For any self respecting Pathan, the proud people of Pakistan’s North West Frontier province, the Peshawari chappal, which is more a sandal than a slipper is the only footwear he wants to be seen in.
The chappal, glamorised in the 80’s by Imran Khan, who wore it over jeans as well, is the standard footwear that many Pakistani men wear with their shalwar qameez, the national dress. But the Peshawari chappal has evolved over the years from the rugged hard leather version that was once popular to softer suede numbers that can be bought at boutique shops all over the country.
An original Peshawari chappal must be made of hard leather which the wearer then breaks into, say its afficionadoes. This may mean months of swollen and cut feet as the wearer adjust to his new chappals.
One master craftsman, Dildar Khan, says that the real Chappal should have soles shaped out of cut truck tyres. These chappals are usually worn by the owner for at least ten years, such is their durability.
What is interesting is that while the original chappals were made in the Frontier province, now the best such chappals are available from a market in Nazimabad, a suburb of Karachi.
Craftsmen like Dildar Khan migrated several years ago from his native village in Swat Valley of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to Karachi as they say the demand here was higher.
One reason why demand here is higher is because the number of Pakhtoon speaking persons (Pathans) in Karachi now exceeds the number in Peshawar. With the change of demographics in Karachi, customer tastes and demands also follow suit.
But it is not the Pathans who throng the Peshawari chappal market in Nazimabad, there are many others who come here because they feel that such footwear is the in thing to wear in the forthcoming Eid. Despite the current lull in business, many shopkeepers are hoping for a rise in demand prior to Eid.
The cost of both leather and rubber has gone up in the past year so a chappal that was once sold for Rs. 300 will now retail for Rs. 400. But they are a bargain as the hand made beauties usually outlast the wearer.
A shopkeeper claimed that the owner will throw out the slippers after a couple of years, but the “Peshawari chappal is built to last. Just like steel.”