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Across the border

The return of Salmaan Taseer's abducted son gives Pakistan another ray of hope

The young businessman is recovered after five years in captivity, the week after his father's assassin was executed.

The best news coming out of Pakistan this week was about the recovery on Tuesday of Shahbaz Taseer, the abducted son of slain Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. The businessman, in his early thirties, had been taken captive in August 2011 as he drove to his office in Lahore.

The family had already been under tremendous strain since Salmaan Taseer’s assassination in January 2011 at the hands of his official bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri for alleged blasphemy. Qadri, who threw down the murder weapon and surrendered to the other guards, had been booked for murder and convicted. He was hanged on February 29, 2016.

The news of the hanging elicited anger among religious conservatives for whom Qadri had become a poster-boy. But Pakistan’s progressive groups welcomed the move, some unconditionally exuberant and others with reservations about the issue of capital punishment.

There was, however, agreement among progressives that the execution symbolised Pakistan’s move away from the culture of impunity that prevails particularly whenever a crime is committed in the name of religion. This was the first time that the courts had upheld punishment for a blasphemy murderer.

Shahbaz’s younger brother Shehryar Taseer had tweeted:

Some reservations

In an analysis published on the progressive blog Pak Tea House the day before Taseer was recovered, Imran Ahmed Khan wrote about the need for an honest dialogue in Pakistan to introspect about who committed blasphemy after all: "Taseer, who asked for an end to the misuse of the law? Or Qadri, who violated the law and took it in his own hands to protect the same law?”

The joy at Taseer’s recovery is tempered by the continuing absence of another high-profile kidnap victim, Ali Haider Gilani the son of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, abducted from Multan in May, 2013, outside a Pakistan People’s Party office before the general elections that year.

Gilani has congratulated the Taseer family on their good news and called for the security agencies to also take measures to recover his son about whom there is no news.

After Taseer’s abduction, there was speculation that the action was due to a business rivalry or an unpaid debt. As often happens with kidnap victims in Pakistan where criminal mafias have links with militant groups, the original kidnappers were believed to have sold or passed him on to another group. At various points, there were reports that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had demanded Rs 500 million to Rs 2 billion for his release, that a group in Waziristan negotiating the release of Qadri and other prisoners held him, and that he had been killed in a drone strike.

News about his recovery began filtering out on March 8, barely a week after Qadri’s hanging. His family has undergone nearly five years of uncertainty and trauma. He had been married barely a year earlier. His wife Maheen Taseer, as well as his siblings and mother Aamna captured the imagination of many with their tweets remembering him and praying for his release.

Mysterious conclusion

At session of the Pakistan Senate, People’s Party Senator Sherry Rehman, a friend of Taseer’s mother Aamna, asked the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan about the rumour. Briefing Senate about Pakistan’s counter-terrorism National Action Plan, Khan confirmed the news, which Rehman promptly tweeted.

In the absence of any comment from his family as yet, the circumstances around Taseer’s recovery remain as mysterious as his abduction.

The Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations issued a press release saying that the intelligence agencies recovered Shahbaz Taseer from Kuchlak district, some 25 kilometres north of Quetta, Balochistan. The area still has a heavy population of Afghan refugees and is known for its Taliban sympathies.

Aitzaz Goraya, the head of the Counter-Terrorism Department, Balochistan, told reporters that on a tip-off, intelligence forces and police went to a compound in Kuchlak that they surrounded and raided it. “We didn’t find anyone,” said Goraya. “A single person was there and he told us my name is Shahbaz and my father’s name is Salmaan Taseer.”

However, according to other reports, the kidnappers, under pressure from the military offensive, abandoned the place where they had held Shahbaz Taseer leaving him free to go. He walked to a small roadside restaurant, Saleem Hotel at Kuchlak.

The restaurant owner told reporters that a man in grey shalwar kurta, with an overgrown beard and long hair, ordered food and tea. He then asked to use a phone, but the establishment didn’t have one. The man paid his bill of Rs.350 and went out to find a phone. Shortly afterwards, security personnel arrived and took him away.

Shahbaz Taseer was taken to the Civil and Military Hospital in Quetta for a full medical checkup and found to be in good health and stable.

Major General Asim Bajwa released the first photos of Taseer after his being recovered.

“There is too much confusion about his recovery,” said political analyst and former director general Pakistan Radio Murtaza Solangi, a senior journalist who now works for a private TV channel. “No encounter. No arrests. Whatever the facts, it doesn’t arrest my joy. Qadri goes to hell. Shahbaz comes out of it.”

Even as Pakistanis erupted with joy at the good news, some journalists tried to speculate, based on the long beard and hair, that Taseer had gone over the “the other side”.

These speculation was soon put paid by Major Gen. Asim Bajwa’s pictures of him the following day, shaved and wearing a t-shirt and trousers.

Slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s daughter, rap singer Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari used emojis of a Pakistan flag and heart in her tweet.

For Pakistanis starved for good news, Shahbaz Taseer’s recovery was the third major event to cheer about within a week, following on the heels of documentary fimmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s second Oscar win, justice served with the hanging of Qadri, and now, the son of an assassinated blasphemy victim reunited with his family.

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What goes into creating an uber-luxurious home in India? We ask the experts

There is surprising consensus among experts on the main elements of luxury in architecture.

Luxury living conjures an idea of opulence and excess, but is increasingly becoming more about seeing design as a solution, form following function, and innovation. Our panel of experts sheds light on what constitutes luxury in an Indian home.

Response to context

Pallavi Choksi of Pinakin Design points out astutely that “Real luxury is the luxury to waste space, especially in a place like Bombay.” Her view finds resonance with Hadi Teherani, the much decorated German-Iranian architect. He says, “Luxury is first and foremost to have space, not just enough for what you need but enough space to really thrive. And luxury has always been defined that way.”

But is space all there is to a luxury home? Location or context also plays an important role.

“Context is very important”, says Rajiv Saini, who runs one of India’s leading design practices and specializes in high-end luxury projects. “Volume, air and purity of space all come into play—if it is in the hills or in the plains.” So, the location of the property and the way the house responds to it is equally crucial.

Hiren Patel, of Hiren Patel Architects agrees. He laments, “We live in a temperature controlled cocoon with artificial lighting and for these comforts we have lost our connection with nature.” The work he looks up to is of Charles Correa and Geoffrey Bawa, architects whose design brought the environment in. “Charles Correa—his design was climate adaptive and absolutely connected to nature. And he still brought in luxurious touches with open terraces. And Geoffrey Bawa—he added the aspect of landscape and took us back to the pastoral.”

Hadi Teherani reiterates the idea of context. In his Mumbai-based luxury project, the Lodha Altamount, he has chosen to respond to Mumbai’s graph-like skyline. “The design of Altamount was strongly influenced by its location. Next to Altamount stands a luxury highlight of architecture, the Ambani tower, the most expensive home in the world. How do you want to top that? The Ambani tower is very structural. It shoots through the air, it combines all sorts of crafts and structural design elements with gaps and open spaces. You can’t top that and definitely not with our type of design. That’s why we decided to hold back and instead develop a dark and sleek building. That type of building doesn’t exist a lot here in India. Usually buildings have many structural elements like beams and balconies. By creating a calm building in the skyline of Mumbai, we will make Altamount stand out.”

LODHA Altamount, Mumbai - image courtesy LODHA The Luxury Collection
LODHA Altamount, Mumbai - image courtesy LODHA The Luxury Collection

Going desi

Responsiveness to context can also be seen in the way architects and designers are trying to incorporate Indian designs or specific Indian requirements in their structures. There is a definite Indian palate that denotes neo-luxury even as we get more globalized. Our homes reflect our identity, regional or national, and there are multiple ways of getting it right.

Pallavi Choksi at Pinakin Design LLP explains, “The difference is in layout design because often times you have more than one generation living in one house, so the major difference comes from family structure.”

Luxury living spaces are also defined by non-material considerations. Hadi Teherani tells us, “What I do experience is that many projects are influenced by religious thoughts and by Vaastu, something like Feng shui. So the master bedroom has to be in the south-west and the kitchen has to have a certain location. Those rules need to be followed exactly. In Mumbai, it’s a little more liberal but in other regions, Hyderabad for instance, every centimetre has to be exact as per Vaastu.”

Functional design

Common wisdom holds that functionality is the foundation stone of design today. But is it still true for luxury design which has come to be associated with the need to stand out rather than be useful? And by that virtue, is there a threat of functional design losing the sheen of luxury by its simplicity?

Rajat Sodhi, the director of the architecture and design practice Orproject, counters, “Functionality has become a misnomer for ‘cheap’. You can build a w/c for a minimum cost and as the functions offered with it increase, so does the cost.” Function and luxury go hand in hand. “Sensibility in design is what makes the difference, between functional and luxurious.” Kota Stone is the cheapest stone available, but if you reinterpret it, use it with inlay work, it can be a bespoke luxurious experience.

Uncharted territory

So how will luxury architecture in India shape up in the years to come? Mridula Sharma, Editor-in-Chief at Decoration International Magazine observes, “Luxury has moved over from Italian marble and imported fixtures and has become about how you are redefining Indian things. Something smart, Indian, and contemporary with a strong concept behind it—that’s luxury”.

But perhaps there is still much to be explored in the space of luxury homes in India. Hadi Teherani says, “The idea of really designing your bathroom or kitchen has not yet reached India. Bathrooms are still rather compact and practical since the idea of spending quality time in your bathroom doesn’t seem to exist yet. Customers definitely do not request a spacious bathroom when we discuss their projects. For me, personally, a great bathroom is extremely important, as it is the first thing you use in the morning. Afterwards you go to work, and you come back home. But I believe the areas that you use most need to have enough space for you to move and thrive in.”

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This article was produced on behalf of Lodha Luxury by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff

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