It is the day before mothers day and I am looking for an off white scarf to wear. I open my drawer and the neatly rolled pale cream fabric beckons to me. It is almost as fine as gossamer, yet with the delicacy and texture of the finest chiffon. In Pakistan it is called Char Moom or (four times as soft as melted wax) I pull it out and it unravels twisting and curving like a shy maiden. The crisp edge of the delicate lace edging spilling over to maintain the boundaries of heya.
As I drape my head tightly with it, it rebels and loosens itself. I try again to modulate it into the Middle Eastern version of the hijab, tightly and neatly tied over the head. It just doesn’t sit in the way I am trying to tie it.
Suddenly an image comes into my mind vibrant in hue and texture. I see her standing there ready for a formal outing wearing a silky cream shalwar kameez and the same fine chiffon dupatta artfully but softly draped around her head. The waves on either side of her central part of her 1920s hairstyle, rising to hold the dupatta in place. The layers of delicate cream lace as they bend over her forehead, hinting at the dark depths of her tresses through it.
For so many years while getting ready for school my mother (she was the Principal) would attach what I called tiger clips to the front of her hair on either side of the middle part as she fixed breakfast. It gave a gentle wave to her hair on either side; the tiger clips had teeth like a tiger and were something you did not want to accidentally clampdown on your fingers.
Hijab as has evoved in this country lacks the grace of the Pakistani duppata, soft, feminine, edged with lace and reminiscent of a time when a woman sat with her head held high and the dupatta never slid from her head, even a centimeter.
I miss the graceful way of covering hair, I find the Middle Eastern hijab, which is tied tightly over your head, squashing your hair against your scalp and making your head look like a watermelon, practical but ungraceful and unfeminine.
It is my Pakistani roots crying out for the delicate softness of the feminine hijab aka dupatta, which one could wear gracefully only if you knew how to hold your head up and it was in turn accustomed to holding up this delicate fabric in place, to fulfill its purpose.