Thursday, 2 October 2008

Deception

29.09.2008

It is a story of a day ago...

I sat alone in the train... except for the two women in the far corner. I was on my way back from an evening out with friends – a play followed by dinner. A cab ride to the CST station and a long walk down the platform later, I found myself in the second class ladies compartment, almost empty only because it was 10:30 pm on a Sunday evening.

 

The train pulled out, wind coming in through the window grates ruffling my hair gently. My head was buzzing with a thousand thoughts – thoughts of the evening gone by, thoughts of home, thoughts of the week ahead, of my boyfriend who would be here the next weekend. As was my habit, I put on my player, the music in my ears drowning out the sounds that I did not want to hear. Two stations later, as the train ground to a halt, a woman got in and sat herself down on the seat opposite to mine. I would guess her to be around 50, long hair dyed with henna, tied up in a bun, stray wisps escaping here and there. Her eyes were rimmed with kaajal, smudged probably by a long day out. She carried a handbag and polythene and was dressed in a salwar kameez. There was nothing particularly striking about her and I would not have given her a second glance had she not tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was getting off. “Kurla,” I replied thinking that she probably wanted the seat next to the window that I was currently occupying.

 

Seeming satisfied with my answer, she settled down opposite me. She took out the bright yellow plastic bag that she was carrying and pulled out two garments from with. As she donned them, I realised that she was getting into the headscarf and hijaab that many Muslim women across countries wear. While again there was nothing to raise eyebrows about the fact that she was donning a headscarf, what struck me was that at her age she found it necessary to go through this pretence.

 

To my eyes, here was a woman who had been out, probably for the larger part of the day, on work or an errand or maybe a personal visit to someplace. For the part of the day that she was out, she had not deemed it necessary to wear the hijaab and the headscarf. However, now, returning home, she found it necessary to wear them.

 

I have known many Muslim women – some chose to wear the headscarf, others not to, and to me neither of these choices have defined their liberalness of thought. But why did this 50 year old woman have to pretend? And which part of her was pretending; the part that had spent the day out without the hijaab or the part that was going home with it? What compulsion suppressed her preference or desire for one state or the other? And as I saw her lie down on the seat and go to sleep, a slight furrow on her forehead, I wondered at the deception that her life must have become – a deception not so much of others as of herself; a deception that probably has now become a source of comfort for in that deception also lies choice and free will.

 

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