Bare palms this Eid as pandemic dampens Pakistan’s henna obsession

Pakistani women offer special prayers on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan at the historic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore on May 13, 2021. (AFP photo)
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Updated 13 May 2021

Bare palms this Eid as pandemic dampens Pakistan’s henna obsession

  • Mehndi applied to hands has long been a traditional celebration marking Eid and weddings across cultures
  • Apart from the business side, the joy of socializing during henna application has been lost

RAWALPINDI: As another Eid Al-Fitr arrives under the shadow of the pandemic, celebrations are dampened around the world. In Pakistan, the government has advised citizens to celebrate simply, and among the many festive practices compromised on, is the art of henna, or mehndi. 

Mehndi is produced from the leaves of henna plants and has played a significant role in expressions of celebration in South Asia for hundreds of years.

The night before Eid, henna artists are invited to private homes where groups of family members gather to get their palms made up. In bazaars, long queues of people wait for busy artists speedily creating designs on hundreds of women a day-- sometimes well into the early hours of the morning.

But since last year, henna artists say nothing is the same.

“The pandemic has really badly affected my work. I’m still better off than many others, but because the majority of my work was traveling for bridal bookings, I took a hit,” Sara Vazir, a henna artist, told Arab News.

Vazir, 33, has been working with henna since she was 11 and has built an international clientele for her business, ‘Sara’s Henna.’

Sara Vazir shares her henna designs with over 80,000 followers on Instagram, on December 13, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Sara's Henna)

“As for Eid, that [business] has completely stopped since the pandemic began ... a year and a half now. I have two small kids and I do not want to take the risk; I don’t want to go to people’s houses or call them over,” she said.

Vazir’s designs are inspired by mehndi from around the world. 

Moroccan style henna art has fast become one of the most popular, with geometric designs featuring dot work and diamond shapes that borrow from the Afro-Arab country’s architectural styles. 

Pakistani fashion brand Ethnic borrows Moroccan henna designs for their Ramadan 2021 collection. (Photo courtesy: Ethnic)

Even Islamic imagery like domes and symmetrical arches are common in popular henna design. In recent years, simpler designs have become trendy. 

Some brands like Dastaangoi and Kolachi mehndi in Pakistan have encouraged people to DIY their mehndi at home, and have released mehndi design kits featuring designs rooted in different henna traditions.

Storytelling platform Dastaangoi and organic henna brand Kolachi Mehndi collaborate for an at-home Eid mehndi kit featuring style inspirations across cultures. Photo shared on May 4, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Kolachi Mehndi)

But apart from the business of henna design, it’s the socializing aspect-- the part that creates happy memories-- that has been hurt.

“When I work on clients now, it’s not the same fun of a group getting together and sharing in something joyful because we have to be careful,” Karachi-based henna artist Shahtaj A. Khan told Arab News.

“It’s sad that this traditional happy moment is disappearing.”

Some mehndi artists like Khan are continuing to see clients under strict SOP’s, wearing masks, shields and working outside in the open.

A girl gets her hand decorated with henna paste at a marketplace during the holy month of Ramadan ahead of Eid Al-Fitr in Karachi on May 8, 2021. (AFP)

During weddings in Pakistan and India, the hands of the bride and her closest women friends and family are filled with intricate details bordered with thick lines, motifs of flora, peacocks, paisleys, and checkered patterns. There is an entire wedding occasion dedicated to the ritual of this application, called simply, the ‘mehndi.’
Umme Kulsoom Huzaifa Lathi, who has decorated hands around the nation including for Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari on her wedding, told Arab News that these days, being careful was paramount.

Pakistani henna artist Umme Kulsoom Huzaifa Lathi shares a photo with Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari whose hands she has decorated for during a mehndi bridal session on January 29, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Kulsooms Henna)

“Since last Eid, business has picked up, but everything is done extremely carefully,” Lathi told Arab News over the phone from Karachi.

“We follow all the guidelines because we want things to get back to normal... and hopefully artists like me can see their businesses get back to normal too.”

Mudslide at mine kills four in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 24 July 2021

Mudslide at mine kills four in southwestern Pakistan

  • Mudslide in Sharag area of Balochistan province occurred after torrential rains
  • The 200-foot-deep mine had partially collapsed and was closed after the accident

QUETTA: A mudslide at a mine in southwestern Pakistan killed four coal miners and injured two others on Saturday following heavy monsoon rains, officials said.

Local government administrator Amir Khan said that by the time rescuers reached the area hit by the torrent, the 200-foot-deep mine had partially collapsed.

He said the mine, located in the Sharag area of the Harnai district, Balochistan province was ordered closed following the incident.

Such accidents are common in Pakistan’s coal mines, where safety standards are not widely respected.

Pakistan, China to jointly oversee security of CPEC projects after Dasu blast

Updated 24 July 2021

Pakistan, China to jointly oversee security of CPEC projects after Dasu blast

  • FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi is in China on a two-day visit that started on Friday
  • Pakistan reiterates support for China's 'national interests' in Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and South China Sea

ISLAMABAD: The foreign ministers of Pakistan and China on Saturday vowed joint efforts for the security of Beijing-sponsored infrastructure and development projects in Pakistan, after nine Chinese workers were killed in the country's northwest last week.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, made the statement as the Pakistani foreign minister is in China on a two-day visit that started on Friday.

While the Pakistani foreign office said the visit is part of regular high-level exchanges between the longtime allies, it comes after the Chinese workers employed at the Dasu Hydropower Project were killed in a bus explosion in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Dasu project is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $65 billion investment plan aiming to link Pakistan's southwestern deep-sea port of Gwadar with the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang.

China had initially called it a bomb attack but backed away from the assertion after Pakistan stated it was an accident. Later Beijing sent a team to help investigate the matter jointly with Pakistani authorities.

"Both sides expressed their firm resolve to expose the culprits and their reprehensible designs through the ongoing joint investigation, give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators, ensure comprehensive safety and security of the Chinese projects, nationals and institutions, and prevent recurrence of such incidents," Qureshi and Yi said in a joint statement.

As the ministers reiterated their support for each other's "core national interests," they said "the two sides will continue to firmly advance the construction of CPEC."

Pakistan expressed its commitment to the "one China" policy of Beijing, which sees Taiwan as its province, and support to China over other disputed territories. 

"Pakistani side also expressed its firm support to China on core issues of its national interest, such as Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and South China Sea." the statement said.

This year, Pakistan and China are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with more than 100 celebratory events, which the ministers said are "demonstrating warmth and deep sentiments of their unshakable fraternal bonds."

Pakistan makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for domestic air travel

Updated 24 July 2021

Pakistan makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for domestic air travel

  • Decision comes as Pakistan grapples with a surge in infections fueled by local transmission of the more aggressive delta variant
  • The country of 220 million people has so far administered COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 25 million people

ISLAMABAD: Coronavirus vaccination will be mandatory for passengers on Pakistan's domestic flights from Aug. 1, the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), the government's central body dealing with the pandemic, announced on Saturday.

The decision comes as the country is grappling with a surge in infection cases fueled by local transmission of the more aggressive delta variant of the coronavirus, which officials have reported is reaching alarming levels in the country's major cities.

Officials have also raised concerns the delta variant could have spread during last week's Eid Al-Adha holiday as people traveled to and from cities to their hometowns across the country.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday crossed the one million mark since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Over 1,841 new infections and 32 deaths have been reported in Pakistan in the last 24 hours.

"From August 1, a coronavirus vaccination certificate is required for domestic air travel," the NCOC said in a statement.

The country of 220 million people has so far administered COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 25 million people.

Pakistan last month started easing wide-ranging coronavirus restrictions as infection numbers showed a steady decline. As they are now increasing again, local authorities are imposing new curbs and seeking new ways to accelerate vaccination.

Sindh province, were reports from the megacity Karachi said last week some public and private sector hospitals have reached capacity, will impose new restrictions from Monday, closing educational institutions, places of worship, and banning mass gatherings.

As 85 percent of coronavirus patients seeking treatment in Sindh were unvaccinated, according to the province's COVID-19 taskforce, to speed up vaccination the local government is planning sanctions against those in the province who had not received their jabs.

Murtaza Wahab, spokesperson of the Sindh government, said on Friday they would request the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block SIM cards in the cellphones of the unvaccinated.

UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

Updated 24 July 2021

UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

  • Pakistani Taliban or TTP, in disarray in recent years, are fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government
  • UN says the group has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes

ISLAMABAD: The recent reunification of the militant Pakistani Taliban poses a threat to the whole region, the United Nations has warned in a recent report.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an umbrella of militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and responsible for attacking military and civilian targets especially in the country's borderlands with Afghanistan.

It has been designated a terrorist group by the United States but been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan or to flee to urban Pakistan.

Bolstering their bid to re-establish themselves northwestern Pakistan, the group struck an alliance in July last year with half a dozen small militant factions. Since then, the TTP has stepped up attacks on security forces in the region, raising fears of a revival of their insurgency with support from the Afghan Taliban, especially as US forces continue to pull out of war-torn Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban capture more territory.

While the Afghan Taliban have on several occasions said they would not allow the militant Pakistan Taliban — which they say are a separate entity —to use Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan, according to the UN the group's cross-border activity has been on the rise.

"Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to pose a threat to the region with the unification of splinter groups and increasing cross-border attacks. TTP has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes," the UN Monitoring Team said in the report released on earlier this week.

A United Nations report in July last year said more than 6,000 Pakistani militants were hiding in Afghanistan, most belonging to the TTP.

The report said the group had linked up with the Afghan-based affiliate of the Islamic State group or Daesh, which had its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan.

The TTP has claimed responsibility for many high-profile assaults in Pakistan, including an armed attack on a school in Peshawar in 2014 in which 134 children and 19 adults were killed. The TTP also claimed the 2012 shooting of then teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, targeted for her campaign against Taliban efforts to deny girls education.

Pakistan began fencing its 2,600 km porous border with Afghanistan in 2017 to prevent militants crossing into the country and says it has completed nearly 90 percent of the work.

Saudi foreign minister to arrive in Islamabad next week

Updated 24 July 2021

Saudi foreign minister to arrive in Islamabad next week

  • Saudi FM will arrive on July 27 to meet Pakistani leaders and review progress on agreements signed during PM Khan's Riyadh visit
  • PM Khan visited Saud Arabia in May to sign several deals on political, economic, trade, and defense cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, will arrive in Islamabad on an official visit on July 27, Pakistani government and Saudi embassy officials confirmed on Saturday.

It will be Prince Faisal's second state visit to Pakistan within a year. He was in Islamabad in December 2020 for talks with Pakistani leadership.

“The Saudi foreign minister is expected in Islamabad on a day-long visit during the next week, during which bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields would be reviewed,” Prime Minister Imran Khan's special assistant on the Middle East, Tahir Ashrafi, told Arab News, while a Saudi embassy official said Prince Faisal is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

"Saudi foreign minister is visiting Pakistan on July 27," the embassy official said, adding the visit is a continuation of "high-level engagements between the two countries which started with the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, followed by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the kingdom."

The crown prince was in Islamabad on a high-profile visit in February 2019, during which Saudi Arabia signed investment deals with Pakistan worth $20 billion.

PM Khan visited Riyadh in May, with an entourage of Pakistan's top officials to sign several agreements on political, economic, trade, and defense cooperation.

According to Ashrafi, progress on the agreements will be reviewed during Prince Faisal's upcoming visit, which "will also focus on future cooperation between the two countries."