In Pakistan, underground parties push the boundaries

Mon Aug 20, 2012 10:17pm EDT
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By Anam Zehra

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Women in short skirts and men with gelled hair bump and grind on a dance floor as a disc jockey pumps up the volume. The air is thick with illicit smoke and shots of hard liquor are being passed around. Couples cuddle and kiss in a lounge.

This is not Saturday night at a club in New York, London or Paris. It is the secret side of Pakistan, a Muslim nation often described in the West as a land of bearded, Islamic hardmen and repressed, veiled women.

Pakistan was created out of Muslim-majority areas in colonial India 65 years ago, and for decades portrayed itself as a progressive Islamic nation. Starting in the 1980s, however, it has been drifting towards a more conservative interpretation of Islam that has reshaped the political landscape, fuelled militancy and cowed champions of tolerance into silence.

But the country remains home to a large wealthy and Westernized elite that, in private, lives very differently.

Every weekend, fashion designers, photographers, medical students and businessmen gather at dozens of parties in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore to push social boundaries in discreet surroundings that would horrify, and enrage, advocates of the stricter brand of Islam.

"This is just epic," said Numair Shahzada, bobbing his head to the beat at a party in a farmhouse outside Islamabad as fitness instructors moonlighting as bouncers looked on. "The light and smoke show is phenomenal."

Young men and women mix freely, dancing, talking or drinking. Some curl up together in quiet areas.

Although alcohol is prohibited in the country, many have brought their own liquor. Whisky is carried in paper bags and vodka is disguised in water bottles arranged along the dance floor.   Continued...