A Cloth That Binds

I don’t know about the rest of Pakistan, but Karachi is definitely becoming more polarized as far as religious and liberal ideologies are concerned. Nothing exemplifies this better than the womenfolk of Karachi- the hijabis/burqa walis vs the sleeveless walis. One quicker than the other to judge and condemn.

The so-called ‘progressive liberals’ look upon the hijabis as crude, backward, unsophisticated and unprogressive beings. They are forever judgmental of them and find their presence at exotic restaurants, the oh-so-selective kitty parties and top-notch boutiques, at odds with their high-class upbringing. They, myopically, regard the attendance of these ‘paindu hijabans’ at any intellectual gathering as an anomaly, and look upon them as brainless creatures that should largely be ignored. Subconsciously, they banish the ‘others’ from their world as if they were lepers.

Conversely, these beacons of morality, the hijabis, are often condemning anyone not like them to the pits of hell. Too western, too modern, too ‘out there’ is how they define these liberal women. They gawk (much more than their male counterparts) at the ‘nanga pana’ of the fellow women. They hold the ‘independent biggri hui khawateen’ as the root cause of the collapse of an otherwise, beautifully functioning Islamic society. They don’t give anyone a chance, unless that anyone is willing to embrace their way of life and nothing else.

So, what amazes me most is that two sets of women, who are so mutually exclusive and who would not be caught dead in the company of the other, unless it is to preach or liberalize or to convert one way or another, should become so much like each other when thrown together in a ‘lawn’ cloth exhibition.

How a lawn exhibition makes everyone equally bereft of any civic sense is quite beautiful. As one gets jostled, it’s quite refreshing to see that the arm from the left is a ‘sleeveless wali ka’ and the one from the right is a ‘burqa wali ka’. That no amount of modern or religious training is going to keep these women from pushing, shoving, bitching and fighting for the last remaining paisley-printed, yellow and pink two-piece suit.

The ultimate sight to behold is the unity with which they all push together against the salesman’s table until he is backed into the pile of cloth, and ultimately, cornered into listening to all of them at the same time. Their collective strength and determination is remarkable indeed.

Attempts are made to break the queue. Bodies press close as everyone inches forward to pay for this most sought after merchandise. One occasionally gets pushed into the people standing ahead, who turn around and glare as if a cardinal sin has been committed. And once again, everyone is an accomplice- the crude, the refined; the backward, the progressive; the hijabi, the modern.

This reunion and togetherness of womanhood ends as soon as the Exit Sign nears. The Chanel sunglasses so far perched on the head are brought down; the niqab is pulled tightly across the face; the judgmental looks return. Cars approach. Doors are slammed shut- forever blocking out the other, or at least till the next lawn exhibition, when everyone becomes an accomplice again.

Who am I to write this? Someone who would never be accepted into either world.

One thought on “A Cloth That Binds”

  1. interesting insight. us guys are only bewildered at the thought of the growing trend of these lawn exhibitions but you have brought a nice angle to it without letting yourself be dragged into the judging game. its so ironic that just like you mention that these two groups are mutually exclusive but at the same time you would often see them living in the same house in the form of amma/beti

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