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.

8 comments:

  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.

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  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.

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  3. Connoisseur: poor yes, hole no :)

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  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!

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  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.

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  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
    Thanks

    Batik Dupatta

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