Drowning in busloads of unwashed masses from Islamabad’s unfanciful twin in the south, the Centaurus Mall has introduced an entrance fee for crowd control. The kind of people exempted from the fee, reflect upon the refined tastes of the denizens of our capital city.
Islamabad’s wide-open boulevards have long served as convenient playgrounds for the people of Rawalpindi, seeking sanative refuge from the narrower streets laden with webs of over-ground electrical wiring. It is no secret that many, if not most, Islamabadis find this casual tourism somewhat perturbing.
With the launch of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro bus system, this ‘tourism’ is expected to expand. The Pakistani social media is already brimming with angry tweets and Facebook status updates by Islamabadis, bemoaning the horrid excess of Pindi boys in the malls of Islamabad; some as far as boycotting these places in protest.
‘Pindi boys’ (or “boyses”) is the pejorative term used for the stereotypical slimy-haired, gaudily clothed, Punjabi accented youngsters of Rawalpindi who journey to Islamabad, usually in large groups of predominantly male friends, to enjoy the sights and sounds of our nation’s capital.
I happen to be one of those Pindi boys, though in all honesty, my hair is reasonably dry.
The Centaurus Mall acted swiftly, enacting a modest Rs. 100 entrance fee — a small price to experience the splendour of a world-class shopping mall, of which the unfortunate souls of Rawalpindi are bereft.
The fee, is not much of an issue. Being one of the very few quality malls to grace the twin cities, crowd control is a legitimate problem. Problematic, is the list of people who are exempted from paying the entrance fee; a long list which is a less offensive way of saying who is not allowed to enter the mall freely.
The list starts with obvious exemptions: young children, senior citizens, and…uh...“special people”.
It then expands to include government employees, and members of sectors that basically define all of Islamabad and the people who live and work there.
Naturally, all diplomats, foreigners, MNAs and MPAs, members of elite Islamabad country clubs are exempted, as are “famous” TV celebrities and athletes; how it is to be decided whether a person is ‘famous’ enough to enter the mall with a hundred rupees to spare, awaits explanation.
To Rawalpindi, it extends a warm, free welcome, but only to the members of the armed forces, among a few other classic Pindi institutions. More generally, it exempts executive directors and managers of multinational companies, as well as university faculty members and doctors (hurray, I’m in!).
The entire notice, is essentially a way of telling youngsters, particularly the Pindi boys that frighten the monocles off the Islamabad citizens, that they’re the type of people the Centaurus administration is less-than-eager to see inside the premises.
The list is a transparent game of Taboo, with the administration struggling to say “lower class” or “Pindi boys”, without actually saying the phrase.
Kashif Butt, marketing director of the Mall, noted: “The fact is that because of summer vacations, there are a lot of young people who loiter for hours.”
I wonder how that phenomenon is unique to the Twin Cities? Don’t young people hang around malls in other countries, say America; lazing around the central water feature, or sipping iced tea for hours in the food court? Surely, it is not a surprise that a shopping mall is a public space where people often gather and socialise?
And the administration certainly doesn’t seem to mind youngsters from any of the privileged categories of people loitering around, including young doctors and country club brats?
Know that, at the end, this obvious class-policing is not a Centaurus problem, it is an Islamabad problem, and it is a shameful one.
It is a matter of the elites marking their territory; defending their glittering spaces against the onslaught of the underprivileged ‘paindus’ who dare to sneak a taste of a nicer, shinier Pakistan.