Karachista: Extravagant birthday bashes highlight culture of excess

Published: October 26, 2013
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Children’s birthday celebrations are getting more and more elaborate in Pakistan.

Children’s birthday celebrations are getting more and more elaborate in Pakistan.

Children’s birthday celebrations are getting more and more elaborate in Pakistan. Children’s birthday celebrations are getting more and more elaborate in Pakistan. Oxford-grad Salima Feerasta is a social commentator and lover of style in any form or fashion. She blogs at karachista.com and tweets
@karachista
KARACHI: 

The invitation was a cupcake inside a floral china teacup with a little golden spoon. The memento for guests to take home was a little jewellery box. The décor included little chandeliers and vintage Victorian-themed accessories. The affair had all the trappings of a major celebration except this wasn’t a wedding or coming-of-age party. This was a little girl’s birthday party in Karachi.

The birthday party circuit in Pakistan has become an insane merry-go-round of extravagance and one-upmanship. A simple party with sandwiches, a few balloons, cake and a bouncing castle squeezed into a car porch is no longer enough. Event planners, themed décor, designer cakes and expensive catering have become the norm. The tales of excess are startling.

In Lahore, for example, in some circles the cake simply must be from La Reve. The designer bakery’s creations are exquisite but can easily cost as much as Rs100,000. Catering by posh eatery Cosa Nostra is de rigueur and top notch event planners have been known to stipulate a minimum budget of Rs1 million. One mother sent out expensive toys from The Early Learning Centre as a party invitation.

Another put her child’s picture on a billboard at the party. Karachi is not far behind. There was a Ferrari party recently that used a Cars theme where the décor alone apparently cost Rs200,000. Another parent invited the actor who plays Mr Bean in the HBL ads to his daughter’s Mr Bean themed party. The invite for this party was a miniature stuffed toy in a tin while the goody bag was a leather box. A Mr Bean lookalike may have seemed a coup of sorts but it can’t top the Bollywood themed party for a 10-year old in Lahore a few years ago. Katrina Kaif performed live at the party while a huge screen displayed personal messages recorded by various Bollywood stars including Kareena Kapoor.

Very few parents go to the sorts of lengths that those parents did but parties these days resemble funfairs. Candy floss, popcorn machines, a magic show and jumping castles are all seen as absolute necessities. Common add-ons include trampolines, coin-operated rides and tables overflowing with candy. Girls’ birthdays often include hair and nail stations so guests can try out beaded dreadlocks or nail art. There’s invariably an activity station where bored women sit ready to help children stick glitter and beads all over photo frames or name plaques. Some parents even add pony rides or a pottery-wala who helps the children make pots.

Grandiose children’s birthday parties are a global trend. Suri Cruise’s second birthday featured 1,000 live butterflies, while a birthday party in Delhi made waves with iPod shuffles in the goody bag. On a less pretentious level, there is an entire global industry based on themed cake pops, decorations and what not. Many mothers in Pakistan are in favour of creative, well-planned birthday parties.

“There is no other entertainment for our children. We have too few places for children to play. They can’t cycle in their neighborhood, there are very few cinemas and bowling alleys while security issues mean that every visit to the park is an occasion,” says a mom. “We don’t have Little League sports, indoor playgrounds or skating rinks and many other forms of entertainment that children abroad take for granted. Birthday parties provide an opportunity for entertainment that is lacking over here.”

Similarly a lot of parents have no issues with extravagant parties. “There is nothing wrong with appreciating the finer things in life. We give a lot to charity too so what’s wrong with enjoying our wealth?,” says another.

It seems slightly obscene to spend so much on a child’s birthday party. La Reve may make exquisite cakes but bakeries like Pie in the Sky can provide pretty great themed cakes for Rs550 a pound. The ostentatious parties are as much about showing off as they are about celebrating. They encourage some to spend beyond their means and seem vulgar in the face of extreme poverty around us.

A few mothers view the culture of excess with distaste. “When you see your six-year old greedily rifling through a goody bag after a birthday party and critiquing the contents, you start to wonder whether you are giving your kids the best possible upbringing,” says one. These mothers are beginning to deprecate the effect extravagant parties are having on their children.

“I was horrified when my son commented on how small his friend’s house was and described the goody bag as ‘lame’”, says Sadia, a mother of two young boys in Karachi. “Luckily, this was on the way home from the party and not in public. But I was still mortified that my child should have such a materialistic and ungrateful attitude.”

Lavish parties encourage a culture of showy consumption and entitlement. The children going to these parties are likely to end up like the spoilt teenagers on US reality show My Super Sweet Sixteen – demanding extravagant presents, jaded by luxury and completely unappreciative of either their parents or the value of any of their many possessions.

Oxford-grad Salima Feerasta is a social commentator and lover of style in any form or fashion. She blogs at karachista.com and tweets
@karachista

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Marium
    Oct 27, 2013 - 7:08PM

    You have highlighted such an important topic. Kudos to writing this. I hope it gets to those parents who actually spend this kind of money and might it be a reality check.

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  • omar
    Oct 27, 2013 - 7:41PM

    And worst part is that the waiters who are serving and making the event happen from dawn till next dawn, are paid merely equals to a slice of cake that has been served on the birthday! Very sad thing.

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  • Zainab
    Oct 28, 2013 - 11:23AM

    really hits home, this one. When we were younger, a bar of chocolate once a week was a treat! Now our own kids are so wasteful and ungrateful and we are clueless how it all happened!

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  • Zehra
    Oct 28, 2013 - 1:44PM

    Very well written Article.I wonder people have so much money to throw around in the Birthday party which im sure children will forget about as they grow up…is it really for the kids or to show off one’s Financial Standing by throwing the best party in town!!I would advice such parents to just grow up..Kids will be Kids they will enjoy even in not so lavish birthday party as long as there is a Cake n their friends followed by some games..They will have a Blast!!Please let Kids b Kids..dont feed them with Status Disease!!!Parents need to act maturely n if u really want to do good for their kids then donate a generous amount to poor or in orphanage n Pray to Allah for their Child’s Healthy long Life and Bright Future rather then showing off cuz that wont help anyone!!!!!

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  • blah
    Oct 28, 2013 - 1:57PM

    This is one of the many evil outcomes of unfair distribution of wealth. Most of these wealthy families have made money through illegal means and I can bet that almost all of them are tax chors! It is about time that we start questioning these people and if nothing else there has to be a social boycott of them.

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  • khan
    Oct 28, 2013 - 2:47PM

    ostentation is getting in to our blood whether you have the resources or not you will try to show off to others just to impress them.

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  • HT
    Oct 28, 2013 - 4:41PM

    Many people might think this is excessive but it’s all relative. Our domestic staff such as cooks and chowkidars at our homes find it excessive when a Pizza worth Rs.900 is delivered to our houses for a single meal or when we order a useless junk happy meal from McDonalds for kids priced at no less than Rs.700. Many of their kids live in the same house and I wonder what they have to say about our value system and how they would like to protect their children from us. How do they teach their children to eat simple home cooked food and not spend huge amounts on fancy meals? My point is simple. Isn’t that excessive for our domestic staff? We must accept the fact that there are people out there who can comfortably afford different levels of life style (whether it is to make a fashion statement or whether they genuinely believe in it) and have already decided on the kind of values they wish to instill within their families. There is nothing right or wrong about it. As parents it is our responsibility to groom our children according to our own standards (high or low / moderate or excessive / in line with principles or not). Our children will grow up in a world that is far from equality and they must be equipped now with the right upbringing to tackle those situations. This can be very challenging given the environment but then only we are responsible for our children and their future (not others). Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those who thinks of the article above as excessive (but thats against my own standards and my own point of view) but I will never critcize those who feel it’s moderate.

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  • abdullah
    Oct 28, 2013 - 5:08PM

    @HT:

    well said

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  • Ali Syed
    Oct 28, 2013 - 8:15PM

    Which college did the author go to?

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  • Sanam
    Oct 28, 2013 - 10:57PM

    @HT
    Totally agree with you!

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  • Mom of 2
    Oct 28, 2013 - 11:52PM

    @Ali Syed:
    There is a HUGE difference in spending on themed cakes, ELC invites, ipod goody bags and spending on education. I would make my kids give up many many things if it made their going to a good college/university possible.

    I go to such parties myself, appreciate the aesthetics but also recognise that it’s excessive to throw so much money. My son appreciated a picnic-style b’day party with just 10 kid guests in a local park playing cricket and tug-of-war just as much as he appreciated the very fancy themed birthday party with food from Cosa Nostra. The extravagant bday parties are thrown by parents to feed their own egos, maintain their own impressions/reputation (or perhaps to live through their children), much like extravagant aqeeqa/haqeeqa’s of the past.

    Extravagance and excess prevails in all aspects of our lives and not just kiddie birthdays. We must also ask ourselves whether we’re condemning extravagance on birthdays only or extravagance in general too i.e. dresses with price tags of Rs100k and above, bags, alcohol and the list goes on.

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  • amnaw
    Oct 29, 2013 - 12:27AM

    I’m so disgusted with what I’ve just read.Having lived in both Karachi & Lahore for several years & taking my elder son to birthday parties like these, I can honestly say that it’s all about keeping up appearances and nothing else.
    My parents always taught me the value of money & this is what I’m instilling in my kids. They don’t get everything they want & believe me, there are a lot of demands from my kids thanks to the heavy toy advertising on kids’ tv channels here in the UK.
    Birthday parties in my household are small & family orientated – & maybe with a few close friends. These things make the party more meaningful.Give me pass the parcel, musical chairs & musical statues any day. It’s not about who had the biggest inflatable slide or for that matter how many inflatable castles/ slides there were; who the cake was made by, who wore what & whose birthday party was given coverage in the social pages. Where does it all stop? These parents are just making way for a whole generation who’ll suffer from, what I call, the Veruca Salt (from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) “I want it now” syndrome.

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  • Mariam
    Oct 29, 2013 - 9:27AM

    Totally agree… It’s really disgusting the way people throw money around. At one child’s party, the party favours were love birds in a cage! I mean what’s next? Dogs & cats??! Animals have rights too & to give away live animals to people who won’t look after them properly is pretty sick. I always limit myself to a budget and stick to it. At my child’s party I made them to painting activities myself and arranged everything myself. I ordered the cake from Pie in the Sky and they did a pretty good job for a quarter of the price quoted at other places. At one bday I baked a themed cake myself and even though it wasn’t perfect it looked amazing and people really appreciated it.

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  • Silver Linging
    Oct 29, 2013 - 4:00PM

    In between the lines portraying a disgustingly extravagant life style, I managed to read about our countries filthy rich spending millions of their hard (and sometimes illegaly) earned billions in Pakistan, rather than spending their tens of millions abroad, thereby creating jobs, investing in the economy.

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  • Ahmad Hassan
    Oct 30, 2013 - 12:01AM

    There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.Recommend

  • S. Ghouri
    Oct 31, 2013 - 12:57PM

    Respect!! i thought i was the only one against these parties. Had my child’s first birthday last month at home with both sides of grand parents and and his uncles’. everyone spent a great time with him.. it was memorable.

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  • Oct 31, 2013 - 3:09PM

    Well Everything looks good when in limits!

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  • Ali
    Oct 31, 2013 - 5:24PM

    A bit of false information, unintentional probably, here.

    Cakes from Le Rêve are no where near the price mentioned by the author. 100,000? That’s a bit far fetched.

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  • Sue
    Nov 1, 2013 - 3:42AM

    @HT:
    Why would you pay your “domestic help” so little that they would need to think a pizza being delivered is extravagant?

    Are they actually more like slaves that you use and abuse and pay so little to? I am just wondering since you are their employer. Their wage and family lifestyle is in your hands it seems?

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  • zen
    Nov 2, 2013 - 5:33PM

    @HT:
    It seems you missed the point entirely. Its not about what you can afford and what level you’re at. Sure, we can all be guilty sometimes of excess, but this is madness. Doesnt matter how much you have.
    As for the article, when i started reading it, i found it depressing, but i’m glad i read it all the way to the end… at least there are some people with sense and morals in the world!Recommend

  • HT
    Nov 4, 2013 - 12:37AM

    @Sue. You are clearly not aware of Pakistan and it’s economy and it seems that you are not aware of the general concepts of Economics cost of living vs income and allocation of resources within a family. Domestic staff are paid well and at the fair value according to their responsibilties, education and skills that they bring with them. Please do not consider the cost of Pizza the same as in the West in proportionate to the average level of income there. But that is a very different subject and irrelevant to my comments above. For you and Zen I would like to clarify (in case you haven’t gone through my note clearly), my point is that what one considers madness may not necessarily be the same for another and vice versa. For some, owning private jets and massive mansions in the South of France may be an act of madness. For others it may just be the life style and values that they believe in and like and can afford. The example in the article is similar.

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  • A-Mother
    Nov 5, 2013 - 12:13PM

    I commend you for bringing up this stinging issue. I am involved with this business of party decor/catering and can tell you that some of my clients disgust me. These are mostly rich people with no creativity, very brand conscious, all into making an impression rather than giving their kid a party he/she would love & remember. They come to us like they go to FPL/PFDC, picking up the most expensive dress by the most famous designer because that’s the only way they get their confidence of moving around in high society. Most of them have not been rich very long, you see! They build “connections” and “friendships” by throwing their money around. Their kids obviously, are kids! They will go to one party and want one like that too! Who doesn’t want a train or a magic show? Who wouldn’t want to get an iPod shuffle?!?

    This has put so much pressure on less “filthy rich” parents, who have to keep up with the Joneses and come to us apologetically, almost ashamed and embarrassed that their budget is “ONLY Rs.100,000”. They all know what their friend spent last month on her kid’s birthday, or what the next friend is planning.

    It’s all sad and nauseating! Thanks for giving me an anonymous way to vent!!!!! Don’t want to lose the clients, coz got to make a living after all :)

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  • The Event Stylist
    Nov 6, 2013 - 3:52PM

    I wish Salima Feerasta was not described as a social commentator but an entertainer and I would have liked this article and flipped to the next. As to the best of my knowledge a social commentator often shoulders a responsibility of addressing a problem; This article does not bash a problem but over looks the opportunity a new industry brings forth.

    I’m an event stylist, I run my own event management firm and find a pressing need to defend the industry, clients & progression stylized events bring with them. It is so easy to criticize a way of life that seems to just throw money when you cannot see where that money goes. Instead of saying that these events contribute to development of skilled labor, extra wages and very very large tips I will try to turn around some facts that have been overlooked and some that have been clearly misrepresented:
    1- A home based bakery or small party planning enterprise gives more in wages than it earns in profits.

    2- A bouncy castle costs PKR 2500/-, Candy floss, Popcorn Machines, Magic Shows all cost between PKR 1500/- to PKR 2500/-

    3- If a client decides to avoid the trouble dealing with vendors themselves they pay extra in coordination fees to get all these vendors to their party. It’s the same thing as paying a travel agent extra to fast track your visa process without you spending long hours in a que outside the visa office.

    4- Defamation doesn’t seem to be as issue the writer worries about as she misrepresents facts related to pricing of La Reve’s cakes and targets a business that uses expensive high quality material based on simple rules of demand and can thus charge whatever they please for it. I’m sure if you look into how much they are paying in overheads & contributing to a progressive economy you would reconsider before throwing forth a bravo at them being openly slandered.

    5- If Martha Stewart does it & it’s projected on Hostess With The Mostess it’s a wow factor but if our country adapts the culture of stylizing birthdays it’s a call to the conscious- in that case paying PKR 550 a pound for a cake should also ring some alarm bells. (Btw Pie in The Sky Charges PKR 700 per pound)

    Parents don’t become bad parents just because they can afford to give their children more variety than what we had growing up in the same city. Throwing a birthday bash does not seal the fate of a child’s upbringing, their schooling, home value system, international nanny service, social gathering & exposure to media all play a role too I’m sure.

    In a world where it is OK to spend a fortune on transport, education & fashion why target a small progressive industry where on every event you dish out employment, pay taxes and contribute to progress (joining global trends on ‘demand’). Why not target the wedding industry or charity balls (event management firms earn far more from these by investing far less in themed details). If a growing fashion industry with bridal dresses costing over a million rupees is applauded in the name of growth then why is a new step towards a whole new creative industry being condemned? Specially since with it each & every event becomes an opportunity to ‘hundreds’ of skilled & even non-skilled labor forces & serves as a catalyst for business development for photographers, entertainment providers, crafters & catering businesses? I’m not even going to go into how many of these service providers are stay at home mothers who can now look after their children & fund a household at the same time- all thanks to the very people throwing these parties in the first place.Recommend

  • d
    Nov 6, 2013 - 9:17PM

    everything is being glamorized and valued based on the monetary value today. sadly after weddings, the birthday parties are the target now.

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  • Zahra
    Nov 6, 2013 - 10:04PM

    Although the event stylist is right in saying the entertainment industry provides employment and jobs to people which consists of weddings and parties and launches etc, I think @The Event Stylist , you’ve missed the whole point here which is excessive indulgence by people feeding tainted egos and the bourgeouis. Every child is innocent whether rich or poor, it just depends on how they’ve been brought up. Let me give you an example, when I was a little girl, another kid commented on how nice my car was and this girl spat ‘so what if she has a S class?! I have a Ferrari in London..’ We must have been 10 years old at the time and I didn’t even know the model of my dad’s car. A few years later, the same girl said ‘Zahra lets not go to Ayesha’s house, dad said you shouldn’t visit people who live in apartments.”
    I wasn’t fed this kind of nonsense by my God loving parents so I don’t have the patience to deal with those who are. Excessive parties where children are taught that their strength is in their money actually leaves the kid with no personality, so bring up your kids wisely and fear God.

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  • Mona Bashir
    Nov 10, 2013 - 10:13PM

    There has always been a class difference, I was hoping that the bridge was getting small. I understand that event planners, cake makers & party providers that this is a business. I am directing this to the parents that use these services by all means support these services as it helps create jobs but as parents also take your children to an improvised area & there are many in Karachi and show your children how some children born on the other side do not have such benefits. Give some child a moment of joy by a cash donation to give them relief for a small time from the daily miserable life they face. Such a lesson rupees cannot buy!

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