April: My first Chadois Camiz, Rawalpindi, N.Pakistan
'Remember, each finger on the hand is not the same,' said my companion. This is true also for the people of Pakistan. Be careful, my friend.' He paused to light another cigarette, then we merged once more into the tangle of alleyways and coverways that seep through Raja Bazaar, beneath banners of swirling Arabic script. Yet up until now, my own impression of this Islamic country has been of its people's warm and instinctive hospitality. Like Javed, the brother of a cloth merchant, on leave from his oil rig in Abu Dabi. His self appointed mission: to ensure I had a chadois camiz tailor-made before the sun had set.
We curled around alleyways and whipped past a world of whirring sewing machines, manned by men in thick glasses and skullcaps, who tilted their heads as we passed. Amongst a row of tailors, we ducked into a workshop that appeared, to the untutored eye, like all others. 'This man is a professional,' announced Javed, delving into an argument on my behalf. Amongst a torrent of Urdu, I caught a drift; cycling around the world, a visitor in this country, must have the best of Pakistan. The deal was made, my measurements speedily taken and we rejoined the confused flow of the street, heavy with men in traditional clothes and women wrapped in concealing shawls. 'First he said it was impossible, no time to shrink the cotton. So I said I'll do it myself!'
Sure enough, minutes later I was sipping on a soft drink as the chosen material was soaked in water. Flicked majestically across the bazaar by two minions, all seven metres billowed like a sail, a giant fan that tempered the hot Rawalpindi air. With the material dried to a crisp, my companion dashed off once more into the sidestreets so that work could begin at once, sweat dotted across his brow.
Returning later that afternoon I tried on my new 'suit'. In true Pakistani style, the shirt was cut below the knees, matched by enormously baggy trousers. In the stiffling heat of the lowlands, it felt wonderfully cool and relaxing. I shuffled out. Old men, thick beards lending them a knowledgable air, brought their thumb and fore fingers together in admiration. I thanked those involved in this energised display of hospitality.
My first chadois camiz, as symbolic as my first pair of Levis. 'It's wonderful,' I said sincerely. 'A true memory of Pakistan.'