Pakistani bagpipe business a throwback to colonial times



THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published — Sunday 5 May 2013

Last update 5 May 2013 4:35 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

When it came time for a musical demonstration of the bagpipe maker’s finest product, the player wasn’t wearing traditional Scottish highland dress but rather Pakistan’s national outfit, a salwar kameez and sandals.
The piper produced a wince-inducing series of squalls and sharp honking sounds. “He needs more lung power,” joked Naeem Akhtar, chief executive of Halifax and Co., a musical instrument maker in this manufacturing city in northeastern Pakistan.
Bagpipe playing is largely a lost art in Pakistan, a remnant of its colonial past, but bagpipe manufacturing is not. Sialkot claims to be the largest exporter of bagpipes outside of Scotland.
Halifax’s small factory makes musical instruments — African-style drums and Irish folk harps among them — and wholesales them to countries around the world, but it all began with bagpipes.
Thirty-eight years ago Akhtar’s father started making reeds for the bagpipes. It is a family affair; he has two sons who are already in the business.
The signature Scottish wind instrument harkens back to the country’s imperial past. Prior to 1948, Pakistan was a part of British India. British regiments stationed in Sialkot included soldiers’ bands that played bagpipes they had brought with them from Scotland.
To avoid the costly and time-consuming process of sending a broken instrument back to Scotland to be repaired, one British soldier brought his bagpipe to the local market where Akhtar’s father was working and asked if the artisan could fix it. One week later, in Akhtar’s telling, his father made an exact copy of the bagpipes and challenged the soldier to pick out which one was the original.
Bagpipes made in Scotland are expensive to produce and are geared toward professional bagpipers. The ones made in Pakistan cost far less and are marketed for tourists and casual bagpipe fans. Halifax also makes toy bagpipes for children.
Sialkot is a bustling manufacturing hub where the per capita income is reportedly nearly double the national per-capita income.
Akhtar and other businessmen say it is a model of privatization and entrepreneurial initiative.
Rather than relying on government funds, local businessmen joined together to construct an international airport that boasts 32 flights a week — three for cargo. Operating since 2007, it is the first international airport in the country built by private citizens and a measure meant to boost business.
Successful industries in the region include those that manufacture medical and surgical instruments, leather jackets, martial arts equipment, soccer balls and of course, bagpipes. The reeds are all made from cane imported from France. The tartan cloth is domestic Pakistani stock.
Today, 65 to 70 people work in the Halifax factory, which makes more than 200 different items.
It is smaller companies like this that may suffer most if there is a mass exodus of Western retailers doing business in the region as some fear. The Walt Disney Co. has instructed its vendors and licensees to begin transitioning out of “high risk countries” like Pakistan and Bangladesh over fears of unacceptably low safety standards.
Disney’s decision came as a result of a fire in Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi last September that killed 262 people and another fire in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, in which 112 people were killed.
Two weeks ago another devastating blow: A factory in Bangladesh collapsed and more than 500 bodies have been removed from the rubble so far. Dozens of people are still missing.
But Halifax proudly gave a tour of its facilities and insisted its workers are treated well.
The local factories have more jobs than employees, factory owners say, so they recruit in other communities and they train workers as young as age 15 to take up the trades.
“Everyone has money in Sialkot, even the factory workers,” CEO Akhtar said.
But daily power blackouts known as load-shedding have plagued factories for the past three years. Outages in the industrial city currently last about 16 hours a day and the increased costs have been bad for business owners. Once a price is listed in a catalog or agreed upon with a client, it’s impossible to raise prices, businessmen said, so factory owners absorb the estimated 10 percent profit loss from energy shortages.
“Everyone in the export business is facing the same problem,” Akhtar said.
There isn’t much demand for bagpipes here — the only players are ceremonial players in the Pakistani military or private band members that play at weddings or other occasions. The wedding players are all retired army men, he said.
The instruments Halifax makes are not meant for local markets, said Akhtar.
“You can’t buy bagpipes in Pakistan.”

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

ALKHOBAR: A power failure at the King Fahd Causeway on Wednesday night resulted in a massive traffic congestion, even as officials failed to explain the cause of the snag, local media reported.A power outage for 74 minutes on the link between the Kin...
JEDDAH: A female Saudi lawyer was able to get a stay order on a ruling by the general court in Jeddah that awarded custody of a two-year-old girl to her father. She successfully argued to get the court order reversed that gave custody back to the mot...
JEDDAH: The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) said that combating harassment cases is part of its responsibility to promote Islamic values and morals in society.“Those harassing women will be brought to book,” s...
RIYADH: A thick layer of sand covered the city’s skyline on Saturday with a heavy blanket of dust caused by strong winds hampering visibility and creating traffic snarls on busy roads.The traffic department advised motorists to drive slowly and exerc...
JEDDAH: More than 26 million Umrah pilgrims and worshippers visited the Grand Mosque during the month of Ramadan and in the first few days after Eid Al-Fitr, thanks to a smooth transport arrangement under the guidance of Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-...
AL-AHSA: An outbreak of lumpy skin disease (LSD) has been discovered in cattle in Al-Ahsa which is an area with many cows. All necessary measures have been taken to protect the livestock, said Mahmoud Al-Shuaibi of the Agriculture Department in Al-Ah...
RIYADH: An architectural masterpiece — the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center (KAHC) — in Riyadh is a huge complex dedicated solely to collecting, preserving, promoting and showcasing the history and heritage of Saudi Arabia. The KAHC is a three milli...
RIYADH: The Saudi Blind Society (Kafif) has made all preparations for the three-day workshop for the blind to be held here next week and attended by delegates from various Asian countries.Mohammed bin Suleiman Al-Shuwaiman, Kafif director general, th...
JEDDAH: The number of Saudis who took early retirement schemes last year stood at 38,647, the General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI) has said. The Eastern Provinces got the lion's share of disbursements for retirees, amounting to SR3.8 bill...
JEDDAH: Meat and poultry topped the list of food items seized by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) at the border crossings for violating the health standards in the last two months.Approximately 267,137 kg of unfit meat and poultry were reject...
JEDDAH: Many sponsors and workers of small companies are struggling to get a comparatively cheaper health cover for renewal of iqama (residential permit) as the insurance companies have stopped issuing the same.The passport department has made it com...
RIYADH: Police have detained 11 Indonesian nationals, who arrived in the holy city of Makkah for Umrah a few days back.The Indonesian Religious Affairs Ministry is working closely with the Indonesian Consulate in Jeddah to assist the group of citizen...
JEDDAH: The National Committee for Bakeries at the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC) said this Haj season would see no shortage in supplies of bakery items.The committee said there was need to increase operational labor by about 20 percent.It confirmed...
JEDDAH: Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Al Hamzi, director general of prisons, has sacked Brig. Ahmad Al Shahrani, director of Jeddah prisons, after the case of a video clip about prisoners taking heroin went viral, according to local media.Quoting informed source...
JEDDAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal met with leaders of security forces in the region on Thursday to discuss future plans and mechanisms to limit infiltrators from entering the holy sites via land passageways during Haj.During the meeting, he...

Stay Connected

Facebook