A slightly edited version of this blog was published in The Express Tribune Blogs
(Before starting to read this blog please keep in mind that this is not a religious sermon! At the moment, keeping aside my firm belief in the teachings of Islam, I am just writing this piece as a social and cultural responsibility).
Hawa mein urtaa jaaye mera laal dopatta malmal ka…one of my cherished childhood memories is about this old song! On some days when we could not think of some other game, I and my twin sisters would sneak Ammi’s doppattas (each of us rushing to grab the red one). We would sing this popular song of those days, dancing clumsily on our spacious terrace, as the doppattas (too long for our small frames) flew behind us in the air!
Dopattas were once considered an integral part of the dress code in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Long flowing scarves which covered the hair and bosom, were considered an important sign of femininity. Worn with a shalwar qameez, they also differentiated our women from those belonging to the Western andother cultures and were regarded as a cultural/religious symbol.
Sadly, over the decades, the influxes of foreign influence, plus a general misconception of women empowerment, have made our women let this beautiful piece of clothing fly away from their dresses. For good!
It is a common sight to see grown up girls and even women dressed in shirts (qameez) with shalwars/trousers/ cigarette pants whatever, with no sign of a doppatta. I personally feel that their dress looks incomplete, as if they have forgotten an important part of their suit at home! Because in my opinion, a doppatta carried properly adds grace, charm and beauty to a woman’s looks and is in no way a hindrance or hassle for her.
After being hesitant for years, when I finally decided to write on this sensitive issue, I felt that taking the views of young girls would be more appropriate. Because considering my age, anyone can easily accuse me of doling out unnecessary (aunty-like) advice which does not go with the requirements of the progressive times we are living in. Both of the girls who have given their opinion are daughters of my friends and highly educated professionals.
Quratulain Ahmed, an entrepreneur, (also the chief motivator behind this writing), speaks her mind in clear terms. Out spoken and liberal, she does not mince her words while giving her views. “Belonging to a conservative Urdu speaking family, I wasn’t even allowed to wear jeans to college since my mother disliked it. Shalwar Kameez was the only dress which I and my sisters could wear once we outgrew our teens and started developing our bosoms. Wearing a dupatta was a must for us. For four years, I went to a liberal arts college managing a duppatta with the art material etc I had to carry daily. But gone are those days and Dupattas are now considered out of fashion. As someone has put “less is more”, women have stopped wearing them.
Zehra Awan, who has recently completed her ACCA and works with a reputed accountancy firm says, “Before giving my views on the disappearance of doppattas from the female apparel these days, I would like to mention that I was also one of those young girls who had done away with this important part of the feminine dress in our culture. Somehow, I thought wearing it was a hassle and a hindrance to my movement, whether I was at work or in a social gathering. To be honest, one day I suddenly realized how inappropriate it was to go out without a doppatta! It didn’t take me long to realize that I felt much better when I wore a doppata with my dress as I felt safer from unnecessarily prying eyes and somehow I was also more inclined to pray regularly.
“Although I admit that wearing a dupatta has not made me more religious or a better person, nor has it clarified all the rights and wrongs in my mind, but one way in which it has changed me is through my womanly conscience and sense of security when I step out of my house.”
Qurat muses, “Western influences in our culture have crept in slowly over the decades and sadly it is now acceptable so see a Muslim doppatta-less woman in a sleeveless dress in public places, social gatherings and on the television. What I would like to put across is where are we headed next? Our media is portraying the Pakistani woman as modern in the dress not in the head! Doing away with an important part of your dress empowers you in no way! If a woman feels that not wearing a dupatta makes her look chic and fit better in the crowd then she is headed in the wrong direction. If this mind set continues, I fear that soon those who wear this graceful part of a dress will be termed as backward or conservative.”
Says Zehra “I do not want to pass stereo type comments like how shameless is a girl moving in public without a doppatta, or how her parents have failed to instill our cultural values in her mind, or (worse of all) no decent man will ever marry her! A person’s character, family background or values are not for me (or anyone) to comment on so blatantly. I am not sharing my views to mock or ridicule any woman out there who does not wear a dupatta. You can be covered in a burqa and be a worse person than the girl next to you who is wearing tight fitting jeans and a sleeveless top. Your personality and character is yours (something between you and your Creator) and not something to be judged by your clothing.
Zehra continues to share her views “I want to confess that I find myself actually looking better, more graceful and lady-like when I wear a dupatta which I now feel is the true essential piece which completes a female outfit. Sometimes I wonder why I completely stopped wearing it in the first place. I find that there is no fashion that I fail to meet while wearing a dupatta, nor do I find myself less modern or open-minded while doing the same. On the contrary, I feel more secure when I move in public. How can I complain of a man staring at me in bazaars or on the roads if I have left my dress incomplete? A woman’s beauty is never in what she shows openly and to everyone; it is in what she keeps hidden from the world.”
I wonder how do I round up this piece of writing? I just want to convince women that discarding your doppatta is not a status symbol, nor does it prove that you are highly qualified, progressive and liberal. It is only a matter of confused conception of what is modern and chic. I would like to request to all those out there who have done away with their doppattas, whether it is due to peer pressure or a misguided desire of being called up-to-date or progressive, please promote your own culture instead of a foreign one.
Doppattas may not be ‘IN’ for some girls/women these days, but they are definitely not ‘OUT’ for others. This is the main reason all designers are still promoting three piece suits and have not yet compromised with the length or breadth of a doppatta. I firmly believe that dopattas are an inevitable part of our cultural dress code and will not be blown away with the wind, come what may!