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Friday, 3 January, 2003, 17:19 GMT
Party politics for Pakistan's poor
The carpet leads into a marquee decorated with Gothic candelabras, orchids and birds-of-paradise.
This scene could be London, Paris or New York, but it is one that is replayed every winter in poverty-stricken Pakistan - all in the name of charity.
Money begets money
There are two kinds of people among the Karachi jet-set these days; those going to the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) Charity Ball on New Year's Eve and the Kidney Centre Ball - and those who are not.
The latter can be spotted by their long faces or their assertions that they will be out of town.
Many would be willing to pay up to 10,000 rupees ($170) to anyone who would part with a ticket originally priced at 7,500 rupees.
The waiting list hit 500.
The Layton Rahimtoolah Benevolent Trust (LRBT), Lady Dufferin Maternity Hospital and MALC are a few of the high-profile charities that attract hundreds to their annual fund-raisers.
The organisers are usually glamorous, influential and moneyed socialites.
Money begets money, they say, so spending a fortune helps earn it back with interest.
But for psychologist Huma Akram, wife of cricketer Wasim Akram, it is a sad reflection of a desperate need to identify with the West.
''It's a colonial left-over. Just like the British, we are also stuck in a rut and scared of trying new things," says Mrs Akram.
Nevertheless, organisers still rack their brains to make each ball fresh.
Fashion shows and foreign music are passé; people want new attractions - be it chocolate and cheese from Switzerland, cigars from Cuba, orchids from Singapore or tulips from Holland.
The chefs are flown in from Singapore, Dubai and Europe.
The guests match the organisers' spending, frequenting local haute couturiers and salons.
Supermodel Vaneeza Ahmed says: "I would be lying if I said I go to these events because it is a good cause."
She goes because it is a who's who of glitterati.
''It's short and sweet - perfect for me. And I have other ways to contribute to good causes - which are far more substantial than attending a ball," she says.
For others - the wannabes - it is a foot in the door to these closely guarded social sets.
One Karachi social scene newcomer says: "My wife and I go to such events only to be seen."
''We don't want to be social outcasts," his wife adds.
Mian Yousuf Salahuddin, one of Lahore's leading socialites, is a keen observer of social behaviour.
He says potential business deals play an integral part in popularising these events.
"Balls act as public relations platforms for the business community. They also provide an opportunity to show what people have got - a flashy pair of wheels, new diamonds."
However, some guests are motivated by a genuine concern for the less privileged.
Sabene Saigol, editor of Libas International, is a regular at charity balls organised by her family.
"My aunts are actively involved in Lady Dufferin and LRBT charities. I can relate to them. I attend such events to support their efforts towards good causes," she says.
Ms Saigol is a regular donor for various educational charity projects.
"I feel education is the single virtue which can rid us of prevailing social evils. If invested in properly, this sector can change the destiny of Pakistan."
But every silver lining has a dark cloud.
Many people believe it to be poor taste to have fun in the name of the blind, the deaf, cancer patients or women and children dying due to lack of good maternal care.
"They probably have never seen the people in whose name they buy tickets," says Mrs Akram.
For her, spending time with the sufferers is more effective.
"Look at Imran Khan and Princess Diana. Their celebrity was put to work for good causes. They didn't just attend glamorous events; they actually went into the field,'' she says.
But then there seems to be no other way to motivate the rich to fund charities.
"It's sad but at least balls are of some use," says Mr Salahuddin.
A committee member of Lady Dufferin agrees, saying glitzy events serve as the best way to extract money from those who have the means but lack the sensitivity for charitable causes.
''It's almost impossible for them to part with their money otherwise. But mention the word ball and there's a never-ending series of calls for invitations. If that's what they want, so be it," she says.
But making the social set realise the importance of the causes remains an uphill task.
''They are so beautifully vacant in the head that any sensible word is sucked into a vacuum. The luncheon ladies and their equally decadent male counterparts are trapped in their own warped reality completely oblivious of the gigantic amount of work to be done in Pakistan," says Ms Saigol.
12 Nov 02 | Business
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