It's some intangible magic that only women seem to understand, going by the enthusiastic response of the fairer sex at the Lifestyle Pakistan exhibition currently underway at Pragati Maidan, the convention ground responsible for much of the Capital's traffic woes.
Even as New Delhi announced new steps to deepen bilateral trade with Pakistan, including a landmark decision to allow foreign direct investment from the western neighbour, a small sliver of what will be brought in by such trade was on display as more than 600 businessmen from Pakistan exhibited their wares.
Textiles dominated the show. Summer garments made using fine lawn cloth (using special cotton from the US and Egypt), sarees and women's garments attracted the most visitors. There was also fine jewellery, sculpted marble, perfumes and pricey designer furniture with brass and mother-ofpearl inlay work.
Outside the packed Gul Ahmed textile store, a popular garment retailer and export house in Pakistan with more than $300 million in annual sales, director Ziad Bashir is confident of the demand for his products in India. "My products are already selling here - I just don't know how. I saw my products in our own packaging in Chandni Chowk and Greater Kailash. It is selling at three times our price," he says, laughing.
Bashir is hinting at what is apparently a thriving illegal market for certain kinds of Pakistani garments in India. "The illegal trade of Pakistani goods in India is several times that of the legitimate trade," said Amin Hashwani, president of the Pakistan-India CEO's forum. Annual bilateral trade between the countries is worth $2.5 billion.
Serious Business Moves Underway
About 80% of that is Indian exports to Pakistan. The engagement is shallow. In comparison, India's total exports during 2011-12 were $300 billion.
"India should recognise this and promote trade through the legal route. It's good for us, and it will benefit India also by way of taxes," Bashir said.
But for the scion of the Gul Ahmed business empire, the real surprise has been the quality of Indian garments.
"I came here looking at India as an export market. But now I feel I can make a killing by buying Indian garments and selling in Pakistan. The range and quality of Indian textiles is vastly superior to Pakistan's. We have our strengths, but in some areas, you guys are way ahead," he says, with the distinct enthusiasm of a businessman who has spotted an opportunity ahead of others.
At the store of Kayseria, a brand that belongs to the Sefam Group, a fusion remix of the Rajasthani folk song Kesariya Balam is playing.
It's a version the brand commissioned for a fashion show overseas. "People have been asking me what is different in India ever since I came here. And I tell them there is more in common than there are differences," said Omer Chaudry, general manager of Leisure Club, one of Sefam Group's several retail formats.
"It's not at all like what we expected. People here are really friendly." It's a refrain you hear often from Pakistani visitors.
"People here are so nice and lovable," said Afsan Mahmood, who is managing Indesign, a designer furniture store where a chair costs upwards of Rs1.2 lakh. "We are very popular in Lahore. But we haven't had any sales here so far. People say they find it expensive. I'm hoping things would be different on the weekend," he said.
Amidst the general sense of discovery and bonhomie, some serious business moves are underway. Sefam Group has announced plans to open 200 franchisee outlets in India in the next five years.
Gul Ahmed wants to open 20 stores in two years. "These are early days. But now the political will seems to be there. If the momentum continues, both countries will benefit," Hashwani said.