At the stroke of midnight, Nadira poured herself another vodka and lit her umpteenth Dunhill cigarette. Dressed in a sleeveless fishnet blouse and a black chiffon sari, tucked in well below the navel, the attractive young housewife was the centre of attraction at the unusually quiet party in suburban Lahore. As the evening progressed, a tipsy middle-aged actor turned on by the sight of Nadira's pink brassiere and emboldened by her husband's drunken state, made a pass at her—"what a pity that such a beautiful woman should look so lonely on a lovely night like this"—which she rejected, blowing smoke in his face as she got up to look for some ice.
This was the second party one had gate crashed within hours of landing in Pakistan, and common to both was the ready availability of liquor which, quite unlike Gujarati homes in dry Ahmedabad, was served without fear of domestic servants reporting to the police. The first party, hosted by a European, not only served superior imported liquor, but the bar itself had been set up in the driveway facing the bungalow's main gate. Undeterred by its location, a group of Pakistani guests, men and women, stayed within five metres of the bar throughout the evening and made up for the barman's miserly pegs by switching from scotch to vodka to gin and then to beer.
Far from the popular perception in India, Pakistan is anything but the prohibition-stricken land of the flowing burqas, which are worn by only the most conservative women in downtown areas. If anything, the fire-breathing mullahs and the Islamist revival of the '80s have made the ordinary pursuits of pleasure more devious and banished fashionable women's clothes and western dresses to the drawing rooms of the elite. Without outwardly challenging Islamic traditions, Pakistanis enjoy just about everything behind closed doors.
In the post-Zia...