It takes balls to run a French restaurant in Islamabad. It takes bigger balls to run it by serving wine-cooked French food which includes non-halal meat and even pork. However, what takes the biggest of them all is to expressly forbid Pakistanis from eating there in the capital of their own nation.
The restaurant La Maison, run by Philippe Lafforgue, has now been shut down after a police raid because of its policies. However, Lafforgue’s explanation for his policies is not all that outlandish. In fact, viewed rationally it comes across as respectful of the local religious and cultural sensibilities in its own peculiar way.
In a letter to Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida, whose tweets about the restaurant and its policy of banning Pakistanis sparked an outrage, Lafforgue said, “I am telling you it is impossible to open a place to the public when we serve food non halal. I cannot change the recipes of French food. So we will stand on our policies. Everybody is welcome even Pakistani people with a dual nationality. I don’t want to hurt the sensitivity of Muslim people. What you call discrimination, I call it respect.”
Using the hash tag NoToApartheid Almedia has been campaigning against the restaurant. The campaign prompted the police to raid the restaurant which was run out of the owner’s home. Illegal liquor was seized. What a surprise that liquor was found in a French restaurant!
This story has the feel of a Mel Brooks plot and I would not be surprised if someone actually makes it into a movie. The whole idea of a true blue Pakistani calling a true blue Frenchman to make a reservation is potentially hilarious in itself. The phone call may go something like this. (I know no French at all. I have used Google Translate. I can’t write Urdu but understand fairly well. The script here is Hindustani):
Lafforgue: Bonjour, c’est La Maison
The caller: “यार वोह क्या कहते हैं?…Je veux réserver une table pour cinq. आज रात को. ”
Lafforgue: J’ai besoin de votre passeport
The caller: “येह क्या बोल रहा है? लगता है चीज़ खा रहा है. मैं कह रहा हूँ आज रात टेबल चाहिदा है मेनू.”
Lafforgue: Oh, le menu nous avons porc Normandie
The caller: जनाब, or zh naab in French, I want to make a reservation for tonight for five. Why are you asking me for my passport? Is your restaurant in Paris or Islamabad?
Lafforgue:Il est à Islamabad mais nous ne permettons pas des Pakistanais.
The caller (slamming the phone): ओह, बेंचो, What the fuck?
The next thing you know is that there is a street protest.