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Me and My Dupatta

I've just come back from visiting a lovely blog in Pakistan and it got me thinking.  The blogger Sheeza was discussing the dupatta, and it's significance in the life of  Pakistani women.  The dupatta, by the way, is the long scarf/veil which is worn with the shalwar suit. The shalwar suit is worn in Pakistan and north India, and has become popular throughout India.  I didn't grow  up wearing shalwar suits or dupattas but I adopted that dress when I came here in order to blend in.  I'm here to tell you that if I ever go back to live in Ireland, I don't know how I will go back to wearing western clothes.  The truth is, when it comes to dress, I'm completely converted to sub-continental style.  I could probably do without the sari (although I love it!)  but I don't know how I could do without my shalwar suit - nor the dupatta.  I can't leave home without it!  The dupatta, I mean

The jeans/kurti ensemble, which is an indo-western fusion, has become popular and I wear that too.  Technically, it can be worn without a dupatta.  But I need to carry at least a plain black dupatta when I go out.  I feel exposed if I don't.  Is that strange?

A few years ago, Yash and I travelled to Kolkata along with out children to meet my sister Pamela, who is an air hostess with an international airline.  Her visit was very short.  Just a day.  But we made the most of the limited time.  We took the children to the zoological gardens which were conveniently near the hotel where we were staying and hung out there for the day.  My sister is a very smart and elegant woman.  In those days she was in her late thirties but by some miracle of nature she looks much younger than that.  I was wearing my usual shalwar suit and of course Trish, my baby that time was conveniently strapped to my body.  But I couldn't help feeling a tad uncomfortable seeing my beautiful sister roaming about in jeans and a tight tee shirt.  I discreetly asked her would she not feel more comfortable with a scarf or some type of  light shawl.  She laughed out loud.  "You," she said, "have been living here for too long!"  The realisation hit me!  I've got an Asian mentality now!  In some respects at least.

Recently, the battery of my mobile wore out.  I can't live without my mobile, so I had to  get another battery.  As my husband Yash works in the next city and is seldom around during daylight hours, and as I don't like to bother my brother-in-law and his sons, I visited a couple of shops in the vicinity to see if I could get a new battery. I don't know why this is, but most of these shops were full of males, not a woman in sight. 
Presumeably, when ladies need work like this done, they get the male members of their family to do it.  Well, I didn't let that bother me.  But in one shop I visited, two gentleman of a certain community (the one which is known for covering its' females from head to toe) were sitting there and they stared at me so intently (disapproval of my shamelessness in entering an establishment full of males, probably!) that I could almost feel their eyes boring holes in my skin.  Then I did something I'd never done before in my life.  I discreetly slipped my dupatta up over my head and held the side of it over the front of my face.  I felt better instantly.

Well!  I suppose this means that I am converted to the dupatta.  I wouldn't be without it now!


  1. I mostly do not like reading blogs, instead I like seeing. But your blog is exceptional, revealing different lights of India. I too sometimes face this problem carrying my wife along. But as you must have noted by now, whenever I am with her, the problems are probably less than when I'm not with her.

    Personally, I don't feel odd when there's a lady around me without a dupatta. I'd like to see a time come in India when my wife and all ladies will feel more safe and comfortable without a dupatta.

    Indian Myna [मैना]

  2. I really enjoy reading about your life and how it's different from mine. I am always intrigued by the experiences of others. Your post today stirred up a great many feelings in me and I am afraid they were not all positive.

    I was bothered in particular by the last part where the behavior of the men in that shop could make you feel as if you needed to cover yourself even more than the already modest way you must have been dressed.

    While I think many American ways of dressing are outrageous and oppressive in their own way, ( As in young girls feeling a need to dress too sexy in order to be seen) I do like a culture where women hold equal status and can certainly shop for themselves.

    Three cheers for you for all the things you do on your own that most would feel they needed their father, husband, or brother to do for them. I am sure it can't be easy to go against tradition and still find a balance between respecting the customs of where you now call home and Ireland where you were raised.

    That said, I always try very hard to behave accordingly with respect to customs and dress when visiting other countries a task made easier by the fact that I am visiting and not there permanently.

    I hope I didn't rant too much and more importantly didn't offend you. It is just difficult for me to read about places in the world where women are made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable just by moving about in the world in the same way a man would. Custom or not it feels controlling and oppressive.

    It was really nice to see the comment of Bhavesh above. Younger generations may be ready for a change.

  3. Your post is always interesting to read !!There are some points which are always needed to give a thought,

  4. Fascinating! I know our time in the UK deepened in my certain habits, not of dress but other ideas that now living in America I have to shake my head and wonder WHY it's done that way.

  5. A very interesting post. I started to think about whether I had adopted any Turkish ways of dressing, and assumed I hadn't. But on second thoughts I realise that I have just taken for granted the fact that I don't go out without covering my shoulders. I'd never wear a vest top for example..and I always wear skirts way below my knees or I wear trousers. It's just a mark of respect really and because I've seen the looks and heard the comments from Turkish men and women when they see tourists wandering around shops dressed in bikinis and other skimpy outfits which are more suited to the beach, and highly inappropriate elsewhere. I actually wonder why holidaymakers think it's OK to dress like this when they wouldn't think it was OK to wander around M & S at home dressed in the same way. As one of your other commenters wrote "when in Rome..."

  6. Good for you! You found a great way of keeping your freedom and personal power and still being considerate and safe.

  7. It is a measure of cultural differences that takes place that an innocuous comment along with a birthday greeting that I left at the blog has been deleted. I wondered why till I realized that the blogger is a Pakistani lady and all the commentators are ladies there. Now staring - your experience is not unusual. Almost all Caucasian ladies in foreign parts do experience this as has been told to me by many. I think that it is actually wonder, or curiosity or more likely, unarticulated speculation!

  8. No, I don't think it's strange....I feel the same, and take one everywhere....

  9. Most of my friends use it just to protect their faces from the sun. From social convention, it has transcended to its basic utilitarian value in most of modern India.

    I also find it surprising that you'd have a flicker of hesitancy before going to buy mobile batteries. Afterall, most of the shops have a male dominant sales force.

    Atleast with the sari a woman doesnt need to cover her head. Even in such situations.

  10. It is intriguing to discover your blog, Gaelikaa. I'm an Irish-Canadian living in Canada but have friends who have visisted India and my nephew has just graduated with his master's two days ago from London School of Economics. He did his thesis on the history of nationalism in India and visited there to do research last Spring. There is a Canadian band I saw at a folk festival this summer that my interest you: promo video on youtube, as well. I love their sound and they brought down the tent at the folk festival. Happy holly days and all the best in 2010...

  11. I enjoy your insights into Indian culture. Thanks for sharing your point of view. I see the freedom that can be experienced either way.

  12. I tend to echo much of giftsofthejourney in my slight twinge of unease that you were made to feel so uncomfortable as to wish to cover your face, as it is not something you would usually choose to do, but did because you felt the disaproval and silent condemnation of the men in there. You were innocently going about your business, it's sad you were made to feel so embarassed. But I also agree, many Westerners do show a great deal of insensitivity when visiting other with cultures, and this translates in a lack of respect when they walk around totally inappropriately attired. As for your dupatta, it sounds a very comfortable, much loved part of you - it's right you should treasure it!

  13. It's entirely understandable that you'd adopt an Asian mentality after spending so much time there. It's much easier to go with the flow than constantly fighting the current.

  14. I don't think it's strange, rather normal!


  15. How a woman should dress calls for debates all around the world. I wonder why.

    Hello gaelikaa, it is always enjoyable to visit you.

  16. i became acquainted with shalwars while i lived in trinidad, which has a large indian population. i find them so comfortable. i have not gained quite the level of comfort with the dupatta but the way you describe hiding behind it reminds me of how i felt when i cut my long hair to very short and no longer had that to hide behind.

  17. Gaelikaa, it is nice that you have become used to of a dupatta! It does hold great importance in the Pakistani. And no wonder it makes you feel really comfortable! You would never regret converting to a dupatta, cos it provides a satisfaction from the with in. Then you don't care. You feel safe and protected!

  18. I'd love to see a pic of you in your dupatta and such. You should have a dress up day in your indian clothes! If not thats fine too. Some people don't post pics:)


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