This was Part 1.
Sometimes I think one of the reasons why I’m still not qualified as a pakki Karachi girl is that I don’t respond to every situation with a sharp tongue and a witty response. I prefer the frigid British stare, but most people here are impervious to it.
I’d picked the rickshaw with the chubby rickshaw wala with the dim thought in my head that if fat people were harder to kidnap, it must also be harder for fat people to kidnap other people too. In any case it was the only one idling outside my uni and I was grateful to be spared the wait before I flagged down a fresh one.
I settled back comfortably and was soon lost to my thoughts, conversation of course being prohibited by the loud motors. Besides, I was hardly likely to begin discussing Proust with the man, was I? He seemed engrossed in his driving anyway. Yet it soon became obvious that his attention wasn’t entirely on the road, although we had gotten all the way to Millenium Mall before he made his observation.
“Baji,” he said, in what he probably supposed was a respectful voice, “Thora dupatta neechay karlein.”
For a second, I wasn’t even sure what he’d said. What the? And even when I understood, how the heck should I have responded? Whacked him on the head and told him to keep his eyes on the road? I don’t know. Instead I made the worst possible move…and looked down to check.
Two thoughts went very clearly through my head – the first was: there’s nothing visible! Badtameez insaan! And the second was concerning my purple top sitting at home in my wardrobe. The one that Did have the deep, square, revealing neckline. Up went a prayer to heaven that I wasn’t wearing that shirt when I made this prude’s acquaintance.
On the heels of that came thoughts of Ishoo, and his preference for girls in tight, short skirts.
In the meantime the rickshaw was still put-putting along, making the curve past the mall and under the overpass. I was disconcerted, amused, furious and half-willing to defensively protest that there wasn’t that much skin on view anyway (you should see my purple top at home!)… but in the end I did pull my dupatta down. And I was still uncomfortably fidgeting with it when he spoke again, though apparently not to me but the world in general: “It is very important to cover these parts…People’s gazes, they are not good.”
Your gaze is the problem, buddy, not people’s, I wanted to say, but didn’t. Why not? Well my mother never taught me to retaliate like a bitch, I guess. And Karachi hasn’t had enough time to. Instead I gave him the aforementioned frigid stare, which him being impervious to, I directed to the passing scenery.
My mind flitted here and there, disconnected and yet connected thoughts flowing through it the way they always do when you’re shocked at a basic level. About how strapless tops look fine on western women but just a little too exposing when they’re on models here. A comment I once made to a friend when we were passing through Saddar ‘You could wear a f*cking quilt and still feel the dirt in those stares seeping through to your skin.’ Again, of Ishan and how he laughed at the card I made him and said the cartoon girl should’ve had an even shorter skirt. Of St. pats and Saddar, ugh. Of how until before uni, I used to wear a chadar wrapped around me completely when I used public transport.
I thought of a friend studying in Singapore and a comment he once made about how he was now immune to girls going round in tiny skirts and shorts. Another friend, a beautiful girl now married who had once laughingly confessed to never having travelled on a rickshaw. I thought of how I’d been stepping farther and farther from the line of morality in my thoughts, but the world around me had not kept pace and was ready to correct my straying behaviour at every point.
Random thoughts. Skin and parda and exposure and sex. And morality and rickshaws.
When we neared my home I asked him to turn into the gates at the flats and to stop outside my house. I went into get the money for the fare, then descended the steps, still absently thinking about these things while the front of my mind dealt with the confusion and embarrassment that his comment had brought with it.
“Bura mat manyeyga, Baji.” He said, as I came up to the rickshaw, “Abhi bhi dupatta theek nahin hai.”
I paid him the damn money and went back up the steps to my home without replying.