Two recent schizophrenic experiences I've had recently. a) going to the darzi, and b) listening to grown men talk explicitly about their sexual experiences.
Going to the the darzi. Has to be done, unless you can pull off shabby. In Karachi no one pulls off shabby, and even the ones who can, choose not to. Hence the twice a year visit to the tailor for which I have to be psychologically armed. My tailor is conservative, the kind who finds in me a solid companion to lament the shameless fashions of the times -- low necks, backs, bra strap visibility as style not malfunction, lack of duppattas, tattoos on clothes- girls frustrated about looking more sexy than others in time for rishta season parade of horror. I politely smile and nod. Luckily for me, I am spared the hostility - as a Zia era bastard child, I adhere to sleeves, dupattas and unchopped pants. Not because I am conservative or even modest, its a country specific conditioning. I have no problem with the explicit fashions; in fact, students are welcome to come to my class without shoes or sleeves, and pierced tongues. But I do have a problem with rishta season, and the frantic Marketing of girls at shadis which is behind all the fashion frenzy. That, and of course the fact that I am supporting child labor because one of the workers at the shop is a child. Is he going to school and do I have blood on my hands?
As my colleague at the law school says, its all Perception Karachi feminist, its all perception! And I fire back, my eyes red, its not perception, corporate lawyer! Phillip Morris is not perception. Its lung cancer. Tanneries are not perception. Its toxic waste. There is a system of economic exploitation and its real. Its a matter of degree, he says smiling inwardly, his eyes getting the glazed look that this person is a fringe radical and had she been at a law firm, She is SO fired! I am not a fringe radical. I recognize degrees, and I do not expect unrealistic boycotts, I reply. And some point, we have to draw the line. We have to differentiate and take positions. Other wise everything becomes meaningless.
Here's the other feminist conflict I had. I have noticed if you allow mature men the space to brag about their sexual encounters, sometimes they do. I can't disclose the location or the people. But 20 minutes into an innocuous conversation that began with the weather and minutiae we (me and friend) were sent roller coasting, unsolicited and for free, on a rather sexually explicit and detailed ride into Karachi Past. The Rock and Rolling late sixties of Pakistan. A time where the Excelsior rocked; strip clubs operated publicly and starlets from the West disrobed. Beautiful girls from cities in the heart of Punjab exercised sexual liberation; and were promptly driven back to small cities for fetus extraction by sober and responsible moms. And Zardaris did not control the level of venom in our hearts and on Geo - but were -- a kinda sweet, albeit landowning family, that lived atop Bambino cinema in a penthouse in an area that was wide and DHA like. Men fell for and married flight attendants in tight skirts. (Those were quainter times) The fight attendants turned out to be conniving, and took them to the cleaner charging 50K for a kiss and that too after being lawfully wedded - and used that money to feed starving family members.
Descriptions of encounters, in particular, this conversation could be potentially inappropriate if I were younger and vulnerable. But I feel tough and impenetrable, and everything the world offers is material. In the middle of the narrative, I was thinking, this is oral history of a convoluted, funny-petty, kind. Fazli could have interviewed him for his book. Karachi was a Playboy Paradise. A mini Europe. Drugs, Sex, Strip Clubs, coupled with Third World tin pot. Everything that is now done at homes and gone underground, and infested with TB and inflation, was out in the open, only waiting for Zia to take a plunger to its innocent, debaucherous heart. The stuff my father never shared with me but I found out anyway, snooping through drawers, at 8, in the quest for material. They went to nude beaches in Germany in the 60s and cruelly told us, the General's bastards (only) adding to our lustful wish list -- fight tyranny, free women, go to nude beach....
The problem though with this kind of unsolicited bragging narrative is that it is not all post modern cuteness; what do you do when the interventionist inside you is twisting? A jail guard offering his gorgeous, white-skinned daughter for the night. For Sixty Rupees. Promiscuity which gives bragging rights to the man forever with copyrights and title. And shame disrepute, oblivion, silence and abortion for the fairer sex. My friend, by this time, was looking positively pale. The conversation shifted to executions. And quite appropriately, it ended with a Zia quotation. Its one thing to read about the King of Hudood, its quite another to hear about the experience of administrating corporal punishment for the mustachioed general. Interior Sindhis were sturdier stuff and could take 15. Urbanites collapsed after the second lash. One day, The General called and asked about his most highly desirable political prisoners and he was assured. They have everything. A drawing room. The Best meals. Everything but "wine and women." The general chuckled, and I feel like I can still hear him chuckle.
The last piece in our flawed generation's puzzle. And we are forever scarred as we stare at its (now amusing) ugliness.