ISLAMABAD-In Islamabad, we have markets and five star hotels dolled up with Christmas decor. Kohsar market in F-6 sector has twinkling lights at every turn and inside the Marriott and Serena hotels, you get to hear Christmas songs. It is amazing and heart touching to see that this holiday that is celebrated by Christians, has become popular amongst Muslims too, and has a way of making everything around you seem lovelier than usual.
Personally, I feel it is just another day off from work, but from a cultural point of view, I think it is over-hyped. Five star hotels have an array of lavish food on this special day. Their menu reads: Brie and cranberry parcels, roast turkey, beef stuffing and mushroom roulade, spiced pumpkin cheesecake, Christmas Pie Sundae and so much more.
There are other places around the city that really turn things up a notch and make the holiday season more festive and my favourite one is Kohsar market. Christmas kiosks spring up and the elite can buy everything from non-alcoholic eggnog to Christmas trees and all these kiosks are right next to a mosque. With the passage of years, Islamabad has truly embraced Christmas more than Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s birthday, which also falls on the same day.
December 25 is celebrated widely amongst Muslims too, but not as our founder’s birthday. Friends host Christmas dinners and parties, while Quaid-e-Azam feels like that neglected middle child whose birthday never became as a big deal as that of the eldest sibling. I do think we should take a moment to thank the founder of our country who gave us a separate homeland where we can freely embrace different cultures, religions and celebrate diversity on our own terms, while still keeping in account the feelings of the minorities.
He was certainly one of the greatest leaders that the Muslim world has witnessed so far, a role model for leadership and enlightened patriotism.
I happened to visit the Marriott over the weekend and was stunned to see the Christmas decor. My three-year-old daughter was mesmerised by the magic of Christmas and exclaimed “mummy , Santa is coming!” Courtesy YouTube and Instagram generation, she will grow up in, she knows of Santa Claus and refuses to acknowledge that it is not real despite my insistence.
It is worth noting that behind Marriott’s extravagant and lovely decor, Serena’s usual Christmas menu and our capitals posh residential areas, there are slums where the majority of Christians live.
While the well-heeled enjoy the glamour, the parties inside the enclave, the city’s beleaguered Christians are struggling to enjoy the festivities. I wonder if we are ready to look behind the lens and acknowledge that our city is not all that meets the eye. It is also filtered like our Instagram for cohesive aesthetics.
Having said that, Islamabad is truly home to not just settlers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but also a cosy dwelling for diplomats, expatriates and other Christian minorities. I know Karachi is called the mini-Pakistan, but then Islamabad is the heart of Pakistan. You know why? because it connects you to the most beautiful parts of the country and people from across the country and even from abroad have set up their homes and livelihoods here. This has resulted in a wonderful mix of cultures and provides an additional dimension to the city’s attraction.
More diversity encourages generation of new ideas and breeds tolerance, which I think other cities lack.
The city is in its element because of its lush beauty. The people can be nonchalant, but then that is what makes the city what it is. You need your space to feel you are home, and Islamabad gives you that privacy. However, if you unveil the green belts and white washed walls of the posh sectors in the city, we have Christian communities humbly nestled just to make ends meet. I wonder how their Christmas will look like while we dress up to enjoy the Rs5000 per head Christmas meal, knowing we do not even celebrate the holiday as part of our religion.
To really feel the spirit of the holiday and to show some love to our Christian community, we need to see the darker side of Islamabad, but then who bothers to leave the keen air of pleasure, the pretty visuals and the fancy party invites?
Happy Birthday Dearest Quaid!
Merry Christmas to all the Christians in our beautifully deceptive capital.
–The writer is a Barrister based in Islamabad