We met Mehmal a few months after we moved to Pakistan. I liked the way she held her own in a roomful of men and didn’t keep pulling at her headscarf self-consciously.
The only time I have seen Mehmal without her trademark scarf is in a Facebook picture where she poses in a rainbow wig grinning ear-to-ear: “This is why I cover my head!”
When we were to meet Mehmal in Lahore, her hometown, I decided to carry my safed malmal ka dupatta along – just in case! Much like a famous Hermes scarf-wearer, my dupatta kept sliding off my head and I kept tugging at it as our very gracious hostess showed us her town.
By the time she dropped us back it was past midnight and as I tucked in I concluded that hijab need not be a restraining force.
The next day when Mehmal came to pick us up I did not bother with my dupatta. There was no point faking it. Also, by then, I was sure that she wouldn’t have been impressed this way or that.
Having known Mehmal for about four years, I am certain that a hijab/headscarf is not necessarily stifling. However, I am not so sure if a hijab/headscarf serves its other more popular and basic function – distracting the male gaze – just as well.
I think not – in Mehmal’s case, at least. Blame it on her beauty or her brains the scarf makes her more visible than many non-hijabi women and, if I may say so, a piece de resistance!
What say Mehmal?