A Boski shirt with white shalwar or dhoti and a pair of Zari khusa or Zari khairi (shoes embroidered with golden threads) was the most sought after dress till the recent past in Chakwal and anyone wearing such a dress could easily be recognised as hailing from Chakwal region. In short, the Zari khairi and Zari khusa are the cultural symbols of Chakwal. For this very reason when Late Raja Muhammad Ali, a childhood friend of Indian Premier Dr Manmohan Singh from Gah village, went to New Delhi in May 2008 to meet him, he took a pair of Zari khusa with him as a present. But such recognisable attire is disappearing to be only remembered as ‘a relic of the past’, as the industry of hand made Zari khusa and khairi is facing a continued decline, thanks to the flawed concept of modernism and sheer apathy towards our cultural essence.
Chakwal’s Mochi Bazaar houses some shops of traditional shoes for the last many decades. Although the showcases of these Zari houses give a glowing look to the passers-by, in the premises there rules a discontent and dejection as the shop-owners seem uncertain about the future of this major domestic industry.
Mohammad Naeem who owns a shop of Zari shoes says that the demand for traditional shoes is decreasing as the younger generation prefers modern shoes. “The Zari khusa and Zari khairi are now used only on occasions of marriages, though the elderly still love them,” he explains.
He says that the feet of today’s youngsters are too soft to bear shoes made of pure leather. “Many people particularly city dwellers complain that their feet ache when they wear such shoes because their feet are soft and vulnerable to pustules,” he explains. Naeem adds that only the village folks whose feet are strong can enjoy such shoes. But he clarifies that if someone wears Zari shoes for some days his/her feet will get familiarised to them. “We are drifting away from our culture and we feel ashamed using our traditional things,” he says. However, for Naeem, Gen. Musharraf’s regime was a golden period for the industry, as during that era Zari shoes were being exported to European countries. “President Musharraf softened trade barriers which helped us a lot as we exported Chakwal’s traditional shoes to Britain, France, Spain and other Western countries and our country earned a lot of foreign exchange,” he claims. Lashing out at the present dispensation, he says that the present government increased the cargo fee to an unaffordable point; “If the government supports us, this dying industry could be saved from extinction”.
Making these shoes is a laborious and time consuming work. “I make one pair of Khairi in a day working from dawn to dusk,” tells Abdul Khaliq, a maker of traditional shoes. He explains that the cost of tilla (golden threads), leather and other items used in making these shoes has seen a sudden rise. “There is only one factory in Lahore which prepares tilla and sells it at a high price,” emphasises Naeem.
The shopkeepers and makers of these shoes are of the view that no other shoes could compete with Chakwal’s traditional shoes as they are attractive and long-lasting. However, Zari shoes meant for women are still in demand.
“The women are more interested in using such shoes as compared to men,” says Abdullah, a shoe-maker. Chakwal’s villages like Khokar Zer, Karsal, Jhamra and Dhedwal are famous for producing Zari shoes. The prices of Zari Khusa are Rs1,000 to Rs2,500, while Zari Khairi is sold at Rs500 to Rs1,500.