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Bespoken April 6, 2006

Posted by KG in Pakistan.

Despite my by-now ad nauseum driving related posts, the fact is that Islamabad is very different from other South Asian cities.  Odors ever present in other cities of the subcontinent (I won't go into it, but lets just say they are either caused by street foods or very unpleasant) are absent here, with the occasional waft of exhaust fumes being, by and large, the exception.  The stray animals here are usually fairly docile cats, with the occasional cow spotted around the Diplomatic Enclave munching on the local foliage — and probably feeling pretty good, given the ubiquity of certain plants here in I'bad:


(believe it or not, the above photo was taken in the flower bed by the Embassy's Medical Center.  I guess if someone here comes down with glaucoma, they'll be in luck.)

But there is one thing I've experienced elsewhere (specifically Calcutta) that is also ever-present here in Islamabad, and I'm ecstatic about it: cheap tailoring.  Yesterday, Mr. Candlestickmaker and I ventured to the Blue Area to check out one of the recommended tailors in town and see what kind of deal we could find.  And we were, quite literally, spoiled for choice.

In the Blue AreaUncharacteristically, the two of us left the office before sundown — at the extremely early hour of 5 PM.  We headed straight to the shop, and down into the shirt section — where we selected fabrics from a selection that could have crafted tens of thousands of technicolor dreamcoats.  Though I doubt the advertised pedigree of some of the items we purchased (more likely from Sialkot than Sicily), the quality was undeniable.  Thick, thin, patterned, colored — I think that many designers would have had a field day.  And this was just at one shop, in a town that though not crawling with them, has plenty to choose from.  It took us over an hour and a half to select fabrics for shirts, though later fabric selection for suits took us significantly less time (really, that was because we both had specifics in mind in that department, something I cannot say was the case in terms of shirts.)

After the fabric selection came the measuring.  The shop's namesake stood me in the corner of the store and took measurements I had no idea were important for the quality of a suit or a shirt, all the while yelling numbers I'm fairly certain were in Urdu out to no one in particular.  Circumference of wrist, hip to ankle, base of neck to shoulder, these measurements I can understand.  But for the life of me I did not understand why he needed to know "base of wrist to middle of forearm", "circumference of calf," or "middle of chest to shoulder on the diagonal."  Any experienced tailors out there?  If you could provide insight into any of those measurements (true, I swear!) I would appreciate, especially the latter.  I can't see that useful for any piece of non space-age menswear, and even the space-age stuff is done by body scanners now.  I am also heartened by the fact that if there were enterprising busybodies listening to Mr. Wazir, they'd have enough knowledge to tease me about my dimensions, which could be a dangerous skill were it to fall into the wrong hands.

Despite the odd movements of the measuring tape and the auction-like broadcast of my increasingly biriyani enhanced size for all to hear, the shopping was a fun experience.  I got a suit, a pair of trousers, and five shirts for $250 after negotiation (first in English with skepticism, then in Urdu with a scowl).  A bit steep considering I'd not tested this particular tailor before, but I'm sure at the very least the suit will get some wear, as will the shirts.  Mostly my reaction to the price is because I'm starting to not convert into dollars.  That means I look at almost anything that costs over 600 rupees and think "My God, does it look like I'm made out of money?"  Which, considering it is so obvious to everyone that I'm not from around here (and really, I shouldn't be in denial about that fact), is precisely the case to most.  And that makes my reactions to price all the more amusing. 



1. Dina - April 6, 2006

My daughter was a fit model and they take a lot of measurements just to make sure you are in the standard range so they don’t have to make any special adjustments.

2. nowheregrrl - April 6, 2006

Those better be damn well tailored shirts. As long as you get a lot of wear, it’s fine. At least you’re supporting the tailor directly and not being ripped off with middlers mucking up prices.

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