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.