Phulkari Loving in Pakistan

Recently, after Arman and I got married, we went to Murree for a mini-honeymoon/getaway for a couple days. I will certainly do a post on that trip soon so keep an eye out for it in the ‘Travel’ section. But for now, let’s talk about a trend I noticed catching on in Pakistan from the hills to Murree to the arid plains of Karachi. Strolling on the Mall Road in Murree, I couldn’t help but notice colorfully embroidered dupattas that I had a feeling I had seen somewhere before, although not in Pakistan. Suddenly I remember I saw this very type of embroidered dupattas during my not-so-frequent visits to Khan Market in Delhi. Now it is said that Khan Market is the world’s 24th most expensive retail location (insert hyperlink). So naturally, when I asked a street vendor who had set up shop on the side of a passageway that connects the outer lane to the middle one, I half expected him to quote me a price which would certainly be out of my budget! And he did and that was the end of that. I forgot about that pretty embroidered dupatta I had my eyes on until one of its cousins and I locked eyes all the way on this side of the border in Murree, Pakistan. 

In fact, there were lots of them! Everywhere on the Mall Road. Dupattas of as many colors as you can imagine with even more colorful heavy embroidery done on them. You might think that living in India for a year and a half, I would have recognized the kind of embroidery that was but I was clueless. All I knew was that I had to be the proud owner of one of those beauties and look like a pretty desi kuri (oh come on, admit it, all of us desi ladies have been there, done that at some point in our lives.)

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Cut to last week when I went to a local market close to where I live in Karachi and guess what? I saw this beautiful embroidery done on 3-piece cotton and georgette suits this time displayed outside a shop. On closer inspection, I saw the dupattas I had seen on Mall Road in Murree and in Khan Market all the way back in Delhi as well. A cute little 13-year old sales boy in front of me saw me taking an interest in the displayed materials. “Phulkari hai baaji! Bohut fashion mein hai aaj kal. Le lo, 1500 ka final laga dengay. (Sister, this is Phulkari! It’s quite fashionable these days. Take it, I’ll give it for 1500 rupees, final offer.)”

Ah! Phulkari! I tried remembering where I had heard that term before and then suddenly it dawned upon me! One of my friends at the Young India Fellowship had once told a few of us girls that her mom runs a small clothing business and sells these beautiful “Fulkari” dupattas, in case any of us ever wanted to get one. Phulkari, in case anyone of you do not know about it, literally means ‘flower work’. Wikipedia tells me that at one time, “Phulkari” was used as the word for embroidery, but over time it became restricted to embroidered shawls and dupattas. This beautiful embroidery technique comes from the pre-Partition Punjab region. The embroidery is done with floss silk thread on coarse hand woven cotton fabric. Creative ability of Punjabi women has produced innumerable and intricate geometrical patterns. However, most motifs were taken from everyday life. Wheat and barley stalk with ears are a common motif.

Anyways, coming back to my story, while the little boy waited for me to respond to him, I was too busy wondering how amazing it is that the world is becoming such a global market. I don’t know if the Phulkari work on the suits or dupattas I saw in Murree and Karachi were made here but my guess is that they came all the way from India. It makes me so happy that despite the tensions between the two countries, there are small forms of cultural exchange as such. I sincerely hope and pray that this continues to happen in both our countries so that our people are in touch with their cultural heritage despite being separated by fate!

2 thoughts on “Phulkari Loving in Pakistan

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