Ever since I was a child, I can remember taking trips to my parents’ native Pakistan. Those trips were like one month in Wonderland for me.
I loved everything about the experience; the novelty, the strangeness of the place to my Western upbringing, the heat to my cold, the disorganized city noise to my calm, small town life.
But the part I thrived on most was seeing my extended family. In Canada, we had very few relatives, but in Pakistan we had too many to count. My grandmother had 18 children. Once some of them started to marry and have children of their own, my grandfather built a grand three-story monstrosity that resembled a small factory to house his rapidly growing dynasty. This is the house I would live in on those visits.
As a child it was a nonstop circus and I, being the “Angrese” was the star act, which suited me just fine. I played my role as center of attention impeccably. For children in my grandmother’s house there were very few rules. We were free to run wild from rooftop to courtyard until the sun came down, at which point my uncle would pile all 12 of us cousins into his jeep and take us to the beach or the market. We were heady, rambunctious, dirty, loud, and carefree.
But things changed as soon as we started crawling into our teens. It was the first time in my life I was forcibly made aware that our little group of seasonal miscreants was co-ed and therefore, expected to disband right away. Basically, breasts, hips and periods brought those days of fun to a resounding stop.
My grandmother was now stressed out about having a bunch of dangerously hormonal teenagers on her watch, along with her already complicated posse of sons, daughters and daughter-in-laws. She could have called it “My Big Fat Desi Soap Opera” but that would have been a bit too cliché for her taste.
Her concern revolved around the power in numbers theory; she believed us teenage mutants would cause a rebellion and overthrow the president (you ought to know who that is by now) or aid one another in the shameless pursuit of love and life. Apparently due to my “Western status”, I was the highest contender for lead rebel. Perhaps that’s why she was almost relieved when we made our visits less frequent as my siblings and I grew older.
When I returned to Pakistan at age 16, it caused quite the havoc. Aside from being a letch magnet for almost every conscious male in the country, based mostly on the terminal I happened to have walked out of at Jinnah international Airport, I was now a very bad influence on my cousins.
My grandmother explained to me that the boys would bring their guy friends home to hang out or play cricket, and the English on my tongue, my blue jeans, Discman and refusal to oil and braid my hair was an unhealthy distraction for the neighborhood gents.
I was also causing problems for the girls. My lofty dreams of education and a career made them question their pre-planned futures as housewives. They began to develop a love/hate relationship with me that was mostly resentment marred with the occasional fits of awe and calculated interest when they needed a new dress, make up or books.
I don’t blame them for this; they were much worse off than the boys, who still got to “frolic” about as they pleased for the most part as long as they kept it discreet. My female cousins on the other hand had realized childhood was really and truly over, and things were never going to be the same. Because now the family “izaat” rested on their meek shoulders and so they had to act like good, respectable young ladies. Otherwise no one would marry them, and more importantly no family would give their daughters to the brothers of such girls.
My experiences aren’t isolated occurrences; they stem from common cultural norms entrenched in South Asian societies worldwide. When you define immorality based on markers like clothing and language, the real factors such as ignorance and lack of education fall through the cracks–and you end up with social epidemics like what we saw through the Delhi gang rape incident.
What amazes me is the onus put on me and other young girls to uphold society’s morality. Why did the boys get off easy? Are they not as responsible to act with dignity, decency and respect as we girls are? By putting the majority of the burden on women to keep society “clean”, South Asian culture has also forced women into a position to shoulder the blame when the inevitable mess occurs.
— Summer Yasmin
‘No Sex in the City’ is inspired by the popular TV show Sex and the City, and is a voice representing Desi romance and culture in all its complexities!