Saturday, November 27, 2010

Burqas and Fashion

Recently, there was some discussion on Clarissa’s blog about clothing of (Muslim) women and whether they should be allowed to wear Islamic clothes in western countries.

I don’t really have to say anything about this issue, because I really haven’t made up my mind about it. On one hand, one can conclude that a burqa is a symptom of the oppression of women and banning its wearing brings some amount of freedom to their lives. One the other, it’s an infringement of individual liberty, and insensitivity towards a different cultural ethos.

What I’m reminded of instead is my tryst with burqas a few years back when I was staying in Hyderabad in a Muslim majority area. Almost all women in that area were always seen wearing a burqa and the men always with a beard and skullcaps.

I had always thought of burqas as an austere and simple article of clothing. I had always expected it to be a simple, black, unadorned gown designed to ‘protect’ the modesty of women. But it only took a few days for me to discover burqa fashion.

Burqas were not unadorned. They could be lined with lace, buttoned up or tied around, have frills, waves and falls. The younger women wore them tighter around the hips. Occasionally you even saw a dash of color at the sleeves, though that was rare. I even saw a burqa made totally from denim! You could also see that the whole range was present as far as what you wore beneath the burqa is concerned. You could see glimpses of saris, salwar-suits and even jeans and tops.

And now for something completely different.

I used to check emails at this cyber café across the street every evening. One evening there was a girl sitting in the kiosk next to me. She had some problem with her computer and asked me if I knew how to fix it. Normally, I’d have just fixed her problem and not even though twice about it. But in this case I got extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t know if my talking to this girl was appropriate or not!

5 comments:

  1. In grad school, the neighbor in my apartment building was this huge, bearded Muslim guy who was always visited by a large group of other bearded Mulsim guys in traditional Muslim attire (the name of which I don't know.) One day, I was getting ready for a date and the Muslim guy knocked on my door to ask if I had a screwdriver. As a single woman, I had an entire huge toolbox, which I gladly offered him.

    In twenty minutes, the guy came back. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm trying to assemble a writing table but it doesn't work. Could you help me?" So I proceeded into his apartment in my mini-skirt, very low-cut blouse and enormous heels, grabbed the tools and assembled the part he was struggling with. "If you ever need any help assembling furniture or stuff like that, feel free to ask," I said, flipped my hair and left. For some reason, this made me feel extremely good.

    Just felt like sharing this story. :-)

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  2. Liked Clarissa's comment more than your post. =)

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  3. @Clarissa: The joys of being a woman, eh? ;)

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  4. @Charu: Darn it, all my mehnat down the drain!

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