Indian bridal show pitching peace with Pakistan

As the heads of India and Pakistan prepare for a meeting in New York that is expected to boost peace talks, a wedding show back home is propelling people-to-people contact — often cited by analysts as the bulwark of any permanent peace deal.

In its sixth year, Bridal Asia is more an India-Pakistan bonhomie forum than deal-snapping trade fair.

“We believe in people and spreading love between them,” smiled Divya Gurwara, who has got a 40-member delegation from across the border at her three-day exhibition at the Indian capital’s Taj Palace Hotel.

“The commerce happens,” Gurwara told IANS.

Among those participating are Pakistani fashion designers Faiza Samee, Nilofer Shahid and Shehla, and male models Mikaal Zulfikar, Nael Ahmed, Nomi Qamar and Usmaan Khan.

There’s even a designer of Pakistani origin from London — Raishma. The rest of the 40 are part of the entourages of these designers and models.

They would join counterparts from India like designer Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Anamika Khanna. There are a total of 80 participants in Bridal Asia this year including jewellery and clothing designers, accessories makers and trousseau, gift and holiday experts.

“We work towards fuelling interest in each other, India should be interested in Pakistan and Pakistan in India,” said Gurwara.

This is the spirit that got her to organise a Bridal Asia in Pakistan last year, the first such independent show from India to cross over to what is usually declared arch rival territory.

But Pakistanis attending the event, like millions on the streets of both countries, dismissed any notions of friction.

“This entire arch rival bit is just a governmental idea. The two governments have a problem,” said Samee. “Between the people of our two countries, there has never been any ill will.”

That’s why Samee said she keeps returning to India almost every six months, and has come this time with her daughter and granddaughter. “Do you really think it is because of business?” she smiled.

“Believe me, there’s not much you can pack in two suitcases to sell. The cost of flying to India, paying to participate in an event, paying hotel bills – after all this, what’s left?

“Faiza Samee does not come for the money. I have enough of that in Pakistan. I come for the love, the respect. I come because this is like my second home,” said the designer who is an industry giant in Pakistan.

In recent years, such contact between the peoples of the two countries has greatly helped build bridges. This year, Indian actresses have performed in Pakistan and Pakistani artistes have shared the stage with Indian performers in New Delhi.

“The weather is changing,” grinned Zulfikar, Pakistan’s leading male model for four years now. “No more war clouds.”

The impact of the “weather change” is being felt all the way in Britain too, said Raishma, a second-generation Pakistani who runs her namesake boutique at London’s Green Street.

“There is definitely a sense that the countries are coming closer even among the Indian and Pakistani communities in Britain,” said Raishma.

“There’s hope for peace again.”

Gurwara said travelling to the other side is a great way of promoting that hope. “When we went to Pakistan, the reception was fabulous, I had never dreamed of such love and honour.

“We try to reciprocate that when the Pakistanis come here.”

It’s working.

“There are so many good things about India – the Indian models are like, wow. Everybody really takes good care of you and the food is fantastic,” said model Usmaan Khan.

“I have come for the palak paneer.”

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