The opening of a new butchers shop in Bahawalpur is not the kind of event that might be thought worthy of anything beyond a couple of lines in a local magazine. Wrong. No names — but it is on Welcome Chowk on the road out of town. I think it may be a part of a national chain and it is something of a wonder to behold.
For readers outside Pakistan places that sell meat in many parts of the country are decidedly dodgy when it comes to the cleanliness front. In summer, they are holiday resorts for flies the size of sparrows. Not even a pretence of cleanliness as the smiling butcher wipes his filthy hands on his filthier apron and prepares your order. A 50-gallon drum with a layer of congealed blood will contain a flapping and expiring chicken. Squadrons of bluebottles can be found cooperating as they carry off whole sides of beef…sorry, made that bit up but you get the picture.
Establishments such as described above are within walking distance of my home and where my domestic staff usually gets our meat. Not anymore. Walking into this monument to the spotless work surface, with the appropriately clad butcher in front of a work area that was almost clinically clean I stood for a few seconds and did a 360°. It took a while for it all to register. Us Brits are a bit fussy about ‘clean’. We like it. A lot. Some would still like to see littering as a capital offence. The litter laws in UK are strictly applied and serial offenders can find themselves in the chokey if they upset a litter-sensitive magistrate.
But back to Bahawalpur. I was aware that ostrich was farmed in Pakistan but never seen it hereabouts. And there it was. As a tip for those among you into healthy eating ostrich has very low fat content and is a good replacement for beef, and is cooked in exactly the same way. Give it a try — we are. Purchased my chicken drumsticks and a pack of mutton and went away happy.
Well so what? It’s just a butchers shop. Well yes, but it is also part of something a lot bigger that is nationwide, growing fast and is Very Good News for Pakistan. Coming here first in 1993 the first thing to strike me as I left the aircraft in Karachi was that the place smelt like a dead bears’ bum. It was gaggingly awful. And I had many years of shipping up in places that were off the scale when it came to awful. This was weapons-grade reek. And it was dirty. Checking my diary of the time I noted that Karachi was possibly the dirtiest airport I had ever flown into. Working my way across the country and encountering public toilets for the first time things really did not get much better till I got to Hunza. The range of olfactory experiences was truly kaleidoscopic.
Scroll forwards a quarter century and there has been a revolution. Clean is sprouting up all over the place. Karachi excepted. And Multan. My own little city positively sparkles. It gets its face washed by the sweepers in the hours before most are awake, has litter bins and skips that are, shock-horror, actually used by people that make a conscious effort to walk a few yards and put their rubbish in them. Somebody somewhere in the civil administration decided to spend public money on those bins. There was a latent civic pride that they tapped into. It worked.
A year or so back the administration had a purge of the bakeries, with several closed until they met hygiene standards. Today…sparkle-sparkle. The bakers got the message. So did some of the roadside vendors of fast food where you now see caps being worn and further shock-horror — gloves! Clean is not just for the rich that patronise the fancy butchers.
It will make an interesting PhD subject, the how it was that Pakistan had a paradigm shift and decided collectively and individually to literally clean itself up. Oh…and the last time I flew into Karachi I noticed somebody had fixed the dead bear problem. Tootle-pip!
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2017.