Mega Mall Helps Pakistanis Escape Pressures Of Everyday Life

Islamabad's a pretty quiet place at night. That's no big surprise in a capital full of forts and road blocks. But that's not the case at the city's latest landmark, the Centaurus Mall, where Pakistanis, young and old, flock to a place that feels far removed from the problems of Islamabad.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We occasionally get postcards from our international correspondents who report and live in various spots around the world. NPR's Philip Reeves is based in Pakistan where violence has killed tens of thousands of people in recent years. Philips says some in the capital, Islamabad, to find ways to escape the pressure.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Islamabad can sometimes seem surprisingly tranquil. My house is a short drive from Parliament and the Supreme Court. The foothills of the Himalayas aren't so far away.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

REEVES: This is what the garden sounds like at sunset.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

REEVES: It feels like utopia here, until you peer over the spikes on the garden wall and see the armed security guards outside every home.

Over the years, bombings and shootings have turned Islamabad into a city of forts and roadblocks. Yet, behind the razor wire, there's more going on than you'd think.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

REEVES: Step, for a moment, into the Centaurus Mega Mall.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

REEVES: The mall is part of a giant complex that's recently sprung up in Islamabad, with the help of Saudi Arabian investors and a Chinese construction company. Its three towers look like gigantic cigarette lighters, rearing high into the sky. You'd think 8:30 on a Sunday evening is a quiet time.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

REEVES: But this mall is hopping. Pakistanis old and young are here browsing the latest fashions, photographing each other by the marble fountains and perching at little tables, munching burgers or Chinese takeaways. The outside world seems a long way away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND CROWD CHATTER)

REEVES: This place has a TGI Fridays. Waiters in red and white uniforms serve nachos and potato skins. There's a glimmer of reality when the lights suddenly go out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHRILL WHOOPS)

REEVES: Power outages happen all the time in Pakistan. In this world, though, .generators kick in faster than you can say strawberry smoothie.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

REEVES: In the cineplex, people are waiting to see an action thriller called "Waar." "Waar" is Pakistan's most successful movie in years. There are reports the Pakistani military helped fund it, though the makers deny this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

REEVES: The storyline's about how - at great personal cost - Pakistan's security forces are heroically waging war against terrorism. The Jingoistic world within this movie is straightforward: Pakistan is the victim of terrorism masterminded by fiendishly clever secret agents from neighboring India. The Taliban don't come off well either. One of them appears on screen...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WAAR")

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE CHATTER)

REEVES: A bullet thuds into his chest...

Good shot, shouts someone in the audience. But movies aren't the real world, are they? And nor, really, are malls. Reality isn't bright and shiny and clear-cut, especially in Pakistan.

I guess that's why people come to this mega mall - to escape for an hour or two...

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING AND HAND CLAPPING)

REEVES: ...with the help of the waiters at TGI Fridays - who every now and then - break into a dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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