Monday, June 25, 2012

Let's Praise Beer from Murree: Pankaj Udhas

Drinking beer in Pakistan is hard and easy. Depending on your status vis a vis religion and how reliable your bootlegger is.  Put it this way I never lacked for a cold beer in my many years of living in the land of the Pure. But then again I had connections who could deliver a case of San Miguel or Heineken for only slightly outrageous prices.

If you wanted to get your hands on some of the local brew, Murree Beer, you had to have a 'permit' and sheepishly meet up with an angry looking flunky at the (then) Marriott hotel who would disgustingly issue you a hand written chit to take to another room where you could get your 6 or 12 bottles a month.

I was tickled to find this article in the local Melbourne paper today about the invisible much maligned but essential Murree Brewery.

A Raj-era oddity in a Muslim country of non-drinkers is 
hoping to sell its prized beer to foreigners.
In the land of shifting contradictions that is Pakistan, there are few more unusual or enduring than the Murree Brewery.
In an Islamic nation growing steadily more conservative, and where 97 per cent of the population cannot drink legally, Murree Brewery thrives and Pakistanis are proud of their Raj-era oddity.

This is the oldest continuing industrial enterprise in Pakistan, and one of the subcontinent's first public companies. The brewery was founded in the northern hill station town of Murree in 1860 by two Englishmen. Brewed to slake the thirst of British soldiers, the beer found a grateful market and won its first award, a medal of excellence at the Philadelphia Exhibition, in 1876.

The brewery moved to the garrison city of Rawalpindi in 1910 and business boomed until 1977, when prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol in an effort to court Pakistan's conservative Muslim vote.
Two years later, a court ruled Bhutto's law breached the rights of minorities and the production line clinked into life again.
This year, Murree has gained an export licence. But the brewer has been sent into the international beer market with a serious handicap: it can export to non-Muslim countries only. Iran and Afghanistan were its likeliest markets but it is seeking a foothold in India and China.

''It can be lonely being a brewer in Pakistan,'' said chief executive Isphanyar Bhandara. ''We are excluded from international trade, because people are afraid to do business in a country associated with the Taliban, and the people here in Pakistan, they don't like to have business with us, because of the [religious] extremist situation.''
Only foreigners with a permit, those with a medical certificate and Pakistan's tiny non-Muslim population (about 3 per cent of 190 million people) are allowed to drink alcohol.

Religious hardliners use alcohol as a powerful political weapon. Before he was assassinated last year, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was condemned for his lifestyle after pictures of him drinking wine at dinner were circulated.
But that 97 per cent figure is not set in stone. Most Pakistanis, particularly those who speak English and live in the major cities, are regular drinkers. In rural villages, spirits brewed from tree bark or sugar cane are popular.
The country's leaders, too, are known to enjoy a tipple. President Asif Ali Zardari is said to be fond of a drink. His predecessor, military dictator Pervez Musharraf, drank blue-label whiskey.

Tucked in behind the heavily fortified house of Pakistan's chief of army, parts of Murree Brewery appear transported from Edwardian England and in one building, stacked neatly against a whitewashed wall, are about 100 bags of barley, each stamped ''Produce of Western Australia''.

''Murree Brewery's desire is to show the international community that Pakistan doesn't have to be known as a country that exports terrorism,'' Mr Bhandara says, ''that this can be a country that exports beer.''

And so in happy recollection I've attached a nice collection of the ultimate sharabi ghazals by Pankaj Udhas, the King of  popular ghazals, who though from across the border in India, is well loved by all beer drinking Pakistanis.  For those of you who are not yet familiar with Pankaj Udhas, this man's music is the ultimate South Asian party music. If you are a middle aged man who is stressed out at home, a frustrated poet, a failed Romeo or all three.  No hip hop here. Just a strong voice, lively arrangements and heartfelt lamentations on the cruelty of women and the loveliness of wine!

Track Listing (disc 1)

01 Chandi Jaisa Rang
02 Hasta Chehra
03 Jheel Mein Chaand Nazar Aaye
04 Oh Saahiba
05 Ahista
06 Ankhon Mein
07 Aap Jinke Qareeb Hote Hain
08 Thodi Thodi Piya Karo
09 Deewaron Se Milkar Rona
10 Niklo Na Benaqab

Track Listing (disc 2)
01 Ek Taraf Uska Ghar
02 La Pila De Saqiya
03 Ishq Insaan Ki Zaroorat Hai
04 Sharab Cheez Hi Aisi
05 Karvaten Badal Badal
06 Sabko Maloom Hai
07 Paimane Toot Gaye
08 Kabhi Maikhane Tak
09 Sach Bolta Hoon Main
10 Ghungroo Toot Gaye


Apurva Bahadur said...

Cheers to Ajnabi for coming up with so many esoteric themes and connecting them to albums of apt music. Many thanks! Apurva from Pune, India

John Klovt said...

We Offers Discount Rates on Hotels Booking In Muree, Ayubia, Kashmir Point, Nathia Gali, Patriata (New Murree), Pindi Point. Call Now: +92-300-8118147

Murree Hotels Booking