion, art or music.
We have seen how people all over the world love Coke Studio, how Sufi music is making waves worldwide, how New Yorkers flocked to see Imran Qureshi’s ‘Roof Garden’ commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pakistani fashion designers have made headlines internationally, the most recent example being a fashion show in Paris this month by the likes of HSY, Kamiar Rokni, Mohsin Ali, Muse, and others. Our creative pioneers are finally getting much-deserved recognition at the highest levels.
Although many Indians would still prefer to buy Indian masters, purely as an investment with an appreciating price tag, the fact that Pakistani art was of such high quality and so well-priced definitely made it an attractive proposition
These are all great honours for a country that is otherwise weighed down by the fight against terrorism. But perhaps more importantly, they are good indicators of how Pakistan can re-brand itself. I remember growing up in a Pakistan that was a safe and happy place to live in; there was a sense of pride and dignity in who we were. If Pakistan is to regain some of its lost self-esteem, the biggest opportunity lies in the realm of the arts.
After the success of our multi-designer Pakistani fashion exhibition in Delhi in August, we decided to explore the art space as well. My husband Riyaaz’s business partner, Delhi-based Sid Mathur, and his beautiful wife Batasha Varma, had come to stay with us for a week or so in our seaside Bombay home. It proved to be a tremendously fruitful time, as we planned our very first art exhibition. It all began when they walked into my lounge and saw the Salman Farooqi abstract landscape on my wall. Both Batasha and Sid instantly fell in love with it (as most people do when they walk into my home). I then showed them some pamphlets from a gallery in Lahore showcasing some of the art coming out of Pakistan and they were both blown away. We decided that an exhibition in Delhi, featuring some of the best Pakistani art, would be a great idea. It just had to be done, if for nothing else than to show another narrative of what is happening in Pakistan right now.
I remember growing up in a Pakistan that was a safe and happy place to live in; there was a sense of pride and dignity in who we were. If Pakistan is to regain some of its lost self-esteem, the biggest opportunity lies in the realm of the arts
We decided to call the venture “Beyond Borders” and spent the next month or so sourcing some beautiful pieces from both India and Pakistan. The idea was to get the right people within the Delhi art circuit to come out through the lure of established Indian masters, and then to showcase some of the work coming out of Pakistan. Perhaps because the idea of an Indo-Pak art exhibition is so exciting for anyone in the art world on both sides, and also perhaps because artists and gallery owners are so supportive of each other generally, everyone was extremely helpful in making this happen.
Sid’s uncle is a gallery owner and helped us source some big names from India like Viakuntam and K. Ravi. My friend Sanam Taseer, of the Taseer Art Gallery, was an angel and personally took me on an amazing tour of some of the best galleries in Lahore and also lent me some gems from her incredible personal collection (amazing work by Dua Abbas, Amna Manzoor, Imrana Tanveer, Annem Zaidi, Yasir Waqas and Tahir Ali Sadiq). My friend Avantika Sujan â€” who I call ‘cupid’ because she introduced me to my husband on that fateful 2011 trip to Bombay that would change my life â€” lent me some prize pieces by Komail Aijazuddin and Salman Toor. Mahnaz Sukhera of Collectors Galeria was also very helpful in sourcing some amazing pieces from Mashkoor, M. A. Bhatti and Farrukh Shahab. My talented artist friends, Salman Farooqi and his wonderful wife Shazia Salman sent us some of their most beautiful pieces. While Salman Farooqi and Mashkoor were the bestsellers in India, Annem Zaidi, Yasir Waqas, Imrana Tanveer and Dua Abbas were hugely appreciated too.
All in all, despite the contemporary art scene in India being in a state of flux at this time, the exhibition was a big success. So many art collectors came out and expressed their excitement about the work coming out of Pakistan. Although many Indians would still prefer to buy Indian masters, purely as an investment with an appreciating price tag, the fact that Pakistani art was of such high quality and so well-priced definitely made it an attractive proposition. Naturally, the profile-building of Pakistani artists worldwide is critical, and already underway. It was heartening to see that in some small way, we had (quite literally) brought a beautiful piece of Pakistan to Delhi!
After all the work that always goes into an exhibition (making guest lists, inviting the right people, putting together the event, food and drinks) we were ready to let our hair down. As luck would have it, the wedding season had just begun and with several close friends of ours tying the knot, there was no lack of options to party.
The reason so many Indian girls have such amazing bodies is because they are usually on display. There is no way you can have anything less than a flat and toned mid-riff if you want to rock out in a â€˜ghagara choliâ€™
The exhibition wrapped up just in time for Hanisha Singh’s wedding to a lovely Parsi boy, Jamsheed Bhote. Hanisha is not only an amazing chef, but also Harmeet Bajaj’s niece (my partner in the Fashion business). She looked like she had stepped straight out of the 1920s and was every bit the ‘vintage’ Parsi princess in her gorgeous Sabyasachi saree and pearls. Suneet Varma, fashion designer extraordinaire, was also there and had all the family’s ladies looking fabulous in his creations.
Next, Gauri Malhotra, one of my husband’s closest friends, also tied the knot with Mikhil Narang in a crazy, non-stop two-day wedding in Bombay at the amazing Taj Palace Hotel. Mikhil is another lovely Parsi guy who came back to India after several years in Paris, which gives him the rather attractive European suave that must surely have swept ‘G-Star’ (as Gauri is affectionately called) off her feet when they first met. He also, rather understandably, fell in love with this very sexy Punjabi girl who has the body of a goddess and a brain for business, being one of Bombay’s top PR ‘go-to’ girls. The two of them are so obviously in love that it was a treat to be part of this most intimate of nuptials.
During the reception, Mikhil’s aunt, a very dignified and well-spoken Parsi lady, spoke to me at length about how she longed to visit her own aunt in Karachi some day. She was worried that she might pass away before she would get a chance to see her again. When I promised to help with her visa, the excitement and gratitude that followed made me realize how tough it is, even for family, to connect with their loved ones across this most arbitrary of boundaries we call a border.
With these thoughts in my mind, I was easily distracted as everyone took to the floor for some rather crazy Bollywood dancing. I marveled at how absolutely gorgeous (and physically fit) Gauri looked in her tiny choli and low-cut lehnga. No doubt the reason so many Indian girls have such amazing bodies is because they are usually on display. There is no way you can have anything less than a flat and toned mid-riff if you want to rock out in a ‘ghagara choli’ which is usually the outfit of choice for girls at a Sangeet or Mehndi.
Just when I thought we were all partied out, we got the chance to relax in the most romantic setting imaginable for a wedding â€” Goa. Nadia and Varun’s amazing three-day wedding, set on the sprawling lawns of the Taj Vivanta in Candolim, was a truly magical experience. Varun is one of Riyaaz’s oldest friends, and it was quite the ‘old school reunion’ for the boys with the usual hilarious antics and anecdotes that only really old friends can share. Days were spent by the pool; the evenings were started with sundowners by the beach.
The first night we had an amazing Greek dinner at the fabulous restaurant Thalassa which became a mad ‘plate-throwing’ and dancing fiasco by the end (thanks to someone who decided to walk around with a tray of shots). The following day after the Mehndi, my husband got the party started at the Sangeet with his wicked dance moves, for which I suspect he is getting quite a reputation in both countries now.
The next evening was the Hindu marriage ceremony â€” soulful and magical. When I saw Varun and Nadia doing the ‘pheras’ around a fire, I could feel their bond, and I knew they were soul mates. Nadia was the love of Varun’s life (he has known her since college), but he was able to marry her only after waiting for many long years. When you meet Nadia it is easy to see why Varun would have fallen for her, and why he waited for her as long as he did. She is such a beautiful woman â€” strong, deeply spiritual, affectionate, drop-dead gorgeous and yet so down-to-earth.
I was left with a warm fuzzy feeling after all these weddings.Â It is truly a joy to share the happiness of two people in love, uniting forever. But I have to say, when you throw in a beach, a pool and some sundowners it gets much, much betterâ€¦