The Story of Salwar Kameez & I
Conventionality skipped my household. It hopped over the multiple houses we changed, not even stopping to squat for a while. If I was breaking a fast (a rare event for the family members, save our cook), my father would sit across me explaining the law of diminishing marginal utility in relation to the number of glasses of water I was gulping down. If I re-arranged the furniture in my room and emailed a detailed account of the new setting to my mother, she would reply back with a long essay on Feng Shui. So when I told my father, it was about time I got some salwar kameez stitched, we discussed the effects of peer pressure and internal identity crisis on my dressing sense.
No, his intent wasn’t to save me from peer pressure as much as it was to keep me from wearing the pieces of garment he abhorred, wore only when he visited his father’s grave in Multan or on Eid if we happened to be in Pakistan, that too in his father’s memory. I never really found out why he disliked the garment so much. After all, Pakistanis all over the world think of freedom in relation to a light cotton salwar. I exaggerate a little. Okay, I exaggerate a lot. People don’t vouch for salwar so much anymore. In fact, it is now making a comeback after a few years of absence from the fashion arena. But this piece isn’t just about the conventional salwar kameez alone anyway. I’m my parent’s daughter, after all. Redundancy, my eighth grade teacher had written with a green sharpie fine point in the margins of my SOL essay. It still hurts. So does shopping for kurtas/kameezes. I haven’t figured out the difference yet.
All I know is that the long tunics that I buy off the rack are tricky. Saunter into a Sapphire or Khaadi outlet and tell me if you aren’t nauseated by the number and types of flowers creeping up the tunics. While the world embraces clean lines, we stick to vines, flowers and digitally printed images from Chinese gardens. A mumbo jumbo on our shirts! Shirts designed for rectangle cardboard boxes instead of real women with pear shaped bodies. Maybe it is just a handful of us in Pakistan, us hour glass, apple and pear shaped women.
And yet when I don even clothes with the right cuts, I still feel like a rabbit hopping around in a burlap sack rather than Mahira Khan on the sets of Humsafar. Not that I believe my beauty matches hers.
Perhaps her ease with the garb comes from years of practice for the only feeling I get is that of a rabbit in a burlap sack race when I don it. On most days, the shawl falters at first, then skids off my shoulder and wraps itself around my legs. I bend down to pick it up and then forget to pull down my shirt when I finally straighten up. I resume walking, my shirt flapping against my back, the lace smacking my knees. The light weight salwar moving like a flag swaying from left to right, plays peek-a-boo with my feet. I hop instead of tread, carrying out conversations with my father in my head. Why?
Perhaps, he wanted to save me from this harassment at the hands of the traditional garments for as long as he could.