The princess and the ‘paindu’ | Pakistan Today

The princess and the ‘paindu’

  • Fact of the matter

I have not been amused by our species embarrassing migration to Windsor, physically or mentally, to fawn over the heavily trumpeted royal wedding.

Rarely does an event feature a merger of so many things that I detest. I have no tolerance for royalty and the idea of ‘better blood’. I have little respect for the institution of marriage, which I find inherently patriarchal and heteronormative. I am not a fan of colonialism in general. I could not be more dissatisfied with the royal marriage hullaballoo had the ceremony been held at the American embassy in Jerusalem, officiated by the ghost of Margaret Thatcher, and bankrolled by Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, the Royal Wedding happened. I listened to easily-pleased liberals sing praises to the induction of a bi-racial woman to the English royal family. I watched in despair as a billion people of colour swooned over a handsome white prince. I lent a reluctant ear to imperial economists defending the extravagant amounts of British taxpayers’ money spent on the royal family and their fancy weddings; and I listen to them argue how they provide a boon to British economy by promoting the sales of royalty-themed mugs, tea towels, and Queen Elizabeth bobbleheads.

As I resigned from these discussions, leaving the matter to the capable hands of British republicans and leftists, another curious meme came to my attention. The Pakistani social media was suddenly teeming with side-by-side images of Meghan Markle and Pakistani brides, disparaging the latter for extravagant costumes. The comparison was generally aimed at celebrating the gorgeous ‘simplicity’ of the princess bride, while snickering at the tastelessly ostentatious appearances of our jewelry-laden Pakistani brides.

I was quick to remind fans of Markle’s plain appearance that her wedding gown was designed by Givenchy, at a cost of £400,000 – or an equivalent of well over six crore Pakistani rupees

Although I’ve always been a critic of tasteless display of wealth and extravagant spending on Pakistani weddings, I found the comparison annoying for a variety of reasons. For one, the Pakistani upper-class takes for granted the west’s superior fashion sense and progressive culture; while deriding our ‘paindu’ tastes and customs.

I frequently scoff at impossibly expensive dresses at our local weddings and the ostentatious bridal makeup; but how is the ‘royal wedding’ a counterargument to that trend? I was quick to remind fans of Markle’s plain appearance that her wedding gown was designed by Givenchy, at a cost of £400,000 – or an equivalent of well over six crore Pakistani rupees. If that price tag whispers ‘simplicity’ to you, you and I come from very different neighbourhoods with very different concepts of what ‘plain’ means.

There’s some wisdom in minimalism. I’m a great supporter of smaller, efficient spaces; plain but durable furnishing; smaller, environment-friendly vehicles where mass transit is sadly not an option; and of course, humbler weddings with little waste. However, I have little patience for extravagant and outrageously wasteful lifestyles masquerading as ‘plain’ and ‘simple’.

Our internalised racism often presents as knee-jerk rejection of colorful desi styles, and enthusiastic approval of blander western trends. We want our upscale cafes in Lahore designed the way we see them in London and Berlin: minimally-decorated steel-and-glass structures that look like Apple stores. We don’t usually want them looking like miniature Mughal courts.

However, we reject the latter not because they’re ‘extravagant’, but because they look ‘paindu’ to our colonised senses. Any architect worth his salt would tell you that steel-and-glass is a terribly inefficient design that turns your home or shop into a greenhouse, and sends the cost of air-conditioning through the roof. Best of luck with your fancy western aesthetic on a summer afternoon in Gulberg, Lahore.

A sleek, plain, subtly-textured dress is more appealing to the elite than a heavily embroidered, red-and-gold gown accessorised with real jewels. That’s understandable, given our repulsion of tasteless display of wealth; until you realise that the former actually costs a lot more than the latter. In fact, it costs more not necessarily because of higher material and labour costs involved, but the stamp of an international brand that raises its social value.

The elite have a strange, colonial attraction to cheap-looking expensive things. The infatuation comes partly from not knowing that it was the British who came to India to spice up their lives; it is not the Indian who sailed to England to learn the virtue of eating flavourless fish.

Although ostentatiousness cannot be excused, I fear the westernised elite ends up saying the right thing for the wrong reasons. It is okay for us to have a culture that is louder and more colourful than its European counterpart.

There’s no shame in a desi woman wearing “too much” makeup and a dress with “too much” embroidery, when it costs markedly less than the bland monochrome Gucci dress you’re wearing while strolling down Regent Street. Simple elegance isn’t just about looking plain, but saving resources.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.