Sunday, February 7, 2010

Safed dupatta malmal ka...

Last week when I walked over to my neighbour’s wearing legwarmers over a pair of track pants, I realised how much I had changed in the two years that I had been in Pakistan.

I spent my very first week in the “markeeets of Slamabad” (that’s how most locals pronounce it) shopping for clothes that would make me look holy. I was told that my longish kurtis worn over denims were not good enough. I needed to do more to “merge with locals”, “not stand out and invite trouble” and to “respect Pakistani culture”.

When I frowned and fretted, I was given examples of foreigners who had taken to wearing shalwar-kurtas. I was even introduced to this nice-looking sexagenarian who visited India regularly to shop for shalwar-kurtas. “I don’t get my size here,” she told me.

I didn’t either. I had to go through the painful exercise of getting clothes stitched and then buying humongous white dupattas to cover myself knee-up.

When my husband first saw me in my new attire, he remarked: “You look like a Pakistani!” I sulked, because that didn’t quite sound like a compliment.

I found a role model in my domestic help, and I would step out of the house, just like her, with my head covered with a white dupatta, sometimes just my eyes showing. I would ignore the whistling/singing of private guards posted on our street and take the insistent honking/sudden sharp U-turns by men on Yamahas in my stride.

I remember once I forgot to wear the dupatta and my husband and I returned home in a rush to collect it. Soon I got so used to wearing the 2.5-yard cloth that I would grab it before answering the door and felt strange when friends asked me to take it off in their homes.

Over the months, as I settled in I noticed that hardly any Pakistani woman I met was wrapped knee-up in a dupatta. The only people who were wearing shalwar-kurtas were foreigners (Indians included) or domestic helps. So did I have to cover myself up?

On my first trip back to India, my sister got goose-bumps when she received me at the airport all wrapped up in white. My sister hated the “white thing” and would not let me wear it in Delhi.

When I returned, I felt quite a fake donning the dupatta again. So I decided to dump it for good. I still get stares, I still get jokingly told that the Taliban will come and get me, but I don’t care. For now, it’s fun being my unholy self in Slamabad.


  1. Dupattas are pretty common in India too and especially among Muslims, but even among Hindus - they're probably shorter and not 2.5 yds long, but still almost always there. I guess you're just not used to them.

  2. Hi Taha,

    You're right its 2.5 m and not 2.5 yards long. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Regarding dupattas, I am also talking about covering my head; and being wrapped knee-up -- some times even over a pair of jeans (which I didn't mention in the post).

    Just glad I don't do it anymore.

    Thanks for reading; I value your feedback.

  3. Connoisseur: poor yes, hole no :)

  4. Seeing Benazeer Bhutto and other women of Pakistan, I had been thinking that all women cover their whole body with their dupattas!

    I love reading your blog! Thanks. Thanks to Shashi Tahroor too for introducing you to us!

  5. Dupattas are nice, I wish they were culturally acceptable for men too. Even chaadars on men are becoming unpalatable among the young and at the workplace.

    You women are so lucky.

  6. Your writing has impressed me. It’s simple, clear and precise. I will definitely recommend you to my friends and family. Regards and good luck

    Batik Dupatta