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Interview

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Natasha, you have a decade of experience in advertising, communication and digital and social media; tell us a bit about yourself & your educational background.

Hi, I’m Natasha Durrani, Chief Operating Officer at Media Matters Communications, which is one of the leading PR and digital agencies of Pakistan. I’m a mother of two grown kids. My daughter is studying in UK and my son is in his last year of A Levels. I started my journey into the world of advertising and communications with an MBA degree from IoBM. I actually got admission in a medical college but at the last minute ditched it and decided to study marketing. I guess it was destiny as I found my true calling in this field.

What inspired you to step into the digital world of PR & advertising?

My husband has been into media and advertising for around 2 decades now and it was but a natural step to join the family business. When I stepped in the business, there was a revamp as I instigated the shift towards the digital side. Today, we are a 360-degree agency which caters to print, electronic, digital advertising and PR.

How did Media Matters came  into being and what is your work philosophy?

Media Matters is a group company of Media Pulse which was founded by my husband in 2004. Media Pulse was a core media buying house but we felt that there was a gap in the market in terms of good PR agencies. Hence, Media Matters came into being in 2015. Our philosophy is to be adaptable, innovative, and forward-thinking, ensuring our strategies are as dynamic as the landscapes in which we operate. Our goal is to foster trust and admiration for our clients, turning their vision into compelling stories that engage, inform, and inspire.

What skills or qualities do you feel helped you build a digital marketing agency?

I believe several key skills have been instrumental in building our digital marketing agency. Adaptability and agility are crucial in the fast-paced world of digital marketing, allowing us to respond quickly to industry trends and client needs. Effective communication skills have enabled us to articulate our vision clearly to clients and team members, fostering strong relationships and collaboration. Creativity and innovation drive our approach, ensuring we stay ahead of the curve and deliver impactful campaigns. Finally, a strong focus on data analysis and insights allows us to make informed decisions and optimize our strategies for maximum results. I am very passionate about digital and social media. There is so much you can achieve through it.

Outside of your professional/work area, what hobbies or interests do you have?

I’m a big foodie and a travel enthusiast which also made me start my own Instagram page www.instagram.com/tashathefoodietraveller where I review restaurants and travel destinations. I’m also a self-proclaimed Netflix addict.

Tell us about the collaborations or projects that have made Media Matters stand out.

The first collaboration that I’m extremely proud of is the cover page shoot with Sajjal Ali to promote our client Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism. We are also doing a travel-based YouTube series for Dubai which will be out after Ramadan. This is the first time in Pakistan that someone is making customized content to promote a travel destination.

#LoveLocalPakistan campaign was another feather in our cap which we developed for Meta to promote small businesses which started off using Meta platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram.

Furthermore, we are engaged in exciting and clutter-breaking campaigns for our clients Jazz, foodpanda, Daraz, Careem, Bank Alfalah, PUBG Mobile  and many more.

Where do you see the advertising industry, (its importance and influence) going in the coming years?

The importance of advertising will be there but we have to adapt to the changing landscape. The significance of influencer and social media campaigns will increase. The reason being that Gen Z are looking for more relatable, real and authentic content and they look up to influencers to make their buying decisions. TV and print readership are decreasing in this demographic, hence we need to be more creative and use platforms like Meta, TikTok, Netflix, and Spotify to communicate with this segment.

What is the benefit of hiring a PR agency and how do they help in building brands?

PR is all about image management and perception building. Hiring a PR agency can be a valuable investment in building and maintaining a strong, positive brand image. Their expertise, networks, and strategic approaches enable businesses to communicate effectively with their audience, manage their reputation, and achieve their marketing and business goals. We are in the age of boycotts and controversies and it is imperative for companies to seek out the services of a reputable PR agency to keep a clean slate.

What advice would you have for someone looking to get into digital marketing?

Success in digital marketing doesn’t happen overnight. It requires persistence, continuous learning, and adaptability. Start with a solid foundation, build practical experience, and never stop growing your skills and knowledge.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to become a makeup artist?

I’ve been running a salon by the name Rukash Salon in lahore since the past 10 years now and what makes me keep going is my passion for what I do. Prior to coming into the beauty industry I was studying journalism in Dubai & being in such a multi cultured place where fashion and beauty was very diversified I had the opotunetey to explore many trends from around the world but my interest in becoming a makeup artist did not start from there, it was way before that. I remember ever since I became a teenager I discovered the power of makeup. Being someone who hardly recieved compliments I remember the first Time I went to a wedding wearing makeup the amount of compliments I received really made me more inclined and keen about learning the artistry even more. Makeup when done right has the power to change people’s perception of how they look at you and that alone gives you a lot of confidence. That is what makeup means to me; confidence.

Where did you receive your training as a makeup artist?

So like I mentioned I went for my higher studies in dubai and though my major was journalism in university I got to do a few internships while my time there and I always opted for fashion and beauty industries so that is where my professional journey towards makeup began. From there on I went to New York, Las Angeles and London. The style that I developed was a fusion of East keeping in mind the pakistani style and that of the west but I would say my signature style is all about neatness even when I have to go heavy with makeup it’s never to heavy like you’ve been painted. While in dubai I was very fascinated by the Lebanese style which was always a little extra but nonetheless supremely neat. I’ve been trained all over the world but to be honest you can get all the training in the world but you won’t stand out unless you have your own unique style. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to learn from so many versatile artist and what I bring to my clients is not just style but a fusion East and West.

What’s your favorite makeup products and what’s a must have for every girl?

Since the past decade a lot of bands have emerged and it gets confusing to choose the right because there’s so much marketing in every brand that comes about but when it comes to skin I make no compromises. For me traditionally the makeup brands that been around for longer still work for me and I don’t like to experiment too much when it comes to my clients skin nor mine. A must have is a foundation for every girl with spf not only does it protect your skin from sun exposure but also blocks from dirt getting into pores having said that foundation is the closest product your skin gets to so it has to be one that isn’t damaging instead refines it and for my clients and myself I love the finish and coverage of Estee lauder double wear. Another must have for every girl is a tint but when they aren’t the right consistency they tend to stain only on the dry patches and that could look off instead of making you look good. My recommendation for tints is actually a Korean brand called Holka, the texture of their tints is velvety which looks and feels luxurious on the skin.

Tell me about three makeup trends you’re a fan of?

1. Smokey eyes
2. Glossy lips
3. A very Subtle contour.

With the upcoming winter wedding season, what colours and makeup looks you think will trend?

Everything glossy will keep shining all through this year and rightly so, highlighted faces are here to stay as well. The only way to pull of a highlighter though is to have good skin hence people should be focusing to keeping a healthy skin by following a healthy diet and skincare once that box is ticked you can’t look more Glamorous than having a glowy face and glossy lips. Going into winters there wont be specific trending colors but we’d be seeing more nude. For hair a tight neat bun, centre partings and half tight ponies will be all the rave.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for makeup artists?

I think there too many off them, anyone who has some makeup and an interest in makeup can make a instgram page and call them a makeup artist. And I’m not saying it’s wrong but they aren’t professionals so I guess it’s challenging for both customers and makeup artists both to differentiate between professionals and amateurs.

Tell us about the three best services your salon offers

I wouldn’t want to brag about our top services but we do whatever we offer with passion. Be it a manicure, makeup or a simple threading we take our time to give a client who has trusted us with the desired look they want. Being a salon owner and a makeup artist it’s my motto to provide my customers hygiene, quality and a standard that I would approve for myself as well.

Marina Homes’ chief operating officer, Rehana Rajput In conversation with Fatima Sheikh

How does Marina Home stand out from the competition?

Rehana: Marina Home honours the spirit of adventure. We embrace the escape of the ordinary and revel in the magic that is found in the unexpected. Our artistic ability shines through in our choice of contrasting designs that challenge conventions, tailors trends and brings out the creative flair in our customers too.

Which celebrities have chosen to buy their furniture from your stores?

Marina Home has a huge celebrity client base of stars like Ali Zafar and Fawad Khan, as well as supplies furniture for the Gulzar House.

When did Marina Home open its doors in the country and how has it evolved?

We launched Marina Home in Pakistan in 2015, and from day 1 we have been the pioneers in fashion furniture, while still having the competitive edge over other brands. We have evolved in such a way that we are constantly bringing one-of-a-kind pieces.

Did you receive instant success or your work took time to set a benchmark for itself?

The response has been wonderful from the very first, not just in Lahore but in Islamabad too.  Marina Home has been delivering quality and originality for over 20 years now internationally. It has already set the precedence for high in the furniture industry.

What type of home does Marina Home best cater to?

All our clients bring us something exciting and challenging. There is an immense love for fashion and home living that has grown over the last few years in Pakistan. People are much more aware of what the latest trends in home furniture are globally. They are more willing to take risks and experiment with their space these days. Marina Home doesn’t just design spaces; all our furniture pieces are inspired from stories around the world. So all spaces are equally exciting and challenging for us.

An interesting incident with an overly fussy client?

We don’t believe any clients are fussy. It’s about understanding their requirement and giving them the furniture and accessories, which fit their lifestyle.

What are the latest trends and techniques in the furniture market?

New trends of visual merchandising are talk of the town these days. Exotic and modern furniture is trending within the furniture industry.

What is Marina Home’s niche and what does your brand specialize in?

We specialize in the urban and exotic furniture line that means not just the quantity but quality.

What do your clients mostly ask for?

There are a lot of different demands from customers in furniture and accessories. But leather furniture is probably the one thing that is most demanded.

What do your pieces usually represent?

Marina Home is all about creativity and innovation. Our pieces are more than just beautiful designs but are all inspired from different stories around the world.

Tell us about your latest collection?

Our latest collection is inspired from India, so there is a lot of colour and vibrancy in all our pieces.

Describe your personal style at home?

I am a wood lover as well as like tactile textures. Rustic décor with style and comfort is represented in my personal collection

Where do you see the brand in 5 years?

As per the current response, we want to open doors in all major cities of Pakistan over the next few years.

Ideally who would you want to collaborate with from the furniture industry?

Being an international brand, we are not looking to collaborate with one brand at the moment. However, we do work with a lot of interior designers and architects.

Describe Marina Home in three words?

Marina Home is difficult to describe in only three words but if I had to they would be:

Urban

Exotic

Contemporary

 

Favourite quote about furniture?

“I look at every piece of furniture and every object as an individual sculpture.“–Kelly Wearstler (American furniture designer)

Award-winning fashion designer Syeda Amera makes absolutely stunning womenswear, ranging in versatility from ready-to-wear, western evening dresses from structured corset dresses to sensuously draped ones, as well as traditional bridals,  combining delicate embroidery with sumptuous fabrics, workmanship and glamour for a well heeled clientele. She  is the first Pakistani designer to be featured in British Vogue, Glamour UK and ELLE UK and has participated in many fashion shows on the international stage. Just last month, she represented South Asian designers when her S/S 17 collection Flower Power was featured amongst those of other international designers in J Summer Fashion Show 2017 set against the back drop of the Hoover Dam, Nevada, on a 100 metre curved runway. This is Amera’s fifth collaboration with theatrical fashion show producer and Vietnamese model Jessica Minh Anh. Syeda Amera tells Mahlia Lone about her gorgeous yet surprisingly affordable dresses that have grabbed the international spotlight

Have you studied fashion designing?

Ever since I was child, I wanted to become a designer. It just seemed natural to want to translate my ideas into fashion. My love for fashion and glamour brought me into this profession. I am a self-taught designer and I think the talent was there since the very beginning but to polish my skills I acquired my fashion education from London School of Fashion, Sota School of Arts Singapore, TFWA World Exhibition and ESMOD Fashion School in Paris.

Are you involved with the construction of dresses or just the designing and business aspect?

Well, I would say that’s what I enjoy the most. The best thing about being a designer is the process when I translate my drawings into a real piece. I enjoy overcoming the little challenges I face with the materials and design technicalities then watching my creativity come to life.

Which are some celebrities apart from Jessica Minh Ahn that have worn your creations and for which high profile events?

I have been really popular amongst celebrities when it comes to rocking the red carpet, hosting a TV show, or a performance in an award show. Apart from the many international celebrities, locally I have had the honour of making dresses for Humaima Malick, Sajal Ali, Mehwish Hayat, Nadia Hussain and many more.

Your gowns are certainly eye-catching and beautifully made; do you mostly specialize in western evening dresses?

I specialize in ready-to-wear, traditional bridals and western evening dresses. I would also like to mention that we do not compromise on quality when it comes to any of our creations.

Where are you based in and how does one buy one of your dresses, apart from your website?

I am originally Karachi based and operate via my outlet at Park Towers in Karachi and my studios in Karachi (Pakistan) and Business Bay Dubai (UAE). I also stock at various multi-brand stores locally and internationally and have numerous website and fan page clients as well.

You have quite an inspirational journey, what are some of your achievements of 2017?

2017 has proven to be an amazing year for me. With many local and international projects, I was recently honoured with the Women Empowerment Award for the most inspiring woman of 2017 at the Women Empowerment Gala in New York.

The event was organised to recognise the work of outstanding individuals of different professions from all over the world where I became the first Pakistani to have received this recognition and award for my tremendous stand as a woman.

Then in June 2017, I showcased my Flower Power SS’17 collection at the J Summer Fashion Show atop American engineering masterpiece Hoover Dam in Las Vegas. It was a dream come true to showcase my collection at such an amazing venue and my collection was the most appreciated collection of the show. I was the only designer selected to represent the whole of South-Asia among the carefully selected designers from all over the world. With a natural backdrop featuring the world’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead, and the majestic Black Canyon, as reported by celebrities and journalists present at the show, it was pure magic to watch Syeda Amera’s creations go down the ramp as the models walked on the 100-metre curved catwalk.

You look like a model yourself. Give us some tips on looking half as good.

“Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful,” so believe in you and love yourself. Beauty is confidence, how you feel inside and it reflects in your eyes.

What’s on trend right now?

Head-to-toe floral is definitely one groundbreaking trend of Spring/Summer 2017 and Syeda Amera SS’17 collection showcased atop the American engineering masterpiece Hoover Dam was centered on this very simple concept. Trends like super bright tones and ubiquitous detailed sleeves were also highlighted in my latest collection, which proved to be very impressive.

Give us some styling tips.

I strongly believe that effortless is chic; you should keep it simple and not too complicated. One should be relaxed in what you wear as being comfortable is the key. We should all observe the trends but try your best to be an individual.

 

Faris Khalid is not a new name in the showbiz industry. He started out as a comedian, did some TV gigs and then made the brave choice of playing a transvestite in the film Rahm.  So it comes as a surprise when you realise that the recently released Chalay Thay Saath is only his second movie. Though it failed to impress at the box office perhaps due to its lack of song and dance routines, Faris’ performance was appreciated by critics as one film reporter wrote, “Faris Khalid is hilarious and definitely one to watch.” Sana Zehra sits down with the actor for a quick, fun chat

What sports do you fancy?

Skateboarding

When driving what are you mostly listening to?

Heavy metal

What do you think people made of Chalay Thay Saath?

Pleasantly surprised

Who’s the funniest person from the cast of CTS?

Zhalay for sure!

What would draw you to someone new?

Someone has to be very curious and must have good observational skills

Have you ever cheated on a school exam?

Yes!

Iphone or Android?

Iphone because I’m an Iphone user

Stay in touch or out of sight out of mind?

Out of sight, out of mind (laughs)

What is more logical to follow? Heart or head?

Head but then again….

Are you in love?

Yes!

Define success in less than five words…

Doing something new always

What is your fighting style?

I’m an angry monkey for sure

What are the colours in the rainbow?

VIBGYOR

One talent you wish you were born with?

Ability to sing

Worst thing that happened to you while shooting?

I tried fasting and man that did not go well

If you had to choose three wishes what would you choose?

For another question for sure (laughs)

Name two things you consider yourself to be really good at?

I’m a good observer! I observe and I listen

What animal best represents you?

If there was ever a cross between a cat and a dog, then that would be me

Who do you look up to as an actor?

Sir Daniel Day Lewis

Who do you look up to as a director?

I really don’t look up to a director per say….

Who do you look up to as an actress?

Meryl Streep

Favourite Bollywood actress?

None because I don’t watch Bollywood movies

Favourite Lollywood actress?

Saba Qamar has caught my attention lately

Faris you played a transvestite in Rahm how did that change you?

It didn’t change me…

How has your life been in the last 48 hours?

A complete misery

Strangest thing you’ve done to prep for any role?

Fortunately, I never had to do that but for certain parts I listen to a lot of music and I go deathly silent, I don’t speak to anyone, I don’t make eye contact with anyone, I just go into my own zone. For some people as you can imagine it gets very uncomfortable.

Which song instantly puts you in a good mood?

You get what you give by New Radicals

Spirit Animal?

Monkey

Career accomplishments you are most proud of?

I’m teaching and I’m really proud of it

Beyonce or Rihanna?

Neither!

Mathira or Nargis?

Neither!

What is best done slowly?

Thinking

What does GT mean to you?

Good Times!

Model/host/actor, Saim Ali wears many hats. He takes Mahlia Lone through the journey of making it in showbiz

Tell us how you evolved from a model to an actor?

Saim Ali: I was a chubby kid who wanted to become a model, but then a choreographer/fashion designer dismissed me saying, “You’re not made for fashion, you can’t make it in this industry.” That was the best thing anyone could have said to me as it spurred me on. I hit the gym for a year and a half and then proved him wrong by appearing on a magazine cover. From then on, I was not only in fashion shows locally, but was a showstopper at several shows internationally too. My big break came when the actress Noor Bukhari asked me to appear on the morning show Good Morning Zindagi on A-plus channel with her. We would spontaneously break into dance, and the show became such a big hit that it would regularly garner a 100+ rating for the channel. One particular steamy dance routine went viral. I developed a considerable fan base, comprising both men and women. Seeing the reaction, Noor, who was directing and starring in a movie called Ishq Positive, asked me to do a cameo in it. I had 12 major scenes and a song was picturised on me as well. That’s how I made the leap from the small to the big screen.

After this, I took part as a celebrity contestant in a season of the ARY Digital reality show Madventures (a take-off on Fear Factor), which has 6 celebrities from Pakistan participating alongside 6 celebrities from India. The show was set in Thailand where we had to participate in many water sports. I finished as the runner-up. In Heer, a drama serial for Geo, I play a psychotic doctor. In the first 10 episodes, I appear as the quintessential chocolate hero, but then my dark side takes over in the next 10. I really sank my teeth into this role and used my acting chops. In a Farouq Mengal directed movie Hijrat, I play a bad boy picking up girls in an Istanbul nightclub. It was freezing weather and I was clad in jeans and a chiffon t-shirt for the song and dance, but as they say “the show must go on”, and it did at all costs.

 

Director Sangeeta then asked me to be the second male lead in romcom Tum Hee Ho, releasing 15th April. It’s a four-angle love story in which I star alongside Danish Timoor, Matthira and Qurutulain in her debut role. I have two songs in the movie; I’m emoting, romancing, dancing … hopefully my fans will enjoy it.

In a very different role for an upcoming drama serial, I’m playing a drug addict, the son of a postmaster. I completely immersed myself in this role. I started smoking to see what it would feel like and barely talked to anyone between takes to stay in character. I looked grungy and unkempt. But as soon as the cameras stop rolling of course, I would snap out of it.

You sound like a method actor. Have you studied drama?

No. I feel I’m a natural at acting and don’t need to study it. In every cut or action, I know my job. I draw on my personal life. For example, having gone through a very bad relationship myself, I know what it feels like to love somebody, invest in them emotionally and then be betrayed by them. Whenever I’m doing a love scene, I visualize this person. I know how to sell love passionately.

What’s your pet peeve about this industry?

The politics, definitely! And the back stabbing! Everyone is so sweet to you in person. They will like your pictures and posts on social media, air kiss and compliment you on the red carpet, but behind the scenes is another story entirely—their ferocious egos take over. There are some stars who call themselves “the Big Bs” and who like to rule the roost. I was hired by a channel last year for a drama serial. They said no need to sign a contract. I worked for two whole days, and then was unceremoniously dropped from the production without a reason. I was not compensated in any way. Apparently, the leads became insecure. This type of behavior is very unprofessional for a lead to get a supporting actor fired for no reason at all. So an actor with a smiling face may well be holding a knife behind his/her back.

 

Have you experienced the casting couch?

I’ve been propositioned certainly by men and women. I chose not to take them up on it. Perhaps that’s why I was sitting at home for much of the time last year!

What is one crazy fan moment?

Oh this Lahori school girl who got obsessed with me. She used to follow me on social media. I have a considerable social media following on my Facebook page and on Instagram, which both my PR manager Pheby Haroon and I handle jointly. Pheby alerted me to her. The girl would comment every couple of hours on my Insta. She wanted to know everything about my daily routine, what I ate, where I went, etc. It started to get weird when she recorded herself cutting her finger and writing the letter “S” and posted it, so I called her from a random phone number (not my own) to calm her down and dissuade her from this extreme behaviour. She started crying hysterically, saying that she loved me and wanted to marry me. Then her mother posted her own photo on my Insta and wrote please marry my daughter, she loves you. Finally, when the girl started posting risqué pictures of herself, I had to block her.

And a good moment?

There were two actually that I cherish. I always wanted to be greeted by fans at the airport. After Ishq Positive, I was returning from a trip to Dubai and as soon as I exited the arrivals section, all these ladies and kids recognised me and circled me. Some ladies kissed my forehead saying I reminded them of their sons, others gave me their blessings, children hugged me. My father who had come to pick me up was touched by what he saw. I felt joyous.

Having gone through a
very bad relationship myself, I know what it feels like to love somebody,
invest in them emotionally
and then be betrayed by them. Whenever I’m doing a
love scene, I visualize this person. I know how to sell love passionately

Another amazing fan moment occurred when we were taping a live special morning show episode for Samaa TV at APWA College in Karachi. Hundreds of students were waiting for me when we arrived. They were screaming out my name, “We love you Saim!” I made a casual remark that I had missed my breakfast to come on time and was feeling hungry. Quickly the girls offered me their lunches. They gave me little gifts, like T-shirts and flowers. I danced especially vigorously that day, spurred on by the girls chanting they were “Saim ki fans.” It feels so good to make people happy.

You are a versatile actor, a showstopper model—any other feather in your cap?

I’m also a compere. I’ve been the MC (master of ceremonies) at many televised corporate events. Recently, I hosted the red carpet for Prince Charles’ fundraiser benefitting The British Asian Trust in London.

What’s coming up for you?

My mother says one should not reveal your plans till they reach fruition. But I can tell you this, being a huge Bollywood buff, I’ve been in talks with the Anil Kapoor Film Company. The producer for the film Khoobsurat happens to be a family friend. I sent him my portfolio. Anil Kapoor has himself approved it. InshAllah, in six months it will be announced that I’ll be playing a special role in his next home production. I’m confident I’ll prove all the naysayers wrong and become a star!

 

By Afshan Shafi

At first glance, Saudi-French Sakina Shbib’s creations convey a feeling of sheer grace. As the eye roams over the faultless details, one is awestruck by the joy and decadence of her vision. There’s a sense of an unruffled sensuality as well as pure fantasy to each of her garments.  Her latest collection shot in collaboration with the fine jewellery house, Piaget, is a study of scarlet and marries boldness with shimmering glamour in each hem. Sakina speaks to Afshan Shafi in an exclusive interview about her passion for design and provides fascinating insights about life as a couturier

How did your passion for design begin? What do you think was a defining moment in your fashion journey?

My mom used to be a tailor in the French countryside, in a small town deep into the South-West, called Villeneuve-sur-Lot. After school, I would help her with the easy parts: cutting ruffles, gathering the material, cutting threads, etc. Any training starts with your capacity to observe. By the time I had reached 12 years of age, I was able to make a dress on my own. My mom would give me the responsibility of the finishing, which I would do after school. It gave me a sense of responsibility at an early age. After I graduated from the University of Bordeaux with a Masters in foreign languages, I got a grant from the government to study in Paris. This was one of the most fortunate instances of my life! I was a very shy teenage girl, but determined. I applied for the famous school L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and graduated in 2012 as a pattern drafter.
The defining moment of my young career was to present my first collection last year during Paris Fashion Week. It is such a big step to cross. And seeing yourself in fashion magazines is such a reward. It is a validation. It is the proof that the industry recognises your hard work. What is funny is that I used to read Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie-Claire magazines as a kid and I had no clue that I would eventually be featured in all of them later on.

What does the term luxury mean to you especially in regard to your training in renowned couture ateliers?

Straight after I graduated from L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, I got my first internship with Alexandre Vauthier in 2012. I worked for one year with him, doing the embroideries, beading work and ornaments of his haute couture dresses. Later, I was appointed seamstress at the Givenchy atelier for another year. By the time I entered the Chanel ready-to-wear team in 2014, I had matured and was able to think critically. My experience at Chanel made me aware of the demands of an elite clientèle and the requirements regarding the quality of a garment. We spent considerable amount of time in the studio drawing sketches, experimenting with colours, cutting new shapes, etc. Every pattern changes from one collection to another. What people don’t know is that the research part for making a single garment can take one month. This set of experiences has taught me to technically challenge myself and approach design through a strong set of skills. Courtesy these positive experiences, I consider myself to be a craftswoman: the roots of my job require me to work with my hands, from stitching to doing hand embroideries and the delicate details of finishing. When 80 per cent of designers nowadays do mostly sketching and technical drawings, and delegate the work of production to their team, I am my own seamstress. I have 5 employees working under my supervision, but I am clearly the head of my own atelier and I have mastered the techniques of a couturier, of which I am proud. I have learnt through the years that luxury is all about precision, with a strong focus on details. Clients are looking for some sort of exclusivity.


Who do you feel is the embodiment of the Sakina brand?

Fashion is both a work of introspection and a work of observation. You have to look into yourself in order to create your “signature look” with which women will identify.. But you must also understand the culture of your time. I spend a considerable amount of time traveling the world and observing what women like and how they want to be perceived before I get the inspiration to design. I have a high number of customers from the Gulf countries asking me to design their wedding dresses, and in this case, the cultural concept matters: they want to feel beautiful and, at the same time, honour their religion, which, for instance, prompts me to create a dress with no skin exposure.

My haute couture collections are mainly designs with pure lines, volumes and delicate details handcrafted on high-quality fabrics such as Dentelle de Calais, silk organza, silk satin, silk crepe and silk taffetas, all made in France. The most recurring motifs are guipure appliqués on organza bases, and flower embroideries paired with beading work. As for my ready to wear collections, they have a pure and modern touch, which is more coherent for everyday life. I would define my style as chic and appropriate. I have in mind a timeless vision of beauty with a strong focus on details. I care more about making women beautiful rather than following trends. Elegance is basically the embodiment of Sakina Paris.

Which artists, writers and other creatives inspire your romantic aesthetic?

There is a language of fashion that depends on the fabrics and the colours you use.

When I design a dress, I look at the balance between the front and the back, and the proportions of the whole body, the structure of the garment, the color matching. I love the sculptural details of draping. This is my vocabulary.

It is very important to be open to the world and be contemporary. Artists have to be aware. You have to know the culture of the day. I read books, read newspapers and watch TV. I use Instagram and I am a part of contemporary society and hope that people can relate to me in a way. But fashion is more an act of the senses rather than a surge of intellectualism. There are no right or wrong answers, it is all about intuition, the feeling of the moment. When you design a collection, you have to look into yourself and ask yourself: “Who am I? What is my story?” Journalists always ask, “What is your inspiration?” There is no direct response to this. Sometimes I feel a certain way, and as an artist, you should feel rather than think. My collection was a feeling of the moment. For instance, for my second collection, I was inspired by my favorite French writer Marcel Proust and his vision on young women becoming adults and exploring blossoming love and infatuation. It was a very romantic perspective, and definitely the state of mind I was in when I started designing this collection. And then my latest collection is more about melancholy feelings and the force of Autumn. I love Autumn because it is forcefully symbolical. It means change and renewal, through the poetry of changing colors. The colour code is red, ranging from burgundy to dusty red and vermilion. Red means passion, intensity. The leading piece of my collection is a corseted dress made of 7,000 flowers cut in 6 different types of leathers and embroidered by hand with beadings. I imported the leather from Italy and it took 5 workers to cut every single piece of flower and stitch them together by hand to create different shapes and volumes. Haute couture means pushing the limits of creativity. This dress is a recreation of an autumnal forest that looks like an architectural work. I am very proud to finally present it after two months of research.

The lady wearing my clothes has good taste, and is proud of her femininity. She is elegant in all aspects of life, in her wardrobe choices but also in regard to her graceful and polite manners. She masters all the codes elegance is a result of being educated rather than a matter of possessing wealth

I don’t dictate what women should wear, I just follow my instinct. I am inspired by strong women who embrace their femininity, but also maybe with kids, a job, and a life. Women have different ages and body shapes. It is about individuality. Fashion also depends on how you style the pieces. Sometimes you see two different ladies wearing the same outfit, but because one of them knows how to accessorise it, she is instantly more fashionable. Fashion is a balance of everything.

What has been your most memorable fashion show?

My first memorable fashion show as a guest was attending Armani Haute Couture show in January 2015. It is very meaningful to me as it is the date when also I launched my own label. His collection was outstanding, and I had the chance to meet actress Sonam Kapoor and her sister Rhea backstage. They are absolutely adorable! And then, Mister Armani himself came to me and complimented me about my dress that obviously, I had made myself!

But as a fashion designer, my most memorable moment was when I did my first presentation last year in Paris, it really meant something. The first time a designer makes a presentation during a Fashion Week is a huge moment. It is a big challenge to create a collection and put yourself out there for people to judge your work. Especially because the standards in Paris are really high. There is no higher metric in terms of quality than Paris. In this business, people are really quick to judge you and won’t give you a second chance. Fashion journalists will come and take a look during your showcase, and if they think you are talented, they will support you. But if they think that there is no big potential, you can be over very quickly. In this way, for a young designer like me, showing people that you have something to offer is a really huge moment. And there is a huge amount of pressure throughout the three months of preparation. A presentation requires a lot of disparate elements to come together. It is no longer about pure designing, it is about staging an event. The crowd in Paris expects to be entertained. It is the place where you enjoy the most spectacular shows. Each single element has to be representative of the brand. It depends on the image the designer wants to convey. It also requires scenography and decoration. Beauty – in all aspects of life – can perfectly express my values. I remember staying up until 2 a.m. to discuss the flower arrangement with my team, or do some champagne selection for the guests. Every single element is significant and give you credit in the eyes of future customers or the press. Being a part of the couture hub is also a huge advantage because when you grow bigger, you start attracting other luxury brands for partnerships. I had this wonderful collaboration with the high-jewellery house Piaget for a series of pictures starring supermodel Kristina Krayt. Having big names noticing you is such a reward.

How do the cultures of the Middle East and Europe intersect in your vision?

For haute couture, I attempt to merge the delicacy of the French tradition with the sense of luxury of the Oriental culture. The French signature look is elegance with a certain amount of minimalism. On the other hand, the Arab signature look is a strong expression of beauty with a genuine power of seduction. My style is definitely a mix of the two cultures. I like the classic codes of beauty – typically Parisian, which is a natural expression. But what I admire about Middle-Eastern women is their uniqueness. They are aware of being beautiful and it seems like they put a lot of effort in celebrating beauty everyday, through fancy makeup and exquisite smell of Oud for example. They have a very sharp sense of luxury and detail that I appreciate.

My customer is elegant and modern, but she can come from any cultural background. Fashion and culture should merge together. And we have to celebrate individuality. For example, I love my Arab customers. But religion has a certain impact on the way women dress in the Middle East, which is another form of beauty. On the other hand, the modern way of life in Europe makes woman feel more liberated in the way they want to look. In France, there is a very natural sensuality. The makeup looks fresh, the allure is simple but elegant at the same time. On the contrary, Arabs like to adorn themselves with beading, gold and glitter. They are more extravagant. It is fascinating to see that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a fashion designer, I am sensitive to all kinds of beauty.

Who would be your ideal client?

The lady wearing my clothes has good taste, and is proud of her femininity. She is elegant in all aspects of life, in her wardrobe choices but also in regard to her graceful and polite manners. She masters all the codes. Most of my clientèle comes from the Middle East, with a small portion of local French customers and Chinese as well. I feel that elegance is a result of being educated rather than a matter of possessing wealth. The typical Sakina Paris lady is feminine but modern at the same time. However, she remains classic in her wardrobe choices. I would describe my style as appropriate and chic. It is made for a woman who wants to empower herself without being too bold or too eccentric. Clients who come to me to place an order understand my signature look: a fitted structure. I like a dress to beautify the female attributes, and to make the waist look smaller. We use gros-grain in order to prevent the dress from riding up and stay fitted to the body. The waist line is the strategic part of the female body, it balances all the proportions. Making a structured dress might look neat and simple, but it actually requires specific dress-making skills. What it means to have a VIP clientele is that you have to overcome technical challenges to deliver a perfect product and the clients are aware of that.

What are your future plans for your brand?

I have a very small team of 5 workers who have so far embarked with me on this journey and who will continue going further. We still have a long way to go. Seeing my company grow bigger would be such a dream come true. Success lies in the team. We have to be really connected to reach a perfect image. Expanding my brand internationally is a target for the upcoming five years: signing contracts with ready-to-wear distributors and concept stores is one of the top priorities of Sakina Paris. And developing our VIP clientele for haute couture too. And our next project for May is to launch a collection of luxury bags with hand embroideries on leather, the Sakina touch! We are working hard on it and the patterns are ready for production.

What is your favourite city in the world and why? 

Dubai! I love the unstoppable energy of Dubai and the cultural melting pot that it is. Everything is moving so fast in this city. Every time I come back, Damac or Emaar are building something new.

Your favorite designers?

Elie Saab, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent

Women who you admire? 

Queen Rania of Jordan, Sonam Kapoor, Malala, Angelina Jolie

Favourite shoes? 

Classic stilettos. I hate flat shoes, sneakers and anything too urban. High heels are always feminine and make women’s legs look longer.

Most adored jewellery? 

The 2017 Piaget collection. Rubies are my favorite gemstone. The colour is so powerfully expressive. And, in the words of Marilyn Monroe, “diamonds are a girls’ best friends!” Piaget offers the perfect combination. They offer the very expression of fine luxury. Our recent collaboration was one of the highlights of my career.

What is a typical day/week like for you?

Zeb: I start my day with riyaz (vocal exercise) and a huge breakfast. The rest of the day varies with work and travel.

Explain your sound in five words.

Zeb: The five words that inspire me musically are: genuine intent, honesty, unique, subtlety and first and foremost sureelapan (melody).

If I were to turn on your iPod right now, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?

Zeb: Probably a Begum Akhtar thumri, an old Beatles tune, songs of Mali, Iraqi Oud and Zayn Malik

How do you describe your music to people?

Zeb: I try not to describe my music or think about these things too much. Also, since I work in many different styles and genres I typically just direct a listener to my songs and let them decide.

What are your long-term career goals?

Zeb: To keep creating new music and to keep growing musically. Also to have a lot fun and travel the world!

How would you define success?

Zeb: To be musically successful would be to express oneself with honesty and to always be open to learning and maintaining a curious outlook.


Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?

Zeb: It varies. Long walks help.

What are the five things you can’t live without?

Zeb: People I love, chai, food, meditation and music of course!

Coordination:

Sana Zehra

Photography:

Arsalan Bilgrami of a.bilgrami studio

Sana Zehra gets up close and personal with three loving celebrity couples in their homes for an intimate look at their domestic bliss. A GT exclusive!

Love is in the air! Sarwat and Fahad

Fahad, A surgeon/actor, and Sarwat, an actress, are the ideal couple according to many. He fell madly in love with Pakistan’s sweetheart, Sarwat, when they first met almost 10 years ago. oddly enough Sarwat was looking for a girl for him. little did she know she would end up marrying him herself. With a little one on the way, this couple is super affectionate and totally gushes over one another. #CoupleGoals!

Describe your relationship in three words:
Sarwat: Compassionate, adventurous, mutually supportive.
Fahad: Passion, love and mutual support.
What do you admire the most about your partner?
Sarwat: Apart from many others, the trait that I have come to admire the most is the passion he brings into everything he does and his sense of responsibility. He looks for any and every opportunity to make a positive impact on the people in his life, especially his patients. He always feels intrigued by the challenge of managing a multitude of physical and psychological problems. The manner in which he shares his excitement with me regarding his surgeries is very telling of his personality. When it comes to saving someone’s life he would give up anything and give his 100% no matter his own circumstance. He is always focused on getting the best result possible.


How would you define the word love?
Sarwat: When you are willing to compromise …
Fahad: Love, for me encompasses a wide array of emotions. You can love things that do not love you back—the sky or a mountain or a painting or the game of chess. But the love of other people is directional. There is a lover and a beloved—your love is directed towards someone. And real love is not only about the feelings of the lover; it is not about egoism. It is when one person believes in another person and shows it.


Do you believe it’s possible to maintain platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex?
Sarwat: Yes, if you are content with your love life and partner, you can maintain any kind of friendship with the opposite sex.
Fahad: Yes, if you are happy with your partner you can maintain a platonic friendship. It is only when people are unhappy that they start looking for a third person to rescue them.

Have you ever had your heart broken?
Sarwat: After months of chest pain and a visit to the cardiologist finally the verdict was that there was nothing wrong with my heart, but only that it had been broken. At the time, I had thought life had ended for me but today when I look back, I can’t help, but be grateful for the wisdom, strength and mindfulness it has given me.
Fahad: Yes, I did and it made me into who I am today, a much wiser and stronger individual.

What’s the first thing you would do if you won $50,000?
Sarwat: I would make a shelter for stray animals who are abused by people on the streets. It’s often tough to guage which one is the real animal.
Fahad: If I didn’t have to do much to get it then I would keep half and give the other half to my favourite charity.
Why is Valentine’s Day important to you? Do you believe in grand gestures or smaller meaningful ones?
Sarwat: It is a day full of chocolates, roses, Cupid’s arrows and gifts that make me feel loved and pampered. For me, it’s an excuse to celebrate my love with my partner, other family members and friends, which I don’t usually get to do often due to my busy schedule.
What are you most passionate about in life?
Sarwat: I’m passionate about a lot of things, my family, my work, my art and the kids that I serve at Special Olympics. Unless you’re not passionate about each task that you take up in life you, will never be able to reach its zenith.
Who is your favourite fictional character ever?  
Fahad: Hamlet for the charm of his intelligence, the quickness of his wit, the brilliance of his mimicry, the fastidiousness of his temperament, the soundness of his judgement, the excellence of his literary criticism and for his loathing of the world’s opinion.

You’re going to a desert island. What three things/people do you take?
Sarwat: I would take an Olympus underwater camera, an inflatable raft and a satellite phone.
Would you rather be rich or famous?
Fahad: I would rather be great.

Hira and Mani, both actors, are our star couple! This duo has been married for 9 years and they are still as much in love as they were when they first met

Love, relationship and more with Hira and Mani

How did you guys meet?
Mani: Over the phone, now I am a dead soul.
Hira: Phone.
What is love?

Hira: Love is magic.
Mani: Love is hmmm yes and Ok.
Are you guys still in love?
Mani: Yes, after a lot of fights we still want to see each other, so yes we are in love.
Hira: Yes, very much so.

What is the secret to a long lasting relationship?
Mani: Yes, hmm and ok.
Hira: (Laughs out loud)

What is the first thing Mani said to you?
Hira: You are actually a good looking girl.
What was your first impression of Mani?
Hira: I noticed his shoes and they were really clean. I really like that in men. Their shoes and teeth must be clean and in Mani’s case they both were.

Mani what was your first impression of her?
Mani: Nobody can dominate me as much as her. When I met Hira I was in awe of how strong she is. She has a great voice, she always looks amazing and is incredilby smart. At that moment, I knew that this is the woman I want in my life.

What is one good thing about Hira?
Mani: She loves giving surprises! She remembers all the birthdays and anniversaries. I tend to forget because that means another expenditure (laughs) but yes, she loves doing all that.
For my last birthday, Hira and our son threw me a huge surprise party. That was the best birthday gift ever.
Hira what is your favourite memory of him?
I was pregnant and extremely nauseous and I made the worst food ever and Mani kept on saying this is the best food I had ever had. He was flying out to Dubai at that time and he even took some with him.
What is the best thing about Hira?
She loves kids. No matter whose child it is, Hira shows the same amount of affection she does to our own. She likes our children to be immaculate. Look at our nanny, she is all scared and standing in a corner (laughs).
What do you like best about Mani?
Hira: Mani is extremely understanding and he knows me.
What is your favourite way of spending time with him?
Hira: When our kids go off to school, we self reflect. Sometimes we end up fighting, but I love that it’s “our” time.
Mani: I guess everyone fights but yes that is the best time.
Any nickname that really annoys you?
Hira: Hirssy Hirzo really annoys me.
Anything about Mani that really annoys you?
Hira: No matter how old a cricket match it may be, Mani will always watch it like he would if he was watching it for the first time.

Anything about Hira that really annoys you?
Mani: When she falls asleep, she just does not want to wake up!
Has Mani ever shared what his favourite toy was when he was growing up?
Hira: My father in law told me he loved collecting hockey sticks.
Mani: Yes, I had a hockey stick that I particularly loved.
Any movie you guys have watched together more than five times?
Hira/Mani: Jab We Met
Any lipstick shade she wears often?
Mani: Red. I actually don’t like it when she wears that colour.
Hira: Yes, I don’t know why but neither Mani nor my kids like it when I wear red on my lips.
What kind of work does Hira like to do?
She actually does not like to work. She really came on TV by chance.
Hira: I agree. I really became serious with my work this last year.
What food does Hira like?
Mani: She loves steak, pizza, etc. I am a desi at heart and I love Pakistani food.
Any funny fan moment?
Mani: When people mix up Faisal Qureshi with me.
Hira: People come up and say, “I am your biggest fan but I forgot your name.”
What does GT mean to you?
Hira/Mani: Good Times!

Couple Goals with Aamir and Zhalay

If there is one actress who has done it all it as to be Zhalay Sarhadi! A VJ, model, actress and host, Zhalay has always been on top of her game no matter what she has done. She even has a movie coming up soon. Zhalay and Aamir, an entrepreneur, have been married for 10 years and they are still going strong

Between you and your wife who is the money spender and who is the money saver?
Aamir: I am definitely the big spender. She likes to spend a lot too, but I definitely like to spend more than her.
Zhalay: Yes, definitely him.
Who does Zhalay talk to most on the phone?
Aamir: It would be her friend, Ayesha Toor.
If Zhalay would choose one thing to get rid of what would it be?
Aamir: My phone for sure!
Zhalay: Absolutely, his phone.
When Zhalay says “Honey they are playing our song” what song would it be?
Aamir: It would be Veer Zara. That’s from the time when we first started going out.
How did you guys meet?
Aamir: We met through a mutual friend at a mehndi.
Describe your first date in one word.
Aamir: Very awkward.

Which living celebrity would your wife say she most admires?
Aamir: I think she admire Madhuri a lot.
Zhalay: REALLY?!
Aamir: Ok, then I don’t know.
When was the last time you gave her flowers?
Aamir: That’s easy! Last week.
Do you remember her childhood pet?
She had a cat named Kaalo who died. She really cried a lot; she still cries to this day for him.
What is the most she ever paid for shoes?
Aamir: She doesn’t spend a lot on shoes but the most she ever paid was Rs. 20,000
Zhalay: No!

Her favourite colour?
Red
Any strange gift she ever bought for you?
Aamir: I wouldn’t say strange, as she kind of knows what I really want.
Zhalay: Yeah, he tells me what he needs.
Most memorable day?
Aamir: It would be the day we moved out on our own, had our own place and started a family.
Zhalay: Absolutely.
Best Vacation you guys ever took?
Aamir: It would be last year when we went to the United States, I think it would be the best one we have had so far.

What is love?
Zhalay: Love is compassion, companionship, honesty, knowing each other. It grows with time.
What is the silliest thing Aamir has ever done for you?
Zhalay: He threw me a surprise birthday party and told me that he is throwing me a surprise birthday party. So Yeah!
How do you express your love?
Zhalay: I love giving gifts. I like making cards and I like cooking his favourite food.
Who gets to control the TV remote?
Zhalay: Both of us actually. It’s a good thing both of us like to watch the same shows, except Walking Dead. I hate that show. That’s the only time when I leave the room when the tv remote is in his hands.
Who gets their way with things?
Zhalay: Both of us are really strong personalities. I don’t think either of us have any hold on each other. We are individuals and we let each other be.
If you were to dedicate a song to Aamir what would it be?
Zhalay: You fill up my senses…
Where did you guys first go for dinner after you got married?
Zhalay: There were so many shaadi dinners really. But we went to Thailand for our honeymoon right after and that was really nice.
What would Aamir say his favourite food is?
Zhalay: Burgers, steak…he is a foodie in his heart so its all hunk food. Glad he is into fitness.
Aamir: Pizza
Last argument you guys had?
Zhalay: What should I wear to this shoot.
Aamir: (Chuckles)
Strangest gift Aamir has ever gotten for you?
Zhalay: He wanted to get an Apple watch that he didn’t want to buy for himself as he thought it was lame, so he ended up getting it for me. And I still don’t know why he got it for me because I have no interest in it.
What does GT mean to you?
GT is a place where you get to meet everyone, and get to see what everyone is upto.

Hair & Makeup by Wajid Khan
Photography by Arsalan Bilgrami of a.bilgrami studio
Interview by Sana Zehra

The notion of privacy for Pakistani women is an interesting concept to dissect, given the constraints of traditional patriarchal structures. Both admired and lambasted for her sexuality, a woman’s perception of self is expected to be a malleable, fluctuant entity. Artist Natasha Malik explores all of these ideas brilliantly in her series entitled A cage elusive as a shadow. Here, through the metaphor of seashells, the enclosing space of home and a woman’s immersion in dreamscape, Malik paints an elemental, floating panoply. Natasha speaks to Afshan Shafi about her inspirations and all the finer aspects of her craft

Please tell us about your background as an artist and your education in this regard.

Art is a subject I took throughout my education. I finished my BFA at the National College of Arts in Lahore, specializing in Indian miniature painting. I completed my MFA in painting at the Slade School of Fine Arts, London. During this time I also learnt gilding, the art of applying gold leaf on different surfaces, at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. I’ve recently become very interested in printmaking as well.

What was the theme for your latest exhibit?

My first solo show titled  A cage elusive as a shadow took place at the Sanat Gallery, Karachi, in 2016. Through painting, printmaking, photography, film and installation, I explored thematic concerns such as female identity developed within the constraints of patriarchy. I also use references to my home in Lahore, and drawings of imagined architectural structures as metaphors for a state of mind. Wider tensions between intimacy and societal surveillance, the imposition of control versus the desire for independence are also significant themes.

Untitled, Gouache and watercolour on paper
The Absent Dweller I , Lithograph on paper

Which artists, local or international, have influenced or informed your point of view the most?

I have looked at several artists over time including Naiza Khan, Hamra Abbas, Ruby Chishti, Shahzia Sikander, Fahd Burki, A.R Chughtai, Mona Hatoum, Louise Bourgeois, Kara Walker, Agnes Martin, Vija Celmins, William Kentridge, Roy Lichenstein and Anselm Kiefer. Indian miniature painting has been a wonderful source of inspiration. Each artist has played a role in informing my point of view, but it would be wrong to single any one out. I’ve been very lucky to have amazing tutors both at the NCA and the Slade, and I gain a lot of insights through conversations with fellow artists, colleagues and friends.

What has been a seminal, life changing experience in terms of your art?

Art has always been a steady presence in my life, and a constant source of ideas and inspiration whenever I encounter it. A collection of several experiences over my life have influenced me deeply.

Which of your creations are you most attached to and why?

My diary. It contains a record of my ideas in their very early stages, and I’m able to express them with far less pressure than when making a final piece.

What themes do you find yourself drawn towards most often in your art?

In more biographical work, memory, nostalgia, displacement and grief often become subject matter when dealing with the idea of home. I’m also interested in the conflict between personal desires and societal expectations, something I believe all of us face at one point or another. The struggle, which this generates and how it is reflective of our time, is definitely a source of interest. Female identity in relation to this context is what I try to explore.

Untitled, Digital print on Mura Rokubu paper

Finding Nowhere I, Photopolymer print on paper
…that which hems me round, and blots out my world, is the old void…, Watercolour and gouache on paper

Name something you love. why?

Animals, because they are so beautiful and fun to be around.

Name something you don’t love. why?

Big egos. I dislike it when people think they’re too good to be true, and treat others like they’re lesser beings!

If you could travel back in time to an era in art history, which period would you choose and why?

Even though there is no likeness between my work and Pop Art, I find it to be an extremely inspiring movement in its playfulness, accessibility and how it makes the everyday objects beautiful.

What is your dream project?

I would love to do a series of large-scale sculptures using fabric such as muslin.

Untitled, Watercolour on paper
The Eye of the Dream, Digital print, gouache and watercolour on paper

What work of art do you wish you owned?

These days I often recall of Apple Tree in the Garden (1932-42) by Edvard Munch, a very haunting and vivid painting which I saw at a Royal Academy exhibition.

Whose portrait would you love to make?

I can’t single out one person; sometimes I’ll come across a very interesting face while wandering around on the street, or sitting in the tube, that I would want to sketch. I like the idea of capturing portraits in the moment.

Which artists living or dead would you have loved to collaborate with?

I might have had a fruitful collaboration with Artemesia Gentileschi, an Italian painter who was born in 1593. She was an extremely accomplished painter in the Baroque age at a time when women were not accepted into academies.

What is an artistic outlook on life?

I’ve often mixed paintbrushes in my tea. Keep your mug far away from your turpentine and watercolour containers! That’s a crucial studio survival skill.

On a more serious note, it’s important to have faith in your ideas, and while accepting critique as it comes, to not cave in to external pressures and compromise your work. These pressures can come from anywhere, such as trying to be accepted into the ‘art market.’ I would also add that it’s really good for you to be prepared for failure and ideas not working out the way you imagined, because you learn a great deal from that process.

“I’ve often mixed paintbrushes in my tea”

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

In the past, I’ve had quite mixed responses to my work, especially to paintings of the female form. People have been uncomfortable and have questioned my decision to paint the body, which has lead to a variety of discussions. On the other hand, many have also appreciated the approach.

What are you working on as a future project?

At the moment, I’m interested in making an installation involving sculpture and painting, which is an extension of Not Eye, a film installation I did at Sanat Gallery.

All clothing provided by Beenish Rana of Beenish designs

Coordination: Afshan Shafi

Photography: Raza Ali

BEHIND THE MAKEUP WITH  USHNA SHAH

Bubbly Ushna Shah chats with Fatima Sheikh

What is your star sign?

I’m as Aquarian as one gets.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Dogs all the way!

Who is Ushna Shah off camera?

She is someone who loves her family and friends, adores her dogs more than anything and is mostly at home.

What is the proudest you have been in terms of your career?

When of my favourite all time writers Mohommad Ahmad called me after watching snippets of my film and told me he’s proud of me, as if I were his daughter. I love his work so to hear this from him was overwhelming.

If you were not an actress what would you have been?

A writer or a director

Pet peeve?

Slow drivers…ughhhh!

Any latest projects we should be excited about?

I’m not allowed to say yet, but we should definitely be excited.

If you had a super power what would it be and why?

To fly–I often have dreams that I can fly and they’re amazing. I’m always disappointed when I wake up afterwards.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

On a yacht in St.Tropez in a cloud of smoke listening to Notorious B.I.G. But that’s what I said five years ago also.

The biggest regret about life and your career?

My only regret is the people I may have hurt in my life as I’m a strong believer in karma. Aside from that I consider everything to be a lesson, so have no regrets.

Movies or books?

Books

Favourite cartoon character and why?

Scooby-Doo. The mystery machine was always full of smoke and he always had the munchies.

Two things you want to keep and change about yourself?

I’d like to remain real, that’s very important to me and I make it a point to not let my work phase me. I’d like to change my impatience, it’s a big problem.

Favourite book, movie, series and sport?

Favorite book right now is the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, favourite movie is the Devil’s Advocate, favorite series is probably Narcos and does dance count as a sport? I do like to watch basketball when I get the chance.

Favourite vacation spot?

Ubud

If you had a chance to pick a celebrity to have dinner with who would it be and why?

Hillary Clinton, because i have a bone to pick with her.

Do you wish to play diverse roles in upcoming projects  or you are fine with the “girl next door”  image?

I have a girl next door image? That’s it, no more crying.

Who is your inspiration?

All strong resilient people who have overcome odds. For acting specifically I love Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Tilda Swinton.

Favourite street style look?

My hoodie and sweatpants

Coffee or chai?

Coffee

What are your Sundays like?

A good Sunday will be spent sleeping in only to be woken up by my dogs, then I watch TV and binge eat (if it’s a good Sunday).

Favourite car?

Jaguar F type or XE in botanical green

A weird habit your fans are unaware about?

I have to eat in front of the TV. I prefer it over dinner conversation

Favourite quote?

“The Show Must Go On.”

Looking like a model straight out of GQ magazine—tall, handsome, mansome, dapper and aristocratic looking, Wiqar Ali Khan is the style icon of Pakistan as well as a model, director, ex MTV VJ, seasoned actor and producer. Born in Swat and raised in London, he got his lucky break as a model at the age of 16. Wiqar took the Pakistan industry by storm when TV viewers first saw him conversing in an amalgamation of the Queen’s English and fluent Pashto. he has been the face of Calvin Klein, served as the vice president for MTV Pakistan for two years and has recently worked in the Pakistani film Jalaibee. Sana zehra interviews this soigné gent

Wiqar rushed into the room where me and my team were waiting for him for less than 2 minutes. He seemed embarrassed by the wait, which marks a nice change from other celebrities; he looked like the perfect archetype of the laid back hot surfer dude. Wiqar confessed that he had hardly slept the night before because he was scared that he might over sleep. It worked in our favour as he fit in perfectly with the sleep deprived photographer, stylist and me. The only difference was that he looked perfect without sleep! It was fun getting to know him through out the day. What really struck me about him was his ability to connect with the people of Pakistan. Pakistanis truly love him. Perhaps it is the positive energy that he emits that makes the other person feel comfortable right away. I noticed that people were not scared to walk up to him and talk. Wiqar possesses natural elegance. Every major brand wants him as their brand ambassador! Dressed super casually in denim jeans and a white shirt, which looked couture on Wiqar. I had a lot of fun getting to know this true gentleman and I hope you have fun reading his interview just as much.

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Your love for Pakistan is inspiring but you chose to live in the UK Why?

Pakistan is no doubt my motherland, however, my parents chose to relocate to London in the ‘60’s and we were bought up there. We came back every summer vacation for 3 months at a time to keep the connection with our families, Pakistani roots, culture, heritage and language and I have fond memories of that time. I go back and forth simply because my kids go to school in London and my immediate family lives there. Till this day I choose to spend most of my time in Pakistan as I have projects here and I’m proudly promoting this country at the end of the day.

You are strong on social media but I feel like it’s a double edged sword, it gives you a platform to get your message across but then it also….

Life is like a double edge sword and even a coin has two sides, there are pros and cons in everything. I see everything as a positive, it’s a mindset and a small adjustment. I use my social media like everyone does to show things from my perspective. I am a student of life on a journey like a tourist. Whether it be a new country I visit, a new cuisine I try or people that I meet along in my journey. It’s just me being myself and sharing some experiences. It’s for friends, family and fans to see what I’m up to.

We have never seen you posting pictures of your wife. Is that because you don’t want to lose your fan following?

My wife Mitra is so beautiful (Mashallah) and if I post her photos then definitely all my fans will become fans if her and leave me haha. Btw, I have never hidden the fact that I’ve been married for 13 years (Alhumdulilah) and have two wonderful boys. I post photos of them every now and then. Maybe one day I’ll post a photo of my wife if she allows me, because trust me I have tried very hard but haven’t been successful.

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You once said in your interview about Jalaibee that it is proof that Pakistani films can be made at international standards. What exactly is the international standard of filming?

I feel that we have not only the talent in front of the camera but also the technical knowhow behind the camera to produce on an equal footing with films made in Hollywood and Bollywood. The main difference is budgets and number of cinema screens. Since starting Jalaibee a couple of years ago, these have both increased enormously. Hence, there were films that were sent for Oscar nominations and one even came home with the golden statue. For a country that only produces a handful of films, that’s a huge accomplishment. But as they say, the proof is in the pudding, so only time will tell. International standard also suggests that a film is made with many sensibilities in mind, be it scripting, screenplay, styling, sets, wardrobe, art direction, post production, dialogue delivery, character acting, marketing, promotion, casting, story telling, film angles, sound, distribution, etc. These are some of the basic points that international films look out for that make them successful. Now we are witnessing Pakistani film makers following some of these basic rules and creating films on par to these standards.

How has Jalaibee prepared you for your leap into feature films? Any upcoming projects?

This was a challenging yet rewarding experience for me as we tried to raise the bar in so many ways. Plus, I have always loved the entire process of film making. Subsequently, Jalaibee was nominated in many categories and won an award. I have two movies in the pipeline, releasing in 2017, a comedy and a Pashtu action thriller. Audiences will see two different sides of me. It’s an exciting time. As Captain Kirk of the Enterprise would have said, Pathan’s will go where no other has boldly gone before.

Audience and film critics said that you delivered dialogues like you were about to introduce the next song on a music channel and that you were barely used as a glamour quotient in the film. How did you overcome the criticism? 

Polarity is always welcomed. As an actor I tried to do my best as directed. Although this question would be best put to the director as he had a specific idea in mind. However, it’s nice to know we actually have some qualified film critics, because recently I heard a few put down Pakistan bringing an Oscar home. Shouldn’t we be celebrating these moments of joy? The world is acknowledging Pakistan for its talent. We should be too, instead of gunning down the efforts these wonderful people have been making. So in essence I take things with a pinch of salt, except my chai which I take with extra sugar.

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How has the movie changed your life?

I got to meet so many new people and make friends on this incredible journey. I was glad that Jalaibee contributed in a positive way to the overall Pakistani movie scene. I feel it helped open the doors for more film makers to take a leap of faith. This has in return created more opportunities for those who want to be part of this fraternity.

Would you do Bollywood films and who would you like to work with?

I’ve been inspired by Hollywood all my life. However, if something interesting from Bollywood comes my way, then why not? It would be nice to work with them, but in English.

Who are your style icons.?

I’m inspired by the classic Hollywood era so classy stars like Errol Flynn, Carry Grant, Marlon Brando, Orson Welles, Steve McQueen and Gene Kelly. They all had swagger!

Apart from not trusting others what is one lesson you had to learn the hard way?

I generally put my trust in people as I’m a team player. Great projects cannot be done unless you trust your team and the people around you. What have I learnt the hard way? Recovering my money from even those people that I thought I trusted.

What insults your intelligence?

Nothing, I’m very open minded, and every question has its own merit.

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When have you had to agree to disagree? Explain.

Over the years I had been involved in great projects and setting up TV channels in London, Dubai and Pakistan and I have managed them for many years as well. It’s all a creative process and sometimes a team member feels strongly about their opinion, and I believe out rightly negating them can shatter their confidence, therefore, in certain circumstances it helps to agree to disagree

What do you think people say behind your back?

Good things I hope. If it’s negative, then I ignore those comments but if someone has the courage to say it to my face then I would respect that person.

How would you end poverty?

Instead of giving them a fish, I would teach them how to catch one. Because this is an honourable, practical and sustainable method

What’s more challenging, a TV show, acting or being a VJ?

Each holds very different set of challenges. I don’t find any of them easy, I work so hard and try to make it look effortless .

If you Were to write your biography what would the title be?

The great titles are all taken, Frank Sinatra’s was I Did It My Way and Richard Branson chose Screw It Just Do It, so I think I’ll go with The Diary of a British Pathan.

What are the hot topics that turn into arguments for you?

When someone says to me that Pakistan is unsafe, I get irate. No one talks about the achievements, like sports, film, fashion, music, Nobel Peace Prize recipient or the number of Oscars Pakistan has won. That is not forgetting the most breath-taking landscapes on earth. Honestly, I’m constantly defending and promoting Pakistan that the world never gets to see, since we have been projected very negatively in the media. This will take quite a while to undo.

Do you think the best part of life has happened or is yet to be?

With God’s grace and blessings, I have had so many great moments in my life and all with no regrets. I personally feel I haven’t reached my peak yet so I’m looking forward to some more great times to come in the years ahead

What would be your priority if you were made the country’s President for a day?

I would allow Raheel Sharif and Asim Bajwa to take over after me so that when I leave, the country is in safe hands of honest people. Also, I would ensure universal justice and equal rights.

What do you spend more on: clothes, accessories, perfumes or anything else?

Ooh! I have a weakness for scents.

How would you like people to remember you?

I would like to be remembered as someone who was consistent all his life, a good friend and a good father.

Coordination:
Sana Zehra
Photography:
Arsalan Bilgrami
(a.bilgrami studios)
Styling:
Rao Ali Khan
Wardrobe:
Humayun Alamgir
Hairstyling:
Rashid Salon (Park Towers)
Hamilton Watches provided by Movements by Collectibles Karachi
Special Thanks Afzal Leghari

How did you start your modeling career?

I started my career as a model for Ather Shahzad’s makeup show in 2002. I can still remember my first time like it happened yesterday; I had butterflies in my stomach before going on the runway. Little did I know then that this was the field that I will excel in and eventually make a career out of

What skills did you learn as a model that you incorporate in acting?

I believe that despite a lot of similarities between the two professions, the training of a model is totally different from the training of an actor. Each genre requires a different set of skills. Having said that, my experience as a model and having faced the camera many times shooting in TV commercials has given me an extra edge. Modelling has also projected my image and helped me establish myself as a brand.

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EMMAD IRFANI TELLS MAHLIA lONE ABOUT HIS effortless TRANSITION FROM MODEL TO ACTOR

How does one pose for the perfect shot? Any pointers?

That depends on the particular situation, mood and character that is being portrayed.

You won Best Male Model at the Lux Style Awards 05. How did that help your career and which doors, if any, did that open for you?

It was great to see my work being rewarded in that manner and reach a status that is coveted. Even then I went and pursued a career in the corporate world working as senior marketing manager for a firm.

How did you transition into acting? Tell us about your experience acting in your first drama serial Asmanoo Pe Likha. How far has your acting prowess developed since then?

I was hoping you would ask me this. The story goes like this, having spent a decade working as a model and for three years at a desk job, I was at a crossroads in my life searching and asking myself what I wanted to do with my life. Where did I see myself in the next five years? What inspires me? While all this was going on, I reached a turning point in my life. In 2012, Asim Raza cast me as a lead for one of his commercials with a storyline about relationships and emotions. I needed a touch of inspiration and a tap of encouragement and it came in that way. From there on out, I started my quest to hone this beautiful craft. Deciding that I’m ready to face all the challenges to excel at this, by the grace of God, I’m glad I took this leap of faith as you only live once.

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Currently I’m doing a project for Momina Duraid Productions, which is one of their premium projects. I play a powerful politician. I believe it will be the definitive project for me as an actor

Have you studied acting? How do you prepare for a role?

A lot of introspection and observation goes into preparing for a role. I believe it’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do with what you know. Knowledge is definitely powerful if acted upon. The preparation I do certainly has evolved with time. I research to develop my characters, each of whom have different motives and objectives from mine.

Do you get roles through your agent or are you approached directly? Do you read for them or are they written with you in mind?

Initially, I was just flattered to be offered a role. Over time one learns the factors to consider before taking up a role.

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What are some factors you consider when accepting a role?

I look at the traits and attributes of a character, which should be believable and when portrayed by me, should be convincing. What makes me fall in love with a character is how much I can relate to it, whether it’s watching a character on screen or reading it and using my own imagination.

Tell us about your current and future projects?

Currently, I’m doing a project for Momina Duraid Productions, which is one of their premium projects. I play a powerful politician in it. I believe it will be the definitive project for me as an actor. Shahzad Kashmiri is the director and I have formed great camaraderie with him. InshAllah, I’m very confident and optimistic about this particular project.

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Any funny on set incidents?

They happen from time to time. Yes work is fun but it’s also something very serious, so I try to bring as much positivity and fun to the table for the team.

Crazy fan/groupie stories?

Thankfully no. I just call it an occupational hazard.

Tell us about your family life.

I’m a very family oriented person. My wife and my son are the reason where I am today and the source of my strength and resolve, as are my parents. They were supportive of me when I started as a model.

How do you relax in your downtime?

I’m quite a music junkie. I like to listen to and sing along with classics by Queen, Guns n Roses and Bon Jovi. Haha!

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What is your workout and diet regime?

I am quite disciplined. Just like eating and sleeping, exercise is of equal importance, combined with a clean diet. That is the only way of achieving optimal fitness and a strong mindset.

Message to your fans?

Go out there and make some mistakes. Mistakes come from doing, but so does success. Don’t be discouraged by failures. Write your own script, be the hero of your own story, take responsibility and define yourself. Make your life count.

Direction & Photography: Mohsin Khawar

Hair & Grooming by: Zahid Mehmood @ Toni Guy 

A writer of dazzling range and energy, Peter Frankopan’s latest non fiction book The Silk Roads has engendered a ream of superlatives from the international literati. The U.S. magazine Vanity Fair has called it ‘’Monumental… prodigious… astonishing’, U.K. newspaper The Sunday Times reviewed it as “a magnificent study…. swashbuckling history…written with verve and precision.” The Silk Roads was also a New York Times bestseller and Daily Telegraph named it as the History Book of the Year. Frankopan, a director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research and Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, specializes in medieval Greek literature and rhetoric, the history of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th Century, and on the cultural exchange between Constantinople and the Islamic world. Along with being ferociously brilliant, Frankopan is also a real life dishy Prince of Croatian descent and a hotelier (he recently acquired L’Hotel, Oscar Wilde’s former home in Paris as part of his hotel empire), a cricketer and a philanthropist. He has charmed audiences at the recently held Jaipur Literary festival where William Dalrymple pointed him out as one of “the literary crushes of the year,” as one of “the studs of the festival” and as “the best looking historian around” (Vogue India online). He was recently in Pakistan to attend the academic conference, Afkaar e Tazaa , and also spoke at Lahore’s terrific bookstore The Last Word. the gifted scholar/powerhouse told Afshan Shafi about the larger concerns of The Silk Roads, his favorite historical figures, and time travel

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Peter with Aysha Raja

What would you say were your influences as a historian and thinker?  What texts informed your point of view the most and continue to do so?

Peter Frankopan: I’ve had a great many influences, and I genuinely find it difficult to work out who has been the most important. In some ways, my teachers when I was a little boy had the greatest effect on me, because they encouraged me to think for myself and comforted me when I did not get things right. I was lucky to be taught by my parents too that asking questions was more important than getting the answers right.

 Why is “a new history of the world” important? What would you say is lacking in the old history of the world, the grand and familiar narrative that most are familiar with?

Something deserves to be called “new” if it is really doing something different. And I think that is what my Silk Roads book actually does. By viewing the world from the same vantage point, not from the East or from the West, but from the lands in the middle, we get a radically different picture of the past, not only of the lands of the Silk Roads, but of the world as a whole.

In some ways, historians are like chefs, they cook their ingredients as they best can, and present the finest dish as a result. In my case, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to draw on a whole new set of materials that most historians have never used before, partly because I’ve been lucky enough to be able to learn lots of languages. So we find texts written in a huge range of languages, as well as the latest archeological reports from all over Asia.

I would never criticize individual historians for what they write. But it seems to me many have looked at the same problems in very similar ways; maybe there are more original and interesting ways of assessing the past.

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Peter with Farah Rehman, Afshan Shafi & Madeeha Maqbool

Portrait and documentary photographer,  John Cairns, based in Oxford UK.

One of the interesting things about immersing yourself in history is that one finds surprising patterns of connectivity everywhere. What do you think is the societal importance of focusing on this cohesion?  

Perhaps the most obvious pattern is how similar we really are as human beings. It is easy to focus on variations in ethnicity, beliefs, language, custom and culture. But, at the end of the day, we are not so different from each other. We are all interested in the meaning of life; we are all interested in making the world a better place for our children; we are all interested in doing the best we can during our lifetimes, no matter what our position in society. And to me, that tells me that our natural instincts are to cooperate and to learn from each other; I am much more interested in how people exchange ideas and goods with each other than in glorifying warfare and confrontation, and seeing what happens when men (it always is the men, by the way) fight each other for power and status.

You have written of “the world’s center of gravity shifting — back to where it lay for millennia.” Can you explain this notion in lieu of the China-Pakistan economic corridor, in what ways do you think this initiative will have a favorable impact on Pakistan and Asia at large? 

Looking at the CPEC at the moment involves some crystal ball-gazing, as one never knows if the corridor will look like it is supposed to when it is finished. What is clear is that there are big visions and grand ambitions at stake. China is armed with deep pockets and a clear vision of what its future requirements are. Much depends now on how it builds long term, sustainable relations with its neighbours. Pakistan is a major part of the One Belt, One Road initiative. The big question is whether Pakistan is able to take a long term view of what the major investment in the country’s energy and infrastructure will do for the country. Everything depends on getting this detail right at the outset; the concern is that China will solve today’s problems, rather than help deal with those of tomorrow.

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The foremost educational institutions of learning in the world are geographically centered in the U.S. and in Europe today. In your book you have set out to reclaim an alternative past where the major centers of knowledge were “Baghdad and Balkh, Bukhara and Samarkand.” What do you think is lost when the locus of academic innovation is concentrated within a certain region only?

The most important fact about world-class educational establishments is that they are supported by wealthy patrons. Harvard, Yale and Princeton are held up by huge endowments, with multi-billion dollar values. Oxford and Cambridge are not quite in the same league, but still have proved skillful at raising large sums of money.

Supporting scholars is expensive. Laboratories and equipment cost a lot, as does attracting the finest minds in the academic world to work together and produce high class research. Inevitably, the best institutions are able to attract the best scholars from across the world, which means ideas get challenged, tested and refined. For me, the wonder of Oxford is that some of the cleverest people in the world come to my lectures and ask questions that stop me and make me think, likewise, listening to one genius after another is brilliant too.

I sometimes think of it like Premier League football: being alongside the best in the business makes me better, sharper and pushes me further. But, as I write in my book that process once did not take place in Oxford and Cambridge, but in cities across Asia. Perhaps it will happen again.

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Your book also discusses some phases of the origins of Islam and  in a recent interview you have noted that “the oldest books on Islam talk of it as a faith of great tolerance, patrons of art and music and high culture, a perception very different from what fundamentalists reading these texts have made it out to be.” Please elaborate on this statement.

When young Muslims are taught about their faith, they usually learn about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and of course are taught to memorise the Qu’rãn. But there are other things that they could also learn about, which can supplement their faith, explain it and make it stronger. The early history of Islam, in the time of the Prophet and in the decades that followed were tolerant, sympathetic and inclusive. Often, Muslims seem to think that military conquest was the key to the expansion and spread of Islam. But the first Caliphs were careful to honour Christianity and Judaism, as set out in the holy Qu’rãn; they were humble enough to visit the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus Christ had been buried and to do so in the robes of a pilgrim. Some even wept when they heard of mass conversion to Islam, as they felt this was the result of opportunism, rather than real faith.

In a world where we are learning to our cost what fundamentalism and intolerance mean, I think it is a shame that some (albeit a small number of) Muslims seek confrontation with other religions, rather than honouring what the holy Qu’rãn actually teaches about compassion, tolerance and respect.

What are the perils to the West in continuing to subscribe to a Eurocentric version of history? Do you think that an imbalance of power continues to define the way individuals from less enabled regions think about themselves?  Do you think that in the next thirty years or so this insularity of thought will be remedied?

Ignorance is dangerous because it breeds misunderstanding, fear and hatred. The problem of Eurocentric history is that is starts with the assumption that the West/Europe was always destined to lead the world. What history actually teaches is that the period from c.1600-2000 was a good time for Europe, an age of empire, of wealth and enlightenment. But that does not mean that the sun will always shine on the West. Indeed, my own view is that the sun is setting and that a new world is emerging, based on the ancient Silk Roads.

The lands lying across the spine of Asia are important for their mineral wealth (oil and gas, uranium and rare earths, copper, aluminium, gold and so on), but also are vital because they are weaving together in a way that looks very familiar to me. Our lack of knowledge about their importance in the past can prove problematic – many of these countries have proud histories and we should learn about them and respect the fact that these are highly sophisticated societies, and not, as we often think in Europe, states that need reform, help and civilization.

With insularity, who knows? We seem to be much better in the modern age at breaking and destroying than we are at building. Recent decades show a pretty disastrous record in repairing, consolidating and getting failed/failing states back up on their knees. To use a cricketing metaphor, sometimes you need a slow, boring partnership to stop the clattering fall of wickets.

The route of the ancient silk roads saw the birth of new religions being born and the spread of empires and of ideas. You’ve compared this flux to the phenomenon of globalization. Please explain this comparison in terms of the ways in which ideas are disseminated in the modern world.

As a species, we are extremely interested in ideas and learning. We love to try new things, new tastes and new experiences, and we like to find out what is important in life. In that sense, sharing ideas about the divine and about the purpose of our existence (and what happens to us after we die) is part of the process of acquiring knowledge and wisdom. So, naturally, one learns from the most educated, the most pious, the best examples of living a good life. That is why we revere scholars, holy people and artisans because they are showing something of the human condition at its most pure.

On a more practical, day to day level, the process is not too dissimilar. We all want to know where the tastiest food comes from, the finest clothes, the most beautiful books. And our ancestors were the same even thousands of years ago. That is why one finds guidebooks written by some of the great scholars of the past in the Islamic world not only about philosophy, science and mathematics, but also how to value the finest shields, where to buy the  best ceramics and how to enjoy the most glorious banquets. Chinese writers wrote about that too, so did Indian writers; and Persian authors; and those in Europe. We are a curious and wondrous species!

What is your favorite period in history? Would you choose to travel back in time or continue in the present?

As a historian, I would love to travel back in time. If you can make that happen, I’d be very excited!

I would ideally choose several different periods and regions: I would want to go Baghdad and Constantinople around the year 850 to see great courts at their peak. I would want to visit the Khmer Empire and Angor Wat around 1100. I’d like to see the Mongols at their finest, ideally not during their periods of conquest, but after things had calmed down. I would particularly like to have visited Lahore at the time of Ranjit Singh and to see the “little grey mouse” for myself. And I have always had a soft spot for Russia in the late 1800s too.

The main thing I would insist on, however, is that if I did go back in time, I would want to be a figure of high status. I don’t think any period in the past would be fun if you were poor, oppressed, ill or hungry. We sometimes forget that glorious ages in the past were glorious if you happened to be at the top of the pyramid. Could you ensure that for me too, please?!

Which historical personages do you admire the most and why? Are there any ancient figures from the Indo-Pak region that you feel are particularly exciting?

I admire people from the past who left a legacy. I particularly revere authors and writers whose work survives because that tells me they were saying something interesting and important that was worth preserving. In the same way, I admire those who designed and created buildings that are works of great beauty. So Wazir Khan is on my list for the spectacular mosque in Lahore; or Hakim Ilmuddin Ansari for the Shahi Hammam too. Of course, that would lead me too to the great Mughal emperors and their patronage not only in Lahore and the Punjab, but across a much wider region. Perhaps it is no surprise that my favourites are Akbar the Great and Jahangir. They made our world a richer and more beautiful place.

What was your experience in Pakistan like? Were there any major surprises during the course of your trip? 

I came to Pakistan at a very difficult time, just a few days after the terrible bomb in Lahore. I was struck by the courage of the city and by the anger that people felt with the intolerance that lay behind this awful act. Lahore has a proud tradition of respecting its inhabitants and visitors, and is famous for its hospitality. I was able to see and experience this myself when I was in the city. Despite the horrors, I was impressed by the optimism of all I spoke to and the determination that we should learn to cooperate and respect each other, rather than allow hatred and fear to take over.

There’s a Confucian saying on the study of history “Study the past if you would define the future.” What advice would you give to young, emerging historians?

We can all find it hard to change our minds about how we look at the world around us, past, present and future, so it is important keep an open mind. The key for any historian, young or old, is to keep reading, looking and asking questions. The world is changing and if you study history, you quickly learn that it always has been. Change is nothing new, and it is not something to be scared of.

Tell us about the growing trend of Athleisurewear?

We at TFC felt that there was a plain lack of Athleisure clothes available in Pakistan. Whatever is offered, at least 90 percent of the population cannot afford and whatever is in the market, whether retail or online is either export leftovers or fakes.

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION ABOUT TFC

We do not design or create any of our products, at the moment. As true believers of a fit lifestyle, we formed a multi-brand online one stop shop The Fitness Company for men, women and kids. Activewear is fashionable and multi-purpose. The latest technologies of Quick dry, a fabric woven with strategically placed holes, absorbing the sweat and then evaporateing it, are a real necessity in Pakistan. We all agreed that quality is a top priority, then affordability and finally trendiness.

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Demand in the Summer has risen for for BFA free water bottles, Quick Dry products, and fun bathing suits

HOW DID YOU BEGIN THIS PROJECT AND HOW HAS IT EVOLVED? 

We are three partners, who happened to be at the same point in our lives at the same time. We are all very health conscious and lead active lifestyles, for two partners that include kids too. Maryam Salman with her background in public relations and marketing is the one to come up with the online store idea. Enter Malika Khan, a mother of two, lawyer by education, teacher by profession and now a stay-at-home mom, is an efficient organizer and got in touch with Mariam Kamran. The latter is a yoga freak who leads a healthy adventurous lifestyle with her three kids and is a die hard Pakistani living in China and is also the sourcing head. Malika and Maryam live in Lahore selling nationwide, while Mariam does the search and sourcing.

WHAT ARE YOUR NEW PRODUCTS FOR THIS SEASON?

In Menswear Quick Dry is highly sought after. Demand in the Summer has risen for BFA free water bottles, Quick Dry socks and fun bathing suits. Excellent quality weights gloves, even boxing gloves for men are frequently requested as well. Sublimation or mix of colour and design in stretch fabric has been the primary focus for Womenswear. Our aides, such as knee grips and shoulder braces had to be restocked as well.

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WHAT ARE THE COLOURS IN FASHION? 

Colours in fashion are neon with green and yellow topping the list, at least for us.

WHERE DO YOU SOURCE THE PRODUCTS AND WHERE ARE THEY MADE? 

They are primarily made in China, but we are constantly looking for quality and hip stuff. We go to the source of manufacturing of products and then order our stuff. We have explored manufacturing in Pakistan, however at the moment we didn’t find anything suitable to our requirements.

WHAT BRANDS DO YOU CARRY?

Lucky Sailing and Deutscher.

HOW ARE YOUR PRODUCTS DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS IN THE MARKET E.G. NIKE ETC.?

We offer better prices, colours and sizes than what is available in the local market. We have new stock available every eight weeks. As Pakistanis we understand what our people want.

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We offer better prices, colours and sizes than what is available in the local market. We have new stock available every eight weeks. As Pakistanis we understand what our people want

WHAT IS THE PRICE POINT?

While pricing, our biggest concern was that our products should be easily affordable for the middle class as well and the feedback has confirmed our concern.

WHERE ARE THEY AVAILABLE?

Online, Facebook, Instagram and Turbooz.

What is your marketing strategy? 

Our marketing strategy is based on the philosophy behind The Fitness Company: ‘Fitness is a Lifestyle’ .We try and market our products not just to sell but also create awareness in the general public. There is a need to educate people, for want of a better word, that affordable good quality sportswear is as necessary as a good workout. As fitness enthusiasts we realized that there is no platform for educating people about eating healthy and regularly exercising. After all we are perishable items too 😉

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DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONAL STYLE? 

The three of us have very diverse personalities and lives. The common factor is that we all like to wear comfortable and stylish clothes, hence, Athleisure suits all three of ours lifestyle.

WHO IS YOUR GO-TO STYLE INSPIRATION?

Individuality is part of our philosophy of life. Each human being, as they evolve, develops a sense of style. We feel that there is no one go-to Guru. It’s all about being you and maintaining a keen eye on the trends too.

HOW HAS THE RESPONSE BEEN REGARDING YOUR LINE?

E-commerce is on the rise in Pakistan. To date we are the only online store to be providing fitness gear and wear. Whether you need a waist brace or a knee grip to gym bags, water bottles, we have it all. So far the response that we have been getting is not over whelming but surprisingly well. We receive orders from, Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, Hyderabad and Gujrat, which has shown us that people do respond to quality and affordability.

WHERE DO YOU SEE IT IN 5 YEARS? 

We hope to be able to understand the market better focusing on the quick dry technology, cuts, styles and fabric. Pakistan’s textile industry is in the top manufacturing countries of sports goods and apparel and to have our own line manufactured here is definitely on the cards. With all high brands being manufactured in Pakistan, The Fitness Company feels it’s all positive.

DID YOU RECEIVE INSTANT SUCCESS IN PAKISTAN OR DO YOU THINK IT NEEDS MORE TIME AND AWARENESS TO BREAK THE EMBROIDERY CRAZE?

There is no such thing as instant success. You start small and let it grow. Sales have dipped during the embroidered lawn  galore season, but they haven’t stopped, so we are optimistic. Also, we are only four months old in this massive market.

IDEALLY WHO WOULD YOU WANT AS A SPOKESMAN FOR YOUR LINE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD?

Definitely a Pakistani! Let’s see who, soon.

DESCRIBE YOUR LINE IN 3 WORDS?

Comfortable, affordable, and trendy.

FAVOURITE QUOTE ABOUT FITNESS

“FIT IS NOT A DESTINATION. IT’ S A WAY OF LIFE”

By Sana Zehra

Ali Rashid breaks all the clichés we have of what a politician looks like. The youngest ex MPA of his tenure at the Sind Assembly & now one of the youngest MNAs, stylish, poised and well put together are some of the many adjectives that I think of when I look at this dashing young man.

Ali has achieved so much at such a young age; he’s a lawyer by profession and currently a consultant for all the major multinational companies in Pakistan because of which he is also one of the highest tax payers in the National Assembly. Most of all he’s an impeccable human being as many tell me.

The first time I met Ali Rashid was at a get together and he introduced himself as just Ali, and not with his title at that time that many were proudly introducing themselves as.

So here is Ali in the hot seat for GT.

So Ali Rashid what’s your story?

No story as such. I’m just a common man with some ideas and dreams of wanting to make Pakistan a better place and doing my bit.

having studied from the Karachi American School and then doing law from London, people from your circle usually stay away from politics. Why politics and why the MQM?

It may sound cliched but I always wanted to make a difference by doing something for the country. All the parties are breeding grounds for family/dynastic politics. The only party which doesn’t have that and promotes on merit is the MQM, a party in which having wealth and a political linage are not prerequisites. I have been fascinated by the founder and leader of MQM, Altaf Hussain who founded a major political party at the age of 25 and by the time he was 31 his party was ruling Karachi, Hyderabad, etc. with Mayors, Senators, MNAs, MPAs. He never took any public office himself nor did he give one to his family members. All these things are admirable. In this day and age, many can talk the talk but very few can walk the walk.

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“There should be rule of law and no one should be above the law. The law should be the same for the poor, middle class and the wealthy. If the traffic warden stops a guy on the motorbike for not stopping at a red light, he should do the same to a person in an S.U.V. or a Merc”

There are many presenting issues about women in Pakistan what is one issue that is very close to your heart and why?

Domestic violence, honour killings, rape, harassment, etc. I feel all of these issues are close to my heart and need immediate attention of the government. As men, we should respect women. A man is born through a woman, he is raised by a woman, he falls in love with a woman, marries a woman. I am surprised at the man who doesn’t respect women.

With three titles under your belt (lawyer, consultant and politician) which one do you enjoy being/practicing the most and why?

I don’t consider myself a politician. I prefer being called a political worker. Politics is something I enjoy the most because it is very fulfilling. Nothing feels better than being there helping out the poor and the downtrodden people. You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

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I read a very interesting paper by Omar Ayub Khan where he has suggested that MNAs should focus on the real job that has been assigned to them by the constitution once they are out of the “district council syndrome” and  not be entitled to funds or any developmental projects regarding Sui gas, electricity etc. What would you like to say about that?

I agree with him. It’s the job of the third tier of the government to do these things i.e. local government. Unfortunately, in our country the lust for power prevented the provincial governments to have local bodies elections although it is part of the Constitution. Finally, we will have a Mayor in Karachi and things will change for the better. We shall make Karachi clean and green like we did last time we had the Mayorship.

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“I’m very accessible. Our leader has taught us that a position in the MQM is a responsibility, not a privilege. I am very active and responsive on social media. I interact with my constituents and the general public on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and there have been many instances where I’ve resolved their issues without them having to physically come to my office. Having said that, I have a walk-in MNA office in my constituency. Anyone can come to see me without a prior appointment and it’s on a first come first serve basis, we don’t have a parchi culture where important people get to jump the line”

What do you think are the underlying causes of violence in Pakistan?

Illiteracy, unemployment and more than anything else, disregard for the law. There should be rule of law and no one should be above the law. The law should be the same for the poor, middle class and the wealthy. If the traffic warden stops a guy on the motorbike for not stopping at a red light, he should do the same to a person in a SUV or a Merc.

There is a misconception about you that whereas other MQM workers and MNAs like Haider Rizvi choose to sit on the floor, you maintain a distance from the common. Would you like to shed some light on that?

As the question states itself, it’s a misconception. I am a commoner myself, hence, cannot distance myself from the common. It’s just I prefer to stand than sit. If you ever visit me at my office or see me at events, I’m always on my feet, walking around, rarely sitting.

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Do you believe in falling in love more than once? Do you believe in monogamous relationships or is polygamy something you favour as well?

I believe love defies reason or logic hence anything is possible. But yes I am a strict advocate of monogamous relationships. If it’s not working out, end it and move on, then you are free to do whatever you want.

What song best describes Pakistani politics

Sab ganda hai per dhanda haiyeh. (Everything is dirty and a profession.) Doesn’t apply to the MQM of course.

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Being in your position, having everything going for you, I am sure you attract a lot of attention from the opposite sex. How do you handle it?

(Smiling) I don’t know what you are talking about.

What is one misconception people have about you.

Apparently, that I don’t like sitting down on the floor, according to you. Haha!

If you were to become one superhero what would you become.

Superman. Although I will have a very difficult time changing into my superhero outfit due to the lack of telephone booths in Karachi.

You took a selfie while resigning your seat. Were you really that happy tendering your resignation?

It was just a selfie, I didn’t get why the channels had to show it as breaking news and play selfie songs in the background. It was not about being happy. But yes I wasn’t sad either. Positions mean nothing to us. The pretext of resigning was that we were not being able to deliver to the masses due to hindrances created by the government, so we were not interested in ceremonial positions and decided to resign.

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How honest are you?

As honest as one can be in a given situation.

What item is in your closet that you wear the most

My pjs, I change into them as soon as I get home, even if I’m only home for an hour or two.

What is on your nightstand?

I get to read a lot of non fiction material because of the field I’m in. For leisure I read mostly suspense thriller novels. Dan Brown, Harlen Coben, Lee Child, James Patterson, Simon Kernick, Paulo Coelho, etc. are a few of my favourite authors. I’ve read every single book of these authors.

If you were to hire a fashion designer to make your whole wardrobe who would it be and why?

Maybe Giorgio Armani. I think Pakistan has a lot of talent. Some of the Pakistani designers are doing a fantastic job such as AsimJofa, Deepak Perwani, HSY, Nomi Ansari, Amir Adnan, Zari Faisal, HumayunAlamgir, etc.

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People generally have this misconception about Parliamentarians that they are difficult to meet. How accessible are you to the general public?

I’m very accessible. Our leader has taught us that a position in the MQM is a responsibility, not a privilege. I am very active and responsive on social media. I interact with my constituents and the general public on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and there have been many instances where I’ve resolved their issues without them having to physically come to my office.

Having said that, I have a walk-in MNA office in my constituency. Anyone can come to see me without a prior appointment and it’s on a first come first serve basis, we don’t have a parchi culture where important people get to jump the line.

What do you think about Mustafa Kamal’s comeback?

No comment.

Stylist: Rao Ali Khan

Hair & styling: Clippers for men

Photography: a.bilgrami studios

Hissam Haider, or Namoo as he is known to his friends, is ranked as Asia’s best polo player. He shares with Mahlia Lone his experience of playing professional polo at the best clubs and tournaments the world over

You are ranked in the top 5% of the world’s polo players and the best polo player in Asia. How much of this is inborn talent and how much hard work?

Polo has been in my family for a century almost so I think it’s a big part of my DNA apart from being my passion. You have to keep practising to stay ahead of the game and maintain or improve your handicap.

What is your typical day?

My typical day includes waking up and hitting the gym, then either playing a polo game or practising. Sometimes during the peak polo season I play multiple games a day. I try and fit golf in where I can too.

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Receiving the trophy from the Queen at the Royal Windsor Cup 2013

You were taught to play by your father, who himself had a handicap of four. At what age did you start playing? How did you build on that skill and excel? your current handicap is six. Can you explain in layman’s terms what that means?

I started riding at 3 and was playing by 11 or so. I actually wanted to be a professional golfer when I was younger, but growing up on polo fields made this the obvious choice of profession. It just sort of worked out in my favour when I got a lucky break at 18.

Knowing how to ride well is essential as well being aware of your surroundings and being able to be a good team player.

Handicaps go up to 10, but that is quite rare in the world of polo and is in the 1st percentile. I’m a 6 goaler in the 5th percentile. You can well imagine that there are only a small number of us, especially compared to other sports in the world.

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You have played snow polo also. Can you tell us about that experience? Is it slippery and treacherous with horses skidding or do they have special horse shoes, like cars have snow tires?

They have special balls at snow polo, which are much larger than the regular polo balls and bright orange. The experience of playing snow polo was amazing. I played for Cartier and I scored the winning goal. Playing on ice is very tough and it’s much harder to gain control of the ball. It was always my dream to play in St. Moritz and I’m glad we brought back the cup!

What are some exotic locations that you have played at? What are some differences you have noted in the polo clubs at these places?

Oh wow! Quite a few, Barbados though is on top of the exotic list, as is Chile. Argentina is a regular as well as I have an extremely enjoyable season there and play with an amazing patron and one of my close friends, Satinder Garcha.

Playing at Windsor, you hobnob with royalty on their home ground at a time when they are relaxed and enjoying their downtime. Please share some interesting anecdotes with us.

We see royalty often at Guards Polo Club, Windsor. Prince Philip is a regular, but is a very private person and does not like being disturbed. Tourists don’t understand this so we have seen some amusing interactions. In a public setting (e.g. at an event) he is a very witty man and quite fun to be around.

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The experience of playing snow polo was amazing. I played for Cartier and I scored the winning goal. Playing on ice is very tough and it’s much harder to gain control of the ball. It was always my dream to play in St. Moritz and I’m glad we brought back the cup!

What about the junior royals, especially William and Harry? What are they like?

Prince Harry plays often and enjoys the polo scene; he’s a chilled out guy.

How was meeting the Queen when she awarded you a trophy at the Royal Windsor Cup 2013? What is she like? Is there indeed a regal aura about her?

She is the Queen! We see her often at the club as well. She attends the majority of the bigger tournament events. Being awarded the Royal Windsor Cup 2013trophy by her was an honour for me and even more so to have the Pakistani flag stitched on my shirt and jeans whilst receiving the trophy. That’s one of my favourite parts of the whole scene.

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We see royalty often at Guards Polo Cub, Windsor. Prince Philip is a regular, but is a very private person and does not like being disturbed. Tourists don’t understand this so we have seen some amusing interactions. In a public setting (e.g. at an event) he is a very witty man and quite fun to be around. Prince Harry plays often and enjoys the polo scene; he’s a chilled out guy. We see Queen Elizabeth often at the club as well. She attends the majority of the bigger tournaments and events. Being awarded the royal windsor cup 2013 trophy by her was an honour for me and even more so to have the Pakistani flag stitched on my shirt and jeans whilst receiving the trophy. That’s one of my favourite parts of the whole scene. 

Tell us about the Thai Polo Open that you recently played in.

Had a fantastic time, again played with one of my closest friends, Aron Harilela and I always have a great time with him.

You also play golf. How are the two sports similar in their swings? Does one sport complement the other? Could that be one of the factors of your success?

It is possible, yes! I love golf and play a couple of times a week!

What is your diet and exercise regiment during training?

I gym a couple of times a week, play golf, polo practises, polo games and generally eat a balanced diet. I try to stay as fit as possible but can be hard when you’re in Pakistan during the Lahore polo season.

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Team Cartier wins the Snow Polo Cup in St. Moritz

How does a professional athlete like you handle the mental pressure of playing in tournaments?

You can’t take too much stress or you will crack. You have to be a good sport and just play your best every time. I like watching the TV show Britain’s Got Talent before games, as it inspires me.

Tell us about polo groupies. What are the most extreme antics displayed by some?

Well polo is not only a sport but a kind of lifestyle and people get somewhat obsessed with it, so the diplomatic answer would be that you find some really interesting people hanging out at polo and trying to be a part of the scene. It’s definitely not all glitz and glamour, it’s a pro/amateur game and that means amateurs pay professionals to play for them. It’s the only sport in the world that has that build up of players, therefore, results are expected and that’s the reality of polo. You have to be on top of your game to stay booked.

What would you like to see improve in the Pakistani polo scene?

I like how the polo scene has evolved and become more professional. I think as time goes by this will happen even more so. My dad Irfan Ali Hyder is the president of the polo club currently, and I think he’s doing an amazing job, if I may say so myself.

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You wear the Pakistani flag proudly on your uniform’s sleeve and jeans back pocket. What gave you that idea and has that ever elicited any comments, negative or positive?

I’m a patriotic person and love to show off my roots, I also have it on the horses padding on their backs and anywhere I can fit the flag in actually. Love being a walking, talking Pakistani representative (for lack of a better description). I think people in Pakistan love it. People in England didn’t even find out till recently that I’m actually a British citizen. In regards to negative comments, I never pay any heed. It is what it is and I am what I am!

What is the difference between playing and travelling when single as opposed to now with your wife Alyzeh?

There is definitely more routine in my life, and I cannot stress on how important it is to have a supportive life partner. Also we are best friends first and always have a great time wherever we go.

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I’m a patriotic person and love to show off my roots, I also have it on the horses padding on their backs and anywhere I can fit the flag in actually. Love being a walking, talking Pakistani representative (for lack of a better description). I think people in Pakistan love it. People in England didn’t even find out till recently that I’m actually a British citizen. In regards to negative comments, I never pay any heed. It is what it is and I am what I am!

Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Sports kept me out of trouble while growing up, it is so important for children to be well rounded, especially for this social media generation. Encouraging sports in a child’s life means the child will enjoy something other than textbooks or YouTube and actually go out daily, get some Vitamin D and focus on being a good sport and competitor.

Beauty, confidence and success are a few words that define Hina. She has proven over time that she is not just a pretty face. As she goes from strength to strength with a thriving business and having a seat in the provincial assembly, Hina sits down with Faiza Murad and with refreshing candor reveals what makes her tick

A politician, entrepreneur, a mother and recently a student again, how do you manage it all?

I am a very energetic person and I believe being a woman teaches you to multitask. I take each day as it comes and try my level best to give my all in anything I do. I wake up and I think to myself, how can I make a difference in someone’s life today? Being a politician gives you that opportunity to try changing a common man’s life. As for being a student again, I have enrolled in Esmod College, Dubai. I feel it’s a plus point to have an academic background in fashion so I have set my sights on achieving that.

From medicine to entrepreneurship, was that a sudden change of heart?

Like any other child, I wanted to please my parents. My mother wanted me to become a doctor. I however always looked up to my father who was an entrepreneur. It was only when I once went to pick my friend up from LUMS that I realized this is the place where I want to be. This is where I belong. That was the turning point in my life.

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You are the daughter of a successful businessman who is also close to the political party you represent. Did that pave the way for your political career?

My father has always been my mentor and has been a very strong force behind me. I have learned a lot from him when it comes to business. As for him being the reason for my political career, I believe that is not true. I was an active member in the youth wing and I worked tirelessly for my party. I was chosen purely on merit.

In Pakistan it is close to impossible for an ordinary man let alone a woman to make it to the Assembly, do you think it’s true?

It used to be, but not anymore. In these general elections, every party came forward with young new faces who were from humble backgrounds and that included women. Female workers are extremely important as they are the ones who are familiar with the grassroot level problems and they have made it, not only to the Provincial but the National Assembly as well. If you are dedicated and work hard then you certainly have a chance.

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Do you think politics in Pakistan is still a man’s world

I believe educated and privileged women have come forward in Pakistani politics with an intention of bringing societal change. I don’t think it’s a man’s world anymore. I think we have a wonderful blend of women in the Assembly, including currently a lawyer, a doctor, an economist, a psychologist and a street worker. The dynamics are changing for women now.

You have always been an advocate of women’s empowerment. How do you think you and others like you can achieve that?

I feel strongly for women’s empowerment and I think all women in the Assembly regardless of whichever party they belong to have the same goal, which is to empower other women in our country. I am personally, through my business, employing women in the comfort of their homes in several villages and they are doing exceptionally well. I believe in a society that not only respects but also allows its women to play a strong role in nation building.

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Politics in Pakistan is a ruthless business. How do you manage to be heard?

It certainly is. However, women have a higher attendance than men; they bring out more resolutions than men. That says a lot about how serious women are. Recently, my resolution was passed in the Punjab Assembly, which was about how only women photographers should be hired at NADRA and DGIP to facilitate female applicants who are harassed in large numbers at such places.

Do you see yourself as a more successful business woman or politician?

I haven’t ranked myself ever as such, however, I would prefer to be someone who makes a difference in others lives and be a success at that. Each day I set a goal to change the world around me in whichever way I can.

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You look better than ever! Any particular diet that you care to share with our readers?

I lost a lot of weight last year. I followed a very strict diet of eating two pieces of fruits and two pieces of lean protein, sticking to 700-800 calories a day with exercising at least thrice a week. I workout religiously and I think that’s the key. Being a Kashmiri, my love for food is obviously there, but I try to maintain a healthy diet as much as I can. I have a detox soup that I take everyday. I would recommend having black coffee, which increases your metabolism.

What is your dream vacation or one destination that would make you grab your passport in a jiffy?

It has to be Cape Town in South Africa. It is an amazing place to unwind and the Table Mountain has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

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What is your favorite handbag, one item of clothing and a pair of shoes that you can’t get enough of these days?

When it comes to a bag I always carry my Celine with me. It’s big enough to pop everything into, so it’s convenient. As for clothing, I have a simple black cape in my closet that is my favourite. I can wear it with anything, anytime. Shoes have to be my Valentinos. I want to say Louboutins, but no matter how good they look, they are extremely uncomfortable to wear.

Sara Haider broke onto the scene with her debut performance in Nida Butt’s musical adaption of Grease playing Marty Maraschino. Featured most recently alongside Ali Zafar singing Saleem Raza’s Ae Dil and as the youngest participating musician on Coke Studio, Sara has, at a young age, garnered a formidable fan following and is taking swift strides forward as a much beloved indie musician

How did this all start for you?

I started singing as a hobby. I was a painfully shy kid who would reluctantly get up and sing when asked to at social gatherings. I got over my stage fright when I was much older. However, I loved to sing, so I worked really hard because I wanted to excel. I was putting a lot more heart and soul into my music than I was putting into my degree in economics or anything else that I was doing at the time. In college, I was in a band called Teeen, probably best known in the indie music industry for the song Barishon Main and I did jingles alongside to help pay for the production of our songs.

At this point, I was doing almost anything I was offered whether it was a jingle or jamming with a band or performing at a corporate show. All this work in the initial phase of my career really helped introduce me to some great people and institutions, like T2F (formerly known as The Second Floor), NAPA (National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi) and Ahsan Bari (established musician and teacher of music theory at NAPA) that are still the invaluable associations that I have and I’m thankful for these.

Then, I got an audition call for Coke Studio where I auditioned and got in. Again that was to help pay the bills since I was still at college. it enabled me to produce more work and record more songs and be able to buy equipment. I was singing back up on Coke Studio and got a little bit of attention. Then, this year, they decided to feature me as a female vocalist for a cover song. People started listening to my original songs and I started to get offers to write songs for films.

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How was the experience of being featured on Coke Studio?

My work with Coke Studio really exposed me to what’s behind all the glamour in the industry. It was very educational seeing how much work goes into it and what it means to be a part of such a huge platform where all the biggest artists in the industry are being flown in from all over the world to come perform and the stakes are really high. At 22 years old and doing my dissertation for my economics degree simultaneously, what really inspired me was the idea that I could contribute in some way even by composing harmonies and singing back up vocals. That even somebody like me with very little experience compared to everybody else has a voice and a say in what is transpiring gave me a lot of confidence.

Tell us about the musical play Grease that you debuted in?

Grease was amazing and was especially good for disciplining me. It was a 4 month rehearsal process for 12 hours a day. For someone like me, who was trying to do 10,000 things at one time, it taught me how to be completely focused in doing one thing at a time. It was also the first time that I had been in front of a live audience with all the big shiny names in the industry showing up to watch us. It was packed every night and it was brilliant and a bit unnerving to be featured alongside superstars, such as Ayesha Omer and Sanam Saeed.

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Have you always been inclined towards acting?

Appearing in Grease was my first experience of performing where I was doing more than singing, writing or composing. I had told Nida Butt, the director initially that I could sing but not act. Sanam (Saeed) was so helpful and used to sit me down and step by step go over every single line of mine with me and teach me how to act. This experience made me realise that acting is not far removed from singing. If you’re singing, especially a song that somebody else has written, for those three odd minutes, you have to put yourself in the writers’ shoes. It’s a pure emotion and you have to really connect with the sentiment of Reshma Jee, Nazia Hassan, Ella Fitzgerald or whoever’s song it is that you’re singing. In this way, acting wasn’t too far removed from what I had already been doing and it sort of came naturally to me.

What are you doing currently and where are you looking to go from here?

I sang backup for Ahsan Bari at NAPA for over four and a half years, which I still do sometimes. Coke Studio and Grease taught me how big I can be in this game, while performing in India, studying with Ahsan Bari and working with NAPA taught me how small I am as a musician and how much further there is to go. I think that having a sense of balance is important.

I’m currently training, learning how to read sheet music, training with my ustad (teacher), listening to folk music and really discovering music for the first time in my life. So for me at this point to say where I will end up is too much of a long shot since anything is possible. Previously, the only songs that I had thought that I could ever do were pop songs and I didn’t even ever think that blues or jazz was something that I could do but now, I mean, who knows?

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If you were to put together a band of your favourite musicians from any time and any place, who would be in it?

From those that I’ve heard live, it would be all round musician Mekaal Hassan and drummer Gumbi. From those I have heard recorded, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedesch and definitely George Harrison, Ravi Shankar and Anushka Shankar would be playing in my dream band.

What’s currently on your iPod?

I have 6 different versions of Dekha Day Rang Apna, one is on the metronome, another has no backing vocals in it and a third has half a snare and so on. It’s part of my working process. My phone is filled with just half complete songs. Apart from these, I currently have Laila O Laila by Rostam Mirlashari, Sarak Sarak by the Mai Dhai Band and Awaargi by Ghulam Hussain to name a few. The last one I’m trying to learn, so it makes sense to listen to it as much as possible and especially since I’m trying to sing authentically in Punjabi and Siraiki and other different regional Pakistani languages.

As a female music artist, how do you feel about the state of women in your industry?

People will say so many different things about you, especially if you’re a woman. They point fingers and speculate about your married life and say things like, “Oh, but how is she going to make time for the kids?” All the women that I know in fashion, music or show business are really tough. They all do very different things from each other but they’re all in their own rights extremely tough women.

What I really like about the song Dekha Day Rang Apna and its video is it’s treatment. It doesn’t just represent a girl in the music industry, it’s about any person. It’s not about that poor girl in a boy’s club; it’s about someone trying to figure out their way in going about what it is that they want to do.

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You’ve done one short play and Grease; are you interested in taking up more work acting?

Yeah definitely, I would love to act. Music was something that I worked at and was something that I really chased but acting was just something that found me. The recent Levi’s commercial I did with Jami featuring my song Dekha Day Rang Apna has me acting in it. Music is really a visual medium. Singers have to act in their videos and on stage. I’d love to do a movie; I think it’d be really fun. Music is just really about interacting with your audience whatever your style. It’s always somehow an act because no matter what you’re feeling when you go up on stage, you have to be the person everyone expects to see.

—By Saba Ahmed

Anam shares her love of baking & her new cake business, The Artisan, with Aimen Khan

How did your love for baking start? Have you been baking since a young age?

I actually haven’t been baking since a young age. I started very recently. I’ve always been a big foodie. I’ve watched MasterChef Australia my whole life. You watch such TV shows and you wonder how to do these things. I was actually working at the LUMS Suleman School of Business for two years. My supervisor, Dr. Mohsin Bashir, told me now that you’ve been working here, you have to start your own business, because you can’t keep doing this forever. So I thought and I thought and I thought, what kind of business am I going to start? And then I decided. I love food, I’m obsessed with food. I research and write more about food than I do about boring academic stuff. I got into the kitchen and my knowledge really helped me. I created my own recipes. I started experimenting, I started to see what chefs were doing around the world and lo and behold, before I knew it I had a business!

When did you start?

Honestly, the first time I got into the kitchen was 6 months ago. Before that, I couldn’t even boil an egg!

What kind of dessert did you make when you were starting out?

At first, I was very confused. I knew I wanted to be a baker. I love desserts. I love plating. I love making things beautiful and although you can do that with savoury foods, desserts always attracted me more since I have a huge sweet tooth. So I started making desserts but I didn’t really know where to start. I made a lot of different things but when I started doing my cakes, I realised there is so much you can do with a cake. I focused in on that and that’s where it all started.

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I have the Specialty Artisan Cakes that are rich, decadent creations. The idea is that you cut into a cake and get different layers and elements of textures, flavours and crunch. They’re very interesting. The Signature Surprise-Inside Cakes are more fun, whimsical and flirty in nature. I bake an edible surprise into the cake, like a heart or a daisy

What would you say is your biggest influence as a baker?

MasterChef! I watch all kinds of MasterChef. Apart from that, there’s a bakery in Australia called Burch & Purchese and they make the most beautiful cakes. These cakes aren’t covered in fondant. They don’t make minions out of cakes. They don’t make designs. They don’t do topsy turvy cakes. They make beautiful, simple cakes and the idea is when you cut open a cake, there are different elements and layers and flavours inside it. I started looking at all this stuff that they were doing and I thought, I need to do this. I need to create my own cakes where people will cut into it and they will get different flavours. They’ll get a mousse, maybe they’ll get a cheesecake. I took inspiration from that and started creating my desserts.

What is your favourite flavour?

I love Nutella! That is why my Nutella cake is all over my instagram as well. It’s the one I’m most proud of. The cool thing about Nutella is that Nutella itself has a very strong taste but when mixed with cream or in a sponge or something else, it develops a very subtle chocolate flavour. That to me is just amazing. I like my cakes and my flavours to be deep. I don’t like them to be too sweet or sugary. With Nutella, you don’t need to add sugar so it’s like an original flavour.

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What is the hardest thing about being a baker?

The hardest thing is that people assume that since I’m working from home, she’s probably in her pyjamas all day, probably watching Hell’s Kitchen or Top Chef and eating a lot while making her orders. But it’s not like that at all. It’s very difficult because you are on call 24/7. You could be in the middle of a dinner with your friends and suddenly, you realise that somebody has called you for an order. You need to leave and you need to abandon what you’re doing so you can make the cake! The business always comes first. It’s like being a doctor. You don’t get a break from it so you must be ready for that.

Are you going to branch out into giving baking classes or opening your own bakery?

I’m definitely not going to branch out into giving baking classes. I do want my own little bakery though. I want a shop somewhere in Lahore where people can come and enjoy the most delicious treats, try different goodies and get unexpected surprises along the way since the whole idea of The Artisan is the element of surprise.

Have you had any formal training?

Absolutely not. All my recipes are original and not taken from the internet, which is something I’m very proud of because it saves you from replication. I don’t take other people’s intellectual property. I make my own recipes. I tweak them. I experiment with them so what you get is totally original.

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What is your working process?

I turn on some music. I set out all my ingredients and I just go. There are many different processes to baking. A lot of my cakes have five recipes to make the cake. Each recipe has another recipe, so it’s like a recipe inside a recipe. I have to be very organised and do a lot of things beforehand. The idea is to organise yourself, to have everything laid out, know what step to take next and go from there.

How do you come up with the ideas for different desserts? 

It’s all about experimentation. If you’re sitting down and you get an idea, say you decide you want to bring together coconut, mango and vanilla, the only way you’re going to be able to do that is by trying different things. Try to make a mousse, try to make a cheesecake, put everything together. It’s a lot of investment of time, resources and energy.

What’s your biggest pet peeve in the kitchen? 

My biggest pet peeve is power outages, which is the biggest issue of living in Pakistan. I hate it when I’m in the middle of baking a cake and the power goes off. Having to wait for the generator to turn on just kills the mood for me. If the cake is in the oven and the power goes off, the oven resets even if it’s just by ten seconds. That is why it’s important to be very precise with timing your cakes.

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What ingredient are you obsessed with?

Sugar. Sugar for decoration. I love doing sugar work. You can do so much with sugar. You can bake it and make shards of glass. You can melt it and make caramel. You can set it. I love playing with sugar because you can do so many things with it.

most memorable meal

At Mount Holyoke College, we had a day called Dessert Dilemma where all the dining halls would serve dessert for dinner. They had this creation where they took fried dough, put a cookie on top of it, put a brownie on top of that, covered it in sauce and put it in the oven. It would come out to be this decadent mess of gooey flavours which was topped off with ice cream. I would wait for months and months and months for Dessert Dilemma. I’d mark it on my calendar. It was probably 5000 calories but the yummiest thing in the world. So delicious, so gooey, so scrumptious!

What are some essential baking tips?

Everything should be room temperature. You should be organised and you should plan ahead. Try to have fun with it. Even if something goes wrong, keep trying and experimenting. Sometimes the best recipes are the ones made out of mistakes. Don’t lose heart and just be creative. Yes, baking is kind of like a science, so you must follow orders but when it comes to adding on to your cake or changing your recipe, don’t be scared to do it. It will be different than what the recipe is but it might just be better.

What do you think the most important things are for home baking success?

Be prepared. It’s not easy. It’s not 9 to 5, it’s 9 to 9. It’s 24/7. Be true to yourself. Don’t be scared and don’t compromise on the quality of your ingredients. People in Lahore really appreciate quality and flavour. This is a very educated city when it comes to food. They’ll know when it’s not up to par. All my ingredients are imported. I use only the best chocolate. Right now, I don’t have a milk chocolate recipe because I haven’t found the perfect chocolate. From the cocoa to the butter to the chocolates, everything is the best. I taste everything and I make sure I choose the flavour I want to add to my cake.

What are your favourite desserts?

I love fortune cookies, lemon tarts and anything with Nutella in it! I love rainbow cookies too. Rainbow cookies are an Italian dessert with a minty flavour. It’s a cookie but it looks like a cake. It’s to die for. I also love kheer and this cake from the Lahore Social called the Napolean Cake.

Tell us about the two lines of your cakes.

First of all, I have the Specialty Artisan Cakes that are rich, decadent creations. The idea is that you cut into a cake and get different layers and elements of textures, flavours and crunch. They’re very interesting. These are available in different sizes, the smallest being two pounds. We currently have five Artisan cakes on the menu. The Signature Surprise-Inside Cakes are more fun, whimsical and flirty in nature. I bake an edible surprise into the cake, like a heart or a daisy. These are all 6 pounds. They can’t be bigger or smaller because making them is a very complicated process. The Artisan Cakes are for people who like flavour. They’re beautiful. I like to decorate all my cakes like planets. There’s a mirror glaze so you can see your face in it and it catches the light, but there’s no surprise inside and there’s no fondant on them. It’s all about the flavour.

How did you find the patience to experiment and find the perfect recipe? How did you not give up?

There were many days when I almost did give up. I would pull my hair out. I would cry because when you’re doing something constantly and it’s not working, it’s very frustrating. The only thing to do in such a situation is to take a break from it. You recuperate, you let yourself relax and then you go back to it and when you do, chances are you’re doing to be able to do a better job. You get stuck in the loop because with baking, everything is so temperamental. Everything has to be refrigerated because of the weather in Pakistan, but when it comes to baking, everything has to be room temperate. You spend hours and hours just watching eggs get to room temperature! It’s a lot about loving what you do. When you go through a lot of mistakes and you finally hit the mark, it’s the best feeling in the world.

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