SWAT: “President Ayub Khan always bought four caps every time he visited Swat,” says Malak Aurangzeb, as he stands behind the counter of the cozy, packed interior of Swat Cap House. The room’s warmth could be attributed to the heaps of Swati caps lining the shelf, each neatly wrapped in plastic.
But Swat Cap House, which is as old as the state of Swat itself, does not only sell caps. From the ceiling hang rows of thick coats and sweaters for the biting cold. Three signs in Urdu hang above the counter: ‘Belt’, ‘Cap’ and ‘Jersey’. An old wooden mirror leans against the wall, as men critically look at their reflections, trying on different items.
Aurganzeb’s grandfather, Malak Abdul Malik, first opened the shop in Mingora the same year Miangul Abdul Wadood — also known as Badshah sahib— became the ruler of Swat.
“It was my grandfather who stitched the first cloak for Badshah sahib,” he shares with pride. The cloak, which is dark, collared and thick, eventually became adopted in the cultural dress of Swati elders.
A cap for Swat
After Badshah Sahib, Wali Miangul Jahanzeb became the ruler of Swat in 1949. By now Aurangzeb’s grandfather had passed on the mantle to his son and Aurangzeb’s father, Malak Fazal Karim Jan. The Wali asked Karim Jan to introduce an emblematic cap for the state.
“There was a Dir cap in Dir and the Chitrali cap in Chitral,” Aurganzeb says. “Why shouldn’t Swat have one too?”
After holding discussions and consulting the Wali, Karim Jan designed the Swati pakol. That particular design—a flat, circular cap with cloth folded in a trademark design in the middle— is now known as Swati pakol or cap, and is available in almost every colour.
“Once Wali Sahib approved it, it became famous among Swatis,” Jahanzeb adds.
Elders in Swat say that if Wali-e-Swat Miangul Jahanzeb wore something new, it would become an instant trend. “The Karakul cap was his favourite, and thus it was the favourite of his people,” says Haji Rasool Khan, an elderly man in the official machinery of Swat.
Before the pakol, the Wali used to wear a Karakul cap, which is designed similar to the Turkish fez, though slightly more angled and dark in colour. But once the ‘Swati cap’ was introduced, the Wali began wearing it to state events. He also made it a habit to gift Swati caps, as well as cloaks, shawls and woollen sweaters, to his guests and friends.
When Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaqat Ali Khan and his wife Rana attended the coronation ceremony of the last Wali, the prime minister was also gifted with the traditional Swati cloak and a Karakul cap.
Years later, when Queen Elizabeth II visited Swat in 1961, Karim Jan was summoned by the Wali once again.
“Wali-e-Swat had asked my father to make a Swati cap for women, and a unique purse for the royal guest,” Jahanzeb remembers. “My father immediately did so.”
When she arrived, Queen Elizabeth II was presented with an elegant cap and matching purse from the Swat Cap House.
Then there was the time when former president Ayub Khan visited the shop personally with the Wali to meet Aurangzeb’s father. Ayub Khan never failed to buy a new stock of pakols, and had thanked his father for his high quality work.
A favourite across the country
If Swati traditional garments, handicrafts, woolen shawls, caps, and embroidery are known for their quality and unique designs, it is because of the attention Swati rulers before 1969 gave to the industry. During their time, Swat Cap House became the official distributor of the state army’s uniforms, badges, and other official garments. These orders no longer come in, but with the sale of Swati caps and Karakuls, Aurangzeb says business is doing well.
The local headgear, for example, is still a popular favourite among Swatis. The pakol in particular is trendy among young men who consider it a token of pride. In winter, the Swati cap becomes fashionable for everyone. Orders for the caps pour in from all parts of Pakistan, and even from abroad. “Sometimes we can’t meet the market’s demands!” Aurangzeb says.
Zahoor Ali lives in Karachi but fondly remembers how is father’s friends in Swat would regularly send him a pakol. “My father liked it for its high quality and design,” he says. In winters, Zahoor prefers a Swati pakol for himself too.
Continuing the legacy
Aurangzeb holds up a duplicate of the purse his father designed for the Queen. “It was made at the same time,” he says. “We have kept it for memory’s sake.”
The room contains other similar tokens, all of which are emblems of Augranzeb’s family’s legacy. Proudly on display in the shop is an old green volume—the Encyclopaedia of Needlework by TH Dillmost, which Miangul Jahanzeb gifted to his father to honour their close relationship spanning generations.
Aurangzeb’s son, Mohammad Nawaz, has started working in the shop too and plans on continuing the family’s tradition of selling caps. “I am proud of my forefathers’ profession and I joined it happily.”
Nawaz says he feels proud of the various trinkets around the shop, which date all the way back his grandfather’s time. He has learned how to stitch the various garments and accessories, and plans on conferring the skill onto his sons as well. He is happy to pass on the legacy.