Heritage & Culture

From Karachi, with love…


Shabina Qayyum and her husband Asad both work for the NHS as doctors – Shabina as a busy GP and Asad as a consultant ENT surgeon at Peterborough City Hospital. Peterborians may well remember Shabina from her time as Mayoress, alongside Mayor Alan Dowson, and her stunning collection of saris, which she wore to special events and ceremonies during her tenure. But those saris have a rich and special history stretching all the way back to Karachi in Pakistan – and they have been on an incredible journey!

Shabina QayyumYou and your husband both come from a family of doctors, don’t you?
Asad is one of the ENT consultants at our local hospital, and his father, Abdul Qayyum, was a very well- respected ENT professor in Pakistan. He received his training in the United Kingdom back in the 1950s, and he brought back those British values when he set up his own practice
and taught at a teaching hospital in Karachi. He was extremely elegant and had a taste for the finer things in life – the family still keeps a 1968 Mercedes Fintail parked in their driveway, and that love of classic cars is something else Asad has inherited!

How did your in-laws’ love for fine clothes and fashion evolve?
Asad’s mother, Dr Chand Qayyum, was not only a doctor but also a fashion icon of her time. My father-in-law would always spoil her whenever he went abroad, making sure to bring back the best saris for her. She loved dressing up and socialising, and he would even design saris for her using materials such as French chiffon ordered from places like Paris and China. They would sit in a small, bustling shop in Karachi’s market, carefully choosing the colours, dyes and designs for the saris. However, after Asad’s father passed away – when Asad was only 20 and still in medical school – their family’s lifestyle became simpler, and his mother diverted all her attention towards her three sons who she brought up, against many obstacles.

So how did these beautiful, antique saris find their way to you?
My mother-in-law never had a daughter, so I, as the eldest son’s wife, became close with her. We have a great relationship – and lots in common! During one of our yearly visits with the children, she took me to a room with a cupboard where she displayed her saris and said, “Now, I would love for you to keep these saris, I want to give them to you because I know that you would make the best use of them, and you’ll wear them and value the sentiments behind them.” I have photos of myself wearing the saris at Diwali festivals, and I had the opportunity to wear them during my time as Mayoress, as well – it’s a bit of history that I carry with me whenever I get the opportunity. In my role, I tried to make the most of being able to dress up by wearing her saris, which had such a rich heritage and were so well-preserved over the years to prevent tarnishing. The gold studs and sequins can lose their vibrancy over time, but these were double-sewn by hand to maintain those designs that her husband had sketched on paper, all those years ago. They were also double-coated to prevent oxidation and keep their rich gold colour. To preserve them further, I wrap them in a muslin cloth instead of using mothballs. I love how it’s all part of a bigger picture for Peterborough – the Mayor (Alan) is originally a lad from Teesside, and me, the Mayoress wearing saris from Karachi that were hand-painted in Paris! That’s what it’s all about – a celebration of culture and heritage.

And now you will presumably pass these on to your daughters or daughters-in-law one day
Yes, absolutely! We have four children: two daughters and two sons, and the saris are part of the beauty of our heritage as a family – and we do take a great interest in cultural art. Sharing this knowledge with our children helps them connect with their heritage in a positive way. We’re not just Muslims who follow a faith; we have a rich culture to share. Our collection includes calligraphic art and Islamic graphic arts by renowned painters from Pakistan, and we want our children to understand the history of these artists. Our home is filled with vibrant colours and treasured artworks, and our children love it!

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