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.”

Karachi qualifies for PSL playoffs and knocks out Lahore

Updated 19 June 2021

Karachi qualifies for PSL playoffs and knocks out Lahore

  • Karachi beat Quetta Gladiators by 14 runs in its do-or-die last league game in Abu Dhabi on Saturday
  • Karachi finished on 10 points alongside Lahore, but its better net run-rate knocked out Qalandars from the playoffs

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Defending champion Karachi Kings squeaked into the Pakistan Super League playoffs after beating Quetta Gladiators by 14 runs in its do-or-die last league game on Saturday.

Karachi finished on 10 points alongside Lahore Qalandars, but its better net run-rate knocked out the 2020 finalist from the playoffs.

Quetta finished on the bottom of the table with only two wins from 10 games.

Danish Aziz’s whirlwind knock of 45 runs off 13 balls lifted Karachi to 176-7. The left-hander smacked 33 runs in Jack Wildermuth’s penultimate over of the innings from four consecutive sixes and two boundaries.

Quetta, which made five changes in its last league game, ended up at 162-7. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed was unbeaten on 51 off 33 balls.

Quetta debutant left-arm spinner Arish Ali Khan grabbed 4-28 as Karachi slipped to 121-5 in the 17th over. But Aziz’s masterful knock turned the tide in Karachi’s favor.

Wildermuth was brought into the attack in place of fast bowler Naseem Shah, who pulled a calf muscle just before he was about to bowl the penultimate over, and limped off the field.

Fast bowler Mohammad Ilyas (3-39) ran through the Quetta top order and Arshad Iqbal chipped in with 2-39.

Fast bowler Mohammad Amir twice came close to his first wicket in five PSL games, but first Wildermuth successfully overturned an lbw decision through television referral and Amir dropped a sitter off his own bowling off the next delivery to end up with 0-21.

PSL leader Islamabad United was playing Multan Sultans in the late game.

Babar Azam becomes PSL's all-time top scorer during tournament's Abu Dhabi leg

Updated 19 June 2021

Babar Azam becomes PSL's all-time top scorer during tournament's Abu Dhabi leg

  • As the PSL's top scorer with 2,000 runs, Azam is followed by Peshawar Zalmi's Kamran Akmal with 1,763 runs
  • Azam on Saturday also became the first player to score 500 runs in a single edition of PSL

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan captain Babar Azam became the first player to cross the 2,000-run mark in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) during a Karachi Kings vs Quetta Gladiators faceoff in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
During the same match, Azam also became the first player to score 500 runs in a single edition of PSL, as he scored 23 off 25 against Quetta Gladiators, taking his PSL6 tally to 501.
"#King #BabarAzam the 1st batsman in the history of #HBLPSL to score 2000 runs," Karachi Kings celebrated its batsman in a tweet.



The sixth edition of Pakistan’s flagship cricket super league tournament resumed at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on June 9. It was postponed in March after a string of positive coronavirus cases among players and officials.
As the PSL's top scorer, Azam is followed by Peshawar Zalmi's Kamran Akmal who has scored 1,763 runs.
Born in Lahore, the 26-year-old right-hand, top-order batsman was 12 when he already played serious tape-ball cricket. At age 15, he was declared Pakistan's best Under-15 batsman and made his List A debut.  
By 16, he was a first-class cricketer for Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) cricket team. By the time he received his first ODI cap, he already had six centuries and more than 2,000 List A runs at an average of 47.88 to his name.
In September 2018, Azam passed 2,000 runs in ODI cricket, reaching the milestone in just 45 innings. Only one player has ever gotten there quicker and that is South African great Hashim Amla. Amla took just 40 innings.
In the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, Azam made history, scoring 474 runs at 67.61 to break Javed Miandad’s 1992 record for the most runs by a Pakistan batsman in a Cricket World Cup campaign.
In April, he ended Virat Kohli’s long reign at the top of the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s ODI Player Rankings, becoming only the fourth batsman from his country to attain number one position in the rankings.

Pakistani doctors say running out of vaccines, warn of fourth coronavirus wave

Updated 19 June 2021

Pakistani doctors say running out of vaccines, warn of fourth coronavirus wave

  • Pakistan Medical Association calls for strict implementation of health guidelines as more contagious COVID-19 variants are present in the country
  • Pakistan's health chief says 6.5 million vaccine doses expected to arrive this month, pressure on vaccine distribution to ease next week

LAHORE: Vaccination centers are running out of COVID-19 shots, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) secretary general Dr. Qaisar Sajjad said on Saturday, a day after the PMA warned of a looming fourth wave of the pandemic.

In a press release issued on Friday evening, the PMA said that as the government is reopening all sectors over a steady decline in coronavirus cases, without strict implementation of health guidelines, Pakistan "can face fourth wave" of the pandemic, as the highly contagious virus variants first reported in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and India are already present in the country.

It advised all to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as vaccination is "the most protective shield against COVID-19," and requested the government to ensure uninterrupted supplies of vaccine doses.

“Vaccination centers are running short of vaccines and the people are being asked to go back," Dr. Sajjad told Arab News. "The situation is really very bad in terms of vaccine supply. The doctors have stopped vaccination drive and we are receiving complaints from all over the country, especially from various districts of Punjab, that there is no vaccine available."

He added that the call to strictly follow coronavirus restrictions was also related to the presence of the Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, which is more contagious and resistant to vaccines compared with other forms of COVID-19.

Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmeen Rashid has also confirmed the shortage of COVID-19 shots in her province.

"Arrival of Chinese vaccine was due on June 10, but due to some technical issues it was delayed and would arrive on June 20," she told Arab News. "We are running short of AstraZeneca vaccine and people have been asked to come after a week."

The federal government has meanwhile said that it expects 6.5 million vaccine doses to arrive in Pakistan this month.

"Any pressure in the system & local/distribution issues will be eased by Mon/Tue, inshallah," Pakistan's health chief, Dr. Faisal Sultan, said in a series of tweets on Saturday.



At the current vaccination pace, however, reaching herd immunity in the country may take years.

"COVID-19 is a phenomenon that will persist until 80 percent of population is vaccinated," Dr. Javed Akram, vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences in Lahore, told Arab News.

"The whole process will take two, three years or maybe more than that."

FM Qureshi meets Kuwaiti counterpart, welcomes relaxation of visa restrictions for Pakistanis

Updated 19 June 2021

FM Qureshi meets Kuwaiti counterpart, welcomes relaxation of visa restrictions for Pakistanis

  • Kuwait suspended visas for Pakistanis in 2011, announced resumption of family and business visas last month
  • Qureshi met Kuwait's FM at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, attended by top political leaders, diplomats, opinion makers and academics

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi welcomed Kuwait's relaxation of travel restrictions for Pakistanis during a meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart on Saturday.

Kuwait suspended visas for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2011 over what it said were difficult security conditions in the five countries. Last month, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced, after meeting the Kuwaiti prime minister, that business and family visas for Pakistani nationals would be “immediately” resumed.

Qureshi met Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkey. The forum, attended by top political leaders, diplomats, opinion makers and academics, is being held from June 18-20 in an Antalya resort on the coast of the Mediterranean.

"Pakistan welcomes ease of visa restrictions for our nationals. Pakistan and Kuwait share excellent bilateral relations & we look forward to deepening cooperation at all levels through our ongoing leadership level exchanges," Qureshi said in a tweet.



Pakistan began visa resumption talks with Kuwait in 2020, after which 208 nurses, doctors and medical technicians traveled to Kuwait on Oct. 22, 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis.

Three more groups have gone since. On Thursday a fifth batch of Pakistani medical professionals arrived in Kuwait, taking the total number of health care workers who have traveled to the state since October last year to 938.

Pakistan says committed to implement GSP Plus conventions for preferential trade with EU

Updated 19 June 2021

Pakistan says committed to implement GSP Plus conventions for preferential trade with EU

  • The European Parliament urged its member states earlier this year to review Pakistan's trade status due to the rising number of blasphemy cases
  • Pakistan's foreign office said in a statement FM Qureshi also raised 'Islamophobia, racism and populism' with a senior European official on Friday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated his country's commitment to a preferential trade arrangement with European nations while promising effective implementation of several international conventions during his meeting with a senior European Union official on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkey on Friday.
According to an official statement released by the foreign office in Islamabad, Qureshi discussed "the entire spectrum of Pakistan-EU relations," including the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus arrangement, during his interaction with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles.
"Emphasizing the importance of bilateral trade, the Foreign Minister highlighted that GSP Plus had been a mutually beneficial undertaking and played an important role in the growth of trade between the two sides," said the statement. "He reiterated Pakistan's firm commitment towards the GSP Plus preferential trade regime and effective implementation of the twenty-seven related international conventions."
The European Parliament adopted a resolution in April, urging its member nations to review Pakistan's GSP Plus status due to the rising number of blasphemy cases in the country.
The GSP Plus is a special trade arrangement offered to developing economies by European nations in return for their commitment to implement 27 international conventions on human rights, environmental protection and governance.
Fontelles said in a Twitter post he had a "good discussion" with the Pakistani foreign minister, adding that he had raised human rights concerns, including the blasphemy law, during the conversation.

The foreign office also said in its statement that Qureshi discussed "rising Islamophobia, racism and populism" with the EU official, saying the entire international community "must show a common resolve against xenophobia, intolerance and incitement to violence on the basis of religion or belief."
He also highlighted Pakistan's contributions to the Afghan peace process and emphasized that the conflict should only be settled through an Afghan-led and -owned political process.
"The two leaders agreed to continue to maintain high level engagement to further strengthen Pakistan-EU relations," the statement added.