Friday night was rather of an interesting sort. A chance encounter with Jalal Salahuddin at a flower shop led to us attending an exclusive cocktail party at his home later.
Owner of J&S, THE event management company in Pakistan, known for its dynamic extravagant parties where everyone who is anyone can be seen mingling together, Jalal came off as rather a sweet man. Powerful, with the numbers of the high-rollers of society on speed dial, and well-versed in the art of socializing, fussy about his flowers (we found out that Blossoms, the florist off of M M Alam is known for its long-stemmed roses), but sweet. He found it particularly fascinating how a random run-in at flower shop induced him to inviting us, complete strangers, to his place later – a coincidental occurence that doesn’t happen much in a city like Lahore.
His home is beautiful. After entering through a large gate into a wide open compound, we were greeted at the foyer by a row of tea candles and vases of what I think were tulips on a crystal cut coffee table, the surface of which sparkled with the flickering glow of candlelight. Further on was a round bar, the epicenter of socialising, around which sounds and smells intermingled and wafted through the rest of the home – the tinkle of a flirtatious laugh, the clinking of wine glasses, the awkward chuckle of first introductions, the smooth sound of slick rehearsed dialogue intended to exemplify the speakers sellable traits. On either sides of the bar were lounges, decorated with long couches, and little tables filled with ornamental paraphernalia: vases of all shapes and sizes, some purposely empty, some filled with fresh flowers, and lamps with intricate yellow shades which enhanced the play of soft lighting around the room.
On the wall were paintings, a plethora of them, each telling its own story in many different ways depending on who is viewing it. You could spend hours just looking at the walls of Jalal’s home, viewing each painting, analysing the many messages each picture sends out. One showed two zebras on a white background nuzzling under the shadow of a falling man, which I interpreted to be the action of mankind and technology crushing nature to dominate the world, while another seemed to simply be a random splatter of black and red on a large canvas, blood on the dancefloor. There were others still, smaller ones, which quietly adorned the walls, not screaming for attention, unlike their larger, more dynamic counterparts and some of the people who stood in front of them. These depicted scenes of serenity, the structures of mosques at twilight, the loud call to prayer contrasting starkly with the slightly lethargic feel of the lazy, dull colours.
There was a bookshelf too, a symbol of knowledge and the world in a room so private and personal. It was filled with tomes of mythlogy, religion, history and philosophy, the dog-eared edges of which indicated Jalal to be a well-read man. But this I already knew, or rather realised, when, upon hearing about my penchant for writing, he asked me if I’d read “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders” by Daniyaal Moeenuddin. Who hadn’t, I replied, delighted that there was someone here who shared my taste in reading. We went on to discuss Moeenuddin’s writing style, how it was devoid of any sugar-coating and simply showed life as what it was, a real eye-opener especially for the local populace. I was pleased, as I always am when I meet people I can talk to about art and literature, the flavours of life, and Jalal Salahuddin was clearly very well-marinated.
While everyone made an effort to look busy in networking, I watched and observed, as the cream of the Pakistani upper class rubbed shoulders and sometimes even a little more than just that. The men, dressed in a manner that was seemingly casual but when looked at closely, hinted at the time spent in front of the mirror, swirled their chilled bottles and laughed huskily, charming their audiences with tales of their lives, the hot topic of which seemed to be ‘The Recession’. The women – dressed to the nines in dresses that placed their curves at the right places and hid the unwanted ones, towered in 3 inch heels that elongated legs and added in an extra dash of sex appeal – smiled at just the right times, flattering and carrying on the conversation, as if it were a mastered art, when the men faltered. Waiters in formal wear wove in and out of the crowd, offering teeny meeny snacks of tiny china plates – smoked salmon on minute squares of graham biscuits, chicken drumsticks of anorexic poultry and triangles of pita bread with hummus.
All in all, it was a meticulously planned affair, yet labeled as a casual gathering for cocktails, seemingly organised effortlessly, like an afterthought. The business leaders mingled with the models, the musicians with the members of the literati, everyone oozing glitz and glam, while I watched and happily absorbed in the aura, fragranced with power and possibility of future connections. We said our goodbyes, adding in exclamations of how we must keep in touch, and, with a last look back at the midnight soirée, exited out the door, nodding to HSY just as he entered in.